Tuesday, January 16, 2018


Blake’s 7 – Cygnus Alpha

Forty years ago tonight, the third episode of dystopian BBC sci-fi Blake’s 7 was broadcast. For me, Cygnus Alpha is both where Blake’s 7 becomes Blake’s 7 and where it definitively spoke to me.

This article is a mix of review of that episode and personal perspective on Blake’s 7. A tale of religion, freedom and BRIAN BLESSED. Of how human nature has to embrace a lot of contradictions while totalitarian systems have to deny them. And of Richard and me, and Stockport and London.

Blake’s 7 is remembered after all these years because it opened more bleakly than any other TV sci-fi and finished more bleakly still. But along the way, it’s somehow still immensely enjoyable. If you’re not familiar with the series, here’s the story so far:

The Way Back opens on a future Earth under a drably authoritarian Administration like 1984 slogging on to centuries later. Roj Blake is an apparently ordinary person who finds his life is a lie, his memory is a lie and the whole system is a lie, which then lies about him in the most horrible way to destroy his credibility as a political threat. From suddenly awakened political activist to convicted criminal, he’s transported to prison world Cygnus Alpha with, well, a bunch of criminals. In Space Fall, their prison freighter London encounters en route a mysterious abandoned spacecraft and prisoners Blake, Jenna and Avon board and take it, but this crew won’t be a clean-cut bunch in starched uniforms. No, the people in uniforms are the ruthless galactic Federation Blake’s fighting, while his allies are thieves and murderers who don’t necessarily share his revolutionary ideals. Cygnus Alpha sees him get used to his spectacular ship the Liberator – while Avon and Jenna have to decide whether it’s going to be his ship. And taking the Liberator to future-Botany Bay Cygnus Alpha itself in search of new recruits to his crusade, Blake finds from the start that even the most desperate won’t necessarily flock to his cause…

Cygnus Alpha and Omega

“Come. Follow us. God has prepared a place for you.”

There are at least a dozen episodes – as early as The Way Back, as late as Blake – that you could point to and say, ‘There. That’s it. That’s what makes Blake’s 7 really Blake’s 7’. Of all of them, while it may not be the most dazzling, the most deep or the most distinctive, the most practical single point at which Blake’s 7 comes together as a series is Cygnus Alpha.

Cygnus Alpha is where it all came together for me, too, and not just for the obvious functional reasons that by the end of the story Blake has in place a dysfunctional crew, a super-functional ship and a messianic mission statement, ready to start.

I had started watching Doctor Who aged three, at the beginning of 1975 and the beginning of Tom Baker (with 1963 and 2005, one of the three perfect moments so far to join the series). It captivated me instantly and has shaped an enormous amount of my life, from learning to read, to my politics, to introducing me to the man I love. So when three years later another BBC science fiction series came along, a little bit later in the evening, a little bit more grown-up, I was determined to see it. Wasn’t I twice as grown up now, and allowed to stay up a little bit later too?

I can still see in my mind’s eye – perhaps wholly hallucinatory, after four decades of unreliable memory – the grubby, grim Radio Times picture of Gareth Thomas and Robert Beatty on a tower block roof or car park to promote the series’ first episode, and remember wondering what it would all be about. My other most vivid memory of The Way Back was also one that involved Robert Beatty’s character, but with absolute certainty: a brutal massacre that both thrilled and shocked me, and provided at the time the most compelling answer to what Blake’s 7 would be all about. That, and the nature of the charges framing Blake, tell me in hindsight that my Dad watched the opening episode with my brother and me while my Mum was listening to the radio in the kitchen. Had she come into the living room for either detail, there would have been the inevitable cry of “The things you let them watch!” (my Mum’s superpower in my childhood being to sense the most ‘unsuitable’ moment of anything on the TV to make her entrance) and that would have been the end of it. Though, despite her disdain for all science fiction, I do remember Mum positively choosing to come through for a couple of minutes each week after that to see what frivolities Jenna was wearing.

Aside: I wrote the passage above about the Radio Times picture back in 2014. Since then, I’ve at last seen again what was almost certainly the original entry that my memory mangled over the years. It’s actually of Gareth Thomas and Michael Keating, which makes more sense, but I can understand how I’d have watched the first episode, been enthralled, and put the two most important characters in it together, even if one of them was quite unlikely to be a continuing cast member by that point.

