The following article, "In Defense of Blake," by Faye Bull which is one of the earliest defenses of Blake appeared in the newsletter Blake's 7 Review in the mid-80's. In the late 90's it appeared in a condensed version in my newsletter Orac's Oddities. I have permission to make this electronic copy from Faye's original typed copy and submit it to Judith Proctor to make it part of her website. The only change I made was to eliminate the underlining to denote italicized words or topic headings. To read a later defense of Blake, I have a 2001 essay, "Roj Blake: Television Knight," printed in the 2002 fanzine Chronicles 67/68 which Judith agents. Ever since the series aired twenty-five years ago, Blake has been bashed by various fans. Both Faye and I are very avid Blake supporters. There are many things we both agree on, but if you get the chance to read both defenses, you will find that we also disagree on several things concerning our mutual hero.
Joyce Bowen July 2003
I think Gareth is also very good looking. I like men with large, capable hands and a chuckle as delicious as his. He is large and protective and cuddly, like a big teddy bear. And I just love his curly hair and beard of latter days, plus you are not a rugby fan for as long as I have been without developing a penchant for well-muscled thighs. Some fans have had a niggle about his weight, which I feel is below the belt - literally! I would rather actors were chosen for their ability and talent than for their on-screen appearance alone. This makes the characters identifiable, one reason for the credibility and popularity of 'Blake's 7' perhaps. Gareth may have a naturally big build, but he is an excellent actor; witness 'The Citadel,' 'The Bell,' and 'Morgan's Boy.'
I intend to deal with the subject of Star One in the next article, but briefly, I totally reject the idea that Blake is a terrorist. His targets are military installations, the symbol of Federation tyranny, and not school buses, shopping precincts or passenger vehicles. He has no wish to hurt the people he is fighting for needlessly. True, I think he is fighting the Federation partly out of personal revenge for its treatment of him and his family and friends, nevertheless he must have started as a young idealist, spurred on by altruism, standing up for what he believed all people should have as basic rights. He certainly seems to be a believer of the principle of 'it's better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.'
Blake's stability has been questioned because of his 'reprogramming' by the Federation, but I think that by all accounts, the stress of seeing another massacre and his subsequent trial broke down his reconditioning. It is only human to expect some sort of stress reaction to those stimuli. And did Vila's self-acknowledged attempted 'rehabilitation' make him less trustworthy to the others?
Blake has also been called dense, a dullard and other similar epithets. On the contrary, in my opinion he is very intelligent and certainly very quick on the uptake. In 'Breakdown' he suggests flying through the vortex, which is ultimately their salvation. In 'Killer' he expostulates a wild theory which is later proven to be correct, and again in 'Countdown,' his theory of Provine's actions is correct. He has an instinctive understanding of people. As well, he would not have been working on the Aquitar Project if the Federation had not rated his intelligence highly.
Granted, he does make tactical errors, but they are usually military ones; bear in mind he is an ordinary citizen with no formal military training to guide him: he has to learn by experience. And he never displays any hesitation when rapping out orders on the flight deck in tight situations.
Have I changed anyone's mind yet?
I feel this subject is one that is very much open to interpretation; I would suppose that to members of the PLO or IRA, they are freedom fighters, but to the victims of their acts, they are terrorists. How they are labeled usually depends also on which side wins the struggle and writes the history books in its own favor. The issue rests solely on one's individual perspective.
Certainly Blake's 7 are not terrorists according to today's standards: they don't set bombs in shopping precincts, civilian air liners or school buses. I feel that there is a difference between terrorists and freedom fighters in this context, and that they are freedom fighters with violence the only recourse left to them.
In 'The Way Back' Bran Foster tells his group about plans to sabotage food plants and that their aim is to have at least one colony declare its independence within the next two years. Nothing too violent here, until troopers arrive, and despite the rebels' peaceful surrender, they are massacred. It would appear the Federation cannot tolerate growing opposition or even risk their trial inciting further rebellion. We know also from Blake that this is at least the second time this has happened.
