Blake’s 7: The Liberator Chronicles Vol 11X – RemnantsBookmark and Share

Monday, 23 November 2015 - Reviewed by Damian Christie
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.


Game Of Thrones Season Five - Episodes Nine And TenBookmark and Share

Thursday, 15 October 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek

9) The Dance Of Dragons
10) Mother's Mercy
HBO/ Sky Atlantic - 2015

Once again there are spoilers throughout the article for those yet to view the episodes, or who await their release on DVD and Blu-Ray.


And so we come to the last episodes on-screen to date, but they are far from the very last.

With plenty of speculation over what direction the next season will take, it will be a long wait but one that has more material to ruminate over than ever before. Also trying to pinpoint when creator George RR Martin will publish the sixth book in the saga will also be a somewhat tense process for some book readers, but recent news of foreign language translation deadlines would auger well.

These two concluding episodes certainly continue the momentum built up since 'Kill the boy'; a middle segment that overcame early episode weaknesses by planting various seeds, of which many have germinated with good effect.

I will begin my focus on the wonderfully well acted 'super-bitch' Cersei. She has finally got something of a comeuppance after basically being safe from direct threat much of her time in the show. Yes, she did lose Joffrey, and she may well experience the loss of her other two children - if the flashback she had in episode one is accurate - but her administration of the kingdom was always going to be shaky without a figure like Tywin or even Tyrion around. In the short term she put the new Queen and her brother Loras in a very bad place through imprisonment; it only hastened her own period of confinement and humiliation.

And what a further blow to her pride is displayed in Mother's Mercy: a long walk of shame, completely naked in front of a mostly aggressive and embittered crowd of commoners and other citizens of King's Landing, who all have no love for the late King Robert's widow. Lena Headey continues to prove her considerable skill in one of the best roles out of the many this epic show possesses. She did insist on never being naked in the show, and thus we have a brave body double who performed the actual walk in a real life and public setting. This results in small visual glitches if one has the spare time to look for them. It is still one of the great moments on the show, and it remains to be seen just how much Cersei takes away from this. Will she connect with the people and somehow put down the High Sparrow's ascension in status? Or will she just look for the quick and easy path?

Stannis would now appear to be definitively gone - destroyed both in terms of body and soul. Yes, the final shot of Brienne exacting revenge for the murder of his younger brother Renly does not show a beheading, but all the word from the makers and actors would indicate it is indeed the end for him. Whether he will follow a similar fate in the upcoming book The Winds of Winter is still far from certain.

We had at times been tantalising close to liking Stannis despite his lack of empathy and warmth. But the way he ultimately concedes his only heir Shireen - a truly decent person in a dark forbidding world - is horrifying in its intent as much as the manner of the 'sacrifice'. Once the burning alive of the girl apparently helps dispel the sub-zero conditions blocking progress to Winterfell, it is actually the beginning of the end. Stannis' remaining horses are gone, with many of his better fighters in the form of sellswords riding off for better monetary outcomes, and his own wife is a suicide victim; unable to forgive herself for her one surviving child's final moments of pain and fear.

Whilst the culmination of the arc pitting Baratheon against Bolton is done very well, I do have one minor complaint. We do not see Roose in either of these two final episodes, and that is a waste of a brilliant actor in Michael McElhatton. To be fair the character had already behaved knowing he was almost guaranteed the military win - and doubly so against an invasion force without cavalry as it ends up being - but some brief scene showing his reaction to his victory would be welcome. Furthermore the strong scenes with him and Ramsey earlier this season seemed to demand some kind of dramatic pay-off but all we see is more of Ramsey gloating. The despicable (second) husband of Sansa gets a rush of ecstasy killing defenceless men who know their leader is vanquished, and Iwan Rheon is magnetic as always.  Perhaps less character development proportionate to screen time was given to Ramsey though this year, apart from his reactions to being told he was the product of rape; when he himself uses sexual violence on women (and men like Theon).

I was thoroughly gripped by the Theon/Sansa sequences in the season finale. We get teased over whether Sansa will use the cork-screw device as a weapon; (she does not ultimately). Brienne notably prioritises chasing down Stannis over helping out the vulnerable Stark girl. A small excuse was the wintry conditions obscuring the candle lit at the top of the tower, but it would seem one oath just was more self-satisfying than another. The oldest surviving female Stark faces a horrible fate at both Myranda and Ramsey's hands, when confronted on the battlements, but she keeps her composure and her dignity. After viewers were misled as to how resentful 'Reek' really was in earlier episodes this year, and whether he would help his 'sibling' it is very gratifying to see him kill Myranda with a dismissive shove. Her death is as deserved as anyone who has met their maker in the entire show. The ensuing decision of Theon and Sansa to jump many feet down into the snow below is a thrilling 'cliffhanger' which will be resolved come spring 2016.

Rather less strong is the Dorne storyline, at least for now. Episode Nine has some half-decent scenes, but the plot thread involving Ellaria's penance never feels quite right. We have no real reason to believe she will let the Viper's gruesome death be forgotten, even if she can emphasise with Jaime about the stigma of loving someone they should not. 

