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Audio Review: Restoration Pt2 – Series 5 of Big Finish's Classic Audio Series

BLAKE'S 7 - THE CLASSIC AUDIO ADVENTURES - Series 5: Restoration Part Two

Review by Jackie Emery

Paul Darrow (Avon), Michael Keating (Vila), Jan Chappell (Cally), Steven Pacey (Tarrant), Yasmin Bannerman (Dayna) and Alistair Lock (Orac and Zen)

Carolyn Pickles (Vulkris), Richard Keith (Remek), Lisa Bond (Queen Janylle), Heather Bleasdale (Illyne), Cliff Chapman (Tyrric), Dawn Murphy (Karna), Catherine Bailey (Mida), Phillipe Bosher (Veskar), Sophie Bleasdale (Alta Nine), Ruth Sillers (Alta Ten), Evie Dawnay (Selene Shan), Vincenzo Nicoli(Sherna), Richard Reed (Krent)

Writers: Mark Wright, Steve Lyons, Sophia McDougall, Trevor Baxendale
Sound Design and Music: David Roocroft, Simon Power, Luke Pietnik and Nigel Fairs
Produced, Directed and Script Edited by John Ainsworth for Big Finish Productions

The story so far:
Considerable time seems to pass between Death-Watch and Terminal, the penultimate and final TV episodes of B7 Series 3. There is a marked change in tone and atmosphere on board the Liberator, and in the relationships between the crew. By her own admission, Servalan spends months creating the illusion of Blake used to trap Avon in Terminal.

Into this breach steps Big Finish, with two epic series-within-Series 3, of breathtaking depth and scope. The first 12-episode full cast audio series Crossfire depicts the Presidential Civil War: Servalan and the previous President of the Federation battle for supremacy, and the Liberator cannot avoid being caught between the warring factions. In true Blake's 7 style, Crossfire ended on a cliffhanger, with the ship and crew in mortal peril.

The latest series picks up the story from that point. Restoration Part 1 resolves the cliffhanger, but the danger is far from over. The Liberator crew are physically and psychologically injured, and their ship apparenty damaged beyond repair. Meanwhile, the triumphant President seeks to consolidate his position and extend his control over the Federation. The saga now continues in Restoration Part 2. With the Liberator barely functioning, Avon decides that the only hope lies with its source: the System.

“The System is the supreme power of Spaceworld and the three life-supporting planets which orbit our sun. The System is a complex of infallible machines.” Alta 1, Redemption

Beginning with a trip to the derelict Spaceworld, the Liberator crew visit the three System planets, in search of components to repair the Liberator. The episodes in this box set delve into the way the System ruled the three planets, and how the different societies on each planet coped after the destruction of Spaceworld.

The New Age by Mark Wright
Featuring: Carolyn Pickles (Vulkris) and Richard Keith (Remek)
Music and Sound Design: David Roocroft

Vulkris: “The end of Spaceworld freed us from the System and the law of the Alta”
Remek: ‘The system was our life… and then it ended. It would seem we have you to thank for that.”

Under the charismatic leadership of Vulkris, the people on the planet Eloran have shunned technology. Beguiled by the simple, happy lives of the community, Vila is tempted to make this his new home. Among all the great performances in this episode, Michael Keating’s portrayal of Vila is exceptional, as his relationship with his crew mates reach crisis point.

Happy Ever After by Steve Lyons
Featuring: Lisa Bond (Queen Janylle), Heather Bleasdale(Illyne), Cliff Chapman (Tyrric) and Dawn Murphy (Karna)
Sound Design: Luke Pietnik
Music: Simon Power

Queen Janylle: “We are to be married, Del Tarrant. You and I. To rule the Kingdom of Zareen together, in peace and happiness.”
The medieval society on planet Zareen seems to have been barely touched by the System. Able to dream future events, the people know their destiny: the queen is married to Tarrant. Beginning with their 20th wedding anniversary, this complex story flashes backwards and forwards in time; between present reality and dreams of the future. Has Tarrant abandoned the Liberator for a lifetime of happiness with Queen Janylle?
Special credit in this episode goes to Steven Pacey and Paul Darrow for portraying older and younger versions of their characters as the story cuts between the present and twenty years into the future. Special credit is also due to sound designer Luke Pietnik for providing distinct backgrounds, atmospheres and transition effects between the scenes set in the present and future.

