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.