While the announcement that Doctor Who has won a poll to find Britain’s best fantasy TV show has allowed tabloids to indulge in one of their favourite TV-related pastimes - putting pictures of Billie Piper on the cover - it’s interesting to note some of the other shows that got into the top ten. Of course, the poll was primarily of SFX readers, so the results are a little skewed, but it’s heartening to see shows like The Prisoner, Sapphire and Steel and Quatermass making it into there. And let’s face it, the position of Who in the list would only be a surprise if it wasn’t at number one.
However, what most caught my eye - and several other people’s from the looks of it - was that Blake’s 7 got to number 4 in the list. Yes, it does have a relatively large and devoted fanbase out there but, as Alison puts it “when will somebody notice that this show Will Not Die despite its manifest faults“? Indeed, the BBC News article about the poll may raise the hopes of some people with the declaration that “plans to make a new version of Blake’s 7 have been announced“. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as that.
I’m going to make a new series of Sapphire and Steel. There you are, you can now report that ‘plans to make a new series of Sapphire and Steel have been announced’. Those little details like getting the rights, a script, someone to pay for it and someone to broadcast can just be put to one side for now. The plans for Blake’s 7 are slightly more advanced in that the people who’ve announced a new series do actually hold the rights (well, some of them, but we’ll come back to that) but haven’t really done anything more with them. Though they do have a web page - that’s ‘page’ singular, not ’site’ plural.
Unlike most BBC series, most of the rights to Blake’s 7 ended up in the hands of its creator, Terry Nation and it was these rights that, after his death, his estate have sold to a company called Blake’s 7 Enterprises. Now, I could tell you about B7E myself, but they’ve done such a good job of it themselves if you read this interview with them and this discussion on a TV forum. If I was ever to run a course teaching aspiring TV producers how to deal with fans and the media, they’d make great examples of how not to go about it. As you can see from there, B7E have a strong track record of promising the earth and delivering nothing. In fact, less than nothing, given that their interference has meant that a documentary about the making of Blake’s Seven was taken off the recent DVD releases of the series.
The problem for anyone hoping to see Blake’s 7 back on our screens in any form is that B7E appear to have the rights until at least 2012 (they’re cagey about exactly when they’ve got the rights to, but that fits with them having a 10-year option from the Nation Estate) and have shown no signs of getting anything off the ground themselves, or looking like attractive production partners for any TV company who wanted to make a series.
There are other factors that I believe also stymie the possibility of there being any B7 in the foreseeable future. Firstly, there doesn’t seem to be any desire from any TV executives to bring the series back - one of the reasons for Doctor Who coming back in such a spectacular fashion was that it was championed from on high in the BBC by Lorraine Heggessey who was then able to not only get noted Who fan Russell T Davies on board to run the show, but also to get the BBC to give it the backing and funding it needed. Not only does there not seem to be any pressure from on high for B7, there aren’t any high-profile TV writers (unless Paul Abbott or Stephen Poliakoff aren’t telling us something) eager to take it on.
The other - and possibly more important point - is that Blake’s Seven as a property isn’t as valuable as B7E seem to think it is. Whereas, for example, anyone who wants to make a series about an eccentric time traveller that wasn’t Doctor Who would run into copyright troubles with the BBC at every turn, you can make a rebels-in-space series, borrow all sorts of themes and ideas (even characters, after a name and appearance change) from B7 and not have any worries about copyright infringement unless you’re really stupid and clumsy. If you’re not sure what I mean, consider this:
A group of rebels, many of whom are convicted criminals (one of whom killed the man who murdered his partner, another of them is extremely cowardly), escape from captivity and get hold of an advanced ship. They’re pursued across the galaxy by agents of the evil totalitarian power that rules most of it (one of the agents is a grotesque who wears lots of leather) and have various adventures across four series which then culminate them with them all apparently dead. Along the way there’s lots of sexual tension, quite ridiculous amounts of leather are worn and there’s an episode midway through the third series in which leading characters end up tied up as part of a grand plot.
Now, is that a description of Blake’s Seven or Farscape?