This book started strongly but I was quite disappointed by the later half. I found a copy of it randomly while walking through the main library at work. I don't think I would have bought it, but thought it'd be worth checking out. I generally tend to hate cultural studies with a passion but thought that a book on the dystopian science fiction of Terry Nation couldn't be all bad and I was right.

The first two chapters were by far the most interesting to me. Which is the opposite of what I thought when I read the introduction. The first chapter gave an overview of Terry Nation's career and everything he wrote. (Including "The Incredible Robert Baldick" a gothic mystery which sounded fantastic). This was great background and also I learned a lot about the type of shows being made in the 60s and 70s. The second chapter looked at the collaborative process of making television at the BBC during that time period. It was astonishing to me that even as the main writer on a show he created several of his scripts for the first series of Blake's 7 were rejected. Likewise what he wanted to do with Survivors was vetoed and the show went off in another direction. (He wanted to focus on the post apocalyptic wandering they wanted it to become a drama at home). It made me think a lot about the differences of control for that and JMS's control in Babylon 5. To me it was a shame that more of Nation's vision was not realised. One complaint within this section was that the author's seemed to repeatedly state that Nation wasn't good at characterisation, and for their back-up for this talked about criticism of his earliest writing for Dr Who. And didn't address anything done later, particularly the strong character driven plots of Blake's 7 and Survivors.
The merchandising for the daleks and Blake's 7 did sound pretty fantastic though, including "dalek sweet cigarettes" (63).

Chapter 3 looked at the 3 within the context of the science fiction genre. It was rather disappointing, though there was a strong part talking about the narrative structure of the show, how it related to other science fiction was mainly limited to Star Wars (which they said had a bigger budget) and Star Trek (which was more positive). This section mainly dealt with the format of the show, for instance Dr Who ending with cliffhangers and Nation frequently writing about the female companion being stalked by monsters/friendly aliens when separated from the doctor.

In the introduction for chapters 3 and 4 the authors "argued that Nation had a consistently distopyian vision" and that "works credited to Nation can critique the simple moralism to be found in other popular science fiction" (7). Both of these I found to be terribly promising statements but was disappointed with their execution within the book.

The 4th chapter on politics was the one I had been looking forward to the most and was by far the most disappointed with. Nowhere was any hint of social commentary given, or how these stories may have been a reflection of society at the time. The thing that appeals to me most about Blake's 7 is how everything on the show is in shades of gray and there is no Black and White moral absolutes. The "heroes" are a bunch of misfits, thieves, pirates, murderers and criminal geniuses, even Blake, the main hero, has his devotion to the extermination of the federation lead him to extremes of fanaticism of which the rest of the crew are uncomfortable with. The authors ignore all of this and instead focus on the "duality" within the story, in fact they nearly always reference the story "duel" and ignore nearly all other episodes except the first one, and therefore give a distorted picture. They portray the polar opposites of Blake vs. the Federation, though never do they contrast Blake with Servalan but always with Travis. In one of the biggest missing-the-point bits they point out how "Travis is coded as evil through his constant appearance in black and his physical deformities" which would make Servalan coded as good as she's attractive and wears white? (But of course she's not mentioned). In fact there is hardly any mention of Servalan at all. She's mentioned for the first time on page 105 (or thereabouts) and is totally ignored in the section on dystopias and politics. She is given 5 pages at the end in the section on "gender" where it is basically stated that as a strong female she's disrupting gender norms and is therefore bad (mostly because she can't get on with other women- the fact that she can't get on with men either is ignored or deemed irrelevant). What is ironic in this is that by isolating her in this way, and not giving her as the credible villain in the show they are just putting her in the "woman" category and making the same mistake they accuse Nation of.

The lack of analysis beyond the simple, utopia vs. dystopia, military vs. individualistic democracy is terribly disappointing and does little justice to any of the three shows discussed. It works best for the Dalek stories, but even there the war within the Kaleds themselves, and the fact that they are not all bad is ignored. For me one of the things that struck me the most on Blake's 7 was the humanising of the "bad guys" shuttle pilots who were escorting the criminals to their deaths were shown as humans with their own conflicts and emotions.

Of course having been critical of their reasoning I did enjoy such a thoroughly researched book. And it was great to read in such detail about all the shows, and different scenes that went along. It was definitely worth reading though I feel that for a better discussion on the nature of the shows I need to go to a less "academic" source.


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