Many Doctor Who fans are also fans of Blake’s 7, a cult BBC series from the late 1970s. Do they belong in the same universe, and are they two sides of the same coin?
Certainly, one key factor that unites both Doctor Who and Blake’s 7 is the writer Terry Nation. Indeed, Nation created Blake’s 7 in 1977, and even though he didn’t create Doctor Who, he was arguably instrumental in its long-term success, penning the early story ‘The Daleks‘ which introduced the series’ most enduring villain. In fact, one could argue that Doctor Who might not have lasted had it not been for the mammoth success of the metal mutants from Skaro.
And with Blake’s 7, viewers have a villain that’s not too dissimilar from the dreaded Daleks. This time, though, it’s the faceless Federation – a totalitarian regime that controls the galaxy through lies, oppression and drugs. Its leaders may not be encased in polycarbide, but they are the same at heart – ruthless beings who think nothing of killing to achieve their ends. Indeed, the very first episode of the series – ‘The Way Back’ – sees the Federation massacre a group of unarmed civilians because they dared to go outside. Cosy tea-time viewing this isn’t.
There is hope, though. Doctor Who may have the TARDIS, but the eponymous Blake has the Liberator – a super-powered, alien spacecraft with which he and his fellow rebels can fight the forces of evil. It’s a bit like having his own star destroyer, complete with a teleporter and a talking computer called Zen.
And what’s interesting about Blake’s 7 is that it was being produced at the same time as Doctor Who, so many of the writers, directors and designers worked across both series, often simultaneously. David Maloney, for example, became the series’ first producer, taking the role after overseeing the classic Tom Baker story ‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang,’ whose composer was Dudley Simpson – the man who would write the iconic Blake’s 7 theme tune, and score almost every episode.
Indeed, so closely linked were the two shows that a number of crossover scenarios were considered. For example, in the Blake’s 7 episode ‘Star One,’ the galaxy is under attack from a race of aliens from Andromeda. Initially, this was planned to be the Daleks – a move that would have placed the two shows very firmly in the same universe. In fact, it would even have opened up the possibility of Blake and his crew meeting the Doctor himself, which is surely the crossover we all need. (Please make it, Big Finish.)
And whilst this may sound a bit far-fetched, it wasn’t the only crossover scenario that was considered for Blake’s 7. The actor Gareth Thomas (who played Blake) had become friendly with Tom Baker (who, incidentally, had also auditioned for Blake.) The pair suggested that there could be a random crossover scene in either Blake’s 7 or Doctor Who where the characters would pass each other in a corridor, greet each other with a “Morning, Doctor!” / “Morning, Roj!” and then carry on as normal.
This, however, was not an idea the BBC liked, and sadly the plan never came to fruition. Similarly, the appearance of the Daleks in ‘Star One’ was quickly abandoned, with Blake and his crew instead fighting a mysterious race of shapeshifters that went (mostly) unseen – in their original form, at least.
So whilst Blake’s 7 never contained any obvious connections to Doctor Who, the fact that both series shared many of the same writers meant that some of their episodes could belong to either franchise, albeit with a few tweaks.
The writer Robert Holmes is a good example of this. He penned some of the most popular Doctor Who serials of all time, such as the aforementioned ‘Talons of Weng-Chiang’ and 1984’s ‘The Caves of Androzani.’ And one of Holmes’ strengths was his use of double acts – pairing characters up for dramatic and comic effect. This is particularly obvious in ‘Weng-Chiang’ with Henry Gordon Jago and Professor Litefoot, whose partnership proved so successful that the BBC considered giving them their own spin-off series (a plan that Big Finish would later fulfil.)
And Holmes brought this writing style to Blake’s 7, showing a particular fondness for the characters of Avon and Vila. He paired them up in the majority of his Blake’s 7 episodes, most notably ‘Killer,’ ‘Gambit’ and ‘Orbit,’ which have gone on to become fan favourites. And if you’re unfamiliar with Avon and Vila, think Dirty Harry and the comedian Tony Hancock. In short – if you’ve ever enjoyed one of Robert Holmes’ Doctor Who episodes, you’re almost certain to enjoy his Blake’s 7 scripts.
Then we have Chris Boucher, who was the script editor of Blake’s 7 across all four seasons. Anyone who’s ever seen his Tom Baker story ‘The Robots of Death’ will be similarly entertained by the Blake’s 7 episode ‘Headhunter,’ which he oversaw. Indeed, this was one of the many occasions in which Blake’s 7 drifted from gritty realism to sci-fi horror, with other examples being ‘Sarcophagus,’ ‘Rescue’ and ‘Sand.’ Again, many of these episodes could be repurposed as gripping Doctor Whos, particularly ‘Sand,’ which is all about flesh-eating dust.
And finally, we cannot overlook the plethora of actors who have starred in both Blake’s 7 and Doctor Who. One of the most notable examples is Colin Baker (the Sixth Doctor) who appeared in the 1980 story ‘City at the Edge of the World’ in which he gave a fantastic, scenery-eating performance as the unhinged Bayban the Butcher (“call me Babe.”) The character certainly gave Paul Darrow (Avon) a run for his money in the set-eating stakes – although this was something Darrow later overcame when he found himself acting once again opposite Baker in the Sixth Doctor story ‘Timelash.’ Determined not to be overshadowed, he decided to play the villainous Tekker like Laurence Olivier’s Richard III – complete with long hair and maniacal grin.
And whilst we’re still waiting for a Tekker spin-off from Big Finish, the popularity of Colin Baker’s Bayban has endured – so much so that Big Finish has just announced an official Bayban the Butcher spin-off, with Baker reprising his role as the psychotic “Babe.” This is remarkable considering that ‘City at the Edge of the World’ has (to my knowledge) never been repeated, and is now over forty years old. It promises to be excellent.
Have you ever watched Blake’s 7? Do you believe it could exist in the same universe as Doctor Who? And if you’ve never seen it, are you tempted to give it a go? Let me know in the comments.
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