The Bronn material is enjoyable enough filler. Jerome Flynn never has a bad moment, playing this loveable rogue and I am happy he has survived for now again. The farewell he receives from Tyene - "You need the bad pussy" - is criminally bad though, and one further instance of the show verging into self-parody.

Whatever the dialogue he is given Alexander Siddig is magnetic and authoritative as the hobbled Prince Doran. The now-cancelled Atlantis' loss is very much this far superior program's gain. I also enjoyed what Areo (DeObia Oparei) brought to the story. As under-developed as the character has been, he still had a real presence and makes us believe that the Dornish have many other formidable soldiers.

The brief bonding moment Jaime and biological daughter Myrcella have demonstrates solid acting somehow being enough to overcome a very weak script. Even if Westeros has its deviant customs, the manner in which this ordinary girl declares how she always knew her parents were siblings and that she is proud Jaime is her father just comes off as awkward. It matters little though, in that her sudden death is another blow to the gut. We know by now this show kills of likable characters with a snap of its fingers, but it still resonates. It also potentially will hopefully make this whole storyline come to life next year. Prince Doran will not accept his son's fiancée being assassinated, and the Small Council will be furious that their 'protected' potential heir has met this fate. It will surely lead to a heated argument, ineffective diplomatic efforts and then war. Whether the Sand Snakes will escape blame is also going to be intriguing.

Daenerys has had a very solid season in terms of character growth. True, actor Emilia Clarke really delivered the goods in her first and third seasons, but then the book source material was also at a peak. Khaleesi's ability to (barely) cope with the mammoth task of overseeing a city steeped in history, as Meereen is, has been a fine arc.

Episode Nine has by far the better material for Dany, her associates and her enemies. We get a shocking end for King Hizdahr, already having a brush with death in the middle of the season when just yards from Dany's dragons. Ultimately he is stabbed repeatedly by several Sons of the Harpy (who may or may not have been connected with him in earlier events). The death also is a fine pay-off to a brilliant scene where Hizdahr in put his place both in terms of wit, and also regarding the place where Dany's romantic feelings lay. 

The return of Jorah to Meereen as a slave trying to impress the Queen in mortal combat was very much telegraphed by previous episodes, even if the viewer had not seen any of the major pre-season trailers. Yet it plays out very well, even if we get a 'James Bond cliché' where a lethal opponent gloats and allows the (relative) good guy to turn the tables. The immediate moment after is terrific though. Jorah is not the most stable of people, and is dying slowly of greyscale. So his malicious throwing of a spear at the one person he loves almost would makes sense. As it turns out this action saves her from one Harpy assassin who was poised to strike her, from behind her prized seat in the arena.  

The ensuing 'banding together' of different people from various parts of the world, in the face of great danger is a fine moment in a quite solid episode. The Dance Of Dragons still pales in comparison to its equivalents in seasons one to three, and is ever marginally weaker than the all-action 'The Watchers On The Wall'. As well as the arrival of Drogon fits, after weeks of teasing us over his actions, there are some logic issues. Why do the Harpy assassins all stop to gawp at the incoming creature, when they have space and time to succeed in killing Khaleesi? Why does Drogon decide to be in a sitting position on arrival, and not fly around to attempt avoiding spears thrown at him? 

But such questions do not prevent an exciting final section of the episode turning into  the spectacular; Dany's flight away from Meereen on Drogon's back is both emotionally and thematically fitting. 

Once she is away from Meereen for some screen time in the finale, there is not much to really interest the viewer. She decides to stray from her wounded dragon, which probably would endanger them both, and is consequently captured by some Dothraki; possibly including those that deserted her when she lost her first husband. We are made to speculate that she drops her ring both to appear unmarried, and to help pursuers. Indeed she will have two devoted followers after her - Daario and Jorah. One loves the 'rightful queen' and has her love, the other chases intangibility. How they get on together and what they encounter should be a decent mini-arc of its own next season.

Unfortunately the scene that sets up this rescue mission, and decides who remains to try and bring order to the now-chaotic Meereen is pretty weak. We have to assume a lot. How did the others escape the Sons of the Harpy? What are the citizens' reactions, now a lot of them were slaughtered by the fanatics in the arena? Can anyone really see an exiled, disgraced dwarf being a credible ruler, even if he has some dynastic blood in him. There is too much that is vague, and the seasons having to be ten episodes do cause real problems. An episode in between to establish what the state of play was in Meereen may have worked better, but with so many storylines to juggle elsewhere with their own pressing timeframes, it would have been difficult. It must be emphasised that all the material with Jorah and Tyrion first meeting Dany in the fighting pits, up to the end of the season is original and progresses the Meereen arc substantially further than in the last published book. Arguably the showrunners were going to struggle somewhat with no 'solid' source material to fall back on.

