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Audio Review: Liberator Chronicles Volume 8

The Liberator Chronicles – Volume 8

8.1 President by Simon Guerrier 
8.2 The Sea of Iron by Marc Platt
8.3 Spoils by James Goss

Sound Design by Martin Montague
Music by Jamie Robertson

Directed by Lisa Bowerman (President, The Sea of Iron) and Ken Bentley (Spoils)
Produced by David Richardson for Big Finish Productions

Review by Jackie Emery

I like to think of May's releases as The Federation Collection – or perhaps, The Presidential Suite. This new collection of Liberator Chronicles, especially the first story, President, complements the latest episode in the all-cast series, Cold Fury. Although each works well independently, together they dovetail and feed into each other, developing the previously under-explored areas of B7 – the inner workings of the Federation and the character of the President.

Set during the latter part of Season B, Liberator Chronicles Volume 8 features not only the very welcome return of Jacqueline Pearce as Supreme Commander Servalan, but another guest actor marking his first return to Blake's 7 after 35 years – Peter Miles as Secretary Rontane.

8.1 President by Simon Guerrier
Performed by Jacqueline Pearce and Peter Miles

Servalan's executioners are waiting, but Rontane first wants some answers. With nothing to lose, Servalan tells him everything...
We have started to hear from the President of the Terran Federation in the all-cast series, where he is played with sinister charm by Hugh Fraser. In President we learn more about the character from those closest to him; the President's Secretary and his Supreme Commander. The tale that unfolds is one of political machinations and power games, of plotting, ambition and ego - and the problems that can arise for a ruler when a charismatic rebel leader galvanises the common people to join his cause.

Using as its starting point Travis' trial and Blake's attack on Supreme Command HQ, this story also references Blake's attack on Earth and the death of Gan. It additionally explains an event that is mentioned during Cold Fury - an assassination attempt on the President during a visit to Mars. I had listened to Cold Fury before President and admit to being slightly puzzled at the time – should I have known about this? Had I forgotten something? But all is revealed here, as Servalan recounts these events to a fascinated and cynical Rontane. Each of these stories, Cold Fury and President work fine alone – you don't have to listen to one in order to enjoy the other - but they also work brilliantly together, as the Big Finish team create and build on their timeline and canon-within-the-canon. The stories even add depth to the episodes Seek-Locate-Destroy and Trial, providing extra layers to the character of the President who is talked about, but never seen in the original series.

It's a treat to hear Jacqueline Pearce again as Servalan, and even nicer to hear her together with Peter Miles as Rontane – the first time they have shared a scene since Seek-Locate-Destroy. More about each of their characters is revealed, together with details of their individual relationships with the President. Their cat-and-mouse dialogue is beautifully played, and although officially this is an enhanced audiobook, with Servalan having the bulk of the narration, interspersed with dialogue scenes with Rontane, it feels more like a two-hander play as Rontane's questioning sets up and leads into the flashbacks of Servalan's story.

The sound fx and atmospheres neatly illustrate the narration and dialogue, providing backgrounds and audio details for each scene. The music is excellent – complementary, without ever being intrusive.

Simon Guerrier's script is clever, with a sting in the tail that I did not guess, and some fun details. I liked the location Viking Square on Mars, a reference to the first NASA space probes sent to the Red Planet. Then there's a glorious description of people queuing to meet the President:
...some shake or lose the ability to speak; others are all cocky bravado or had prepared clever things to say...
- a description which will be recognised by anyone who has ever stood in an autograph queue at a convention!

8.2 – The Sea of Iron by Marc Platt
Performed by Jan Chappell and Jacqueline Pearce

"Thousands of sisters, young and old, generations of Callys – telepathic blood kin..."
Cally is in the driving seat for this story, both figuratively and literally, as she and Servalan search for an Auron freighter that has been lost in Mare Ferrous – the Iron Sea - a dark and dangerous area of space. Cally provides most of the narration in this story, with Servalan sharing the dialogue and action scenes. As heard previously in the Liberator Chronicles Volume 2 story Wolf, these two opposing female characters make a very interesting pairing.

The Sea of Iron is an enjoyable story, played with a kind of savage glee by both Jan Chappell and Jacqueline Pearce in their scenes together, while Cally's solo narration is poignant and moving. There are touches of humour in the script, as well as evocative descriptions of the different locations.

Marc Platt previously wrote the Cally story Flag & Flame for B7E's Blakes 7:The Early Years, and brings elements and ideas from this earlier audio into The Sea of Iron. Much is made here of both of Cally's telepathy and the fact that she is a clone. Although these themes are somewhat neglected in Season B of the TV series, I think that Marc has now gone too far the other way, with his portrayal of Cally as one of thousands of Cally-clones, and the telepathy being multitudes of voices inside her head.