The photo isn’t even in a particularly identifiable setting, but I was born in 1970s Stockport with plenty of concrete and car parks around and clearly read ‘vaguely urban and like the places I know’ into the shot. After many years away, since I wrote the original version of this article I’ve also been living back in Stockport again – though the way back was less hard work than Blake’s. I moved back there with my husband Richard, who (unknown to each other at the time) was also watching Blake’s 7 all those years ago, and not that far away…

One of the absurd moments in Cygnus Alpha comes when, faced with the alien technological marvel of matter transmission, Blake and Avon immediately grasp it because – by an unbelievable coincidence – they had both worked on the same failed Federation “Aquatar” teleport project. “Small world.” They didn’t meet each other then. “Large project.” Not until the start of this series, with both of them on the prison ship London. I remember scoffing at two people with such different skillsets and backstories both having worked on the same useless project, never meeting, just so that years later the concept could come in so expositionarily useful in understanding technology that no-one on any world they knew had ever mastered. Absurd! A decade and a half after we each watched Blake’s 7 as boys, Richard and I found each other through our fluency in that series, Doctor Who and other tongues while I happened to be staying for a few weeks (or so I thought) in the East End. Our ‘Aquatar moment’ came not on the Liberator but on the almost as shiny and exciting Docklands Light Railway. What an absurd coincidence it would be for us to have both grown up in the same town but only to find each other in… London.

The Radio Times picture was posted by the quite extraordinary Twitter account @MakingBlakes7, which is the most brilliant continuing documentary project I’ve ever seen on Twitter. You can see that Radio Times Tweet by clicking here.

“Prisoners? New souls for the Faith.”

For this episode, it helps that it all looks rather stylish. I’ll admit that I often find something of the ‘that’ll do’ about Vere Lorrimer’s direction in his later work for the series, but here the night filming is striking and the projected backgrounds (yellow moon, forbidding citadel) as fantastic an effect as the series ever delivers. But it’s my Mum and Dad’s influence that really primed me to love Cygnus Alpha, though they’d roll their eyes at quite why. They’re both deeply religious, and I grew up going to two churches every Sunday, Catholic and Baptist. Add two competing versions of the same faith and a bright boy who read a lot, and I became steeped in religion, but at the same time asking a lot of questions and curiously open-minded about different flavours that all claimed to be the one true faith. Perhaps that’s why I was just as happy with two ‘rival’ sci-fi shows.

Doctor Who had gone through a year of dark religion that’s still to this day my favourite just before Blake’s 7 came along, and Cygnus Alpha spoke to me in just the same way. This was my world! Religion in all its scary but fascinating glory! My strange personal mix of free-thinking and immersion in dogma meant I was always more compelled by terror in the pews than Yeti in the loos. So, as much as day-after-1984 dystopia had grabbed my attention, it was Cygnus Alpha that was speaking my language and told me this was absolutely my sort of series.

“My word is law. My followers obey without question.”

For all that the Federation, like communist regimes of the time, has banned religion, Cygnus Alpha’s theocratic society is the Federation in miniature (though distinguished by a greedily ambitious figurehead rather than a faceless bureaucracy, Vargas prefiguring über-villain-to-be Servalan). The script is full of parallels between them, from the cruder version of Blake’s show-trial in this world’s “SO PERISH UNBELIEVERS” to the subtler point that, for all his cowardice, it’s Vila who’s still by nature the most wary of going along with authority, whatever form it takes – or clever juxtapositions like “the place of rebirth” and “Berthing sequence automatic”.

Perhaps the unambiguous connection of this theocracy with that already established totalitarianism is what gives the attack on religion such force. Even by the standards of science fiction using other worlds to get away with social critiques that would provoke too many complaints in a modern-day setting, this one pulls no punches (though the institutional child abuse was the Federation rather than the Faith). It’s not a case of using religious trappings to save on money or world-building, using historical window-dressing to tell a different story. One of the reasons this so appealed to little religious me was, ironically, what I’d expect to offend other believers most. It was about the ideas, not just the imagery. Underneath all the monk-like robes, the blasphemous crucifixion, the cruel crusader bust, the Inquisition torture imagery and echoing chants familiar from Gothic horror films, the script really is making a bitter attack on the very concept of organised religion.

“So you and those before you built your power on fear and ruled them with it.”