Arya had some terrific arcs from the very beginning of Thrones, but arguably her material is mediocre this year. Certainly Maisie Williams is very capable (and I cannot wait for her imminent guest spot on Doctor Who's two parter this month), but what worked as internal brooding and loose chronology in the books has not quite been as impressive on-screen. The big exception though has been the Meryn Trant arc. We already hated him from the opening seasons, and most recently his blatant lies at Tyrion's trial were further insult to injury. So his final comeuppance at the hands of 'Lanna' is more than justified, as he indulges his appetite for abusing female minors one time too often. The violence is extreme even for this show and feels like it belongs to an Eighties 'video nasty'. We have seen Arya be cold-blooded before with a weapon in her hands, but this is more gruesome than what befell Walder Frey's minions or Polliver. The cutting of Trant's throat even recalls a similar fate for a dying Catelyn at the Red Wedding. 

Arya's ensuing punishment is not a bad twist to the somewhat tedious plot set in the House of Black and White, but Jaqen continues to be overly dull as a character and performance, given his excellence in Season 2. The exposition over the younger Stark girls' choice to defy the clear 'rules' only produces a striking concept, and the actual scene itself is curiously flat. Where Arya goes next year will hopefully be stronger material, and preferably she is involved with the major storylines again.

The Jon Snow arc will be my last point of focus for this review. For the most part this has been the major trump card of the pack Season Five possesses. Kit Harrington has been very strong, and may end up having an illustrious career for years to come His Commander of the Night's Watch alter-ego had many difficult choices to make, and the consequences of what he opted to do in spite of protest play out well in this final pair of episodes.

In Jon's absence during Hardhome, the remaining Night's Watch and their second-in-command Alliser Thorne have only grown more suspicious of the Lord Commander's intentions and methods. His arrival back at the Wall with the survivors of the massacre is almost stopped dead in its tracks. Things only get worse, once he agrees to send his clumsy but wise friend Sam Tarly away to train as a Maester. Jon has no trusted right-hand man left apart from Edd, and his Wildling allies may offer force of arms but only weaken his credibility given the battles between these enemy forces of yesteryear. Even as Jon makes provision to help Stannis - not knowing it is far too late to save the 'King' - he is letting his guard down about his own protection.

The 'Olly-evil-stare' subplot is the one blemish though as Jon's story reaches a bloody and chilling conclusion. If ever a betrayal was telegraphed in big neon glowing letters it was in this show. The boy actor playing Olly gets to look conflicted at giving Jon a stab to the gut, and that moment is in itself reasonable, but the end product is a weak and belaboured demonstration of how trusting someone can be a liability.

The final ignominious demise for Eddard's 'bastard' son may well not be the end, despite being a real downer to end a season of a long-running show (with long 'off-season' periods). We know that Melisandre is at the Wall, probably having used magic to get there faster than normal people would. And we know she is connected with the Brotherhood who brought Beric Dondarrion back to life multiple times. She has every reason to try and help Jon, given all her interactions with him, and now that Stannis is vanquished. Having Davos surviving is also likely to play a role in Jon getting back into the Game. (Even if it does not, having Liam Cunningham still around can only be a positive for the show).

So does this fifth season work overall? And is it worthy of all these Emmy statuettes and high viewing figures? Certainly the earlier visits to the world of Westeros were stronger overall and benefited from better source material. Yet it can be perceived that the show only gets its full dues now, much like The Return of the King's big sweep at the Oscars. Also by keeping the interest of so many people globally around the world, and sparking further debate, it continues to work as an 'event' series. 

But whereas Season Two was previously a relative low point, this season is further inferior. Consequently Hardhome feels like the one true success from beginning to end, with a brace of very watchable but flawed episodes, and one or two episodes that deliver a lot less than they promised. 

The original books had many structural weaknesses at this point, so I commend what has been edited out, altered or postponed (as in the case of the Greyjoys' arc). And sometimes the best shows cannot help having a let down, as is the case here after two very powerful seasons. There is still much to come, and I am far from alone in looking forward to the next development of this fantastic saga.

Blake's 7 - Lucifer: Revelation (Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 3 October 2015 - Reviewed by Damian Christie
Blake's 7 - Lucifer: Revelation (Credit: Big Finish Productions, 2015)
Written and performed by Paul Darrow
Directed by Lisa Bowerman
Big Finish Productions, 2015

Avon was a rogue, of course, much older than she and wearily treading the path to dusty death. But there was something about him that was appealing, despite her intuition that he harboured a death wish. His paradoxical ambition for the moment seemed to be to postpone that inevitability for as long as possible. It was his misfortune that so many connived to thwart that ambition. Still, he was proving highly skilled in avoiding the Grim Reaper and enjoyed pitting his wits against enemies both real and imagined ...

Blake’s 7 – Lucifer: Revelation

Ever since those famous climactic moments of Blake’s 7 when Kerr Avon (Paul Darrow) furnished that final, ironic smile to the camera, there have probably been more false “Avon sightings” – ie attempts to relaunch authorised and unauthorised versions of B7 set after the end of the TV series –  than Paul Darrow’s personal hero Elvis has enjoyed since his own send-off.

