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Audio Review: Liberator Chronicles Volume 12

The Liberator Chronicles – Volume 12

12.1 Corners of the Mind by Andy Lane
12.2 Capital and 12.3 Punishment by Guy Adams

Sound Design by Martin Montague
Music by Jamie Robertson

Directed by Lisa Bowerman
Produced by Cavan Scott for Big Finish Productions

Review by Jackie Emery

This final release in The Liberator Chronicles series of Blakes 7 audios was long anticipated and the wait has been worthwhile. Set during Season C, it comprises three stories featuring Paul Darrow, Jan Chappell, Steven Pacey and Michael Keating, with the return of David Warner as Vila's estranged father, Solvin Tavac. With stories taking place in locations that range from ancient stone structures to space craft, this collection proves again how skilfully produced two-hander audio plays can have the rich feel of a big screen epic.

12.1 Corners of the Mind by Andy Lane
Performed by Paul Darrow and Jan Chappell

Avon: "My situation is located on the interesting side of dangerous."

Avon turns Indiana Jones when he is forced to explore a stone labyrinth inside a ziggurat. His survival depends on the cool logic for which he is renowned; having to solve puzzles of increasing complexity, while deadly peril awaits around every corner. To complicate matters even further, he is losing pieces of his memory as he makes his way towards the centre of the maze....

Avon is principle narrator, using a communicator to describe his journey to Cally on board the Liberator. In turn, she relays to him what the other crew members are saying and provides help and advice – not that he seems to need much. If I have one criticism with this story, it's that Avon is just a little bit too clever, and his attitude towards his crew mates too superior and scathing.

Paul Darrow plays Avon with his usual verve, despite, by his own admission, not really understanding the script! But such is his skill, the listener is never in any doubt that Avon knows exactly what is going on. Jan Chappell plays her role equally well, imbuing Cally's lines with sympathetic intelligence, as well as barely-concealed impatience – you can almost hear her roll her eyes as Avon boasts of his superior intelligence or delivers a stinging remark about Tarrant.

Corners of the Mind is enjoyable as a standalone tale, but feels a bit out of place in this collection, being very different to the two-parter that follows. I would perhaps have preferred a three-part conclusion to the original three-part Armageddon Storm; an additional story featuring Avon and Cally would have been welcome.

The next two CDs in this box set, Capital and Punishment, wrap up the storylines that were introduced in Liberator Chronicles 3: The Armageddon Storm, and Liberator Chronicles 9.3 – Secrets. It's not necessary to have listened to these earlier volumes, as the back story is well explained, but they are highly recommended in their own right.

12.2 Capital by Guy Adams
Performed by Steven Pacey and David Warner

Tarrant: "It all went wrong. Doesn't it always?"

The Liberator receives a message from Vila's father, who had been presumed dead. Solvin Tavac is asking for help regarding two matters that the crew cannot ignore: the super-weapon Armageddon Storm and the whereabouts of Roj Blake.

Injured, and trying to escape in a badly-damaged ship, Tarrant recounts their adventure in the form of an audio recording. He knows that he may not survive, but the fate of his crew mates – and the Earth itself – depend on the message being sent before it's too late. His account is interspersed with flashback scenes which are enhanced by snappy dialogue with David Warner as a wonderfully grumpy Tavac.

Steven Pacey has narrated over 100 audio books, and his experience shines through in a terrific performance portraying the different aspects of Tarrant's character – skilled pilot, arrogant, courageous, loyal – yet at odds with his crew mates, especially Avon. Steven is also particularly good at capturing the speech patterns of his fellow actors when recounting their lines.

It's a thrilling action story that still includes insight into the thoughts and feelings of the narrator, right up to its cliffhanger ending.

12.3. Punishment by Guy Adams
Performed by Michael Keating and David Warner

Vila: "So this is how the planet Earth died..."

Fans of Michael Keating and David Warner are in for a treat with the last episode, as Vila and his estranged father once again lock horns while trying to save the Earth from the Armageddon Storm.

Punishment opens with a pre-title sequence, where we find Vila imprisoned and under Federation interrogation. He is the narrator of this story, having to explain to his questioners the events that led to his capture. Ever the reluctant hero, somehow Vila has to find the courage to save the Earth and his fellow crew mates – together with the father that he hates. Sparks fly in the dialogue scenes between father and son as old grievances and mutual lack of trust threaten to undermine their mission.

Michael Keating plays Vila as brilliantly as ever. Vila's engagingly dishonest narration and the electrifying chemistry between Michael and David Warner make this a pure joy to listen to.

Special mention again has to go to Martin Montague's sound design. It's extraordinary to know that the actors' performances are recorded clean in a studio, and that it's the treatment of these voices that creates the illusion that each actor is present in a particular location – Avon in an echoing stone chamber, Tarrant in the ruins of a capital city, Vila inside a prison cell. The perspective given to the voices also helps to sell the illusion – whether the character is distant or close, or moving left and right within the stereo landscape. Added to that are the other detailed fx: footsteps, clothes rustling, locks and doors, spaceship controls and engines, fierce creatures and wild weather, as well as the almost subliminal atmospheres that are present even in a silent room. Kudos to Martin for creating these fantastic soundscapes.

The music by Jamie Robertson is likewise excellent – appropriate, yet unobtrusive. It highlights and underscores the dialogue and action, without ever overwhelming them.

The Liberator Chronicles series has come a long way since its early days of enhanced audio books. Over the past four years, it has evolved into a series of sophisticated two- or three-hand audio dramas, with 'big budget' sound and a variety of narrative techniques. The narration and dialogue scenes segue into each other with seamless transitions, and the narrator is no longer a character telling a story, but integral to the plot – whether it's Avon working out aloud the logic puzzles, Tarrant recording a final desperate message from a stricken ship or Vila responding to Federation interrogators with his typical mixture of bravado and fear.

In addition to action-based stories, the Liberator Chronicles are great character pieces. Big Finish has done well in exploring and developing the Blake's 7 characters beyond what we see in the TV series, and the Liberator Chronicles have been the perfect medium for the listener to get insight into their thoughts and feelings. I've loved this series and am rather sorry that it has now come to an end, but looking forward to whatever new ranges Big Finish have got planned for fans of B7.

Unfortunately, the release of Liberator Chronicles Volume 12 was overshadowed by the death of Gareth Thomas on 13th April 2016. It is terribly sad that he will not be appearing in any new audios. But it is also comforting to know that not only do we have Gareth's performance on screen, we have been privileged to hear him playing Blake for Big Finish thirty years later; returning to the role as if he had never been away.

Liberator Chronicles Volume 12 is available now on CD or Digital Download and you can listen to a trailer HERE.

The entire series of Liberator Chronicles is still available to order from the Big Finish website with prices starting from just £12 each.
The full range of Big Finish's Blake's 7 audio dramas and original books can be found HERE.

Box set Cover Art by Grant Kempster
Photo of Michael Keating and David Warner by Lisa Bowerman


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