We saw back on Earth that the Administration maintain their power by surveillance and brute force, fear and drugs, suppression of ideas and the Big Lie. That mirrored totalitarian regimes of the time; now this mirror of the Federation in turn mirrors religious power. If there’s ever a daytime on this world, we don’t see it. Cygnus Alpha is symbolically in the Dark Ages, and for generations its people have been kept in the dark of ignorance. Just like Earth under the Federation, on Cygnus Alpha under the Faith you are always watched. Literally by guards in both, but where the Administration uses cameras everywhere, the Faith uses its God, explicitly invented as a tool of social control.

My husband Richard points out that the constellation of Cygnus is also known as the Northern Cross: both a religious allusion in itself and a reflection of the Southern Cross which is the symbol of Australia, a striking setting for a theocratic space-Botany Bay.

This mini-Australian mini-Federation doesn’t just swipe at religion in general but, true to its Gothic trappings, is as specifically anti-Catholic as any fevered Gothic text. It’s not just taking the fear of an invented death for the fear of an invented hell and proclaiming that the Faith is your only salvation. The Saruman-like hand is one of the production’s few symbols that isn’t obviously Christian, perhaps deliberately to make you focus on a fictional symbol and not on the words and their meaning: “Only from this hand comes life” coupled with a priest handing you a small, round, white thing to swallow that claims to be salvation but is in fact nothing at all? Could it get any more blatant? To look at the “life” held out and see a Trebor mint is to miss the point, but perhaps the very cheapness and obvious solution helps distract and avert complaints. Later dystopia V For Vendetta offered one poisonously satirical communion wafer, but this is a gob-smacking polemic against the whole idea of transubstantiation.

And the Curse of Cygnus (a near-homophone for ‘sickness’) catechised as divine punishment on every wretched inhabitant of Cygnus Alpha – all deserving it as either criminals in their previous life or descended from offenders by birth – from which they can only be saved through the Faith? That’s Original.

After this story’s impact, there’s no real follow-up to the theme; Blake’s 7 is never this savagely critical of religion again. It’s background colour in a few more stories, but they don’t have anything that feels so real. Cygnus Alpha does act as a prototype for more generic Blake’s 7 stories, such as generally the Liberator turning up at a planet of the week and bringing down the regime (or, in this case, leaving it in chaos and having to run away) or more particularly the primitive planet with a primitive people and a twist about something more advanced, usually involving a quarry and a more interesting B-plot in which the crew bitch at each other. Modern BBC sci-fi watchers might call that the ‘Utopia style’, though Russell T Davies’ Blake’s 7 homage brought an altogether rougher beast for its second coming. Perhaps the real thematic legacy of this episode isn’t equating the fierce religion of Cygnus Alpha with the totalitarianism of the Federation, though. Fittingly for my own complicated view of religion as both good and bad, there’s a parable here that’s closer to home.

“The architectural style is early maniac.”

These days I wonder if the whole thing’s not a great big warning about Blake.

If aged six, getting into the series, Cygnus Alpha confirmed that it was my sort of show, I was delighted by how it grew when watching the whole TV series right through again in 2014, aged forty-two. It wasn’t an episode I often chose to watch when I felt like a bit of Blake’s 7 (though I always loved it more than I expected when I did), but I’d thought it was one of the ones I had the clearest picture of in my head: the end of the beginning, fabulous Pamela Salem and Brian Blessed, evil religion plot with a different tone to the rest of the show, entertaining but a bit cheesy. It may well be all those things, but with a more critical brain and knowing the show well enough to put the whole thing in context, I suddenly felt there was a lot more to it.

Blake’s the hero and Vargas is the villain, so they must be opposites, right? Except that it doesn’t play that way at all. If the society of Cygnus Alpha is a mirror of the Federation, the extent to which its leader was not a contrast to but an explicit counterpart to Blake seems so striking that it’s hard not to see it as deliberate (with all the implicit consequences should Blake ever get into power that that entails). Blake getting a messiah complex in Series Two? This story more than any other reads like he’s been off on one since the beginning. Vargas and Blake face off, Brian Blessed and Gareth Thomas with similar intensity, their demands incompatible because the two of them both want the same thing: souls as currency to spread their belief, the power of their word, across the galaxy. Blake takes up his special handgun for the first time; the first to use it? Vargas. Avon’s warning to Jenna about Blake? “He’s a crusader.” Vargas rules by the Big Lie and forced ‘conversion’; Blake tells his followers they have a free choice, but keeps the truth from his first, sceptical disciples (“Did you see anything while you were down there?” “Not much”) and like Vargas gives the next batch of converts the choice of his way or death:
“Only from this hand comes life.”
Three different characters this week all state that the prisoners have no choice, and in the end they don’t – whoever they follow, they’re still going to be followers.