There was the universally panned 1984 novel by Tony Attwood – Blake’s 7 - Afterlife – which asserted that Avon, together with Vila and Orac, survived the showdown on Gauda Prime. In the 1990s, fans-turned-audio producer Magic Bullet Productions postulated their own (and in my humble opinion, best) coda to the B7 TV series called The Logic of Empire by speculating that a reprogrammed Avon eventually lived out his life believing himself to be Roj Blake! In the  ‘00s , Magic Bullet followed up The Logic of Empire with Kaldor City, which saw elements and characters from the Doctor Who and B7 universes overlap. The antagonistic Kaston Iago was a fugitive from the Terran Federation and also bore similarities to our favourite anti-hero ...

These contradictory accounts have often only ever had credence with B7 fans because (in the case of Afterlife) they were either licensed by the BBC or in the unauthorised productions, the parts of Avon/Iago were played by Darrow. However, just to muddy already murky waters, along comes another pretender to the B7 legacy – in the form of Big Finish’s Lucifer trilogy of novels/audiobooks. These too claim to be valid chapters of the B7 canon – largely because they bear the B7 logo on their cover artwork (meaning that they are licensed by B7 Media) and also because they are written by Paul Darrow himself. However, just because something bears the B7 logo or is written and performed by Darrow doesn’t guarantee that it’s any more canonical than the other post-Gauda Prime works I’ve mentioned.

Based on a listening of Darrow’s second book Lucifer: Revelation (I haven’t read the first book in the Lucifer trilogy or listened to the audiobook of the same), there isn’t a tale that seems more removed from the B7 universe or feels outside the spirit of the TV series than this one. Everything about this story just feels “off” – the survivors of the TV series are inconsistently portrayed, the depiction of the technology and vessels in the tale contradict the tech featured in the TV series, and the geopolitics is totally at odds with everything we know about the Federation from the TV series. Yes, you could argue that Darrow is weaving his own spin on the B7 mythology – but if so, then that vision is at the expense of the TV program that inspired the novel/audiobook in the first place!

So what’s wrong with Lucifer: Revelation? The premise itself in the hands of a more seasoned writer would be fascinating. More than two decades after Avon’s crew were slaughtered by Federation troops, the Terran Federation has evolved and its power become more centralised under the ruling Quartet, led by the ruthless Dr Pandora S (a charge of the now late Servalan) and her protégé Gabriella Travis (the unlikely daughter of Blake’s nemesis Space Commander Travis, whom Avon killed in the TV episode Star One). The Quartet, however, has a galactic rival in the Empire of Cathay, a restored Chinese imperial power with ambitions to extend its influence beyond Earth and into regions of space that were once controlled by the Federation. Both powers are hunting Avon and supercomputer Orac, the last survivors of Blake’s original rebellion; even two decades later, Orac remains more advanced than the Quartet’s and Cathay’s own technologies, implying that perhaps the Federation’s successors are in decline. They are certainly running low on fuel reserves, which is the key to their continued expansion into former Federation space. It’s a solid enough idea but if you’re reading or listening to this story and expecting the plot to develop beyond this basic outline, then you’re going to be seriously disappointed. Indeed, Darrow’s fascination with oriental culture is clearly reflected in all his descriptions and characterisations of the Empire of Cathay but otherwise it’s mere window dressing for a shallow and simplistic plot.

Given the lack of plot development, it’s still somewhat surprising that by the end of the book the political situation in the galaxy has changed dramatically, courtesy of a succession of coups and counter-coups, and enough shifting alliances, sex and bloodletting to rival a Game of Thrones episode. But given all of these events actually happen in spite of Avon, not because of him, the lead character seems almost superfluous in what is supposed to be his tale.

Indeed, the story is little more than one grand run-around tale for Avon who spends the bulk of it evading attacks from a family of assassins hired by Gabriella, pirates and smugglers, the extra-terrestrial Greys (who were introduced in the first book), and the forces of the Quartet and the Empire of Cathay. Avon is armed only with his wits, Orac and a quirky spacecraft computer that calls itself George.

Perhaps Darrow thinks that George, in the absence of Vila (or even Scorpio’s computer Slave in the last season of the B7 TV series), is a much needed source of humour. However, all George does is reinforce how out of character Avon is in this story; he proves to be uncharacteristically weary, sentimental and emotional in parts, balking at Orac’s suggestion that he will have to disable George to avoid being tracked by their pursuers (in the TV series, the Avon of old would have passionlessly dismantled George and pieced it back together from scratch, smarter and more efficient than ever). Avon also expresses sentiment when he sets out to rescue resistance fighters Del Grant and Magda Lens, who is one of many brief romantic interests in this book. Again in the TV series, Avon at times showed loyalty and respect for his crew but he was careful to mask his affection for them. As Orac itself observes in the story, this older, wearier Avon isn’t supposed to have feelings, labelling him a “dead man walking”. One of his lovers also notes that he has a death wish (see extract above) but seems in no hurry to hasten his demise. This is perhaps the most interesting new trait we learn about Avon in this novel but it sadly goes unexplored.

