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is the way forward for Blake's 7?
Avon to be recast. Chris Boucher in
talks. Clamp down on slash.
Fans are divided, with understandably
strong emotions, about the plans to revive Blake's 7.
In early November 2003, Steve Rogerson met the people behind the
new company to hear their plans.
Sewell and Simon Moorhead do not have horns or tails, nor do they
deserve some of the personal abuse - including threats of violence
- that fans have been throwing at them over their plans for a new
Blake's 7 show and the legal wranglings that have delayed the launch
of the DVDs of the original. Yes, they have made mistakes in some
things they have done and the way they have done them, and they
openly admit that they have at times communicated their viewpoint
very badly. And, yes, some of the directions they are planning on
going will not make all the fans happy - Andrew's comments on slash
will have some seething. But they are both fans of the original
show and they genuinely believe that what they are striving for
will be a quality show and a fitting tribute to what Terry Nation
"We are aware of the fans' attitude and realise with hindsight
that we haven't answered their questions in the way that we should
have," said Simon, producer at Blake's 7 Enterprises.
Executive producer Andrew added: "People have to realise that
we are working on other projects in film and radio, so it is difficult
to maintain the level of access the fans would like."
But he promised that as the plans for the new show developed and
became more concrete that would change. And he acknowledged that
they were partly to blame for the fans having to make judgements
on inadequate information.
"We want to clear up the misconceptions," he said.
Both also pointed out that it would make no sense commercially for
them to produce something that the fans didn't want.
"We are not doing this through altruism," said Andrew.
"This is a commercial world, so we have to produce something
to please the audience. The show is well loved and has endured in
the minds of fans. We would be stupid to ignore that."
Simon added: "B7E is a business, but the core of the business
is a true belief in what Terry Nation created and how we can move
from there to here
The two were keen, however, to clear up a number of rumours and
errors that have clouded fans' judgement about what they are doing.
The current road, they said, started four years ago when they had
the option to take on some of the rights. They realised to progress
the way they wanted they would have to have all the rights. The
negotiations over those rights took two years, and the deal was
signed in September 2002. They started looking at potential scripts,
all of which they rejected for one reason or another.
"They were poor parodies of the original show, pastiches of
the original show or just off the mark," said Andrew. "We
all agreed - Paul Darrow too - that they were wrong, which is why
they were rejected."
It was at this point, said Andrew, that Paul started to become frustrated.
"He thought that, from signing the rights, within six months
we should have been in production. The reality is that it could
The next stage was deciding how to pitch the show, whether to look
at a UK audience only or aim internationally. They had to look at
what elements of the original show should carry over. And they had
to look at what format the show should be in - the decision was
a mini-series that could work as a pilot for either further mini-series,
a proper series or a series of television movies.
Though B7E sees the US market as important, it was not the driver.
Andrew believes that, while a major US network is unlikely to buy
what they produce, there will be a chance of selling it to a cable
channel. And it is to some of the original American SF shows that
Andrew has looked to for inspiration, particularly character-led
shows such as Stargate SG-1, Babylon 5 and Buffy.
To write the first script, B7E brought on board Dominic DeVine as
executive story editor (see box).
"He knows the show, he likes the show and he is quite a visionary,"
said Andrew. "We have worked with him very hard in shaping
So far, he has produced a 40-page treatment. B7E was happy enough
to show it to potential financers at Mipcon in Cannes in October
2003. Mipcon is the twice-yearly television marketplace. By the
time the next one comes around in March 2004, they hope to have
a full script and start the serious work of financing the project.
On top of the 40 pages, they also have a plot arc to take the show
across a number of mini-series.
It is too early to say yet which channel the show might end up on
and B7E doesn't even plan to pitch to a channel until they have
the script, a budget, a director and key cast members on board.
the new show will be like
"The show we are looking to make," said Andrew, "is
for the 21st century. The tastes of the audience have changed [since
Blake's 7 was first made] so you can't just transform the show from
then to here. It has to play to a new audience and we can't be in
a situation where viewers need knowledge of the previous show."
That doesn't mean that the original show is going to be ignored.
Both say they bought the rights because they have fond memories
of the original and that the new show has to be true to that.
"It will have elements of the original so that those who know
will get them," said Andrew. "We will acknowledge the
canon. But we have to look at the complexities of the storytelling
out there, and they are dramas that treat the audience in a different
way to how they treated the audience 25 years ago."
The one element that will stay is that the new show will be character-led,
and feature characters who the audience can identify with.
"They have to be real," said Andrew. "That is what
Terry Nation did. He created people who were real, who had flaws,
were witty and so on. That is the cornerstone of any good drama
- it has to have believable characters."
One big change will be in the nature of the Federation. Gone will
be the faceless totalitarian state that was only given a voice through
Servalan and Travis. The plan is to give the Federation more depth
and character. Out will go the Federation logo - "too 1970s"
- to be replaced by a more modern design.
The premise of the show will be depend on conflict - physical, emotional
"The politics are a key component," he said. "It
will be like The Dirty Dozen meets The West Wing. Blake's 7 is not
about whiz bang special effects, it has to be character and story-driven.