Back on the London, Blake was willing to sacrifice himself so that his followers might live. Now we see the flip-side of that: if you’re not with him, you’re against him. He’s come to find new converts, but when they deny him in fear of the rival Faith, he rages at them instead: “You’re pathetic! …slaves! …I’m better off without you.” For all his rhetoric of freedom, Blake demands a positive choice to follow him – a leap of faith. Offering salvation to his own followers is one thing, but rather than sacrifice his messianic ideals he’ll let everyone else die. Vargas and Kara had watched the Liberator in the sky – a light in the darkness. They called it a sign, and it’s a guiding star heralding the new messiah, but we all know who that is, and it’s not the Blessed One whose hard certainty will be driving death after death in this series.

“A little more practice, we should be able to put you down with precision.”

In the context of the whole series, Avon’s appeal to Jenna that Blake would only use all the ship’s treasures to fight the Federation – though it turns out that Blake is never bright enough to realise how effective wealth would be as a weapon, and Avon is bright enough never to tell him – seems like foreshadowing.
“And he can’t win. You know he can’t win. What do you want to be – rich, or dead?”
From almost the very beginning, you can see in hindsight warnings, prefigurings, fetches of much later events in the series, and perhaps it’s appropriate that this religious episode seems the most prophetic. Avon even aims his gun at Blake first chance he gets (though it’s only once he’s become a believer that he’ll fire). But Avon needn’t have been foresighted enough to see Blake coming down the road. I realise this time that he could just have watched where Blake’s been, already fighting to the last drop of their blood. Consider…
And did I say there was no more religion as theme rather than window-dressing? The week after next it’s The Web, which combines killing God of a sort with at last a ‘successful revolution’ that suggests long before Star One that Blake may not have thought the consequences through.

“It didn’t answer any of your questions. More than that – it deliberately ignored them.”

There may be a certain irony in my having gradually given up belief in religion but gained a passion for politics in my teens, but I remain a free-thinker and just as ready to question my leaders as I was scriptures, and unlike Blake I’m more than wary of imposing my beliefs on others. For me, there was nothing like seeing how two competing church hierarchies that theoretically professed the same beliefs were both much more obsessed with control of individuals than individual belief to tip my own beliefs towards Liberal individualism, if not a hint of anarchism in observing that the best way to kill a belief is to set up a rigid structure to enforce it.

Though I wrestled with the theology for years afterwards, it was perhaps inevitably a confrontation with church authority which precipitated my eventual teenage crisis with religion. The surprise might be that it turned out to be with the smaller ‘free’ church rather than the more top-down hierarchy; the ‘Cygnus Alpha’ Baptists rather than the ‘Federation’ of Catholicism. Aged eighteen, I was teaching Sunday School for the kids; one Sunday I came in with a noticeable bruise and, asked what had happened by one boy, replied with the truth: I’d been walking down the road with my boyfriend and someone had hit us. The next week I found I wasn’t teaching Sunday School any more and that a tight-lipped “You know why” was the only explanation. My own moment of liberation came in realising not my fear, but theirs in their own repression; that they couldn’t bring themselves to talk to me, nor even do what a decent human being would do and ask if I was all right after I’d been attacked. The truth shall set you free, indeed, but not in the way they or I had expected it. That was the moment I lost all respect for that particular church because, after all, what was there to respect? And, fortunately, it wasn’t such a long walk back.

“That would have been very disarming if I didn’t know that you meant it.”

Zen and Jenna offer an intriguing alternative here, both a different angle on (explicitly non-Christian) religion and on what the series might have been had each of them kept such significant roles. How much does each affect the other when enigmatic ship’s computer Zen gets into its new pilot’s head? Jenna’s “to be completely known. It’s like – innocence” is more like a revealed religious experience than anything else in the episode, and without it, would she have hesitated to head off with Avon? Zen is characterised as a superior and evasive oracle with less obvious reactions – except one – but, taking its name and the ship’s from Jenna’s thoughts, does it make itself in her image?
“Wisdom must be gathered; it cannot be given.”
Zen is a very different religious text to the certainties of Vargas and Blake, but how much of Zen’s resistance to direct is inspired by its pilot’s resistance to being dominated, as “the Liberator” it plucks from her desires suggests?