Orac’s characterisation is equally confounding; instead of being haughty, matter of fact and concise, Darrow’s version of the machine is enigmatic,  occasionally emotive and even goading (“What are you going to do now, Avon?” it challenges when they are caught in a tight spot at one point). Indeed, the supercomputer also seems to fulfil the part of comic relief vacated by the sorely missed Vila. When Avon proposes raiding an armoury at a Quartet base while the security forces are engaged in an orgy, and asks Orac how he breaks in, Orac uncharacteristically quips: “You want to join the orgy?” This is representative of the humour throughout this book which is for the most part pretty puerile. There are only rare moments where Darrow’s dialogue between his characters is either clever or ironic (when Avon’s ship is pitted against two of Cathay’s Dragon-class warships, one character remarks that Avon might be in for a bit of shock, as “St George only slew one dragon. He would have been reluctant to take on two!”).

The enhanced audiobook format sadly does little to improve the quality of the story. Paul Darrow as ever tries to deliver a vibrant rendition of his book, instilling different moods as befits different characters and scenes but even he seems to struggle with reciting his own stilted writing. While his impersonation of Orac is passable to the late Peter Tuddenham’s portrayal on TV or even Alistair Lock’s interpretation in BF’s regular B7 audios, the portrayals of his other characters, who are mostly one-dimensional, are never anywhere as near as convincing as some of the performances he’s given in The Liberator Chronicles (particularly as the fanatical Father Callus in the recent play Brother). This suggests that as an actor, Darrow is extremely good when presented with someone else’s material but not necessarily his own. Even light music, sound effects and edits by director Lisa Bowerman can do little to enhance the story.

One wonders if Paul Darrow would have had his novels taken up by another publisher if he wasn’t already a longstanding performer for Big Finish across much of its audio output as well as Blake’s 7. Darrow isn’t the first actor to write further stories for a franchise that he appeared in but first and foremost, he’s an actor, not a writer. William Shatner also contributed his name to a range of Star Trek novels in the ‘90s and ‘00s (most of which weren’t particularly very good) but even he had the good sense to conceive the basic storylines and then delegate the task to professional writers to develop his stories (many of whom also had respect for the continuity of the universe they were playing in). There are plenty of professional writers at Big Finish with an in-depth knowledge of the B7 canon, so why couldn’t Darrow have ghost written the Lucifer trilogy as well?

Perhaps I’m being unduly harsh, as Lucifer: Revelation is the middle chapter of a trilogy and I’m making an assessment without having read the first book. All I can say is that this is not a fine example of Paul Darrow’s work (acting or writing) by any measure and it is a truly awful Blake’s 7 novel. It is best dismissed as another one of those post-Gauda Prime “Avon sightings” – you thought you saw Avon serving customers at the local Milliways restaurant but it was just a very poor imitation of the character that B7 fans have admired for more than three decades!


Blake's 7 - The Liberator Chronicles - Volume 11Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 2 September 2015 - Reviewed by Damian Christie
Blake's 7 - The Liberator Chronicles - Vol 11Big Finish Productions, 2015
Written by Nigel Fairs,
Iain McLaughlin and Andrew Smith
Directed by Lisa Bowerman and Louise Jameson
Stars: Paul Darrow (Avon), Anthony Howe (Nyrron), Michael Keating (Vila), Samantha Beárt (Jance), Jan Chappell (Cally), John Leeson (Pasco), Louise Jameson (Lorana)
“I’m not a hero. I don’t try to brave – not like Blake. I just want to stay alive. Sometimes, things happen differently than you expect ...”

Vila Restal

Volume 11 of Blake’s 7 – The Liberator Chronicles – the most recent boxset of anthology tales featuring narration from some of the regular cast members from the original TV program – is an interesting juxtaposition of the old and the new. Big Finish has now built up enough of its own continuity within its B7 audio adventures and original novels to confidently expand on its own story threads as well as ideas originally featured on television.

As a result, two of the serials in this boxset are either loose sequels to earlier instalments in the Liberator Chronicles range or to an actual TV episode. Brother is a follow-up to two earlier audio-only instalments released in 2012, while Escape from Destiny is a sequel to Mission to Destiny, a TV episode from the first season of Blake’s 7 back in 1978. The middle instalment in this boxset – simply called Poison – has no links to other episodes in either the TV or audio series but is a solid tale in its own right.

