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Audio Review: Spoils of War – Series 3 of Big Finish's Classic Audio Series

BLAKE'S 7 - THE CLASSIC AUDIO ADVENTURES - Series 3: The Spoils of War

Review by Jackie Emery

Paul Darrow (Avon), Michael Keating (Vila), Jan Chappell (Cally), Steven Pacey (Tarrant), Jacqueline Pearce (Servalan), Alistair Lock (Zen and Orac) and introducing Yasmin Bannerman as Dayna
Sara Powell (Rokon), Stephen Boxer(Tarkol), Daniel Collard (Aqulia), Sophia Hannides (Shuuna), Tracy Wiles (Valance / Roska), Keith Drinkel (Kaverin), Charlotte Watson (Imra)

Writers: Steve Lyons, Christopher Cooper, Sophia McDougall and George Mann
Sound Design and Music: Nigel Fairs and Luke Pietnik 
Cover Art: Lee Johnson
Produced, Directed and Script Edited by John Ainsworth for Big Finish Productions

Blakes 7, Season C. It's the aftermath of the Galactic War and everything's different: the Federation is in disarray; the Liberator has lost two of its original crew members and gained two new ones. Over 30 years ago, the TV series underwent considerable changes, and the temptation to draw parallels with the new Big Finish audio series is hard to resist.

Handing over the reins to John Ainsworth, outgoing producer Cavan Scott passed on his plans for full-cast adventures set in Seasons A and B, with a new actor taking on the role of Gan. However, just as the BBC had to adapt to the departures of Gareth Thomas to the RSC and Sally Knyvette to university, Big Finish have had to cope with the sad departure of Gareth Thomas from this world, and with the reluctance of Josette Simon to return to the role of Dayna. Although fans were ready to accept a new voice of Gan, and were pragmatically prepared for a new Dayna, it is too soon to consider recasting Blake. The new stories intended for Seasons A and B box sets had to be shelved or re-purposed, and attention turned to Season C. However, it's worth mentioning that for many fans, Season C is their favourite, and Spoils of War has got off to such a flying start it may again be the case for the new audio series.

The stories in this collection take place against the background of the post-war galaxy, with Federation, criminals and civilians alike reeling from the resultant anarchy. Meanwhile, those on board the Liberator have to decide whether to continue on the path of rebellion, to search for Blake and Jenna or perhaps take a different path. It has always seemed odd that we never saw a TV episode in which Dayna and Tarrant learn to become part of Liberator's crew and adjust to life on board the ship. Set between Powerplay and Volcano, the first two stories in this box set set can be taken as a pair of much needed 'missing episodes'. The other two stories, Close Enough and Solus are standalone episodes set towards the end of Season C.

3.1 Liberation by Steven Lyons
Starring: Paul Darrow, Michael Keating, Jan Chappell, Steven Pacey, Alistair Lock and Yasmin Bannerman
With: Sara Powell as Rokon, Stephen Boxer as Tarkol and Daniel Collard as Aqulia

Three days after Powerplay, the Liberator's crew are searching for Jenna on Morphenniel, her last known destination reported by Zen. Vila and Dayna are trying to find the rebel leader Aquila, while Cally and Tarrant (still wearing his Federation uniform) go undercover to see what information they can glean from the local Federation commander. Meanwhile, alone on the Liberator, Avon contemplates his options...

Each character has their moment to shine; Cally using telepathy, Vila opening doors, Dayna's weapons expertise, Tarrant's Federation background and Avon's cool logic. But the spotlight is on Dayna, following her journey from fierce independence to member of the team, and also serves to introduce the actress who has taken on the role. My initial impression of Yasmin Bannerman was that she sounds older than 18-year-old Josette, but as all the cast now sound older than they did in the TV, series, this actually works in a 'temporal continuity' kind of way. Yasmin doesn't impersonate Josette; her performance captures the essence of the character, with all of Dayna's youthful verve and passion, and it didn't take long for me to accept her as Dayna. It's also pure joy to hear Yasmin on the Behind the Scenes CD, bubbling over with excitement at playing the character who had been her childhood role model.

The performances by the regular cast are as good as ever, with Paul, Jan, Michael, Steven and Alistair returning effortlessly to their respective characters. The production is enhanced by multi-layered soundscapes provided by Nigel Fairs and Luke Pietnik, together with fine music by Nigel Fairs that is illustrative without being intrusive. The directing by producer John Ainsworth feels very confident and assured.

3.2 Outpost by Christopher Cooper
Starring: Michael Keating, Steven Pacey and Yasmin Bannerman
With: Sophia Hannides as Shuuna and Tracy Wiles as Valance / Roska

While Liberation focussed on Dayna, Outpost concentrates on the other new crew member, as Tarrant and Vila get the measure of one another. On a mission to the abandoned Federation outpost Clivian 410B, they have to learn to work together in order to survive. The story is action-packed and entertaining; a tale of uneasy alliances, treachery, double-crossings and an old flame. There's nice back story for both Vila and Tarrant, as each of them considers their place on the Liberator.