The best piece of bitching among the crew is an understated one from Zen, as it says in turn to the three of them:
“Welcome, Jenna Stannis.”
“Welcome, Roj Blake.”
That is all.
It’s a masterclass in how to be an oracle while making it absolutely bleedin’ obvious what you think; Avon only gets a neutral reply when he prompts it. Clearly, it’s read his mind last week and Jenna’s here and decided it’s not going to like him well before he starts saying it’s “just a machine”. It’s a shame that Zen’s telepathy is lost to another crewmember long before it loses prime spot as ‘bitchy super-computer’. The series also swiftly drops this week’s attempts to pretend they know what they’re talking about on scientific ideas – Aquatar, negative hyperspace, the anti-matter interface – which is no great loss. It feels much more Blake’s 7 when the crew don’t know what they’re talking about, like Blake stumbling on using the teleport because he’s not used to it.

I do feel a little wistful about some of the other interpersonal dynamics that the story appears to set up: judging by Cygnus Alpha, there are now going to be three charismatic leads setting the direction, Jenna being the swing vote, with willingly violent killer Gan and his little friend Vila as wild cards, but it doesn’t work out that way… You can see here that Jenna has so much potential. Blake’s 7 began broadcast just as Star Wars first opened in Britain, so it’ll take a while for the film to start having any impact on the series, but compare and contrast even from the first the clean versus the dirty-handed rebels. One of this series’ great lost opportunities is still that its ‘Han Solo’ is a woman – which may be why she gets elbowed out of the way. But, still to come, Blake’s 7’s ‘Tarkin’ figure will be a woman too – and once she appears, their ‘Darth Vader’-equivalent won’t stand a chance.

“You’re a free man.”

In 2014 I watched Blake’s 7 right through with my beloved Richard. But much as we enjoyed the series all over again, we’ll always remember 2014 for something much more significant to our lives together. We went back, not to the Dome – there’s one just across the river from our flat in London – but to Stockport. On our twentieth anniversary together, we got married at Stockport Town Hall.

I’d say that this was my personal triumph of freedom over dark religion, but freedom won for me so long ago that religion was barely a footnote. Though I still find stories powerful when they make strong use of religion, for good or ill, it’s only as I write this that I realise Stockport Baptist Church is a couple of minutes’ walk from the Town Hall. It’s not something that crossed my mind on the day (though I probably quoted Blake’s 7 at some point). When we made the most important decision of our lives, we were surrounded by believers in several kinds of politics and faiths and in none, including my very proud and happy Mum and Dad, but we chose each other and we chose all the people we invited for love and belief in ourselves.

The Apocrypha: Trevor Hoyle’s Blake’s 7

“Hands reached up and pushed back the cowl to reveal Kara’s evil, haunting beauty – a face that was disfigured by a kind of lustful greed… a smile that was rapturous and yet somehow obscene…”

There’s another alternative world of Blake’s 7, and of Cygnus Alpha. I was already a voracious reader when Blake’s 7 turned up, but though my memories of Cygnus Alpha are thoroughly entangled in Trevor Hoyle’s first Blake’s 7 novelisation (like the first VHS release, compressing the first four episodes), I didn’t return to it as nearly often as Target’s Doctor Who range. Wondering why, I accompanied my 2014 rewatch by buying the audiobook versions, with this part now read by Paul Darrow… And, yes, I can understand why; Hoyle’s writing style tries to be hard-boiled and usually just about hits pedestrian. The CD readers liven him up, but the main interest is the differences from the TV versions – it seems that the first book is from early drafts of the scripts, and without having seen most of the actors, while the Liberator is described backwards. My guess is that these are unadulterated script writer Terry Nation, before script editor Chris Boucher came along; there are notably fewer sharp one-liners and a much smaller part for Avon. The biggest point of interest, unexpectedly, may be his take on Time Squad, for a very different backstory to both Gan and the assassins (though Zen is far less intriguing); the biggest wasted opportunity that Hoyle seems to stick too rigidly to the scripts rather than, say, establishing Arco and Selman with roles in the London rebellion now the actors don’t need paying for an extra episode.