Although it takes a lot longer, one can win by purely peaceful means; Gandhi demonstrated this. One needs to be in opposition to a reasonable regime however. In a parallel with this century and colonies having to resort to arms to win their independence, in 'Countdown,' according to Cauder, Albion tried all legal channels to win freedom. The Federation refused until Albion unilaterally declared its independence and then had to fight to defend it. I find this very reminiscent of the American War of Independence. No doubt in those days the Minute Men were terrorists to the British Forces, but to generations of Americans they have been exalted as heroes.
During World War Two, the underground resistance fighters were terrorists to the Germans, but to their own people they are heroes too. If the Russians invaded your country tomorrow (relax, I've already checked under the bed), imposed martial law, shot the cat/dog for target practice and banned subversive literature, which happened to include fanzines based on decadent Western programmes, would you surrender your collection to the bonfire or stash it under the bed and so indulge in a little passive resistance and civil disobedience? On the other hand, judging from the way some fans denigrate Blake and his struggle, I have the distinct impression they firmly believe in the maxim 'resistance is useless.'
'Evil flourishes while good men do nothing.' Terry Nation certainly intended for the Federation to be perceived as evil, suppressing its citizens in every possible way. How many of you, despite claims that the Federation does indeed promote order of a sort, and provide for its citizens, would actually like to live under a regime like that? Personally I find it disturbing that Federation-like power structures already exist in the world today, for example Russian dissidents are sent to mental hospitals for 'treatment.'
Certainly some officers within the Federation structure are good and decent. There have to be some good people everywhere. In 'Spacefall' Blake says he would like to put power back into the hands of the honest man. Perhaps it is a case of a corrupt few having seized power in the hierarchy and then increasing their hold for their own ends, instead of for the good of the Federation as a whole. Extrapolating from this, the Federation probably started out as a necessary evil to ensure the continuation of mankind on a post-holocaust Earth, but has now outlived its usefulness. I feel it is certainly in trouble now with the military taking the role of civilian police. It is now a gigantic bureaucracy that has reached the stage where too much power is able to be concentrated in a hierarchy of greedy self-seekers: people of Servalan's ilk, who are out to further their own causes, regardless of the cost. Madame President wiped out Auron to force them to co-operate, and as Sleer pacified whole planets at a time to further her new career. Where were the checks and balances necessary in any government to stop her?
The whole point of Blake's 7 was a single man taking a stand. At some stage someone has to draw a line and use all reasonable means to fight not to be pushed over that line. The bases attacked in Blake's 7 are all legitimate military targets in what is, after all, an unofficial war. I think Star One is also a justifiable target. It is a means of Federation control and what is the use of overthrowing the local military forces if the regime can still turn your weather cycle upside down and destroy the crops and food supply? (I'm presuming here that the Federation had some means of altering the computer controls as circumstances dictated; it seems only logical.) The Federation has already shown itself to be utterly ruthless in its hold on power and peaceful means have failed dismally.
It does boil down to the end justifies the means, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. It is the same decision Truman had to make: drop two atomic bombs and kill thousands, or invade Japan and see hundreds of thousands die. The scale is larger in Blake's 7, but the essence is the same. Compromises with one's own principles have to be made in order to achieve something: it's a fact of life.
A lot of criticism has been aimed at Blake for being insane/idiotic/fanatical/obsessed, etc., et al ad nauseam. Obsessed with fighting the Federation, yes, and justifiably so in my view, not so much for personal revenge for its treatment of him but for its general corruption. Blake is a symbol and focal point: his drive and determination help keep the rebellion going. To the 'people' he is a hero. And one person can make a difference. We need only look to Bob Geldhof and Mother Theresa today to see that. Apathy and defeatism are the weapons of any government. It takes someone with drive and vision to stir others into doing something constructive too.