I have a couple of niggles: The first is that Cally and Avon seem conspicuously absent from this story. Although it appears that the mission was at Avon's behest, it feels a bit odd not to hear from him at all. I also wasn't keen on some of the references that have sneaked into this story from other SF series, including Star Trek, Star Wars and Judge Dredd. Although the episode Death-Watch used a direct quote from Trek, for me, these references broke the 4th wall of the B7 universe, as my brain went, "Hang on, isn't that from....?"

That said, I thoroughly enjoyed the story. The plot had some great twists and turns, and there was plenty of humour alongside the action. As a Vila fan, it was fun to hear him take centre stage, though a particular scene has left me with a rather unfortunate mental image of him. Michael Keating and Steven Pacey are great together, while the wonderful performances of Sophia Hannides and Tracy Wiles prove yet again how deadly the females of the species can be!

3.3 Close Enough by Sophia McDougall
Starring: Paul Darrow and Jan Chappell
With: Keith Drinkel  as Kaverin and Charlotte Watson as Imra

Set late in Season C (Children of Auron and Rumours of Death are referenced), this story focusses on Avon and Cally and examines the nature of one of her defining characteristics – telepathy. Happily, it also provides a return to the tougher, guerilla-fighter version of Cally we met in Season A, who by this point in the TV series had become considerably softened.

Jan Chappell and Paul Darrow give excellent performances; Paul being more understated – and therefore, more powerful - than he sometimes tends to be. Portraying the scientists Dr Kaverin and Imra, Keith Drinkel and Charlotte Watson are great, and their characters serve as a reminder of the ruthlessness of Federation research.

My interest in this story was piqued some time ago by a tweet from the writer Sophia McDougall saying that she was going to make Avon sing 'How much is that doggy in the window'. I couldn't conceive a situation in which Avon would sing anything, let alone that! For copyright reasons, that song couldn't be used in the end, but has been replaced by another well-known ditty, and the circumstances in which we hear Avon sing it make perfect sense in the context for which it's used.

The soundscapes for this episode are especially fine, possibly my favourites in this box set. The layers of voices, sound and music depicting telepathy, interior monologues, thought processes and normal dialogue blend without ever becoming confusing. According to his interview on the Behind the Scenes CD, Nigel Fairs also directed this episode and deserves extra kudos for a terrific job.

One very minor niggle was a reference to Tarrant and Vila being away together on a mission. Although it was useful to have a line that explains their absence, it made me think for a brief moment that this story takes place during Outpost, even though it quite obviously comes much later in the Season. Hopefully, this just means that there are more stories to come featuring Tarrant and Vila!

3.4 Solus by George Mann
Starring: Jacqueline Pearce, Paul Darrow, Michael Keating, Jan Chappell, Steven Pacey, Alistair Lock and Yasmin Bannerman

Servalan takes centre stage in the last episode, also set in late Season C. Responding to a distress call from Solus research station, the Liberator crew find she is the sole survivor amongst the wreckage and against their better judgement, rescue her. Throughout Season C – or at least since Harvest of Kairos – Servalan had plotted and schemed to gain control of the most powerful ship in the galaxy, and it's great to hear her back on board the Liberator. Her interactions with the crew are a joy to listen to, with characteristic dry humour amidst the threat.

It was interesting to read in Big Finish's Vortex Magazine that George Mann had originally written Solus as a Season A story featuring Blake. I'd be intrigued to read it, because this re-written Season C version just seems so perfect, with Servalan facing a vengeful Dayna, as well as her ongoing, complex relationship with Avon.

3.5 Behind the Scenes
This CD features over 50 minutes of interviews with the cast and crew. I recommend listening to this last, because it's full of spoilers!

And what of the future? In much the same way that it feels as if there are missing scenes between Powerplay and Volcano, the same goes for Death-Watch and Terminal. So it's lovely to know that the next three box sets to be released by Big Finish will add up to a collection of 12 episodes – an entire season! - set between those two episodes. Hugh Fraser has tweeted that he is returning as the President of the Federation, and John Ainsworth says that later box sets will explore some of the themes of the political upheaval between Seasons C and D; how Servalan lost the presidency and who replaced her. Some of the scripts that were written for the Seasons A and B box sets have been turned into stories for an anthology, due out later this year.

Yes, we're in Blake's 7 Season C. Much has changed, and there is a great deal to look forward to!

Blake's 7 - The Spoils of War is available now on CD and Digital Download, and can be ordered here: Spoils of War. You can listen to a trailer HERE, and download a free excerpt from the first story, Liberation, HERE.

Series 4 of Blake's 7 - The Classic Adventures begins its release in October 2017. Part One is available now to pre-order here: Blake's 7 - 4.1: Crossfire.

The full range of Blake's 7 audio dramas and original novels can be found here: Blake's 7 from Big Finish and are reviewed on Horizon here: Horizon Reviews.

Photo of Michael Keating, Steven Pacey, Sophia Hannides and Tracy Wiles in studio for the recording of Outpost courtesy of Big Finish.


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