Published by the same outfit that was turning out Doctor Who “annuals” at the time, the Blake’s 7 1979 Annual is a curious snapshot of the BBC’s eyebrow-raising marketing of what was supposed to be an adult science fiction drama series.
It’s even made clear, in the opening pages which introduce the characters to young readers, that some of Blake’s crew are murderers, thieves, and embezzlers – this is fairly stout stuff for kids. But in the 60-odd pages that follow that introduction, two things become clear: the short stories featuring Blake and company aren’t intended to be even remotely gritty, and the people who put this book together had been given only the briefest of briefings on the characters and situations of Blake’s 7.
Of course, at the time, the show itself was in its infancy, so some things hadn’t really been set down in stone. Others, however, had, and this book contradicts some established series facts with reckless abandon: Travis is a Space Captain, not a Colonel as in the Annual; the galaxy is populated widely with alien races in the Annual, whereas actual alien encounters in the series were few and far between – most of the civilizations the crew encountered were derived from human settlers, though sometimes so far removed from the rest of humanity as to be almost a separate life form.
The artwork throughout the book is intriguing – there are some excellent likenesses of Gareth Thomas as Blake and Sally Knyvette as Jenna, whereas the artists working on this annual seemed to have the damnedest time trying to nail down the facial features of Paul “Avon” Darrow and Jan “Cally” Chappell. Most of the time, Avon comes across looking almost like Patrick Troughton of Doctor Who fame (!), and Cally is drawn as an almost childlike figure. The sets of the Liberator seem to pose less of a problem, though as you can see in one of the pieces of art reproduced here, there seemed to be a little bit of confusion with Star Trek’s transporter and Blake’s teleport…
Perhaps the most interesting feature of the 1979 Annual is a mini-board-game based on the show. Young readers had to provide their own dice and playing pieces (and the center-spread game board is a bit small to go and use the Corgi die-cast Liberator as a playing piece), but it’s an interesting concept. As was the whole idea of producing a children’s annual based on a show replete with killing, violence, betrayals, greed, and corrupt government officials.
Hey, at least we were laying it all on the line for the kids back in ’79. What’s our excuse now?