In his interview in Big Finish's Vortex magazine, Marc describes his vision of ..a grey, Moscow-like Auron; giant statues celebrating the worker ethic; crowds of cloned cadets and munition factory workers; a coachload of Callys up from the collective farm singing the Auronar equivalent of The Red Flag....
Personally, I don't think this cross between Brave New World and 1984 fits comfortably with what we know of Cally from the TV series. I'm also not sure what Leeds University – the filming location for Auron – would make of being compared with Moscow!

The sound fx and music generally work well. I particularly liked a sequence that takes place during a piece of narration: first we hear the distinctive sound of a teleport bracelet being selected and clipped on, then the holstering of a Liberator handgun and finally the shimmer of the teleport. Without being described in words, the entire scene is captured perfectly in sound fx alone. The only fx that felt incongruous occurred during a scene in which Cally recalls her childhood. There may have been old-fashioned wind-up music boxes on Auron, but I think it's highly unlikely that they would have played the Brahms lullaby.

8.3 Spoils by James Goss
Performed by Gareth Thomas, Jemma Churchill and Dan Starkey

"To the victor - the spoils!"
There is a line in a Moody Blues song: Every happy ending needs to have a start. But what happens when the happy ending is the start? To misquote another song, The only way is down.

This story begins with the happy ending that we never saw in Blakes 7 - Blake has won, the Federation has been defeated. It isn't real, of course, this is made clear from the outset. Blake is visiting the Dream Makers, mystical beings who provide dreams that accurately predict the future. Blake wants to know how to win; how to bring down the Federation without losing any more of his friends - he still feels keenly the loss of Gan. However, the Dream Makers decide that it would be more instructive to provide him with visions of what will happen after he has won.

Blake's dream begins well. The power is back in the hands of the people, rejoicing crowds hail the victorious rebel leader. What could possibly go wrong? But the tale that starts so brightly, darkens with every unrelenting twist and turn.

Although billed as an enhanced audiobook, this has an epic feel. I was puzzled that the characters played by Jemma Churchill and Dan Starkey weren't named on the cast details, but soon realised that there's a good reason for that: there isn't enough room to list them all! Apart from playing the Dream Makers, who also provide the narration, between them they also play the dream versions of all the other members of the Liberator Crew, as well as a wide selection of additional characters; medics, mutoids, soldiers, prisoners, rebels, servants and hosts of extras. It's an interesting conceit, having the Liberator crew played by other actors. It actually works, but only because this is a dream, and I could imagine the avatars looking almost but not quite like the real thing, a bit fuzzy around the edges, perhaps. Blake is aware that these are simulations. When 'Avon' enters and speaks for the first time, Blake tells the Dream Maker: "You're doing him rather well. Just a bit less strident!"

Dan and Jemma have done an astonishing job in capturing the likenesses of the characters' voices. Some are more accurate than others – Jemma's 'Jenna' and 'Cally' sound uncannily like the real thing. However, I don't think her 'Servalan' is as good, and having Jacqueline Pearce on the other two stories in this collection means that comparisons are inevitable. Dan does a brave job with 'Avon' - only Paul Darrow can sound like Paul Darrow, but Dan manages to convey Avon's distinctive speech patterns without parody, and his 'Vila' is pretty good, too.

Unlike the more subtle enhancements of music and fx on the previous stories, this has a full blown, big screen soundtrack. The music cleverly weaves in snatches of the B7 theme tune, giving it a triumphant or sour twist, according to the mood of the scene. The atmospheres and sound fx are a vast canvas - there are battles and explosions, intense action and quiet dialogue, cheering crowds and clocks ticking in empty rooms. Gareth Thomas is absolutely terrific, and together with the range of characters and minimal narration, Spoils really feels like one of the all-cast dramas that Ken Bentley does so well.

This story might split fans' opinions; they may feel it confirms or contradicts the way they see Blake and his companions. Personally, I found it all too plausible, and it's this very plausibility that made this drama, with its echoes of Animal Farm, so harrowing. I had wondered whether James Goss could match his previous Liberator Chronicles story, the cruel and disturbing Three. The answer is a resounding Yes! Spoils is outstanding; I can't stop thinking about it. It has got under my skin, into my own dreams and was a distraction at work. Dark, twisted and utterly brilliant.

Liberator Chronicles Volume 8 is available from Big Finish on CD and digital download here: LC8
You can listen to a trailer here: LC8 Trailer
Full details of the current range of B7 audio dramas, audio books and original novels available from Big Finish can be found on their website here:  B7 from Big Finish

Box set cover artwork by Grant Kempster


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