The majority of Blake's 7 fans are female. How many of you regret the actions the Suffragettes took to win the vote for themselves and future generations of women? To my way of thinking the two struggles boil down to the same core: the freedom to have the right to a say on one's own government.
Is it sexual discrimination that Cally also doesn't come in for the same amount of criticism for being a terrorist too? Although gentle and kind, she is also a trained guerilla fighter, and 'may you die alone and silent' and 'companions for our death' - both pretty strong stuff - are her favourite curses. Admittedly Blake is the central character, but he seems to have to shoulder a disproportionate amount of blame, and the poor man can't seem to please anyone.
On the one hand, he is accused of being a wimp. I myself would prefer Blake to remain unsullied by any violent or callous acts, whereas others applaud his moments of ruthlessness as demonstrating some fibre/mettle. In 'Breakdown' when Blake threatened Kayn, Avon and Vila look impressed. I know Kayn had shown himself to be a first-class creep, and Blake's threat may well have been hollow, but it still makes me cringe for my hero as it seems out of character. The gratuitous destruction of Sarah and Co. in 'Mission to Destiny' when he booby trapped the airlock has often puzzled me. This smacks more of American detective programmes where the villain always gets his just desserts before the hour is up. Yet as I said, others think this tougher, meaner Blake is more likely to win against the Federation. But at what a cost?
Surely it is just this sort of callous behaviour that is likely to spawn a terrorist, and I can't see followers being particularly inspired by it. The bounty hunter Blake is hardly the messiah-like idealist he started out as, totally aside from the fact that I can't envisage Blake, who has after all consorted with criminals and knows they aren't always as bad as their Federation records might paint, turning them in to raise funds. However, it seems to be generally accepted that 'Blake' was an insidious Federation plot and should therefore be disregarded.
In my opinion though, the fourth season 'Scorpio' crew fit the terrorist bill more accurately, especially as they can't quite seem to decide whether their purpose in life is to save the galaxy or get rich quick.
Interestingly enough, the Americans seem to be more sympathetic towards Blake than the English (and Australians and Kiwis by virtue of their English extraction?). Perhaps this is the result of being primed by their cultural heritage of idolizing heroes, whether they are U.F.P. captains fighting evil aliens or revolutionaries throwing off the repressive colonial power. As well, they seem to live in a political climate of a greater right of redress with their government than our parliamentary system, and their politicians are much more publicly accountable. Americans are also very vocal in defending their constitutional rights and personal freedoms, which is exactly the cause Blake is championing. This awareness that Blake has a just cause seems too to be coupled with a better appreciation of one's social responsibilities and obligations; service organisations like Rotary originated in the States.
One dictionary definition of terrorist is: a person who believes in government by fear or the attempt to gain one's political aims by fear and violence. This description fits the Federation like a glove. Blake however is fighting for, not terrorizing the oppressed masses. His motivation is not mindless retaliatory destruction, but the concrete aim of undermining a corrupt administration, and in my book this, coupled with the choice of non-civilian targets, makes him a freedom fighter. At the very least, I feel Blake deserves credit for standing up not just for himself but for others too. Terrorists aren't usually altruistic.
It's easy to recognise though why Avon is so popular. He is very much a chameleon, with his motivations open to interpretation to a great extent. Therefore it is very easy to slip into his skin and write a story from his point of view. He has that Spock-like attraction too, of being a deep, mysterious character, and everybody would like to be the one to crack his armour. He is also amoral, something which seems to capture the popular imagination, in the same way J. R. Ewing of 'Dallas' and Alexis Carrington of 'Dynasty' do. Perhaps they personify the devil in all of us, doing the wicked things we would secretly like to indulge in too.
Avon is a marvelous character, and Paul Darrow did a tremendous job playing him, instilling him with a lovely dry wit and subtle nuances. This doesn't blind me to the character's faults however, or to the fact that the others are equally deserving of credit and attention. They are all human, with good and bad features; even Servalan and Travis have their redeeming moments.
