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On taking things seriously January 17, 2016

Posted by sjroby in Blake's 7, Star Trek.
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As far back as the 1980s I remember people watching the original Star Trek because they were amused by its campy cheesiness. The British TV series Blake’s 7 gets a lot of the same kind of “appreciation.” To be fair, there are certainly moments in each that are either accidentally awful or clearly just taking the proverbial. Take “Turnabout Intruder” or “The Harvest of Kairos.”

But I never cared for that approach. That kind of ironic appreciation, the whole “it’s so bad it’s good” has limited appeal for me. I can see sitting through something like Plan Nine From Outer Space, but several seasons of a TV series? Why put yourself through that?

There’s two sides of the equation, of course — the creator’s intent and the audience’s reaction. I think it’s safe to say that, for the most part, the creators of Star Trek and Blake’s 7 took what they were doing fairly seriously. They did the best they could with the resources at hand, doing what was possible at the time they made their shows. That the world has changed since then is beyond their control. The rerun/video audience is watching outside of the original context and isn’t seeing the show as it would have been received in its time.

So, as far as I’m concerned, if you’re going to invest enough time to watch a whole old TV series, you have to see past the years between you and the show. You have to see past old-fashioned and unconvincing special effects. You have to adjust to the slower pace. You have to engage with it on its own terms and see what is actually going on.

The original Star Trek is not about space battles, fistfights, and Kirk getting it on with all of the women in the galaxy. Those are cliches propagated by people who don’t take the show seriously enough to actually watch all the episodes and see that Kirk is actually a three-dimensional character, and that there’s more moral complexity and thoughtfulness in the show than some people grant it. Yes, you can name obvious counterexamples. But in the context of the whole series, they’re blips. Blake’s 7 is not just about Servalan camping it up or Avon chewing the scenery. The relationships between the characters have a fair amount going on onscreen and hints of more underneath. The show addresses the morality of the characters’ actions, too — they may be trying to be honourable freedom fighters, not terrorists, but there’s no shortage of dead innocents in their trail.

When you take the shows seriously you can see how the characters change, how much depth there is to their personalities, even on these old TV series that didn’t focus as much on those elements as some newer shows do. You can see their fictional universes expand and become more interesting, more able to generate new story ideas. You can understand why people still want to spend time creating or enjoying new stories in those universes without thinking they’re wasting their time doing it.

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