SEAT AT THE BACK

SEAT AT THE BACK - SCRIBBLES! ~ Films on the Seat at the Back playlist right now: KIDS IN LOVE; JUNE; CURVE; WILD, BARELY LETHAL; GODDESS OF LOVE; THE VATICAN TAPES .. What a night in!

Monday, 18 April 2016

A TRIBUTE TO GARETH THOMAS (1945-2016) - DEEP SPACE FREEDOM FIGHTER 'BLAKE' FROM THE BBC'S SCI-FI EPIC: BLAKE'S 7 (as told by Kerr Palmer)





. . KERR PALMER REPORTING FOR THE NEW FEDERATION GAZETTE ON SPACE STATION ANDROMEDA 7 . .  

Blake (or Gareth, more accurately) is trying not to laugh at this alien from the classic Blake's 7 episode 'The Web'. But he can do it - this man has the stiffest upper lip in space!



They hardly ever 'did' monsters in Blake's 7. Instead, the BBC's outstanding TV sci-fi epic was more likely to focus on: faux leather shoulder pads (and that's just the men; you should see what Servalan wears - full crow costumes made from real crows!); eye-patch wearing villains; freedom fighting (when not in-fighting) crew; space-age love rats . .  and a boxed-in brainy 'Orlac'.


BRAINY THING IN A BOX! 





AN OUTFIT MADE OF FAUX CROW!






Blake's 7 ran on the BBC from 1978-1981. When they did actually do monsters, like their rival Doctor Who (the man who gave us the Daleks also gave us Blake's 7) then they'd be creatures that should only inhabit the kind of trippy, deeply weird corners of your very worst nightmares (think: monsters from hell, not space). The kind of creatures you'd be far more likely to spot climbing up your bedroom wall - or standing at the end of your bed - as you ran a life-threatening temperature that threatened to bust the thermometer and explode a mix of mercury and glass all over your bed sheets (hey - that was the late 70s, and mercury was still safe. just like asbestos pads on your Bunsen Burner). Yes, the monsters in Blake's 7 were bonkers, but brilliantly so - even freakishly and deliriously so!

 I remember one particularly disturbing alien creature (also from 'The Web') being a rather simply-designed rubber-bodied thing stuck in a water tank with an actor's head on the top poking through the gauze in the back and trying to look serious (or not in any pain). Or was that me running a childhood fever again? But I always loved the occasional monster episodes of Blake's 7, regardless. Secretly, I kind of wanted all the episodes to be a bit more like 'The Web'. 




YOU HAVE FLU/
YOU HAVE A FEVER/
YOU ARE NOT WELL MY BOY . .


We can laugh in retrospect at some of the effects and arch staging of Blake's 7, but not much, because the model work and space landscapes (and set, weaponry and costume design) in the show was outstanding and still memorable 35-ish years after it first screened. And the often po-faced archness? Well, that was why we loved the sci-fi epic so much - it so wasn't kidding around. Blake's 7 was serious sci-fi for much of the time: often underlyingly dark, resolutely political, impulsive, grand in scale and even unafraid to kill off its leading cast (or spaceship) when it wanted to. It could also be catty and over-sexed (for sure - thanks mainly to Avon, Cally, Travis and Servalan), but even that felt different to other sci-fi shows of the time.








And it was a cast stoked with more character, hidden agenda and delicious motive than the players from a lavish Agatha Christie whodunit (or a deeply back-stabbing Greek comedy or Shakespearian tragedy) whether running around secretive, state-controlled space stations or going deep under an alien sea, climbing up futuristic superstructures or exploring abandoned spaceships.

I think Gareth Thomas was always playing Blake with deadly serious grace: a man stuck rigidly in a Shakespearian body and trapped in a futuristic tracksuit (or semi-hoody) and mostly repulsed by the universe around him - especially the idiots who often roamed it alongside him (even if they were, supposedly - and sometimes even reluctantly - on his own side!). He sneered at the charms of arch enemy Servalan. He would never have snogged her like Avon did.




'SEXY, FLIPPANT, ANTI-HERO' AVON, 'NO BULLSHIT' BLAKE & 'SCAREDY-CAT BUT LOVEABLE' VILA. 