But what really upsets me is the way Avon fans seem to dislike Blake - and Tarrant as Blake's replacement - because on the surface Avon does, transferring Avon's criticisms of the others to their own emotions. They take Avon's actions at purely face value, without seeing the deeper feelings underneath. There is possibly also an element of our animalistic herd instincts, and any other males challenging the chosen alpha are to be firmly quashed.
Avon is not perfect, but a lot of fan fiction is apparently written merely as a glorification of him, which is fair enough I suppose but hardly realistic. A lot is made of Avon being able to build a teleport using a piece of string, a paper clip and a light bulb. Certainly he finished Dorian and Pella's transport with the assistance of Orac. This is quite feasible, considering he worked on the Aquitar Project and studied the teleport on the 'Liberator.' However, so did Blake, which would indicate the Federation at least rated him as intelligent and capable. I think Blake is therefore equally competent to construct a teleport, perhaps more so than Avon, who is more an 'ideas' man and not an engineer.
Cally too is no dullard. Her training is in communications, and in 'Moloch' she shows she is capable of recalibrating the teleport when necessary. As well she understands the technology involved in running the "Liberator.' Likewise, Jenna and Tarrant as trained pilots would have a working knowledge of the technology used in a star ship and would be able to grasp the basics of anything new. And let's not forget Vila, who has a first rate working knowledge of computer-controlled locks and security systems.
And this detector shield Avon built. I find it a remarkable coincidence that the Federation had their own not long after. I'm not accusing Avon of selling it to them. I think rather that he used Orac to tap into ongoing Federation research projects, probably out of curiosity, and merely perfected it ahead of the Federation, as a means of preserving his own skin. The Federation was slower in outfitting their own ships, no doubt being bogged down with the red tape involved in authorising the expenditure.
It seems to me Avon spends a fair amount of his time adapting other people's ideas, or repairing equipment (or occasionally blowing it up), and very little creating from scratch. I'm not denying he has a keen mind, and may even rate as a genius in some areas, but he is certainly not infallible.
In contrast to Blake, Avon does plan ahead more carefully, however this doesn't always bring about a different outcome. Servalan gets the better of him on several occasions, for instance, 'Harvest of Kairos' and 'Gold.' On the other hand, she only bests Blake once, in 'Weapon,' and even then Blake in the form of his clone saves the day.
Avon displays very little leadership ability. For a start, he is unwilling to accept responsibility for others, and shows none of the spirit of self-sacrifice sometimes required of a leader for the good of the group: he makes no secret of the fact that he's looking after Number One. He is a much better second-in-command, and in the best television tradition, often rushes to the rescue of his leader and crewmates. He can also be very cruel in his destructive criticisms. While the core of his criticisms are usually quite valid, he can't seem to avoid tacking a personal insult on the end that makes his target take automatic offense. He doesn't suffer fools gladly and has no empathy for their feelings in telling them so. In this I feel he has a downright vicious temper, as opposed to the plain nasty one Blake can sometimes display.
So for all his technical expertise, Avon doesn't get on too well with people, and often caused friction: where Blake puts people at their ease, Avon puts them on their guard. He doesn't like having to take orders or work in with others, suffering teamwork only when he has to. If it required trustworthy teamwork in a survival situation, and I had to choose between Blake and Avon, Blake would win hands down. I think I could trust him not to push me off the edge of a cliff.
Much is also made in fan fiction of Avon being a physical superhuman and adept hand-to-hand fighter. There is certainly no indication of this, and especially when it takes him two goes to subdue the crewman in 'Spacefall' and he had to use technology to win against Gunsar in 'Power.' Naturally we'd all like the characters to fit our ideal of them, but Avon had led a sedentary lifestyle - he is a computer technician, not a ninja. He uses his fists, a handy blunt instrument or blasts away with a gun, and the best that can be said is that he is a very good shot.
