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Audio Review: Liberator Chronicles Volume 10

The Liberator Chronicles – Volume 10

10.1 Velandra by Steve Lyons 
10.2 Retribution by Andrew Smith
10.3 Ministry of Peace by Una McCormack

Sound Design by Martin Montague
Music by Jamie Robertson

Directed by Lisa Bowerman and Ken Bentley
Produced by David Richardson for Big Finish Productions

Review by Jackie Emery

After the recent batch of B7 stories set in Season C (Volume 9 of The Liberator Chronicles and the new all-cast series) this collection returns to Season A and the early days of the Liberator. The crew are still getting used to each other, and have not yet been joined by the new crew members or shared the experiences that led to the more stable dynamic of the third season. Each of the stories in Liberator Chronicles Volume 10 explores a different aspect of early Blakes 7 - Blake is still suffering the after-effects of regaining his memory, a figure from Vila's criminal past catches up with him and Servalan's ambitious plans do not involve Travis. All three stories are have complex plots and interesting characters, as well as taking place over a wide variety of locations. Each has a different thematic style: Velandra is a psychological thriller, Retribution is a crime-action story, while Ministry of Peace deals with the politics of rebellion.

10.1  Velandra by Steve Lyons 
Performed by Gareth Thomas and Stephen Greif

Blake is having bad dreams: a swamp, wolves, a woman called Velandra… and Travis. Could this be a memory that was erased by the Federation?

Set after Project Avalon, which is referenced in the dialogue, Velandra explores Blake's continuing recovery of his memories; a process that only started in The Way Back. In this dark, atmospheric tale, Blake is suffering nightmares - but are they dreams or memories? If they are memories, are they real or false ones implanted by the Federation? One way or another, Blake is determined to find out the truth...

The format of this story returns to the original style of The Liberator Chronicles, using a main narrator and additional dialogue scenes with a secondary character. Although I usually prefer a more even distribution of the narration, the format suits this story, as the listener gets deep inside Blake's head; experiencing his fears, doubts and feelings – and Gareth Thomas is a compelling narrator. Blake's dialogue scenes with Travis are excellent, and Stephen Greif sounds unnervingly the same as he did in the original series. Slightly less effective are the scenes on board Liberator in which Blake recounts the dialogue of his unvoiced crew mates, although Gareth does do a rather good impression of Avon's distinctive speech patterns!

10.2. Retribution by Andrew Smith
Performed by Michael Keating and Paul Darrow, with John Banks as Ragnus Lang

A distress call leads Avon and Vila to an old tracking station on the moon of Lorean. It was sent by Ragnus Lang, formerly Vila’s partner-in-crime. And now Lang needs Blake’s help.

What starts as an apparently political story, evolves into a crime/action thriller that uncovers some of Vila's criminal past and the way he is now viewed by his former associates. To describe more would involve revealing spoilers, so suffice to say there's a good mix of peril and humour, as well as the character interactions for which B7 is so highly regarded.

The Avon-Vila pairing did not really come to the fore in the TV series until Season B, but this story retains the feel of Season A, in which the characters are getting to know each other while still harbouring a degree of suspicion and mistrust. Once again, Michael Keating and Paul Darrow are as good together in audio as they were on TV, while John Banks (who previously played Correl in Jenna's Story) is excellent as Lang. The addition of a third voice in this story – four, if one includes the character Nico Klent (played by the versatile Mr Keating) - makes this feel more like an audio drama than a narrated story. The dialogue scenes are great, as are the action sequences which would be well nigh impossible to portray on screen – especially on a BBC budget!

It's no secret that Vila is my favourite character, so I'm bound to like any story in which he is the main narrator. I also think that the pairing of Avon and Vila is one of the most successful, both in the original TV series and in Big Finish's audios, thanks to the strength of the scripts and the performances by their respective actors. Of the three stories in this collection, Retribution is my favourite.

10.3. Ministry of Peace by Una McCormack
Performed by Paul Darrow and Jacqueline Pearce

The Liberator crew are on the planet Speranza to assist its new interim government.  But is the planet a beacon of hope in the fight against the Federation – or is Speranza’s history about to take a darker path?

In George Orwell's 1984, the Ministry of Peace maintains a state of war under the pretext that this brings stability and peace to its citizens. This story examines that premise in the context of 'the morning after' – what happens when the rebels win?

Beginning with Servalan's report that Speranza has fallen to the rebels, Ministry of Peace is mostly narrated by Avon. He seems to take ironic delight in the fact that Speranza's new government now has to deal with conflicting rebel factions and the possibility of civil war. This story is a multilayered political thriller, as Servalan and Blake try to restore order, each in their own way. Meanwhile, Avon and Cally get caught up in the maelstrom of events and it is they who find out what is really going on behind the scenes. Although Cally isn't heard, Avon's point of view narration provides a good sense of their slightly prickly relationship in the early episodes of B7.

Paul Darrow plays Avon with delicious cynicism, well suited to the way he appears in the early series. Notably, he also plays the rebel leader Emett in some of the dialogue scenes. It's lovely to hear Jacqueline Pearce in top form as pre-Travis Servalan, scheming and dealing with Federation politicians and military in her own inimitable fashion.

Special mention again has to go to the sound design and music. Whether it's hell-wolves pounding through a swamp in pursuit of Blake and Velandra, Blake talking to Travis through the electrical fizzing of a Federation 'conditioning machine', Vila and Avon trapped on the side of a mountain, or pitched battles on a rebel world, the extraordinary richness and detail of the soundscapes created vivid audio pictures in my mind. I especially liked what in film parlance would be called the 'establishing shots', such as a panoramic 'view' of a location before the teleport fx announce the arrival of the characters, or a fly-by of the Liberator before cutting to the interior. All the traditional fx of the Liberator, the teleport etc are meticulously recreated, while the additional of layers of sound: footsteps, clothes rustles and the treating of actors' voices to sound appropriate to their surroundings, make it almost impossible to believe that they played their roles in a recording booth.

Overall, these three stories form a very strong collection. Liberator Chronicles Volume 10 is the last in the series that was produced by David Richardson before he handed over the reins to Cavan Scott, and is a fine volume on which to bow out.

Liberator Chronicles Volume 10 is available from Big Finish as a 3-CD box set or Digital Download. You can listen to a trailer here: LC10 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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