The Greatness of Blake's 7

True science fiction is an exploration of possibilities. Blake's 7 posits a society, the Federation, which was once based on principle. Now it has become a brutal dictatorship behind the scenes, but which still portrays itself as morally righteous in public. The opinion of the public, and especially of military personnel, still matters. Many officers in the Federation still believe they serve an honourable country: one describes Travis' slaughter of rebels after they had surrendered as 'the act of an assassin, not a Federation officer'.

Blake's 7 then explores the possibilities of how technology would be used in such a society. The Federation has technologies at its disposal which could be used, but their use is limited in practice by social considerations appropriate to this background.

I am frequently annoyed by science fiction such as Star Trek, where technology could obviously be used in some way but isn't. In the far future I would expect to see the following:
- Fighting machines instead of living soldiers
- Mind control technology used to control the population
- Cyborging (implantation of machine enhancements in humans)
- Clones or androids that look human for special infiltration missions

In Star Trek and the like these are rarely used, but Blake's 7 has them all to varying degrees. The less socially acceptable a technology is, the more it is kept hidden or controlled.

The Federation in Blake's 7 has built fighting machines. It uses heavily armoured guard robots. Used to defend an installation just one such robot is a serious challenge for Liberator's crew, a group of highly skilled covert infiltration specialists (or 'thieves' if you prefer) - they would be less challenged by a dozen human soldiers than they are by a single guard robot. They carry weapons that can kill a human but won't damage a guard robot, so they have no way of destroying the robots. Instead they have to try to slip past them by stealth. These robots seem laughably slow and clunky on the screen, but we must remember the budget constraints: with more money, perhaps the robots would have looked as deadly as they were supposed to be. That fact that it looks silly shouldn't detract from the fact that it's a well thought out science fiction idea.

In the episode Project Avalon, the Federation has recently developed the technology to build a robot that can pass for human, and Servalan uses this technology to try to capture Liberator.

In another episode Servalan obtains a clone of Blake to use to imitate him. Cloning is controlled by a sort of monastic order, and Servalan has to justify her plans to this order and use up some political favours in order to get her clone. When the plan fails she cannot simply get more clones and try again. Presumably the technology is controlled in this way because of public unease at the idea of human cloning. In another episode, Servalan goes to a cloning base outside Federation control to get some clones for her own purposes.

The Federation uses cyborg service personnel made from condemned criminals with their memories erased. Many officers object to their use from reasons of squeamishness, but the heartless Travis prefers them for their higher efficiency and unquestioning obedience.

Mind alteration is heavily used, but kept secret. On fringe worlds out of the public eye, the Federation uses the pacifying drug Pylene-50 to suppress rebellion. Blake himself starts the series with no memory that he used to be a rebel leader: false memories have been implanted, making him think he's a loyal everyday citizen of the Federation. When the false memories start to fail and his real memories return, the Federation authorities decide to smear his name by convicting him of child molesting. This is made convincing by implanting fake memories into his supposed victims. The cruise liner Space Princess is secretly used to transport gold, and doesn't really follow its stated course. This illusion is maintained by keeping the passengers drugged. But the average Federation citizen would never believe that this sort of thing goes on.

There is one openly acknowledged use of mind-altering technology. The 'limiter' brain implant is put into the brains of the violently insane. It stops them from acting when they want to do something bad. This is publicly promoted as a humane alternative to an insane asylum: it means that the sufferer can live something like a normal life instead of being locked away for being ill, but is no longer a threat to society. Even so there are people who are squeamish about the technology and don't like it. What the public doesn't know is that people can be classified as 'violently insane' when they aren't really insane: Gan killed a Federation Security guard in revenge (the guard had killed Gan's girlfriend), and was fitted with a limiter as a punishment.

Another thing that often peeves me about popular science fiction, particularly Star Wars, is how ineffective the weapons seem. Future societies have higher technology than us, so they use it to make less effective weapons. But in Blake's 7, weapons are lethal. When a person is hit, this is almost always a casualty, and the casualty is almost always a fatality. Travis is shot in the head and left for dead, but a medic gets to him in time and saves his life. He is left with half his face blown away and replaced with cyborg components. In the episode Project Avalon, Liberator crewmembers take some hits in battle and later express extreme surprise that they have no serious injuries. They work out that the weapons shot at them were deliberately modified to be non-harmful. Aside from those two exceptions, I think every shot that hits its target in Blake's Seven is a kill.

The special effects for weapons are refreshingly good as well, despite the low buget. There are no fancy-looking bright beams. Instead, energy weapons (occasionally called 'lasers') shoot an invisible beam. It's obvious when a target is wounded because a small patch of his clothing bursts into flame. This is exactly what I would expect of a laser, and it's also a cheap special effect.

Blake's 7 was a piece of true science fiction that explored the possibilities and limitations of what a government could do with technology, assuming that it still has to keep the goodwill of the people. It did this because it had good writers and a low budget. It needed good stories to keep the audience. Higher-budget SF today doesn't bother with decent writing. Blake's 7 was the last good SF series to be made. Since then we've had to make do with feeble pap that attracts slack-jawed retards with expensive special effects, lovely actresses in skin-tight body-suits, and repetition of the same old drivel that they're used to lapping up. Where Blake's 7 made us think, SF today is Pylene-50 to keep the masses quiet.