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Audio Review: Crossfire Pt1 – Series 4 of Big Finish's Classic Audio Series

BLAKE'S 7 - THE CLASSIC AUDIO ADVENTURES - Series 4: Crossfire Part One

Review by Jackie Emery

Paul Darrow (Avon), Michael Keating (Vila), Jan Chappell (Cally), Steven Pacey (Tarrant), Jacqueline Pearce (Servalan), Yasmin Bannerman (Dayna) and Alistair Lock (Zen and Orac)
Clare Vousen (Winterhaven), John Green (Mordekain), Hugh Fraser (The President), Rebecca Grant (Gwen Parker), Walles Hamonde (Gunner Kalvert), Becky Wright (Goddess / Distributor / Curator), Roger Parrott (Storekeeper Mavlek), Abi Harris (Alta Six), Donovan Christian-Carey (Herrick) Rebecca Crankshaw (Zeera Vos) and Daniel Collard (Jallen)

Writers: Steve Lyons, Simon Clark, Mark Wright and David Bryher
Sound Design and Music: Simon Power, Luke Pietnik and Nigel Fairs
Cover Art: Lee Johnson
Directed by John Ainsworth and Nigel Fairs
Produced and Script Edited by John Ainsworth for Big Finish Productions

Between Blakes 7 Season C's penultimate and final episodes there is a change in tone that is often remarked upon by fans. Considerable time passes between these two episodes – in Terminal, Servalan tells Avon that it took months to recreate Blake in her computers - but something also seems to have happened to effect a change in the dynamic between the crew members.

Into this breach steps Big Finish, providing not just a missing episode but a 12-episode audio season-within-a-season! Crossfire Part One is the first box set in this series and comprises four full-length episodes, together with an hour of behind-the-scenes interviews.

4.1 Paradise Lost by Steve Lyons
Starring: Paul Darrow, Michael Keating, Jan Chappell, Steven Pacey, Yasmin Bannerman and Alistair Lock
Featuring: Clare Vousen (Winterhaven), John Green (Mordekain) and Hugh Fraser (The President) 

When Elana Winterhaven, former Federation employee turned rebel, contacts the Liberator with information on Servalan's whereabouts and asks for their help in putting an end to her, they agree. By now, most of the Liberator crew have reasons of their own to want Servalan dead.

Kicking off the new series, Paradise Lost is a well written and performed ensemble story. The characters and canon timeline are re-established, together with newer elements that Big Finish have introduced in their previous series. The dialogue sparkles with the sardonic humour typical of B7, and there's plenty of action, danger, plot twists, loyalties, treacheries, personal vendettas and galaxy-wide power struggles. Orac's explanation of the origins of the planet's name Erewhon sent me a-Googling to look up the source. Never let it be said that Big Finish audios aren't educational!

The regular cast slip back easily into their respective roles. Yasmin Bannerman makes a convincing Dayna and I'm now so used to Alistair Lock as Zen/Orac that it almost seems odd hearing Peter Tuddenham's voice on the TV episodes. Clare Vousden is great as the ruthless Winterhaven and I cheered the return of the President, played with silky-smooth menace by the wonderful Hugh Fraser.

4.2 True Believers by Simon Clark
Starring: Jan Chappell
Featuring: Rebecca Grant (Gwen Parker), Walles Hamonde (Gunner Kalvert), Becky Wright (Goddess / Distributor / Curator), Roger Parrott (Storekeeper Mavlek)

Summoned by a mysterious voice to the planet Nephre, Cally finds the last surviving city facing the twin perils of famine and Verenki - savage creatures hellbent on killing and destruction. Nephre's people are divided between those who worship the goddess Electra and those who do not believe, each convinced they have the better chance of survival. But why has Cally been summoned – has she really heard the voice of the goddess?

After setting up the series arc in Paradise Lost, Crossfire does what we often saw in Season C - takes time out for a standalone story that focuses on one character.

