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Cult | News | 22 October 2004

Blake's 7 CD boxset

We find out about the audio drama reissue.

In early October, BBC Worldwide reissue the radio Blake's 7 adventures. Written by ex-Doctor Who producer Barry Letts, The Sevenfold Crown and The Syndeton Experiment are joined by bonus interviews with the cast – amongst them Paul Darrow, Michael Keating, Jacqueline Pearce, Steven Pacey and Peter Tuddenham – and with fans including comedian Mitch Benn.

We asked Martin Dempsey, who worked on the new boxset, to tell us more.

What's your involvement in the project?

I was responsible for some of the interview material - originally recorded for a Blake's 7 theme programme on BBC7 a few years ago. The bulk of the theme programme itself was a repeat of the two radio plays - but we had half an hour's grace to include extra material - Paul Darrow was an obvious choice for interviews and links, but there's also a good cross-section of fans talking about the enduring appeal of Blake's 7, the best moments, their favourite characters, etc. It's this material which now forms part of the Radio Adventures release.

What's special about the release?

Unlike Doctor Who, Blake's 7 doesn't have an ongoing book range or audio play back catalogue - so outside the TV series, this is the only time you'll experience the characters as played by the original cast.

They're not all original, of course, and fresh bits of casting for Dayna and Soolin provide an intriguing taste of what might have been, perhaps. It's also the first time both the radio plays have been available on one CD release - the packaging is being tailored to fit in with the DVD releases - so what with the endless delays, this will hopefully keep us all tied over until the real deal appears.

And - if I may be so immodest for a moment - it's the first time all the Zen and the Art of Blake's 7 material is available to the general public! I don't think it's ever been repeated on BBC7, so get it while you can folks !

What is the nicest thing about the extra features?

I think it's great to hear people enthuse about Blake's 7 - in the wake of nineties sci-fi like X-Files, Babylon 5 and Buffy, even more recent efforts like 24, one or two older shows like Doctor Who have, to some extent, been rehabilitated - in the sense that people will more readily admit to liking them. But somehow Blake's 7 always gets overlooked.

When prompted, most people do remember it, and remember it fondly - it's the only programme I can think of that was featured on Clive James and got laughs for all the right reasons.

Yet it's seen as the Man City of sci fi, always languishing in the lower leagues - it's impact has never been acknowledged, even though you can see echoes of it in almost all the cult series that have popped up since. Anytime someone makes a smartarse remark or does a doublecross.

So it's good to celebrate it, and hear from people who were involved in putting it together, people who loved it when it was on, people who love it now - it's not been milked to death like other cult programmes. It was a real thrill to hear from all the contributors, but the way Mitch Benn homed in on Blake's show trial and the way the Federation paralleled Stalinist Russia just confirms that Blake's 7 played against all expectation - and sated an appetite for intelligent sci-fi drama that hasn't really been catered for since.

Plus, I wrote a really cheesy linking script for Paul Darrow which had him blowing up the continuity announcer.

Does B7 work on audio? Should there be more?

Hell, yes! To both of those! I don't know about anyone else, but the most memorable moments of Blake's 7 for me centre around dialogue - Blake and Avon having that very quiet confrontation in Pressure Point, Avon and Tarrant facing off in Sarcophagus, Servalan explaining herself to the Presidential secretary in Seek-Locate-Destroy... I could go on.

Blake's 7's scripts far outshone it's technical limitations, and when the writing was at it's best it thrived on Graham Greene-style mystery and political intrigue - both great assets on audio.

To some extent, Blake's 7 already is being done on audio - you only have to look at Kaldor City or The Stranger Chronicles to hear its influence - but I've always thought how tremendous it would be to have a series of stories catching up with Blake between Star One and Blake - Gareth Thomas' rich voice would be a joy to hear.

Failing that, some Big Finish-style mid-season stories would be equally as good - do you hear me, Powers That Be ?!

Of the two audio dramas, do you have a favourite?

It's hard with the audios - I know they come in for a lot of flak because they weren't penned by one of the original writers, and I do think that shows at times, but of the two I probably favour The Syndeton Experiment. The plan to stage a coup and take over a whole planet is very Avon-esque, as is the final ten minutes or so, where he makes a snap decision to sell out and team-up with Servalan. When she refuses, he tricks her into incinerating her own brain... Now that's what I call an anti-hero.

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