Nobody took freedom fighting (or TV sci-fi) more seriously than Gareth Thomas. Sure, he probably went home after shooting to a fine glass of red and to read a serious good book by the fireplace. But up on screen, he was never anything less than deadly serious and utterly enthralling; there was real gravity and pathos to the lines he spoke, even if there was none intentioned in the script. Equally, his co-star (Paul Darrow as Avon) matched Gareth Thomas's impassioned stance with flippant observation and distrust to such a level that you began to wonder how much of this was for the viewer's benefit and how much of the sparring was for real (but they were actually good friends off screen).

You should never get on the wrong side of Roj Blake, whoever you are and whatever dreams of leadership you may have. Avon, his only real rival in the gang of 7, was all sex, initial selfishness and borderline sleaze - but Blake was only ever about stability, seriousness and resolute command. Another crew member - Michael Keating's Vila was the opposite of both men; he was out for a laugh and a cowardly figure, who had to learn how to become as brave as main man Blake (even though he didn't really want to, and never really did). Vila represented us - everyman. He didn't take life too seriously (even though he always wanted to protect his own).




Blake, on the other hand, never had much of a laugh as a freedom fighter and was more like the highly-political friend you may have who doesn't come down from his ranting about the state, even after all the rest of your friends have - or at least not long enough to pause and have a laugh before getting back to the fight. But Blake's smile, when he did smile, was so all-enveloping (if a little bit condescending) and as powerful as his rage, that there was never any doubt that this man was our leader.


BLAKE WAS FRAMED BY THE FEDERATION AND HAD HIS BRAIN MESSED-WITH AT THE START OF THE SERIES . .  


And I remember lying in front of the TV, on the carpet - mesmerised by Blake's 7: Episode 1, in my PJs, thinking that the opening music (and almost pop art visual recruitment to a cause) was the most heroic sounding theme music I'd ever heard. And later thinking that the locations visited in those formative episodes - all creepily empty, concrete and steel-structured, futuristic factory-like places - were magical and mystical and fantastical. Concrete and steel was never so tragically poetic, evocative and representative of the future as it was when used in Blake's 7.






Gareth Thomas's equally serious, slightly reluctantly investigative (but fiercely protective) family role in the classic Children of the Stones made that lovingly remembered BBC drama about ancient stone relics that pulse with life and death and roar with the voice of a sweet choir, probably the greatest children's television horror - ever (and absolutely believable and appealing to adults as well). I watch it all the time. I'm also a huge fan of the downbeat, epic, How Green Was My Valley (possibly my guilty secret!) that Gareth Thomas brought such gritty power to, and of course the much-maligned Star Maidens, and classic Hammer House of Horror, and so many more (often offbeat) TV classics. . .

I never hiss when a hero dies, but today when I read the news of the death of Gareth Thomas, I hissed out loud: "No . ." at the screen and at the BBC. I remembered all the Blake's 7 annuals and books I collected, and the massive box of VHS tapes that I still keep to this day: double bills with gorgeous artwork covers stacked like a space age construction in a storage room at home. All kind of now rather ancient - old plastic relics of the past - but that still buzz with long life and arouse glorious feelings of escape into space and rebellion.






The shock of Gareth Thomas's passing, was just as shocking to hear about as his death in Blake's 7 was to witness on screen - a televisual death that he made sure was final and unreturnable from (unlike the rest of the cast who had a little more hope - especially Avon, for whom the final uncertain death blast was witnessed blind, as the screen went black and the credits rolled silent). He's only gone and done it all again though has Roj Blake - gone and left us again.








Kerr Avon always had the last laugh on Blake. But today, even he will probably be shedding a tear. Or even just cracking one last, wry smile:

Avon: So it's goodbye then, at last - Blake! (I can imagine him spitting out that name with so much sarcasm.) You outran the Federation. And you almost outran me, in the end. We may, just may, even miss you - .


(He looks into the distance. Then grins.)

A little . .


 




GARETH THOMAS (1945-2016)


BLAKE'S 7
© BBC 

1 comment:

  1. A very nice man in billions of ways was Gareth thomas

    ReplyDelete