Gareth Thomas (1945-2016): Blake’s 7’s Roj remembered

We remember the late Blake’s 7 and Torchwood actor Gareth Thomas

Gareth Thomas

Gareth Thomas, who died on 13 April at the age of 71, was an unlikely star of sci-fi TV. In many ways, he looked more at home herding sheep in the Cotswolds than battling space dwarves and futuristic space vixens. But through his starring roles in Blake’s 7, Star Maidens and Children of Stones (all made within a five-year period between 1975 and 1980), Gareth Thomas pretty much was British sci-fi in the 1970s.

Born in 1945 in North London, Thomas trained at RADA and by 1967 had nabbed himself a role in Hammer’s big screen adaptation of Quatermass And The Pit. The year after he joined the Royal Shakespeare Company, appearing in such plays as Twelfth Night (as Orsino), Othello (as Cassio) and Eugene O’Neill’s Anna Christie (as Mat Burke).

On television, Thomas was rarely out of work, notching up appearances in The Avengers, Coronation Street, Z-Cars and Public Eye, often as genial good guys. Then, in 1977, the call came for the lead role in a new science fiction series, Blake’s 7.

A freedom fighter working against a totalitarian regime, Roj Blake was, in many ways a dream role for the then 33-year-old actor, but after two series, itching to get back to his beloved theatre, he left the show. Blake would reappear for a cameo in the closer of season three, and again in the show’s final episode, where he was killed by his former ally, Avon.

Paul Darrow as Avon and Gareth Thomas as Roj
Paul Darrow as Avon and Gareth Thomas as Roj

“One episode of Blake’s 7 will have been seen by more people than all the Royal Shakespeare Company shows I’ve done put together,” he once said. “People stop me in the street and say, ‘Oi, you know who you used to be, don’t you?’ I always answer, ‘yes and I still am!’”

Thomas’ other SF credits include astrophysicist Adam Brake in the cult fantasy show Children of the Stones (1977) and resistance leader Owen Edwards in ITV’s bleak dystopian drama Knights of God (1987). He also turned up in the Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) remake in 2000 and in an episode of Torchwood (‘Ghost Machine’) as an old man whose decades-old secret is unearthed by Owen Harper.

Gareth Thomas never appeared in Doctor Who, despite an idea cooked up by him and Tom Baker that the Doctor and Blake should run into each other in a corridor and nod a hello. He did come close though, working with audio producers Big Finish on the Eighth Doctor drama, Storm Warning and as Kalendorf in the Dalek Empire series.

It was his association with Big Finish that led him to recreate the role of Blake for the first time in three decades in 2011 when he starred in the third Liberator Chronicles drama. This in turn led to a series of full-cast reunions by Big Finish, titled The Classic Audio Adventures, set in seasons one and two of the original show.

Gareth Thomas died of heart failure, and is survived by his third wife, Linda and his son, Glyn.