Will Syfy's Blake's 7 reboot be as dark as Battlestar Galactica?

Illustration for article titled Will Syfy's Blake's 7 reboot be as dark as Battlestar Galactica?

Syfy's great success story remains Battlestar Galactica, the cheeseball 1970s space opera show that Ronald D. Moore brought back as a gritty, more serious look at the remnants of humanity trying to survive after a robot massacre. So now that Syfy is apparently picking up Blake's 7, the 1970s British space opera, can the channel repeat that accomplishment?


According to Deadline, Syfy has ordered a pilot script for Heroes producer Joe Pokaski's reimagining of Terry Nation's saga about a group of political dissidents and criminals facing a totalitarian galactic Federation. If Syfy likes the script, Martin Campbell (Casino Royale, Green Lantern) will direct the pilot — and Syfy has already agreed that if the pilot gets filmed, so will another dozen episodes of the first season.

If Syfy's Blake's 7 does succeed, it'll have to follow in BSG's footsteps. The original Blake's 7's fingerprints are all over Moore's BSG reboot, and pretty much the only way to do Terry Nation's concept properly in this day and age is to go as hard-edged as possible. (A show about freedom fighters who use terrorist tactics against an empire that relies on pervasive surveillance and overwhelming military power pretty much has to be dark and intense — you couldn't do that in the more friendly, cheerful mode of recent Syfy shows like Warehouse 13, or even Alphas.)

And the truth is, the original Blake's 7 was already much, much more fucked up than the original Battlestar, making it that much harder to do justice to the concept in a modern framework. Besides the already mentioned elements of terrorism and an evil version of Star Trek's Federation, consider the following:

1) A main character who's been brainwashed to betray all his friends, and then falsely convicted of being a pedophile
2) His sidekick is an amoral computer genius who's willing to sacrifice everyone else's life for personal gain
3) The "good guys" kill regularly and without hesitation, and are willing to make deals with drug kingpins and other scumbags for the cause
4) Blake winds up being willing to throw the entire galaxy into starvation and chaos, just to overthrow its government

And that's just scratching the surface.

The good news is, there's plenty of stuff that could stand to be improved in the original series. The visual effects in Blake's 7 are so terrible, they make 1970s Doctor Who look like Avatar. The original show sometimes drops inconvenient plotlines — like the one about Blake being a convicted pedophile — and pretends they never existed. Stuff just drops into the good guys' laps sometimes, including the fastest spaceship in the galaxy and the only supercomputer in existence. The show is frequently camptastic, and its best character — the evil Servalan — is also kind of ludicrous at times.


So I guess the real question is whether Syfy is willing to try another "dark" space opera, after Stargate Universe failed to inspire a huge audience. And whether Pokaski can do justice to all the dark political allegories that were already right there on the surface in the original series. And whether the Martin Campbell who directed Casino Royale can helm this pilot, instead of the Martin Campbell who directed Green Lantern.



I don't think Stargate Universe failed because it was dark; I think it was because it was too different.

Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis had some fundamental differences, but both featured a small, close-knit team of characters who were mostly heroic, dealing with larger-than-life villains who were mostly evil, with a few splashes of fun and humour along the way. Atlantis was perhaps slightly more "grown up", but it was similar enough to appeal to a decent chunk of the SG-1 fans. Also, because SG-1 continued to run while Atlantis was starting out, it provided a safety net: any fans that didn't instantly like Atlantis still had their Stargate fix, and SG-1 was able to throw in crossover episodes to nudge viewers into giving Atlantis another try once the spinoff had found it's stride.

That same approach worked really well for Star Trek as well: both Deep Space Nine and Voyager were different from their predecessors, but they still focused on a crew, encountered aliens that embodied a particular political or philosophical stereotype, and so on. Both franchises managed to keep the spinoffs similar enough to carry across a big chunk of their audience.

Stargate Universe on the other hand changed too much. Instead of a small team you had an ensemble cast. Instead of camaraderie you had conflict. Instead of unquestionable heroes and clear villains, you had shades of grey. Instead of humour you had grit and angst. So many of the elements that people liked about Stargate were missing: they weren't able to transfer their audience across because it wasn't necessarily their cup of tea. That turned the "Stargate" part of the name into an albatross: not only are you loosing a lot of your existing audience, you're potentially scaring off new viewers who didn't like the previous incarnations or think they'll need to have watched them to understand what's going on. There was also no existing show there to act as a crutch: if people didn't like it they stopped watching, and there was nothing to nudge them into giving it another go once the show reached it's stride.

Enterprise and Caprica at least partially suffered from the same problem. They didn't quite manage to capture the same feel as their predecessors: if you liked Battlestar Galactica or the earlier Star Trek series, there was no guarantee that the spinoff would be your cup of tea.

Because Blake's 7 is a "new" franchise rather than a spinoff, it won't have the same baggage that Stargate Universe had; so hopefully Syfy won't be looking *too* hard at SGU's performance as a comparison.