Brother prominently features Big Finish aficionado Anthony Howe (whose work encompasses Doctor Who, Dorian Gray and The Avengers), reprising the role of Gustav Nyrron, who featured in previous Liberator Chronicles instalments Solitary and Wolf.  Nyrron became a “part-time” member of the Liberator crew after he was the sole survivor of a fire on a Federation colony world. Little did Nyrron know that not only was he actually a clone of a late, esteemed scientist from Cally’s home world of Auron, he had been conditioned to infiltrate and betray Blake and his crew. In Brother, Nyrron is determined to prove that he has broken free of Servalan’s programming and that he can fill the shoes vacated by his progenitor and even rekindle the relationship with the original man’s son. Indeed, Howe does an excellent job in his narration of expressing Nyrron’s pain, anguish and resolve in overcoming his conditioning while also conveying a strong sense of optimism, compassion, justice and dignity against a history of personal atrocities and tragedies.

Howe’s Nyrron is a marked contrast to the dour, pragmatic, cynical and calculating figure of Avon, again played effortlessly by veteran Paul Darrow. What is most interesting about this episode is that it gives Avon a back story which, while not necessarily contradicting what we know about him from the TV series, certainly will raise eyebrows amongst diehard B7 fans. Darrow is impressive in recounting flashbacks of a teenage Avon participating in the nefarious activities of a religious cult obsessed with eugenics. Indeed, Darrow is positively sinister whenever he doubles as Father Gallus, the evangelical leader of the One Pure Race Organisation, capturing the fervour and condemnation in the priest’s oratory against the impure when he addresses his flock. Darrow’s portrayal of Gallus is a highlight of the serial – and of the boxset.

In the second instalment Poison, the Liberator’s resident thief Vila (Michael Keating) goes undercover as a new recruit on a Federation ship purportedly delivering grain to an agrarian colony world. This proves to be a great solo episode for Vila as he behaves a bit like James Bond  – even down to adopting the dramatic sounding pseudonym of Keston Voss and even “getting the girl” – in the form of the ship’s communications officer Jance (Samantha Beárt), who has an agenda of her own.

Vila was never a romantic hero in the B7 TV series, although he certainly did not by any measure lack courage or affection (the 1980 TV episode City at the Edge of the World is a great showcase of what an unlikely romantic hero Vila is). Poison similarly gives Vila the opportunity to be heroic and romantic as he and Jance uncover a Federation conspiracy to steal and enslave a world’s whole mining population, and the payoff for Vila at the story’s climax is bittersweet.

The supporting artiste in this play, Samantha Beárt, is also excellent as Jance and, much like Nyrron in the Liberator Chronicles and Del Grant in the second series of BF’s B7 full cast audio adventures, Jance would make an excellent “part-time” member of the Liberator crew. Based on her performance in Poison, Beárt deserves another showing in a future B7 play or more. (Are you reading this, BF?)

The final instalment Escape from Destiny is the least impressive of the three serials. As mentioned above, this story is a sequel to a TV episode – but certainly not one that could be described as a true classic. In the original Mission to Destiny, the Liberator crew assisted a scientific expedition that was in a race against time to deliver an isotope to its home world Destiny that could solve the planet’s famine. Escape from Destiny explores what happens to the colony after the TV episode, as the Federation lands on its doorstep. However, while the stage is set for a cracking story, the format of the serial means that the final result is very dull.

I’ve complained in previous reviews of B7 and Doctor Who releases that that some full cast dramas should have been character-based Chronicles because they didn’t need full casts, eg the recent B7 audio Ghost Ship, which was Vila-centric and sparingly used the other members of the regular cast. The same argument applies in reverse for Escape from Destiny. With a larger than average number of participants in what is meant to be an intimate type of story with minimal cast, Andrew Smith’s script would surely have been better served as a full cast drama (albeit a lacklustre one!).There are four cast members in Escape from Destiny:  Keating, Jan Chappell (Cally) and Doctor Who alumni John Leeson (reprising his role as Pasco from Mission to Destiny) and Louise Jameson (as Pasco’s wife Lorana), which is surely more than overgenerous for a Liberator Chronicle. One can only assume Leeson’s casting is purely for the novelty factor (he reprises a one-off character he first played in 1978, and not a terribly interesting one at that; in fact his part as the camp Toise in 1979’s Gambit was much more entertaining!). Jameson’s role as Pasco’s insipid wife is also totally wasted on such an accomplished actor; she should have limited her role in this instalment to remaining behind the director’s microphone.

Keating and Chappell would surely have sufficed as the story’s narrators. Keating is serviceable, although after his heroic turn in Poison, Vila has returned to type and is a reluctant player in events. Jan Chappell is also engaging, both as Cally and as a narrator. However, in contrast to Darrow’s excellent portrayal of Father Gallus in Brother and even Keating’s passable interpretation of villainous Federation officer Dariel in this serial, Chappell’s turn as Varon, Destiny’s science minister, with a hammy Russian-style accent is dreadful. It does little to provide any credence to this villainous politician or indeed to the story as a whole.

While the climax to Escape from Destiny is typical of Blake’s 7 (ie good doesn’t always triumph over evil), the story also ends on a sickeningly optimistic note, courtesy of Pasco’s concluding sentiments. I fear this means that this particular story thread may not be over but if you were to ask me which of these three storylines deserve follow-up, then it most definitely isn’t the Destiny one. I’d much rather know what happens to Nyrron or Jance – with no offence intended to either Leeson or Jameson who can only work with the standard of material they are given.

