Tuesday, 24 December 2013 - Reviewed by
Blake’s 7: The Liberator Chronicles, Vol 6
Produced by Big Finish
Written by Peter Anghelides, Steve Lyons, Mark Wright & Cavan Scott
Directed by Ken Bentley
Released: October 2013
... Because that’s how we measure success isn’t it? People like us! By how long we can get away with it! You’re about to learn the same lesson I did ... It doesn’t matter how successful you once were ... Not once it’s over!
It's well over 30 years since the TV series ended and to this day Blake’s 7 fans have debated what happened to the titular character between the second season finale Star One and the program finale Blake. Many theories have been championed in fanzines and unofficial audio adaptations over the decades – and now Big Finish, with an authorised licence to produce B7 adventures, has offered its own take on Blake and Jenna’s whereabouts in the third and fourth series. It also surmises why Avon was in no rush to welcome them back to the bridge of the Liberator.
Long-term fans’ questions about what immediately happened after Star One were partly answered earlier this year in the brilliant full cast release Warship. The sixth volume of B7: The Liberator Chronicles offers us more answers about what may have happened after Warship – and also tantalisingly throws up some questions which challenge our memories of established history. Could Avon and Tarrant have found Jenna and Blake long before the program’s finale? Contrary to what Blake says in the final episode, could Jenna have survived the blockade above Gauda Prime? And did Avon meet with Blake at some other unspecified point in the program’s final season?
All these answers and questions are considered in a trilogy of episodes - Incentive, Jenna’s Story and Blake’s Story – which, in the spirit of earlier Liberator Chronicles, are told from the perspective of at least one protagonist. Incentive cleverly sets up an interrogation of Avon (Paul Darrow) and Tarrant (Stephen Pacey, reprising his role for the first time in a Big Finish B7 adventure) by Federation psychostrategist Bracheeni (Adrian Lukis). Jenna’s Story sees the woman of the hour (Sally Knyvette) seemingly under siege and playing nursemaid to an injured rebel leader Correl (John Banks). And Blake’s Story sets up an unexpected fireside chat between Blake (Gareth Thomas) and Avon.
As is the standard that we’ve come to expect of Big Finish, all three episodes are thoroughly written, convincingly performed and supported by excellent sound effects and incidental music. Incentive is the best of the three episodes and feels the most as if it is happening in “real time”, ie with little expository narrative (although the middle of the story is told in flashback by Avon and Tarrant). Jenna’s Story and Blake’s Story involve more exposition and flashbacks but are less formulaic and more experimental than Incentive which is the closest in structure to a regular B7 episode in the program’s third season.
What is most interesting about the Jenna and Blake instalments is the traumatic journeys, trials and eventual transformations that their characters undergo upon leaving the Liberator. Jenna witnesses the brutal, dehumanising and unjust treatment of refugees by the Federation (a scenario not unlike the way some Western nations treat asylum seekers!) while Blake is again duped by the Federation in a manner reminiscent of his original treatment before the events of the first episode The Way Back. These two instalments emotively reinforce the broad power of the Federation against the fractured cause that Blake and Jenna represent. Blake’s 7 is not and never was Star Wars – the rebellion of the B7 universe lacks unity, purpose, resources and manpower to seriously challenge the Federation. Indeed, it seems B7’s Federation is nowhere near as fragile as Star Wars’ Empire – it will take something extra special to topple the regime, which seems even beyond Blake and the Liberator crew.
Strong characterisation always underpins two- or three-hander plays such as these. The three episodes hold up a mirror to the established protagonists to show us previously unseen facets of their personalities. Bracheeni demonstrates that for all their bluster and bravado, Avon and Tarrant are more loyal and altruistic than they would have everyone believe. Similarly, we see whole new aspects to Jenna and Blake which were barely hinted at in the TV series. Jenna’s Story marks a 360-degree shift in the character who, like Avon, was a pragmatist at the start of the TV series. By the time of her story, Jenna has become as much of an idealist as Blake himself. By contrast, Blake has become more of the pragmatist that Jenna was.
Indeed, while quite dissimilar, the three episodes carry a common theme – that of characters aspiring to be like their heroes and role models but little realising that their perception of these champions rarely lives up to the reality. Bracheeni accuses Avon and Tarrant – “the leader and the pilot” – of needing to prove they are better than the “legendary” Blake and Jenna they begrudgingly admire. Similarly, Jenna holds Blake and the crew of the Liberator in such high esteem that she even tries to build a rebel team in the Liberator crew’s likeness. Ultimately her unshakeable faith and belief in Blake and his cause (little knowing that he has given up on it himself) seals her fate. In turn, Blake draws his strength from his own deep respect for Jenna and Avon – although the blind faith Blake and Avon have in one other proves to be the hallmark of their demise in the final TV episode. Inevitably, all the major characters draw inspiration from each other, even if they are loathe to admit that and even though their admiration of the others is more romanticised than real.
As can be expected, all of the performers in these plays are exceptionally good. Gareth Thomas and Paul Darrow are predictably solid as Blake and Avon respectively, and Stephen Pacey, most likely due to Peter Anghelides’ excellent writing and handle on the character, nails down Tarrant almost perfectly (something that could not be said when he last portrayed the character for BBC Radio in the 1990s, due to poorly written scripts and characterisation). Sally Knyvette again delivers the goods in her solo story. Warship marked something of a renaissance for Jenna and in Jenna’s Story Knyvette again relishes the opportunity to flesh out Jenna and show us just how independent, feisty and resourceful she is. In particular, it is generally assumed by fans that it was Blake’s idea to set up an army on Gauda Prime – writer Steve Lyons ingeniously turns this assumption on its head.
But the best performer of the trilogy is undoubtedly Adrian Lukis as the villainous Bracheeni, a man who proves to be a foil for Avon. Lukis’ voice is captivating and commanding from the outset, rivalling Darrow’s for charm and dry wit, and he conveys a character that is duly cunning and manipulative beneath a veil of humour and amicability. It is a great pity that Bracheeni does not survive the story. As a psychostrategist (similar to Carnell in the TV episode Weapon), Bracheeni would make a great recurring villain for the B7 audio series and partly atone for some of the naff villains that we had to suffer through in the third and fourth series of the TV show!
Volume 6 of The Liberator Chronicles offers an absorbing insight into the lives of the key characters in the B7 saga post-Star One and how they view each other and judge themselves. While the episodes may not completely answer fans’ questions about Blake and Jenna’s whereabouts in the third and fourth seasons or fill in the gaps completely (in fact there is a massive continuity blunder in Blake’s Story*!), they are entertaining and thought-provoking tales that enable us to crawl inside the characters’ heads and appreciate the joy, despair and anguish they feel. Of course, long-term fans will always prefer other versions of the B7 saga that have offered up explanations that are as valid and plausible as this volume (eg how Blake got his scar) but based on the quality of the writing and the performances, The Liberator Chronicles is the superior product. There is potential for Big Finish to continue investigating this hitherto unexplored era of the TV series in future instalments. Give us standalone adventures for Blake and Jenna rather than just the edited highlights, and if the writing and performances are as accomplished as they are in this trilogy, they will be eagerly anticipated by fans.
* Post-script - In Blake’s Story, Blake learns about the destruction of the Liberator before his death is faked by Bruler’s rebels on Jevron. However, in the TV episode Terminal, Servalan reveals to Avon that Blake is dead and she has already attended his funeral on Jevron. She then teleports to the Liberator and it is destroyed. Go figure!