How Blake's 7 predicted AIDS

Here's something I bet you never knew: over a year before the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention first reported what would later be identified as AIDS, dystopic BBC sci-fi drama Blake's 7 predicted the AIDS crisis.

The cult series followed the exploits of a (largely ammoral) band of revolutionaries fighting the authoritarian Federation. Their one advantage was a spectacular spaceship that was faster and more powerful than anything else in the galaxy. But in the third series, things were to change...

Picture the phallic Liberator powering through the darkness of space. On the flight deck, a single man stands alone, his head in his hands. It's our anti-hero, Avon. He's confronted by Tarrant - young, virile Tarrant - who he resents. For reasons best known to him, Avon has brought the ship to a section of deep space, and now they've arrived, there's nothing there. It's like an online hook-up gone wrong. "Why here? Why bring me here?" he asks himself. "I have followed all the instructions to the letter, but it doesn't make sense."

"Computers are receiving the identifying call sign as stipulated," omniscient super-computer Zen booms. Zen is crucial to our AIDS analogy, as we'll discover later on.

The message Avon's been waiting for has arrived. "The signal is being redirected and boosted through a communications satellite. Trace to origin is not possible. Identifying call sign has ended. Message transmission has begun," Zen says. (Oh - it's a sext, then.)

They're directions for the intergalactic hook-up. Tarrant wonders about this. "Where are we going, Avon?"

"Profound philosophical questions never really interested me," Avon says helpfully.

As it turns out, Avon doesn't know where the Liberator is headed, so Tarrant - and the rest of the crew - ask Zen.

"That information is not available," says Zen. "The information you require has been stored via a coded route, and retrieval is not possible without the correct security command sequence." (So, as well as predicting AIDS, Blake's 7 also predicted the hell of online banking. Who'd have thought?)

Here's where things get deep. The Liberator pushes on through space, finally coming to "a broad spread of unidentified matter across predicted flight path," as Zen puts it.


Tarrant asks what it is.

"Preliminary readings have failed to identify the nature of the material," Zen says, later adding the material is made up of "minute fluid particles". A bit like semen, then.

"Let's be on the safe side and go around it," Vila - supposedly the stupid one - says.

Hell no, Avon says.

"I can't think of a good reason why we should take any risks, and you're not about to give me one, are you?" Tarrant responds.

"Taking risks", huh?

Zen advises, "The consensus of computer systems favour a course deviation to avoid contact. In this environment, it is prudent to treat any unexplained phenomenon as potentially dangerous." How's that for safe sex advice?

But Avon isn't having any of it. He's determined to have his way and push on and through the matter.

"That is it, Avon. I've had it," Tarrant says. "Either you tell us what it's all about or we're going to stop it."

"No, you're not. Nothing and nobody is going to stop it, you least of all," Avon responds, pointing a gun at Tarrant's stomach. "Now get out of my way, and stay out of my way." And these are the good guys. That's Blake's 7 for ya!

The Liberator closes in on the strange matter, and gets shaken about a bit. "I hope it's worth all this," Avon says, alone in the teleport room. It never is, Avon. It never is.

The Liberator emerges from the matter belt, and Zen has some bad news. "Hull sensors still inoperative. Auto-repair circuits activated. There is no other damage. Visual scan reveals minute particles of matter adhering to the hull."

Outside of the ship, we see the liquid particles burning into the hull of the Liberator. The crew won't know about it until it's too late, but the damage is done. Avon's gone in without protection, despite knowing it might be unsafe, and caught something nasty.

"Any problems with that?" Tarrant asks of the inoperative hull sensors.

"No problem is apparent," Zen says. Everything's okay - isn't it?

The Liberator arrives at its destination, an ancient man-made planet called Terminal (really). Avon receives instructions to head down there, alone. "I don't know what to expect or how long this will take me," he tells the others. Must be a man, then. "I'll call in every hour on the hour, but if I miss one transmission, get out of here."

"We can't afford to lose you," says Cally (think of her as Avon's fag-hag).

"Sentiment breeds weakness. Let it get a hold of you and you are dead," Avon says, like a darkroom addict. Moving towards the teleport, he says, "One last thing. I don't need any of you. I needed the Liberator to bring me here so I had no choice but to bring you along, but this is as far as you go. I don't want you with me. I don't want you following me. Understand this: anyone who does follow me, I'll kill them." The lone gay man on a mission cuts off his straight friends.

There's a bit more plot: down on the planet, Avon is directed to an underground city. Tarrant and Cally follow discreetly, leaving Vila and Dayna on the Liberator, where things are getting ugly. The Liberator - a design triumph, the most powerful, sought-after ship in the galaxy - is afflicted with a terrible virus. The interior is blighted with horrible, sup-orating sores.

Vila and Dayna are initially oblivious, but the virus seems to be effecting the ship's main organs systems, too.

"Zen, report on the status of the energy bank instrumentation," a panicked Dayna says.

"Auto-repair circuits are working at maximum capacity. Damage exceeds rectification capability," Zen says, worryingly. That translates, roughly as, "My immune system is terminally compromised."

"Damage? What damage?" Dayna asks.

"That information is not available," Zen responds. Zen doesn't know what's causing the damage. The Liberator is sick, but Zen - the ship's brain and nervous system - doesn't know why.

"The nature of the damage," Dayna says. "What's causing it?"

