When I was about nine the local video store was raided by police for hiring and selling dodgy copies of things. I think, looking back, it probably only had counterfeit copies, we were a long way from the trade routes and videos were pretty new. The videos didn’t have covers, or spine stickers, or anything else to signify what they were. Just a number in liquid paper written on the top indentation to identify it and the number corresponded to a title on a list from which customers made their choice. The tapes were a mix of VHS, Beta and U-matic and they were stuck right down the back of the rural supplies shop, next to the drums of oil and pesticide (fertilisers were outside, the sheep dip beside the electrical pumps, and the dirty mags were under the counter).
My Dad really loved it when he found the videos (we had no need of rural supplies) because we had only black and white ABC television, and the signal was ordinary. The video store wasn’t limited to cinema releases; they hired out all the television that had been recorded by their agents in the city. You could hire three hours of Star Trek, or Robin of Sherwood, or Sale of the Century, or Sixty Minutes. I remember hiring tapes filled with Saturday morning cartoons, the Curiosity Show, and Shirl’s Neighbourhood. I seem to recall my sister watching a never-ending tape of My Little Pony, my Mum hired weeks and weeks of A Country Practice. The ads were left in and they added a good deal to the appeal of watching: all those products and services that we knew were never going to make it west of the Great Dividing Range. My, how we coveted all that shit.
The tapes I really remember watching in those years were not the counterfeit versions of Star Wars or Scooby Doo or The Pirate Movie but the old Blake’s 7’s. I had watched Blake’s 7 on Sunday nights in black and white on the ABC but these were in colour, some of them had UK station promos as bookends. They felt unbelievably exotic. As a boy those four seasons entranced me: for some time I wished to change my name to Blake Kerr, I made toy teleport bracelets, I carried a Perspex box I called Orac, and I knew that women in white were incontrovertibly evil. I loved the show, I loved it all.
Over the past three months or so I have been watching Blake’s 7 with the tiny Rustichello’s and a couple of weeks ago we watched the final episode. In the back of my mind I knew it ended badly, I knew they all died and that they did it to themselves but as the four of us sat there and watched that horribly contrived ending play out I was shocked by the negativity, my heart shrunk at the defeatism that oozed from each scene.
The long story arc, which I believed must end in the poetic defeat of the Federation and comeuppance for the puppet mistress, Servalan, came to a conclusion that saw no balance, no harmony, and no justice. Evil was completely victorious.
Throughout the story arc, which was one of those classically slow British drama narratives developed over exceedingly leisurely hours, Blake and his crew of escaped prisoners fight the evil Terran Federation. They never really seem to be getting close to winning, except when they find Star One and even then the crew of the Liberator are immediately co-opted in an alliance with the Federation to fight the invading aliens. The long struggle is not without cost: Gan is killed off early, Blake and Jenna vanish from the scene after the battle with the aliens and Callie dies a season later after an attempt to rescue a Blake doppelgänger from Servalan. The Liberator is destroyed in the same episode. Later Avon attempts to build a coalition of the willing against the Federation but is thwarted and the great battle between good and evil is deferred yet again.
But having watched The Great Escape, The Onedin Line, and a good many Dr Who episodes I thought that it was certain that eventually the Federation would be defeated, if through no other mechanisms than sheer British pluck and Shakespearean elocution. Alas it does not work out that way, Blake is still fighting and Avon is still fighting but their ability to share the cause is compromised and it all ends in a terrible misunderstanding and a Mexican standoff (Butch and Sundance style) in which no one holds their fire. Villa is shot, Tarrant is shot, Dayna is shot, Soolin is shot, and Avon shoots Blake. Avon, I think, grins at the audience and the screen goes blank.
I’ve read some fan fiction that posits that the Federation guards who swarm the killing floor used a stun setting and Avon doesn’t really die and I’ve also read that the final scene has ambiguity built-in so that there could have been another season. But the final smile before the screen goes blank always struck me as being that of man whose fate was decided. As a boy I was completely crushed by the end of the struggle, surely I thought the struggle carries on. But it didn’t. The great battle never came; the moment of moral retribution doesn’t arrive; evil and injustice are never put in their place. As a grown up, I can see that this is a pretty reasonable response by the writers to the shittiness of Thatcherism, two years in and the gloom thickening, but the end of Blake’s 7 still chills me.
We moved on, to a town with two television stations and a Video Madness store, and Blake’s 7 fell off my radar, replaced by the usual teenage obsessions. The rural supplies store, way out west in the darkened nineteen eighties, accepted the verdict of the cops who confiscated those videos and didn’t make a fuss. Neither, I imagine, did the copyright holders. I heard, later, that the videos had been taken to the dump and left there, whereupon a gaggle of Aboriginal kids had loaded them up in a wheelbarrow and took them back to Dodge City. Out there, I reckon they know the struggle carries on.