Despite Brother and Poison being the highlights of this particular boxset, Volume 11 of The Liberator Chronicles is sadly well below par of some of the more recent B7 boxsets, including Volumes 8 and 9. Perhaps, coupled with the release of two micro-series of the full cast B7 audio adventures over an 18-month period, it simply has been too much for BF to maintain a high standard of writing and production. If so, then the eight-month gap between the release of Volumes 11 and 12 of The Liberator Chronicles could not be more timely. It hopefully has given the cast and crew time to recharge the batteries and return with more vigour as we draw ever closer to 2016.That’s not to say that this boxset is short of good ideas – it has some interesting concepts in parts, thanks mainly to the world-building undertaken by BF itself to the B7 continuity – but without a decent break, I fear The Liberator Chronicles may quickly run out of steam. That would be disappointing because whilst the old cast members are still willing, B7 fans definitely deserve more Blake’s 7.

Frankenstein Special EditionBookmark and Share

Sunday, 30 August 2015 - Reviewed by Ben Breen
Frankenstein Special Edition (Credit: Big Finish)Written By: Mary Shelley,
dramatised by Jonathan Barnes
Directed By: Scott Handcock
Cast: Arthur Darvill (Victor Frankenstein), Nicholas Briggs (Waldman/The Creature), Geoffrey Beevers (Alphonse Frankenstein/DeLacey), Georgia Moffett (Elizabeth), Terry Molloy (Christensen/Proprietor), Alex Jordan (Captain Robert Walton), Geoffrey Breton (Henry Clerval/Felix), Lizzie Hopley (Giselle/Agatha/Lorna), Stephen Fewell (Krempe/Judge/Kirwin), Sarah Ovens (Justine/Female Creature)
The plot of Mary Shelley’s classic novel Frankenstein is familiar to many.  The tale of the scientist who seeks to create life is one that has resonated through the centuries.  Therefore, I will not attempt to summarise the story, but instead deliver my impressions on the adaptation.

The drama is set out in 3 “volumes” and this, whilst surprising at first, mirrors the original novel's publication in 1818.  This structure suits the story well, separating it into manageable sections and allowing listeners to take a break, if necessary.  Moreover, it does seem to portray the fact that the author’s original intention was to have it be a short story, regardless of the fact that it was later expanded; it has the feeling of several stories woven together.  The pacing of the story is not marred by slow segments, as there is a constant sense of anticipation to see what will happen next even if you know the rest of the story.  The scenes and sequences flow well into each other, moving from the ship on which Victor tells his story to the various memories that come to him and serve as the main narrative device.

The musical score accompanying the cinematic sound design is well-suited, without being invasive.  By far the most prominent piece of score is the main theme, a slow haunting orchestral cue, possibly representing the creature’s slow and complicated construction or “birth” as well as Victor Frankenstein’s inexorable journey towards self-ruin.

The casting of Brigs as both Waldman and the creature is intriguing due to the way events occur.  His delivery change from the former to the latter makes for great dramatic effect, with every inflection bringing the pain and agony of the creature to bare on both the scientist who brought him into being and the listener. 

Arthur Darville’s Frankenstein is well chosen also, with the writing portraying him not as the classical mad scientist hungry for power, but more as a man who is overcome by ambition and the drive to succeed.  His interactions with the other characters, including the creature and the family’s servant are filled with emotion and his delivery, like Briggs and the rest of the cast, keeps the adaptation flowing towards what might be considered as an inevitable conclusion.

The ending of the final episode is not marked by the usual theme music from previous volumes or even an adapted version.  In an interesting twist, the story simply ends with the ship’s captain making a speech stating that he and his men must go on through the raging storm, with the scene fading out into silence.  In truth, whilst you might think that this wouldn’t work very well, it actually compliments the scene, as well as the action leading up to it, remarkably well.  It allows the listener to reflect on the drama in general, as well as the notions expressed regarding industry, ambition and judgement.  Moreover, the question of whether the captain actually stands by his word is also left unanswered.

The outtakes included as the final track were an interesting and amusing insight into the camaraderie of the cast.  They clearly demonstrate

The sound design in this adaptation is of high quality, as usually expected by Big Finish in ranges like Doctor Who.  The storm at sea and its desire to tear the ship asunder, to the one that marks the night when Frankenstein’s monster is brought into being, to the scenes in towns and cities.  All convey the era in which the story takes place with great care.

All in all, the story is timeless and Big Finish have done their part to further cement it as a prime example of gothic literature in the minds of future generations.  Regardless of whether you’ve listened to Big Finish’s work before, this one is sure to provide those new to audio dramas with a hard to beat introduction as to how enthralling they can be.  With characters that are all brought to life with great aplomb by the actors and the aid of sound design and music that enhances the cinematic atmosphere, this might just be the best Frankenstein adaptation yet.

