Blake's 7 Monthly Issues 6-13
Trivia: Ken Armstrong was credited as "Consultant Editor and Photographs" from issue 11 onwards.
While I've selected this range of issues under the umbrella theme of "Paul Darrow Writes", it has to be said that there's a more professional look to the run that also links the set. Both before and after Issues #6 - #13 there would be badly exposed images, poorly cropped photos and shakily laid out features. For this run, though, there's a more polished style to the whole thing, that, while still dated in the early 80s idea of what a genre magazine should look like, does mean it stands up pretty well today. Yeah, there's the occasional dud picture - most notably #6, pp. 18, pp.35; #8, pp.28, pp.35; #13, pp. 36 - but here the posters are crisper and sharper, the layouts better and the overall feel of the magazine more mature. Issue #9 sees an effective reworking of the logo, while untransmitted scenes can be found in the scrapbooks.
One thing that didn't improve, sadly, is the comic strip. Issue 6's Sacrifice (8pp) was clearly an obvious lift of the "Avon has unrequited love through death" scenario as seen in Rumours of Death. Indeed, Servalan even mentions Anna Grant to acknowledge the association. Yet it's a nice story and aided greatly by Ian Kennedy's underrated artwork. With Federation technicians after sex and telling Avon "up yours", and even Servalan referring to an "alien bitch" this is a clear sign that the comic strip wasn't being pitched to juniors. The Flying Bomb (8pp) was something of a step down, but still okay, but from that point on it all began to unwind, the strips getting more childish. Crossed Wires (4pp) is another cursory "Scorpio malfunctions" story, while Treachery (8pp), Prey (5pp), Cranpax Core (8pp), Rendevous (8pp) and Alliance (8pp) do not really merit individual comment. Perhaps the only thing of note is the contents page of Issue #10, which has a write-up of the strip seemingly dedicated to football in-jokes: "Aston and Vila with their back to the wall!" Incidentally, Issue #9 onwards started giving us full credits to the strips, revealing Ken Armstrong to be the author behind the majority of them.
Issue #9 also informed us that Ian Kennedy was involved in a serious car accident, preventing him from illustrating the series. Though the magazine hoped that his work "will start appearing again from next month", Ian never returned, the strip ending its days with scrappier work from Mick Austin and Phil Gascoine, even being omitted from issues 21 and 22 altogether, returning for the final issue. For the run featured here, then his replacements were Steve Dillon (a worthy successor, though you can't help thinking of Abslom Daak when you read his stuff), Jerry Paris and Mick Austin. Despite all the slagging he got in the letters pages, for me no one even came close to capturing Kennedy's neat illustrations and innovative use of panels. His loss from the comic strip only served to make the increasingly banal scripts seem worse.
Another aspect of the run that was a slight come down were the interviews. Previously they'd been a staple of the magazine, but hereon in we found we couldn't take their appearance from granted. Of the eight covered here, then only six contained them, a "Terry Nation Star Profile" (Basically, an interviews cut and paste) used to boost up the numbers. Of them, then Gareth Thomas, Glynis Barber and Peter Tuddenham made decent but unmemorable reads, the most interesting being the two-part Mary Ridge chat. However, I'm sure Ken Armstrong is a really nice bloke, but having an interview with the guy who took photos on the set of the last season is stretching the remit quite a bit.
On the subject of minor features, then the feebly named Blake's 7 Points of View became the more manageable B7 Letters from issue #9 onwards (though still kept being credited as the former in the contents page). Notable correspondence in this run included the reader who said "I am speaking for many fans in saying I would like to line up whoever is responsible [for not recommissioning the series] and shoot them". Nothing like perspective, eh? Biggest cop-out though comes from the magazine itself, replying to a request they do all they can to get the show back on air: "It is, however, not up to the magazine to influence the BBC." No, but you're quite happy to take money off the fans by publishing a magazine about it every month though, right? Hypocrites.