And it has to be distinctive from the competition in the way the
original show was different from what was around then."
Roj Blake and the original crew will be mentioned, but in this world
they will be folklore and their history will be manipulated by both
sides to suit their aims.
Avon though will appear as the catalyst for what is to happen in
the new show. Enter Paul Darrow, or rather exit Paul Darrow. Much
has been made over the past few years of Paul recreating the character
of Avon - until October this year when Paul announced a very public
split from B7E. So where does that leave the character of Avon?
Andrew was very clear: "Avon will be recast."
What was more striking was that Andrew said it was never certain
that Paul was going to have the role. "Paul has always known
that he might not be playing Avon. His ability to reprise that role
was in some doubt," said Andrew. "We are now going to
recast Avon without doubt."
The door though isn't closed for Paul to have some input into the
show: "We are always willing to talk to Paul," said Andrew,
"but Paul was not the driving force behind the project."
Paul criticised B7E in his statement for preferring to exploit a
brand rather than make a TV movie. Andrew defended his position:
"If you have an opportunity to develop something in a broader
commercial environment, that is not a bad thing. For something to
be commercial, it has to appeal. Blake's 7 is not a brand at the
moment, but it could become a brand."
While a new Avon is likely to meet with mixed reactions from the
fans, the next piece of news is likely to be almost unanimously
welcomed - B7E has opened talks with Chris Boucher, with a view
to him being involved in the project in some way. Chris was the
script editor on all 52 episodes of the original series and wrote
some of the episodes that are among fans' favourites.
"We haven't signed a deal with Chris yet," said Andrew,
"but it is very likely that it will happen."
Initially, Chris will not be involved in the scripting of the mini-series
- Dominic is on board for that - but that has not been ruled out
for the future. He is more likely to be involved in the planned
animated series and the possibility of some audio adventures that
may be out by the end of next year.
"We had a lively meeting with Chris," said Andrew. "I
hold him in the highest regard and we are talking with him over
a variety of things. We share a similar view of the show."
The other character who will be back is Orac, but a very different-looking
Orac. Gone will be the large flashing perspex box, but what it will
be replaced with is a secret.
Simon admitted he had some doubts about bringing Orac back. "I
hate talking computers," he said. "But Orac is a character."
As to who will play Orac, Andrew said: "I'd love to have Peter
Tuddenham involved, but it is too early. First we have to put the
A concept artist has been hired to deliver a general look for the
show. Andrew was unwilling to say more than that he had Hollywood
experience and would give the show a distinctive look.
Since Blake's 7 died in the early 1980s, it has been kept alive
by fans writing their own stories, and many are wondering whether
the new show will provide an opportunity to give their hobby a more
"I tend not to like cold submissions," said Andrew, "because
you get inundated. We have other writers in the picture for future
scripts. But there are other projects where there will be opportunities
for unsolicited scripts."
This includes the possibility of spin-off novels, the audio shows
mentioned earlier and the animated series. He doesn't, however,
want a repeat of the radio shows that the BBC produced, which he
said "didn't ring true". He wouldn't say who would be
producing the new audio plays, but he did say it wouldn't be Big
Finish and hinted that he might do it himself.
As to other writers, he said: "There is a lot of untapped talent
out there and we would like to tap some of it."
Generally, he said, the aim was to have a team of writers. And he
said all the writers would have the tapes of the original show.
back at the original series
Andrew has watched every episode of the original show, when asked
how many times he said "too many". Simon watched about
three-quarters of the original when it was first broadcast and has
read all the original scripts, which he thinks are better than the
episodes as broadcast. His favourite episodes are the first and
last - The Way Back and Blake.
"When I read the Terry Nation and Chris Boucher stuff, sometimes
it is disappointing to watch the episodes," said Simon. "You
see all the imperfections that happened because of budget and time."
Andrew also named The Way Back as one of his two favourite episodes
- the other being Gambit, mainly because of the interactions between
Avon and Vila.
On The Way Back, Andrew said: "It was an incredibly courageous
piece of SF drama trying to capture a pre-watershed audience and
be adult. They even had the lead character up for child molesting."
He said he liked the way the show always surprised, but he thought
it lost its way in the fourth season, though he too liked the last
episode because it showed it still had the capacity to shock.
web site and fannish things
After B7E invited fans to its new web site and to participate in
the online forum, many took the plunge. Those fans were justifiably
upset when the said forum was closed without notice. While some
found their way to other forums, such as the one on this site, others
didn't, leaving conversations unfinished and new friends lost in
the ether. So why did they take that action?
"We put the forum in so people could discuss things,"
said Andrew, "but it got hijacked and became a bitching ground.
Criticism is great as long as it is constructive, and it wasn't.
We had potential investors looking at the site and the forum did
not paint a healthy picture. It wasn't that people were criticising,
it was the way they were criticising."
Doing this without notice, they claim, was initially accidental.
