RESCUE: PAUL DARROW WRITES
Blake's 7, 'A Marvel Monthly', was launched to tie-in with the broadcast of Series D on BBC 1 in September 1981. A highlight of later issues was a regular feature called 'Paul Darrow Writes' featuring the actor's personal reminiscences about the series. Here we present his recollections of Rescue including his memories of Geoffrey Burridge and his thought's on Cally's departure.
Paul Darrow Writes (Blake's 7 Monthly)
When the third series of Blake’s Seven came to an end on Terminal, none of us believed - although rumours abounded - that there was any intention on the part of the powers that be at the BBC that we should be revived.
Almost immediately, I went off on location for three months to do a TV film called Drake’s Venture. This was swiftly rechristened by the film crew to Blake’s Venture.
It was not until a few weeks after my return that I received a telephone call from Vere Lorrimer. Mr Lorrimer, as you will know, had previously directed twelve episodes of Blake’s Seven and was responsible for many of the series’ highlights - Aftermath, Redemption, Cygnus Alpha, Countdown, Killer etc.)
Mr Lorrimer is not only a first rate director. He is blessed with boundless energy and enthusiasm and has a shrewd understanding of what matters most in a show of this nature. In addition, he is that rare creature in the cut and thrust of show business - a true gentleman.
I have never met an actor who doesn’t want to work with him time and time again. Consequently, it was impossible to resist him when he informed me that a new series was being set up and that he had been promoted to produce it.
From the start he made it clear that there would have to be a subtle shift in the relationships of our heroes. Two choices were open to us. We could go on as before with the same antagonisms, the same characters that you had come to know, in the same situations, facing the same enemies and producing similar results.
Or - we could change direction. Explore our characters a little more fully and, perhaps, make them more believable. Not ‘Supermen in Space’, but identifiable, vulnerable people in extraordinary circumstances. In short - become what our creator, Terry Nation, had intended in the first place.
I chose this second option because I wanted to dissect Avon’s personality, carry his moods to extremes, emphasise his faults and reveal the savagery required of such a man in such a hostile environment.
I was aware that this might alienate an audience - but if you wanted to see Superman or Flash Gordon, you could go to the cinema. Avon was not super or flash but a human being, like many of us today, who had to behave as he did because, unlike Clark Kent or Doctor Who, there was always the possibility that Avon might lose! In the end - we all lost.
I believe that, in television today, the intelligence of the audience is often underestimated. I believe that you would like to see your heroes ‘warts and all’, rather than in shining armour astride a white horse in a situation where right always triumphs. You and I know that is not true of today and I very much doubt it will become a truism tomorrow.
Under Mr Lorrimer’s guidance, we tried not to underestimate you. We tried to plumb the depths of our characters so that you would recognise their traits and respect them for their honest presentation. We aimed for a greater realism in the Great Unreality.
As I write this, I believe that we must have achieved something. I am still receiving over a hundred letters a week and the BBC has been inundated with letters requesting - in some cases, demanding - another revival of the series.
It is a source of some pride for all of us who took part in it that ‘the poor man’s Star Trek’ should turn out to be not quite so poor after all. So it came about in September 1981, Blake’s Seven was ‘rescued’, for possibly the last time. I use the word ‘possibly’ advisedly. For, as the men who climbed Everest will tell you, nothing is impossible!
Servalan, the Lucretia Borgia of Outer Space, had left us to rot and die. But she reckoned without the determination of Blake’s crew and the fact that, if they had once been of value to her, they might still be of value to someone else. That ‘someone else’ duly appeared in the form of Dorian. A two hundred year old man who needed our brains in order to survive for another two hundred years.
Obviously, he wasn’t going to get far on Vila’s brain, so Avon was his chief target. Two ruthless men confronted one another. The first of many such confrontations. The last confrontation of all, that between Avon and Blake, was to come later. Our very own Clash of the Titans.
Geoffrey Burridge was a popular guest artist and played Dorian as the toughest and cleverest opposition that Avon had had to contend with. Had the two characters joined forces, even Servalan might have given up. Curiously, Geoffrey and I had appeared together in Charley’s Aunt. Rushing around pretending to be his nutty aunt from Brazil had been very different from playing cat and mouse with him while portraying Avon.
Because of this coincidence, we found it difficult to keep straight faces whenever we remembered our previous encounters.
Dorian, unfortunatley made two fatal mistakes. He underestimated the opposition and he trusted a woman (Soolin). Avon never made mistakes like that.
However, Dorian was almost a match for him and it took the intervention of a half-tipsy Vila and a forgotten Federation gun to swing the result. Dorian died - and the Creature that had absorbed his sins and kept him young died with him. He couldn’t really complain. Two hundred years is a fair run!
Now we were running again. Running after the elusive Blake. Running out of time. Now we had a base - Xenon - and a new ship that we had stolen - Scorpio.
One thing was made very clear at the end of that first episode of the new series. Dorian had ruthlessly suppressed any attempts to wrest either his ship or his base away from him. If we were going to hold on to them, it would mean that Avon and the rest would have to be even more ruthless.
One other thing. Cally was no longer with us. If you have watched the series, you will know what that meant to Avon. Jan Chappell’s departure from the programme left a gap that was never filled. She had her own good reason for leaving. I, for one, wish she hadn’t.
Towards the end, it became clear the series lacked something because Cally, or somebody like her, was not there. When she died she called two names - Blake and Vila.
Judging by the many letters received, many of you would have preferred it if she had called another. The fact that she didn’t might explain Avon’s brusque dismissal of her death. Or perhaps it illustrated what you could understand and that the script writers didn’t.
Image: Paul Darrow in Drake's Venture.