Blake’s 7: a science-fiction TV series that ran for four seasons from 1978 to 1981. In a grim, nightmarish future, resistance fighter Blake fought the evil Galactic Federation with a hi-tech spaceship, the Liberator, crewed by escaped prisoners. It tended to be pretty damned pessimistic at the best of times. Blake went missing after season two, leaving his second-in-command Avon in charge; the Liberator was destroyed at the end of season three.
Even so, the final episode was an emotional kick in the nuts by any standard.
The final episode found them on the planet Gauda Prime, trying to find Blake. They succeed- but Avon, mistakenly thinking Blake’s betrayed them to the Federation, shoots him. Dead. While we’re still reeling from that, Federation troops burst in; Avon’s crew are shot down around him. Surrounded, Avon stands astride Blake’s body, raises his rifle, and smiles bitterly… cut to black, and a volley of shots ring out.
I fucking bawled. (I was seven at the time, I should hurriedly add.) Blake’s 7 was a regular fixture, like Dr Who, and it’d just ended in the most bleak, brutal way imaginable. They hadn’t even gone out in a blaze of glory or with Blake and Avon reunited. I hated that bastard scriptwriter (Chris Boucher.)
But now I admire him greatly: that final episode is still burned into my memory thirty years later. Because this wasn’t supposed to happen. They were the good guys (though Avon was a ruthless bastard;) the good guys were supposed to win. Not kill each other in a tragic misunderstanding and be mowed down in disarray.
Welcome to the real world, kid. You keep fighting overwhelming odds for too long, it’s only going to end one way.
Here’s the thing, though: if Blake’s 7 had ended less unhappily, I doubt I’d remember it so fondly, or so well. Ramsey Campbell once said of Stephen King that he gave readers what they thought they didn’t want. That final episode did the same.
The great love stories: Romeo and Juliet, Antony and Cleopatra, Heathcliff and Cathy… do they end with love conquering all? If they did, would they be so memorable, so moving?
The lesson: honesty, in writing, beats clichés hands down. Two of your characters might end up getting horizontal: doesn’t mean they’re going to settle down, get married and have kids. It might be the expectation; it might be the easy option- but unless it’s the truth it’s lazy, clichéd, a lie. Where are the characters’ drives and motivations taking them? Look at their final destination and don’t flinch; Look for whatever truth the story and characters have.
I’ll leave you with three quotes to sum it all up:
‘This is my truth; tell me yours.’ –Aneurin Bevan.
‘Never underestimate people; they do desire the cut of truth.’ –Natalie Goldberg
‘What’s important is not what an audience thinks the night they see a play, but what they think six months later’ –Edward Bond
Or in my case, thirty years.