There's an old saying that one should never discuss religion and politics at dinner parties. That's partially true for B7, because although at its heart a political series, it has on the whole shied away from religion. It's established that churches were destroyed by the Federation (Pressure Point), gods are portrayed as false and manipulative (Cygnus Alpha, Dawn of the Gods) and religious adherents as misguided (Deliverance). The field was wide open for Big Finish to examine how faith and belief may still manifest under Federation rule, and these are the themes of True Believers. It's an intelligent story that gives equal weight to the views of believers and non-believers and examines the ways in which faith - and lack of faith - can have far reaching consequences.

At 71 minutes, this is the longest episode in this collection, and I did feel that some of it was repetitious, especially the descriptions of the marauding Verenki. There also seemed to be more than the usual amount of running around, which together with the monsters, gave it a bit of a Doctor Who vibe.

As the only regular cast member, Jan Chappell carries the episode brilliantly, in the company of strong supporting actors. Their characters are complex and multi-layered and all the performances are excellent. Special mention should go to Becky Wright, who in relatively short scenes provides three very different voices (and accents) for the Goddess, the Distributor and the Curator, making each of them distinct and memorable.

4.3 Resurgence by Mark Wright
Starring: Paul Darrow, Michael Keating, Jan Chappell, Steven Pacey, Yasmin Bannerman and Alistair Lock
With: Abi Harris (Alta Six)

Zen and the ship's systems come under attack from an outside influence...
If that sounds familiar, it's because the original owners of the Liberator aren't quite as destroyed as the events in Redemption would have had us believe.

After Cally's solo adventure, we're back on the Liberator for a Season C story that ties in well with the Season B original. One of the many lovely things about Big Finish is the way they connect new stories to previously established canon. In this episode, Tarrant and Dayna learn about the System, Vila and Tarrant encounter the Liberator's defence systems and Dayna discovers what Jenna experienced in Cygnus Alpha.

This episode shares the action evenly amongst the Liberator crew, but the scenes with Avon and Dayna are particularly good, building on their relationship that began in Aftermath but never seemed to be properly developed in the TV series.

Resurgence feels like a proper sequel to Redemption and provides the potential for further stories featuring the System. Something tells me we haven't yet heard the last of it!

4.4 Fearless by David Bryher
Starring: Michael Keating and Jan Chappell
With: Donovan Christian-Carey (Herrick) Rebecca Crankshaw (Zeera Vos) and Daniel Collard (Jallen)
Zeera Vos, an old acquaintance of Vila, is selling Federation pursuit ships to the highest bidder. Vila and Cally go to the base where they're being sold, but discover that they are not the only ones who are interested.

This story of double-dealing, treachery, death and betrayal returns us to the series arc and sets up its continuation. Vila is persuaded to take part in the mission because he's familiar with Zeera's security systems, but over the course of the episode, he does so much computer hacking that it made me wonder whether the script was originally conceived with Avon in mind. However, the other element of the story could only have been written for Vila. To bolster his courage, Cally uses an Auron telepathic mind-calming technique that renders him not only calm but utterly fearless. We get to hear a whole new Vila – confident, reckless and flirtatious. That is, until the psychic link is broken...

Michael Keating is always brilliant as Vila, but his performance in this episode is exceptional, as Vila lurches between fearlessness and abject terror. It's a wonderfully different version of the little thief.

Overall, the production of Crossfire Part One is of the highest quality, with great performances by the regular cast and an excellent range of guest actors who provide a variety of different accents and distinct voices that bring their characters to life. The sound design and music are outstanding - there are 'wide screen' evocative atmospheres, alien creatures and space battles, plus meticulous attention to the details of footsteps, body moves, clothes rustling and the handling of objects. The actors' voices are treated to sound as though they are in different locations - talking indoors, outdoors, near and distant, through hoods, over comms or via telepathy. All those layers of sound build up to a vivid listening experience, proving again that 'pictures can be better on audio'. It's extraordinary to think that these soundscapes started out as clean dialogue recorded in a studio.

Crossfire Part Two is released in January, and I can't wait to hear it!

Blake's 7 – Crossfire Part One is available now on CD and Digital Download, and can be ordered here: Big Finish

You can listen to a trailer HERE

Crossfire Part Two is available now for pre-order.

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.


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