A Dozen SummersBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 19 August 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
A Dozen Summers (Credit: Monkey Basket Films)
Starring Scarlet and Hero Hall,
         With Kenton Hall, Sarah Warren, Colin Baker, 
Ewen MacIntosh, David Knight, Holly Jacobson, Quinton Nyrienda, And Tallulah Sheffield    
Written And Directed by Kenton Hall
Produced by Alexzandra Jackson and Kenton Hall, 
Music Composed by Andrew Stamp
Right in the middle of the usual glut of mindless action blockbusters, remakes, reboots, and sequels, and forced comedy/relationship movies comes something a lot more modest in production glitz, glamour and capital. This is a good thing as it has much to offer in depth and is consequently the more memorable and significant for it. I was given the chance to see this film ahead of its UK release this Friday on the small screen, and may well be one of those that goes to support its (at least initially) limited run across a number of towns and cities. My connection to the film of course comes from working for this news and review website, and Colin Baker's involvement (and the man certainly makes his mark in typically resounding fashion). Yet ultimately the film is very much focused on the lives of a wonderfully engaging pair of twins who are just starting out in secondary school and who have quite a bit of creative spark to offer the world around them

The plot is very straightforward and this enables the film to throw up some quirky surprises in elegant fashion. Maisie and Daisy are two twins who live with their  divorced father Henry, and who infrequently catch up with their rather bohemian and young-hearted mother Jacqueline; seemingly never settling for one boyfriend for too long, such are her ever-changing needs. The girls are certainly bright enough, and have a bit of street smarts too, but that does not mean they can't be bothered by bullies or fall for the wrong person their age. They do not just go about their business in typical coming of age fashion, but instead have a keen awareness of the fourth wall of the actual movie they are featured in. Consequently they are able to make the film (especially in the opening half) have a few sidetracks and digressions which reflects their equally vivid imaginations. Thus the audience is treated to playful exploration of  thrillers, period dramas and rom-com genres, as well as the kind of behaviour of protagonists who feel reality tv self-consciousness

For simplicity's sake, in general one of the identical twins has hair bunched up, whilst the other has it resting down  but even if that weren't the case they are distinct from one another and have as much in common as not. The girls' self-awareness and quick wit is reflected in the film, and most of the supporting characters are shown to have flaws and strengths in equal measure. This even extends to giving some likeability to the school bullies, and overly paranoid shopkeeper (Ewen MacIntosh) who will not tolerate more than three kids in at a time, lest they succeed in stealing items. The film wants to reflect our British reality as much as show all sorts of dynamic imaginative flair.

As strong as the acting, music (Andrew Stamp puts in a lot of excellent work to make scenes breath) and editing all are, there are some signs of this project not having an endless well of finance to invest in. I also thought the plot could have easily allowed for a good ten to twenty more minutes screen time, and there were some elements such as Henry's new girlfriend being a different sort of challenge - but one he was more emotionally prepared for - feeling like a scene or two more would have really conveyed the emotions and personalities better. Also the decision not to do more with the Jane Austen parody was a bit unfortunate. If maybe understandable as that setting was likely up there in terms of cost, it still deserved a little bit more development so as not to feel like one component of a sketch show.

 Nonetheless, there are a lot of good intentions behind this little gem. Kenton Hall is the person with the most to do,  not only starring in a decent role as the twins' father but also directing, producing and including his own band  called Ist. Hall was mindful of producing something that serves to meet the high expectations children have, as  they are remarkably astute and critical thinkers. He placed trust in his own twin daughters carrying the movie,  knowing that by playing characters close to their real life selves, the audience could invest in real people with  wholly authentic and three dimensional personalities who are having to deal with all sorts of challenges. In review  material Hall was very clear in his objective to have child-like aspects without falling into the trap of being childish,  which any given film can be guilty of if not careful. And I commend him and his team for managing to produce  something organic and marching very much to its own tune. There is precious little material anyone reasonable  would just dismiss as 'puerile'.

 And what of Colin Baker, given that this review is primarily for Doctor Who fans? He certainly plays a memorable  role helping bookend the film with a combination of assertive narration and cantankerous indignation as he is  surprised by the combined might of the twins (and later some other people they know from school). Whether this  was meant as a clever reference to The Twin Dilemma (whose child actors were undoubtedly much weaker than  the  Hall girls) or not, the humour of the movie is rarely better than here. It feels contemporary, it feels satirical and  yet  also affectionate, as if the old-school narrator still has something to offer, but just needs to acquire a different  cast of  willing participants.. We are also teased with maybe seeing Colin on stage in the middle of the film, as his  harmonic  voice projects to a somewhat distracted audience, but ultimately the viewer must wait till the very end credits to see Mr Baker properly onscreen.

A very enjoyable effort from a talented cast and crew, this will hopefully capture enough of an audience on cinema release and also be popular on TVs, tablets and Smartphones. It certainly has enough potential to generate either a continuation of the story or a loose sequel using the same core cast.