Blake's 7 - The Liberator Chronicles Volume 6
As Blakes 7's second series drew to a close, behind the scenes changes were afoot. Gareth Thomas no longer wished to play the part of Blake with Sally Knyvette also deciding to hang up her teleport bracelet as Jenna. Both characters vanished from the series after a dramatic cliffhanger, with their stories untold - until now.
Volume 6 of The Liberator Chronicles fills in some of these gaps with three audio readings set during the show's third season. One of them definitely feels like a missing episode of the series whilst the other two provide a change to the format with their wide-ranging stories.
The first story in the set, Peter Anghelides "Incentive", is definitely the best of the three on offer, and to its credit, feels like an authentic episode. Avon (Paul Darrow) and Tarrant (Steven Pacey, in his Big Finish debut) end up prisoners of the wily Bracheeni (a superbly slippery Adrian Lukis) when Orac thinks it's located Blake and Jenna. More like a three-hander than an 'enhanced audiobook’; it pushes the limits of the Liberator Chronicle format.
Bracheeni's interrogation method revolves around a lie detector that delivers an electric shock every time anyone in the room tells a lie. Anghelides uses to this to his advantage and is clever with his deployment of clues and red herrings. He uses it to deliver a very rich seam of black comedy. Darrow's drawled and waspish delivery only adds to this, whilst Pacey slips back surprisingly easily into his role as Tarrant.
Incentive's main purpose seems to be to explain why the Liberator crew stop looking for Blake and Jenna and delivers a plausible explanation, as well as commentary on the shift in power amongst the Liberator crew. Avon isn't Blake; he's wilier, but less focused and more easily distracted. Tarrant however, is fiery, tempestuous and determined. Avon slips easily, at this stage, into trying to bend Tarrant to his will and the relationship between the two men is fascinating to hear. More please.
Steve Lyons writes "Jenna's Story" which initially sees Jenna posing as a nurse to get access to Correl (John Banks), whom she is looking to recruit to her side. In order to persuade him, she recounts her struggle continuing the fight against the Federation after leaving the Liberator. Knyvette declined to return to the show after becoming disappointed with the lack of direction her character had. Here, Jenna’s skills are put to good use in a story that firmly has her as its centre.
Knyvette's reading grows in confidence as the story goes on and there some interesting ideas thrown around including the purpose that Blake gives to Jenna and the nature of her relationship with him. The very fact that Jenna builds her own seven person team with a thief, a computer expert, a strongman is very clever, and indicative of the effect Blake and his ideologies have on Jenna. Whether or not this makes her stand up as a character in her own right is debatable. She doesn’t necessarily shine as her own person whilst dancing in Blake’s shadow. And where “Jenna’s Story” does fall flat, and indeed this will be a common theme with "Blake's Story", is in a lack of emotional investment. The actions and characters are just too lightly sketched to invest in.
The concept, and in part, realisation from Lyons is a good one. The overall execution though feels hurried and rushed, hurtling head along toward an inevitable conclusion (although to be fair, I couldn't remember Jenna's eventual fate, so it came as a slight surprise). Ken Bentley's direction is urgent and frantic making for memorable, if unaffecting, scenes at the conclusion.
The final episode, Cavan Scott and Mark Wright's "Blake's Story" traces what happened to Blake prior to his fateful reunion with Avon on Gauda Prime. It’s also a story that is likely to be divisive for fans.
Blake goes from inspiring crusader to a broken man in his dogged search for the Liberator. Utilised by many for his expertise in striking against the Federation, he lurches from one disaster to another in his fight against the Federation as despite his best efforts, the Federation always seem to be one step in front of him.
"Blake's Story" feels removed from the series. Possibly its worst crime is to sideline the main character. Blake becomes a bystander to his own struggle. It's a curiously strange move that isn't helped by Gareth Thomas's occasionally passive narration which leads to an out-of-body feeling to the whole story. It feels like going to a convention and instead of meeting Gareth Thomas, you wind up meeting the third Trooper from the left instead.
Fan analysis of Blake's obsessive behaviour tends to look at whether or not the series lead character had cracked up before the events of ‘Star One’. The audio addresses some of this but in the process fundamentally gets the character of Blake wrong. Had Blake not reappeared back in the final episode, then there wouldn't necessarily be any problem with his characterisation here. But he does, and that version of the character doesn't correlate with the one here. Blake has been proved to be a man hardened, not delusional or broken by his experiences prior to his final appearance and sadly “Blake’s Story” makes for a frustratingly disappointing end to a patchy box set.
These stories may not be to everyone's taste, but Big Finish should be commended for at least trying something different. It may be easy to serve the same old tired variations on Blakes 7 stories, but with so much of the Blakes 7 universe unmined, they've attempted to deliver something new and unique - something that can only be explored through the Liberator Chronicle format. And although fandom may have explored this avenue before, it has never really been explored through 'official' channels. As this series branches out into later Blakes 7, this range is sure to be certainly be a talking point among the fans.
The Liberator Chronicles: Volume 6 is available to buy on CD or download at Big Finish.