Written by Simon Guerrier
Directed by Ken Bentley
Big Finish Productions, 2015
Stars: Paul Darrow (Avon), Sally Knyvette (Jenna),
Alistair Lock (Orac)
“It strikes me that Blake would choose this moment to make some rousing speech, to make us feel better about our impending fate.”
“I’m not Blake.”
Avon and Jenna
In just the third episode of the Blake’s 7 TV series (Cygnus Alpha) way back in 1978, Jenna Stannis (Sally Knyvette) was tempted, at the urging of Kerr Avon (Paul Darrow), to take the Liberator and abandon Roj Blake on the penal planet below. Avon insisted that Blake was a crusader; under his leadership, they would always be fugitives from the Federation, and his cause would eventually get them killed. Jenna, much to Avon’s chagrin, gave Blake a final chance ...
Simon Guerrier’s script for Remnants, Big Finish’s latest subscriber-only B7 Liberator Chronicles instalment, builds on the initial idea floated in Cygnus Alpha and takes it one step further. As soon as the B7 signature tune fades, the listener, much like Jenna, is thrown straight into the story as a wounded Avon teleports aboard the Liberator. Jenna barely even has a moment to register that their comrades – Blake, Vila, Cally, Gan – are missing before Avon heads for the flight deck of the Liberator and the ship comes under attack from Federation pursuit ships. It is only after Jenna effects their escape that she learns from Avon that Blake and the others are dead, the victims of a heist gone pear-shaped. Jenna is then faced with a difficult choice. Does she stay aboard the Liberator with Avon, as the Federation hunts down the last vestiges of Blake’s rebels, or does she strike it out on her own and at least have the chance of going underground?
Remnants is a great two-hander, one of the better instalments in The Liberator Chronicles after some recent hit-and-miss efforts in Volumes 10 and 11. Perhaps this is because we have two members of the original cast narrating the story rather than Big Finish’s habit of pairing a regular with a guest actor. Paul Darrow is on-song as Avon, possibly at his most devious and crafty in this story (his husky, breathless, almost velvety tones hint that Avon is secretive from the get-go), while Sally Knyvette impresses as Jenna, maintaining calm, self-assurance, courage and even a ruthless streak, as it seems her world comes crashing down around her.
Indeed, what is fascinating in this story is the uneasy relationship that Avon and Jenna share, and how we as the listeners become privy to what they think of each other. We know that they are not by any means close friends and there is no strong bond of trust between them; they are more colleagues with a begrudging respect for the other’s specific talents and skillset (she being a pilot and a smuggler, and he a computer hacker and criminal genius). It is particularly interesting to hear some of Jenna’s thoughts about Avon’s potential for leadership. As far as she is concerned, Avon “wasn’t Blake and never would be. He’d never be the leader of men, the wellspring of revolution”. She doubts he is even vaguely interested in taking up the fight to the Federation in Blake’s absence (even though we know that in the life of the TV series that is precisely what Avon does, albeit not for the idealistic cause that motivates Blake).
It is also clear that there is no likelihood of romance between them either, although there are still pangs of jealousy on Jenna’s part – she is quite repulsed by the idea of Avon chatting up Molybdenum Brown, a female space pirate whom he considers recruiting as the Liberator’s new pilot. Jenna muses: “Avon flirting – no one wants to see that!” Of course, Avon defends his persuasion with all the cool-minded, rational detachment that you would expect of his character: “There’s a trick with most women, I’m sure it’s a trick with men too – if that’s more your line ... You give them your attention and they think you care. I simply wanted information. Would she make a good pilot? Was she likely to double-cross me?”
It is therefore not surprising by the serial’s conclusion that Avon’s logic and pragmatism wins out over Jenna’s emotional, romantic and idealistic traits, and the gulf of mistrust established between them in the story deepens. There is a strong sense of betrayal between Avon and Jenna that Knyvette beautifully conveys when she thunders: “Avon, you gambled with all our lives – and it almost didn’t come off!”
No doubt some listeners will feel that Guerrier’s script also is something of a gamble and a little too confected. The idea (for the most part) holds up – if you don’t think too much about it – and indeed some of the doubts that Jenna expresses at the end of the episode reflect what the listener is also thinking. Nevertheless, Guerrier, the two principal actors, Alistair Lock (briefly) as Orac, director Ken Bentley, sound designer Martin Montague and musician Jamie Robertson manage to deliver an entertaining story that overcomes its production limitations and ups the ante in the imagination.
Remnants is a welcome return to form for the B7 franchise after some indifferent instalments over the last year (both in the full cast audio adventures and The Liberator Chronicles). It’s just a pity that this serial has coincided with the likely cancellation of The Liberator Chronicles (the 12th boxset has been delayed until April 2016) and undisclosed plans by Big Finish for the renewed Blake’s 7 licence next year. Remnants shows that a good two-hander story, coupled with a strong cast and excellent writing, can still rival any chapters of BF’s full cast drama output.