While the last four issues in this run had covers that prompted things like "Do you know the 2nd part of the Fruit Gum secret?" and "Win an 'Atari' video game!" the childish filler was thankfully discontinued. Book Review featured for the final time in issue 7, while Film Review was absent altogether. Never again would we know which film was going to be a "Smasheroonie", and while #9 and #13 had a one page feature on Spacelab to pad out their pagecounts, this was another upward turn in the focus of the magazine. Yes, single page black and white photographs did become a regular to bolster the 40 page requirements (and #13 does feature an uncharacteristically feeble illustration from Geoff Senior), but it's a much-needed improvement from the magazine that once brought us Vila's Gags. Finally, with Ask Orac (for completeness' sake I ought to mention that it didn't feature in issues #10 and #13, and that it was given a new logo from issue #9) we finally got something worth reading. In amongst all the "how big is the sun?``" and "why does Concorde make a sonic boom?" queries, questions began to appear that actually related to the continuity of the series. Now, I'm not fully convinced that all of the letters weren't made up, and even less convinced that the answers were written from a series bible. But even so it's nice of Orac to say (issue #11) "… one unit of Time Distort equals one year, travelling at the speed of light, compressed into one Earth-Standard minute."
But the focal point of the range of issues covered here is Paul Darrow Writes, with the star of the series detailing his memories of all four seasons. Well, that's the idea anyway. While it's commendable in and of itself to have such a high percentage of the magazine drafted by the primary star of the show (30 - and a bit - pages spread over eight issues) the feature sadly doesn't tell us a lot we don't already know. Instead of behind the scenes banter or what Paul really thought of directors or co-stars, he spends the majority of the feature talking about what happened in each story. Paul - we watched the show, mate, we already know what happened. While, say, discussing his motivation in season four is interesting, he consistently slates the character of Tarrant without ever once telling us what he made of the actor behind him. Perhaps the most candidly interesting item in there is him expressing regret that Jan Chappell left, and how the series would have been different if she hadn't. It's a worthy article to be certain, but Paul's tendency to put a joke in every other sentence doesn't always come across, and his appalling grammar and punctuation makes it almost unreadable at times. And which is more retrospectively shocking - Paul claiming his on set nickname was "Gary Glitter" or that if Jenna was the beauty, he thinks Dayna was the "black beauty"? (Incidentally, while Paul's run on the magazine was nominally for the selection here, his enthusiasm and willingness meant he kept being called back to do more. In fact, of the ten issues remaining, only one didn't feature a contribution from Paul. Issue 14 contained an interview, which, in just four pages, probably told us more about Paul's views on the series than did the whole of his preceding articles. For The Love Of Avon was a 12 -page write-up on the romantic involvements of Avon, covering Meegat, Cally, Anna Grant and Servalan. Spread across three issues from #16 to #18, it wasn't perhaps helped by having photo illustrations that rarely related to the text, but was a reasonable read. Paul's most fatuous article came with the two-part look at the series' gueststars. Eleven pages spread over issues #19 and #20, it was pretty much a dry list with one or two luvvieisms thrown in for good measure. Finally, Paul was asked to pick his eight favourite episodes from the series. The list - which included Power! - ran from #21 until the final issue, spanning fourteen pages. This bow out issue also contained a farewell letter from Paul, thanking the fans for their kindness and expressing his enthusiasm. While it's a scoop that one of the stars was so enamoured of the series that he wanted to be actively involved, isn't a shame that none of the others did too?)
Okay, I suppose I have to mention the text stories. For completeness' sake, they were: Wanderlust (6pp), The Trap (only one letter out, 6pp), Red Moon (8-and-a-bit pp), Diamond Death (7pp), Golden Book (12pp, issues 10/11) and Quantum Jump (10pp, issues 12/13 - didn't that become a TV show?). Again, none of them merit real discussion, so I'm not going to give them one. They're not awful, but hardly worth reading, and feature such out-of-character activities as Avon smacking Tarrant to the ground and Dayna meekly apologising, "Yes, it was all my fault. I won't let my hatred of Servalan get the better of me again." If you can take season four only stories that feature Ker Avon and Commissioner Slear and a Vila who gets whacked three times in Golden Book then maybe you'll enjoy them. Though you'd still have to tolerate lines like "my emotions were put through a juice extractor by that man."
Again, this review has waffled on for far too long for what is really just eight magazine issues, but then an Anorak's Guide should do, right? On this subject, then the observant might notice that the issues constantly varied in width and size for no explainable reason. #8 was the widest, coming to just under 8 ¼ inches, with #9, #11 and #13 struggling to get above eight. I feel slightly ashamed that, in all my years of being an Anorak, that is the single most anal thing I've ever written. Want more? Tallest was issue #10, measuring a massive 11 inches to the paltry 10 ¾ shared by the same #9, #11 and #13. There - I bet you never thought you'd get a website to tell you about the measurements of the magazine. Just be thankful I didn't do them in millimetres.
I must confess, when I first saw the monthlies my heart sank. But looking at these eight issues in isolation I've discovered that it wasn't all bad, and that there is some material in there of note…