"Unconfirmed analysis suggests unidentified enzyme activity resulting in molecular metamorphosis," Zen responds.


"Zen, it is vital that we have more information. Divert all computer functions to total investigation," Dayna demands.

Zen issues a garbled stream of nonsense. Our previously infallible supercomputer is losing its motor-functions. "Minor damage to primary translator unit makes temporary closedown of speech circuits necessary. You will be advised when full function is restored." (When there's a cure.)

Meanwhile, in the underground city, Avon has discovered what he came here for: his man, Blake. Two men, the anti-hero and the idealist, with a destructive love/hate relationship. That's what it's all been for. Blake is on life support, apparently recovering from serious injuries sustained in a previous season's finale. He needs Avon to rescue him.

Back on the Liberator, things are going from bad to worse. The virus is eating away at the ship, "It's eating into everything! Metal, plastics, fibres, just rotting away," Vila says, scraping gunk from a console. This virus ain't pretty.

"There's total drain on three of the energy banks, maximum discharge on all the others. In a couple of hours we'll have nothing in reserve," Dayna says.

Vila has an idea, but they need the increasingly ill erratic Zen. The supercomputer comes slowly back online, stirring like a dying AIDS patient greeting dimly remembered friends. "Confirmed. State speed and course. Computer circuits have now been rerouted and. As requested are now online."

"Zen, I want all the auto-repair systems closed down," Vila says.

Dayna is appalled. "You can't do that!"

"We've got to. They're fighting a losing battle and burning up the energy banks," Vila tells her. He turns to Zen, "Concentrate everything you've got on keeping the computer systems functioning. Maximize investigation and research into the nature of whatever's causing the damage and find a solution."

Zen's auto-repair (or immune) system is now totally compromised. "Dangerous structural weaknesses have already... have already... already developed in many areas. Auto-repair circuits are delaying further weakening," Zen says, haltingly.

"But without the auto-repair, this stuff's going to speed up," Dayna points out.

Back on the planet, Avon has been taken captured by some camp security guards, and brought before Servalan, his evil nemesis. Servalan might be a woman, but she's a woman surely playing a gay man.

"You don't seem surprised to see me," she says, like a toxic ex (we've all got at least one).

"If it was a trap, it had to be yours. The precise planning, the meticulous detail, the general flair, who else could it be?" Avon says grudgingly.

So it turns out that Servalan has - apparently - used Blake to lure Avon to the planet, in order to get her hands on the Liberator. She'll give Avon his man, in exchange for his wheels.


Unfortunately, unbeknownst to either of them, the Liberator is in a bad way. Zen is delirious. "State course and speed. Blake. Cally. Confirmed. Confirmed. Confirmed, standard by five. Dysfunction of computer banks seven, nine and four. Recircuiting."

"How long, Zen?" Vila asks.

"Incalculable. Whilst in zero-gravity fixed orbit, the ship will remain viable for some hours."

"And if we try to move?"

"The extreme structural stress of propulsion would probably result in disintegration. Dysfunction... dysfunction on computer banks three and six. All resources now concentrated on maintenance of teleport facilities. I... I have failed you."

"He's dying," Vila says bleakly. "Zen is dying."

Servalan is blackmailing Avon, whilst babbling out details of her plans. "I don't think there's anything I've missed. There's a light beam voice link directed at the Liberator. You'll contact the ship. Tarrant, Cally and Dayna will teleport to this location. Vila will stay on board to operate the teleport to bring me up. You have my word that he will be teleported down to you immediately I have control. It's a very reasonable contract, Avon. You have your lives, Blake, and transportation out of here."

"Death is something that he and I faced together on a number of occasions. I always thought that his death and mine might be linked in some way," Avon says. Wow - how romantic is that?

"Call the ship," Servalan says.

Vila answers, but things don't quite go to plan. Avon tells him to get the hell out of there. "Maximum speed. Go and keep going!"

Servalan has a diva strop and floors him with her space gun - but her heavies bring in a captured Tarrant and Cally. "I think negotiations have just been reopened," she smirks.

Tarrant takes over, and Dayne is teleported down to join the group. "We've lost this game," Tarrant tells Avon.

"What about Blake?" Avon demands of Servalan.

She says, "Blake is dead. He died from his wounds on the planet Jevron more than a year ago. I saw his body. I saw it cremated. Blake is dead."

"I saw him. I spoke to him..."

"You saw nothing. Heard nothing. It was an illusion, a drug-induced and electronic dream. We spent months preparing it. We recreated Blake inside our computers, voice, images, memories, a million fragmented facts. When I was ready, I started sending you the messages, seeding the idea in your mind. I was conditioning you. And you were my greatest ally, Avon. You made it easy because you wanted to believe it. You wanted to believe that Blake was still alive..."

Servalan and her cronies teleport up to the Liberator, which is now lurching towards the grave. "Maximum power," she commands - one of the character's most famous lines - arms outstretched, high priestess of death and disease.

It might seem like a stretch at first, but it's all there: terrible risks taken in the face of good, solid advice favouring sensible precautions; a virus that attacks the immune system, with horrific - and ultimately fatal - Kaposi's sarcoma-like tumours eating away at the ship's "skin"; and all caused by one man's devotion to another.

Terminal was first broadcast on 31st March 1980. Just over a year later, on 5th June 1981, the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) recorded a cluster of Pneumocystis cariniipneumonia in five homosexual men in Los Angeles.

Watch the episode now:

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