They had been thinking of taking it down, and then it crashed and
they decided not to put it back up again. Andrew admits that the
notice they eventually put up should have gone up earlier and he
said they did answer about 50 emails enquiring about the forum.
Asked why he was not willing at least to put a link to the forum
on this site, he said that the same criticisms had continued there.
"I am not going to sanction a site that is slanderous,"
He knows what they did ended up letting a minority spoil the situation
for the majority of forum users, but he felt he had no choice.
Generally, he knows there are problems with the site and there are
plans to sort some of those problems out in the next few weeks.
However, he does plan on keeping it as a site aimed at broadband
users because he said that was what all the serious movie sites
"By the time we are ready to expand the site, the number of
people with broadband access will be huge," he said.
Given his views on the forum here, a number of people will now be
wondering about his thoughts on the large number of Blake's 7 web
sites, as well as all the zines and fan fiction.
"I think it is great that people are enthusiastic about a show
and want to celebrate it," he said. "I am however against
unofficial merchandise because it cheapens the product. I am also
against so-called slash fiction and I give everyone fair warning
that I do not support it."
Slash fiction is fan fiction in which some of the characters have
a homosexual relationship - or a hint of one. This can range from
something very mild that would probably get a U certificate if it
was broadcast to some that is extremely graphic. See box for more
on Andrew's views on this.
Out of all that has happened, the one thing has got the fans angrier
than anything else is the way they see B7E as delaying the release
of the DVDs with the extras and Kevin Davies' much-wanted documentary.
The news on that front is still not good, but first Andrew explained
"Fabulous Films originally approached us about this two years
ago," he said. "It is a myth that we came in late and
decided to upset the apple cart. Fab Films had the non-exclusive
videogram rights, which didn't in our view extend to a DVD. It is
more than just the interactive issue. They had the rights to release
it in a linear fashion."
The DVD that is now being delayed is a joint venture between Fab
Films and BBC Worldwide.
"The powers that be decided to proceed with the project without
talking to or getting the permission from B7E and the Nation estate.
Now there are ongoing complex negotiations. It is not just about
money. If you buy the rights to something, you just don't let someone
go and piss on you."
He said one of the initial demands was for a fair and equitable
commercial deal, and that side he said had been largely resolved.
He said it was the reputation of Blake's 7 that was now the concern.
"They tried to ride roughshod over us and produce something
with content which we did not feel had any quality or was anything
new," he said.
Simon added: "When we sat down in 2001, we talked about the
25th anniversary and making something special. The concept was to
produce a tribute to Terry Nation. What they have done is not a
tribute to Terry Nation."
Andrew said that BBC Worldwide and Fabulous Films have known for
18 months that they did not have the rights to do it in the way
they were doing it. "Yet for the past 12 months they have let
slip release dates and they knew they were not realistic."
As for the future, Andrew said he wanted the DVD to be "the
strongest possible representation of Blake's 7. I don't want exploitative
trash out there. They will eventually be out, but Kevin Davies'
documentary will not be on them. I will not discuss my criticism
of it publicly because that would be insulting to Kevin, but it
doesn't hit the mark."
He said that 18 months ago there was the opportunity to produce
a documentary that would have been fresh with material in it that
no-one but the Nation estate had access to, "and that would
have been a real tribute to Terry Nation"
is Dominic Devine? (taken from the web)
He is a script writer, script consultant and story editor.
One of his scripts - "The Last Horseman" - was optioned
in Hollywood with game rights optioned in UK. He was recently
head-hunted to write screenplays for two Hollywood $150m features.
He is developing "Voodoo", a feature comedy, with
production scheduled for summer 2004. He is directing two
of his own projects - "Unborn", a psychological
horror in summer 2004, and "A Perfect Plan" with
Mickey Rourke attached about a year later. He was previously
employed as a reader by New Line and Fine Line Features and
has been a consultant at various other small companies including
Greenlit and Raven Films.
Sewell on slash
Andrew's statement that he is against slash will probably
anger many fans and delight many others. This is what he said:
"I think slash is distasteful. The actors that are represented
do not appreciate it. And some produce this stuff on the web.
I think it is bad taste. It has no reflection or bearing on
what the show is and it is not a tribute to Terry Nation's
legacy. I think it is an abomination. I think what is an abomination
is the pornography. I have no problem with fan fiction, but
I do have a problem with pornography."
Asked what he planned to do, he said: "They will find
out how I am going to clamp down on it. The moment you start
doing something of an extremely dubious nature of the pornographic
variety or for a commercial benefit without acquiring the
rights, I and my partners will take a dim view of that."
He acknowledged that slash would always go on. "If it
is conducted in the privacy of your own homes, then we can't
stop that. But when it is on the web, it is inappropriate.
I will try to minimise it further than it already is. I won't
have that representation of Terry Nation's characters given
official sanction. Kids like Blake's 7 and I think it is inappropriate
that they should come across that material under the guise
of a celebration of Blake's 7. There are no gate keepers for
some of this stuff, and that concerns me."
Thank you to Harriet Monkhouse and to Louise and Simon for hosting
this interview on their site.
c2003 Steve Rogerson
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