Yesterday, we got the sad news that the actor Paul Darrow passed away. I never met him, nor did I see very much of him out of character any place, so I can’t say I knew him. And yet, the news was very saddening to get, because Paul Darrow played Kerr Avon on the show Blake’s 7, and my, did I love that character.
I wrote a bit about Avon and Blake’s 7 once already, but I’m going to dig a bit more into it today, because Avon is truly one of my very favourite TV characters ever. (Only a very little bit because young, not-experienced-with-accents me really thought they were saying ‘Evan’ for the first couple episodes) It’s a bit odd, in a way, that I have so much affection for Avon, because in some ways he seems to be the kind of character I don’t have a lot of patience with, these days.
To explain – the basic premise of Blake’s 7 is a bunch of escaped criminals in a battle against a totalitarian Federation that rules the galaxy with an iron fist; basically Robin Hood in space, or a cynical flip of Star Trek. Most of the titular Seven are more or less as you’d expect: idealistic to differing degrees, fond of each other, and definitely dedicated to the idea of the Federation’s overthrow.
Not so Kerr Avon, computer crook and embezzler, who is clear enough that his goals are survival, and getting rich. He’s derisive with gusts to contemptuous towards the others, especially as regards any lofty goals. Avon is a cynical pragmatist with, it seems, no time for anything other than what’s best for his own self. Not, in general, the kind of character I dig very much.
The first reason I do enjoy this one is that whatever else is true about him, Avon is fun to watch. The writers gave him a lot of great lines. (Watch this compilation and see if you don’t have at least a little affection) I think this is where people sometimes go wrong with anti-heroes or bleak characters: we’ve gotta at least want to follow them around on some level, and Avon was always worth watching for the next line he might drop on some unsuspecting twit.
The other reason I think the character works is that there’s just enough hints dropped that it’s possible that some or all of the above is an act, or partly an act. Avon talks a good game about ditching the others, but never does it. In fact, he’s always there when needed. He definitely thinks he’s the smartest one in the room, but in terms of actions, he’s always there for the group when it comes down to it. Again, I think there’s a lesson for dark characters, here: there needs to be something that makes us want to be on their side, at least a little.
With Avon, it was relatively easy to do because he was on the team, in the end. Exactly how much, well, that was harder to say. That brings me to one of the things I love about the whole Blake’s 7 series. Wonky as the sets often were, the writing was very well done, and they had the confidence in their audience to deal with some ambiguity. Exactly how much of a selfish jerk was Avon, and how much of it was an act? Hard to say. The final episode, with its gloriously grim ending, with Avon’s ‘Have you betrayed me?‘ (this to Blake, who for much of the last act has seemed to be working for the Federation) can be read in different ways: is this Avon’s arrogance, unable to believe that he’s been outwitted? Is he shocked at the idea of it being Blake who’s the turncoat, rather than the other way around? Or, is he horrified at the idea of betrayal of a friend (a friendship Avon would never have admitted existed)?
We never know, for sure. We never know exactly how much ‘anti’ there was in Avon’s anti-hero, and I love that ambiguity. You genuinely never know exactly what to make of him, and puzzles are always enticing. In sum, although Kerr Avon was undoubtedly a darker type of character than I usually enjoy, there was a lot done right in his creation and performance, and so I liked this particular one a great deal.
Anyway, although I didn’t know Paul Darrow, I am still deeply sad to hear that an actor who gave me a character I loved has gone. I shall enjoy Kerr Avon forever, and think about him – and, of course, Darrow’s performances – whenever I need one of those tricky ‘antihero’ types. Perhaps there was a little Avon in my prickly druid Gwriad, from my D&D game. The good thing about fictional characters is that they do stay with us forever, and so in at least a little way, so do the people who created them and brought them to life.
Thank you, Mr. Darrow.