Spiral Conflict: Blake's 7's Galactic and Intergalactic Wars
By Alan Stevens
This article was originally intended for publication in the final, unpublished, issue of Scorpio Attack!, and is printed here with the permission of the zine's owner, Jonathan Helm.
It is a common assumption that the “Intergalactic War” and “Galactic War” are terms used in Blake’s 7 to reference the same event. This event also seems to be a confused, contradictory affair, with some episodes indicating it to be a short, if devastating, conflict, others a long struggle; some referring to an alien-human war and others to what seems to be a humans-only event; some episodes, such as “Rumours of Death,” speak of internal rebellions as well. Although it may be tempting for the casual viewer to put this down to lax continuity on the part of the production team, there is, however, considerable evidence within the series to suggest that they are, in fact, two separate, though related, conflicts, with one being brought about as a direct consequence of the other, and that once you consider this possibility, all the apparent contradictions between the descriptions of the war in different episodes melt away.
1. The Intergalactic War
First, let’s look at the references to what is unquestionably an intergalactic war, the conflict which breaks out at the end of Series Two between the Federation and the aliens of the Andromeda Galaxy. All evidence seems to indicate that this war is a fairly short-lived one. Exactly how short-lived it is difficult to say; we have no idea how much time elapses between Servalan ordering Red One Mobilization and the responses by various ships and fleets announcing their positions, or what their positions were at the point at which Servalan made the order relative to those that they occupy when they report in. However, it cannot be more than four hours’ journey at maximum speed between the Federation’s closest forces and the minefield, as we hear an announcement in this sequence that the Galactic Eighth Fleet is “under way” and estimating their arrival to be in about four hours’ time. Although the Liberator which we see in “Volcano” does not seem capable of holding out alone against an alien fleet for a minimum of one hour seven minutes (the position of the closest ship at the point at which the alien fleet comes through) and a maximum of four hours, it is worth remembering, firstly, that the Liberator was in a strategically advantageous position, as the alien ships could not pass through the minefield all at once, and the Liberator, as it picked off the advancing ships, would also generate a debris field which would further slow down the Andromedans, and secondly, that the Liberator seen in “Volcano” had been through the war, and thus was probably somewhat weakened from its pre-war state, repair circuits notwithstanding.
Once engaged, the conflict again appears to be short-lived. When Servalan is shot down in “Aftermath,” at which point the war is effectively over, she is wearing the same clothes that she wore in “Star One,” and the members of the Liberator crew we see are also wearing the same costumes from that episode; the chances of all of them wearing the same clothes on the same occasion months later is rather unlikely. Also, Servalan refers to herself as the Federation's “new President,” a role which she assumed just prior to the war, and finally we have Tarrant’s description of how he came to the Liberator, in “Powerplay”:
Like you, I went in against the aliens; unlike you I barely survived the first salvo. I was picked up by a Federation ship - that's how I came by the uniform. When she was hit and we abandoned, my life capsule homed in on the Liberator. She was still in bad shape but the repair circuits were beginning to make headway.
These events seem, the way he tells them, to have happened in fairly quick succession; very little time elapses between the first salvo and his discovery of the partially repaired Liberator. References to the Intergalactic War thus indicate it to be a short-lived, if widespread, conflict between the Federation and the Andromedans.
2. The Galactic War
The Galactic War, on the other hand, appears to refer to a different, if related, conflict. The first time it is named as such is in “Volcano,” when it is said of the Pyroans: “They were right in the middle of the war zone where some of the greatest battles of the Galactic War took place, yet the planet survived untouched.” Later, we have the exchange:
AVON: Did either side land survivors or damaged ships on the surface of the planet Obsidian?
ZEN: Available data suggests that they did not.
AVON: That's what I thought. Zen, do you have any information as to any neutral status accorded the planet Obsidian?
ZEN: No official neutral status was accorded the planet Obsidian.
AVON: Then what have they got that protects them?
While one might at first assume that this refers to the recently-completed Intergalactic War, there are three pieces of evidence suggesting that this is a different conflict. Firstly, it is repeatedly referred to as the “Galactic War,” rather than the “Intergalactic War,” and the use of the latter term in “Children of Auron” to refer to what is explicitly the human-Andromedan conflict suggests that “Galactic War” is a distinct term rather than a lazy shorthand for the intergalactic conflict; second, aliens are at no point referred to as combatants, whereas “Children of Auron” makes reference to aliens in the context of the Intergalactic War, and, finally, that Avon’s references to “neutral status” and to the different sides landing survivors and ships on particular planets suggests a long-term affair, with time for some groups to be formally accorded special privileges (which seems an unlikely compromise from the Andromedans' point of view, as their stated aim was the eradication of the human race). There is also the fact that Obsidian was evidently not seeded with alien pathogens, which “Children of Auron” implies was common for planets in the battle zone during the Intergalactic War.
There is also evidence from “Animals.” Again referring explicitly to a “galactic war,” Servalan’s captain says that Justin’s experiments were “developed further during the war,” and Servalan herself comments that Justin’s scientific team “were on Bucol Two towards the end of the war and they spent twenty million credits on whatever it was.” This indicates that the Galactic War went on long enough for the Federation to plan, budget for, and spend money on a programme to develop radiation-proof shock troops, which in itself suggests a long-term conflict (in that they were planning to use these troops not immediately, but at some point after the design had been perfected). Servalan also refers to “war departments,” again indicating that people had enough time during the war to organize themselves and develop bureaucratic structures. Justin, furthermore, speaks of what seems to be a ground conflict, mentioning the Federation losing “sixty per cent front line troops” and, consequently, needing soldiers who could “go into areas heavy with radioactivity,” all suggesting protracted multi-planet ground warfare, rather than a brief space battle.