We're all probably familiar with the maxim, 'A good workman never blames his tools.' Well, I can think of three instances in which the cool, calm, collected Kerr Avon uses his fist to bash some recalcitrant instrumentation into line in a fit of frustration ( 'Harvest of Kairos,' 'Voice From the Past' and whoops, the other one has slipped my mind!). He is also very little boyish in that he likes to be the centre of attention - witness the peasant-stunning clothes. But despite his black leather and studs and anti-hero ruthless bastardry, he is emotionally immature: he sulks when he doesn't get his own way. Even Servalan recognises this in 'Assassin.'
And as for the Warlord Alliance, what a motley collection of unsavoury characters they are, not one of them a political leader the calibre of Cauder, Hundar or Sarkoff. They are semi-criminals as much as the Seven had become, and this is perhaps why Avon found it so easy to win them over. If they had beaten the Federation, they would have carved it up amongst themselves and then squabbled endlessly. They seemed to be out for what they would gain individually and not concerned for the good of the galaxy as a whole.
On the other hand, Avon is hardly the type of person to inspire confidence in rebel leaders. He may have been associated with Blake, but he is a convicted criminal and has done little on his own against the Federation. Anyone who comes into contact with him seems to die in some gruesome manner, almost as if he is jinxed.
I sometimes wonder if Paul Darrow based Avon on Nietzsche's Superman - intellectual, ruthless, unemotional, self-reliant. It comes as a shock to Avon on Terminal that Servalan has anticipated him so well and demonstrates to him he's not what he thought himself to be. His very foundation in life is pulled out from under him, but before he has time to assimilate the changes and revelations, along comes Dorian and one escapade after another, so that he never has time to catch his breath.
Unlike some, I think Avon likes Blake personally, and admires him because he always picks himself up after each knock-back and carries on. While Avon was indulging in a little wallow on the 'London,' Blake was planning how to strike back. However, like a rebellious teenager, Avon resents Blake's authority. He needs to be free of Blake, to win his independence in order to mature. He inherits the 'Liberator' but then doesn't seem to know quite what to do with it. Perhaps he even feels a little guilty he has it at the cost of losing Blake and Jenna: I think he respects them both for standing up to him. He then discovers that with the addition of much younger members to the crew, he has to take charge and finds power brings not only ego-boosting status but responsibility - a side effect he doesn't seem to relish. He also discovers events force him to make the very same kind of decisions as Blake would have, and so like previous countless generations, comes to the realisation that the authority figure was right after all. With this new independent maturity, he would have been able to hold his own against Blake, who does tend to railroad people, and I feel safe in saying Avon had never previously got the better of Blake.
Avon then finds Tarrant doing to him what he used to do to Blake, which must be quite an awakening for him in that respect. I think Avon is a little resentful of Tarrant for the same reasons he says Vila is in 'Traitor' : Tarrant is young, brave and handsome, a go-getter. He is a younger male challenging Avon's position, and personally I think Tarrant's insightful observations on Avon in 'Sarcophagus' and 'Assassin' are quite valid.
No doubt my thoughts and opinions will have some of the dedicated Avonphiles up in arms, however please rest assured no insult is intended. Avon has had it his own way for long enough, and I feel it is high time to redress the balance a little. The kudos for 'Blake's 7' doesn't belong exclusively to him. All the characters, down to the cameo appearances, are well-rounded and stand by themselves as credible human beings. There is still plenty of scope in fan fiction to explore all of them, so how about some stories where someone other than Avon saves the day by the application of ingenuity or intelligence? If the others are supposedly so incompetent, how on earth did they all survive before Avon came on the scene? I know it's easy to be dazzled by him (I mean, the silver tunic and thigh boots do kind of knock one out), but there's more than one star in the sky.
P.S. Please give Tarrant a fair go too. He was knocked about enough in 'Blake' !
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Last changed on 01st of September 2003