The very ’70s stylistic tic that most sticks out today, though, is that suddenly we’re plunged into an alternate version of Blake’s 7 where (speaking of adultery) every woman is there to be leered at. Men get sexually neutral or ugly descriptions – let’s hope he’d not seen poor Michael Keating when Vila’s a “gargoyle” – but every woman is objectified at length and, if they’re baaad girls, all the more titillating! I suspect this may have put me off when I was a boy, but hearing Gareth Thomas and Paul Darrow having to read all this first made me wince, then laugh. Though I’ll give Hoyle the benefit of the doubt that there’s an earlier Gareth Thomas series in-joke in there, I did actually laugh aloud as Paul Darrow purred:
“Avon casually looked round and then sat up straight, his eyes popping out of his head. His first thought was to wonder how a beautiful and sexy star maiden had managed to get aboard the Liberator and it took all of ten seconds to realise that it was Jenna, attired in the most magnificent – and rather revealing – space-age costume.”
Or, ‘Why, Miss Jenna, you’re beautiful!’

Avon follows this by swallowing in “goggling admiration” and “real appreciation”, her with “impish seductiveness” as she’s “coyly” “posing for him”. Later, Cally will be a “young”, “stunning-attractive girl”, “incredibly beautiful”, “athletically supple”, and Blake will be unable to fathom why a “beautiful girl” should be wearing combat gear. Dear [ Blessed ]GOD![ /Blessed ] She will also have amazing eyes the like of which Blake has never seen but which the author won’t describe, so they might boggle out on springs for all we know. At least Blake won’t actually ask her what she’s doing in a place like this.

But where Hoyle really gets excited is the female villains, who are beautiful – but evil, but sexy – but evil! What a mix. And a minx.
“His companion turned towards him… and in the flickering firelight it was a face of evil, the lips twisted in a rapacious snarl, yet even so with a fascinating, hypnotic beauty.
“‘New souls for the Faith,’ said Kara in a throaty whisper, her eyes alight with sly rapture.”
Oh, put it away. The strangest thing is that the Terry Nation draft of the script forgets about her at – forgive me – the climax, and so bizarrely does Mr Hoyle. You’d think he’d have been faster to write her an unconvincing last moment than the one Chris Boucher seems to have stuck in. ‘Only the love of a good violent criminal she’s kissed once could free her from being the Sexy Nun of Evil…’

Paul Darrow clearly enjoys all this schlock too, as well as capturing Gareth Thomas’ intensity rather well for Blake and compensating for half Avon’s part not having been written yet with a compelling emphasis on his own character’s lines that makes his every. Word. Twice. As. Avonnn. The whole thing is hammy as hell but very entertaining, and far more so than the prose deserves.

So it’s a good job that the TV version was so absolutely perfect – not perhaps entirely perfect as a piece of television, but perfect to broadcast directly into my six-year-old world and open up a new one.

“Let’s all go! Er… No, on the other hand, let’s all stay.”

Last year I found that I couldn’t bear blogging any more. I wish I could say that, with the pressure off, I’ve been able to write plenty of articles for my own pleasure and that this is the herald of more to come. I’m sorry. I haven’t. It isn’t. So this is perhaps a coda – something I’ve not previously published, but which isn’t technically new.

Cygnus Alpha and Omega was first published in 2015 in the book Blake’s Heaven, a collection of personal perspectives on every episode of Blake’s 7. I was delighted to be a part of it and surprised I managed to write something, though that delight has since been marred by the horrible circumstances in which the book has been withdrawn and which I don’t want to think about. But with the fortieth anniversary of the series this year, I re-read my contribution and decided it was worthwhile enough not to go to waste. It’s more personal than most of my writing, and I found as I was putting it together the first time that how resonant the themes – and some of the coincidences – were to my life. Well, bits of it.

I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time re-reading, re-watching and re-writing in tiny perfectionist polishes preparing for tonight, some of it no doubt procrastinating to avoid having to make the decision whether or not to put something else on my blog. I have. I hope you enjoy it.

I am, at least, enjoying Blake’s 7 all over again. For what it’s worth, though Cygnus Alpha has its own special place for me, my particular highlights of the series are: And a happy-go-lucky bunch they are, too.

I’m sorry this isn’t my way back to blogging. For something cheerier, you might look up another great piece of BBC sci-fi; first broadcast on TV thirty-seven years ago this week – though, like this article, it had already done the rounds in other media – I find myself thinking of The HitchHiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Episode 3. Magrathea doesn’t properly revive from its long slumber, merely turning in its sleep to put a new spin on a previous work, but that too is about religion and, for all that I know how badly everything turned out, that it’s a cosmic joke and that the new beginning isn’t going anywhere, there is a moment at the end of that episode that still moves me more than almost any other piece of television. This piece of writing is nothing like that. But I am quite fond of the crinkly bits round the edges.

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