Finally, there is the fact that in both stories, the Galactic War is referred to as a humans-only affair. In “Volcano,” Dayna says “as the Galactic War has just demonstrated, aggression seems to be programmed into the human psyche.” In the Intergalactic War, however, not only were aliens involved in the conflict, but they were in fact the aggressors, and the humans merely defending themselves. Justin, similarly, says “most of my pupils of your time are dead, perished in the Galactic War. That war was a terrible, terrible”; since the Intergalactic War was, again, begun by an alien attack, it cannot really be described as a “mistake”, which would instead suggest that the Federation had played some conscious part in instigating it. Finally, in “Aftermath,” Mellanby says that the alien fleet was “virtually wiped out,” suggesting that they were incapable of engaging in the kind of sustained conflict which constituted the Galactic War according to “Volcano” and “Animals.” So, if it is not simply the human-Andromedan war by another name, what can the Galactic War be?
3. The Nature of the Galactic War
From references throughout Series Three and Four, the Galactic War would seem to have been an internal conflict within the former Federation which emerged in the aftermath of the short, human-Andromedan, Intergalactic War. We know that the Federation was destroyed by the Intergalactic War from two exchanges in “Aftermath,” first between Mellanby and Avon:
MELLANBY: What's left of the Federation fleet, which isn't much, is scattered halfway across the galaxy. I'd say the Federation's in a lot of trouble.
AVON: Yes, it's difficult to sustain a military dictatorship when you've lost most of the military. I only hope Blake survived long enough to realize that he was winning—both wars.
And between Servalan and Avon:
SERVALAN: Star One was destroyed… They reduced the entire planet to so much space debris. Nothing survived.
AVON: And Star One was the basis of Federation power. It controlled everything.
SERVALAN: Exactly. And now it's gone, so is most of the Federation. From now on there will be chaos in the star systems. No central control, no unifying force. Over half the civilized planets left to their fate.
Later in the same conversation, Servalan says:
You could rebuild it all. All those worlds could be yours, Avon, they're there for the taking. You and I could build an empire greater and more powerful than the Federation ever was or ever could have been.
Thus, by the events of “Aftermath,” the Federation is destroyed (and in both “Children of Auron,” and later “Stardrive,” the Federation’s “breakup” and “collapse” are also referred to); however, it also seems that there are people and groups within the former Federation with an interest in seizing power amongst its remains.
A struggle for power between factions is indeed what appears to follow. In “Volcano,” the talk of organized battles between different sides with declared neutral parties indicates fighting between specific groups, and there is the implication that Servalan is at this point employing a mercenary force: her troops are a scruffy unshaven lot compared to previously, the Battle Fleet Commander is South African (which is 70s-television shorthand for a mercenary) and “Kommando” is spelled in the Afrikaans way. The later reference in “Children of Auron” to an “ex-Federation ship” also suggests that various groups broke off, taking their ships and material, and went their own way, and we are told in “Traitor,” that a number of planets, such as Helotrix, gained independence from the Federation and managed to retain that status for some time. The Fifth Legion is seen to make an explicit bid for power in the episode “Moloch,” and by Season Four, we find that Servalan has been deposed and the High Council restored to power.
“Rumours of Death” is interesting in this regard as it appears to refer to a rebellion as well as to an internecine conflict. Chesku’s speech runs, in part, “the rabble which sought to challenge the established order lacked our inspiration, our unity, our leadership. They are crushed. Earth and the Inner Planets are once again united.” Shrinker also mentions a failed rebellion. However, this does not seem to be simply a case of rebels rising against an established order: Shrinker’s story also indicates that people within the establishment changed sides to join the rebels, and, later in the story, Servalan is attacked by Anna Grant, a known Central Security agent, claiming to act on the part of the rebellion, suggesting that the rebellion may have, at least partly, served as a cover for power bids by more formally organized factions, and that these factions were aiming to oust Servalan from her precarious position at the head of the partially-reconstituted Federation.
If the Intergalactic War refers to the brief human-Andromedan conflict, then it seems logical, given the references to it in the series, that the Galactic War refers to the somewhat messier aftermath, which consisted of at least one rebellion (which may have been partially a cover for a failed coup), internecine strife between factions of the former Federation, and wars of independence on the part of former colony worlds. The events of the series itself, therefore, do not speak of a single human-alien war which is variously referred to as galactic and intergalactic, short and long, organized and chaotic, but of a brief intergalactic war which the Federation nominally wins, but is no longer a sustainable organization afterwards, followed by a longer, more chaotic, civil war between different groups in the territory of the former Federation, during which Servalan assumes control of Earth and the Inner Planets, which has effectively ended by “Volcano”. This is later followed, within the series, by a period in which Servalan attempts to extend her power base, displaced, in the end, by a successful coup restoring the old High Council.
While this may be difficult for viewers to pick up on, given that at no point is it explicitly spelled out in the series, the Galactic and Intergalactic Wars are consequently not the same event, but clearly, and consistently, referred to in the scripts as separate and distinct conflicts. However, the events of one precipitated the other, indicating a close connection between the two devastating military campaigns.