Siren by Sophia McDougall
Featuring: Catherine Bailey (Mida), Phillipe Bosher (Veskar), Sophie Bleasdale (Alta Nine) and Ruth Sillers (Alta Ten)
Sound Design and Music: Nigel Fairs

Dayna: “Shouldn’t freedom look better than this? Suppose we get rid of the Federation, is this all anyone gets to look forward to?”
The planet has no name; the city is known only as Population Centre 1. This story explores what life was like under System rule, as Cally and Dayna encounter a former slave, an Alta and a guard, all of whom are struggling to survive in the wreckage of their ruined world. It’s well-written, with a satisfying amount of back story that still retains some of the mystery surrounding the Altas we saw in Redemption, as well as building on Dayna’s experiences in the Crossfire episode Resurgence. Yasmin Bannerman deserves special praise for her performance in this episode. Josette Simon is a hard act to follow, but Yasmin has made the part her own and makes an utterly convincing Dayna.

Hyperion by Trevor Baxendale
Featuring: Evie Dawnay (Selene Shan), Vincenzo Nicoli (Sherna), Richard Reed (Krent).
Music and Sound Design: Simon Power.

Cally: "By the time we reach Hyperion, we won’t have enough power for another journey. This is the end of the line."
Information and clues picked up by the crew on the System planets are brought together in the last episode of this box set, as the Liberator makes a final, desperate journey to the planet Hyperion. They need to find Dr Selene Shan, who has knowledge of System technology. But will she agree to help them? Meanwhile, Federation Kommissar Krent is visiting Hyperion on behalf of the President, who has plans of his own...

The two series Crossfire and Restoration are a tremendous achievement. They are true to the continuity of both the TV series and Big Finish’s new canon. I love the way the storylines and characters develop during the overall story arc; that there are no quick fixes, easy solutions or 'with one bound they were free'. Physical injuries take time to heal, while fractured relationships and fallings out are not easily forgiven. The writing is top notch, and it’s a masterclass in script editing, for which John Ainsworth deserves kudos – along with high praise for the quality of directing and overall production.

In Restoration Part 2, all Big Finish's high production values are again evident. The music and sound design provide the different worlds with distinct and vivid soundscapes: from the countryside of Eloran to the medieval world of Zareen, the nameless derelict planet and the ringed gas giant Hyperion – and, of course, all the familiar and beloved sound effects of the Liberator itself. The dialogue is lively and natural, and the performances are consistently good; the guest actors bringing energy and verve to the new characters, while the regular cast continue to reprise their roles as if they had never been away.

However, it’s impossible to forget that this was Paul Darrow’s last recording, made shortly before his death on 3rd June 2019. Professional to the end, he plays Avon with all his usual panache, though with perhaps more discernible pauses for breath between his lines. It’s heartbreaking to listen to, knowing that this is the last time we will hear him as Avon – or indeed, in any other role. The series will conclude in February 2020 with the release of Restoration Part 3, in which Avon’s absence will be addressed. Big Finish do not plan to recast him with a new actor.

As for the future: Big Finish have said there are further Blake's 7 productions in the pipeline, which will be announced in due course. Although we’ve lost Blake, Avon and Servalan, we still have Vila, Jenna, Cally, Tarrant, Dayna, Zen and Orac. Del Grant is still around, as are Travis and Avalon. I hope they will look again at recasting Gan, as had been the intention a couple of years ago. We also have the new recurring characters introduced by Big Finish: the President, General Mordekain, Zeera Voss and others. I also live in hope of Big Finish acquiring the licence to Series 4. Personally, I would like more Liberator Chronicles-style 2- or 3-hander audios. Blake's 7 is set in a big universe, and there is surely a wealth of stories waiting to be told.

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

Cover artwork by Tom Newsom
Photograph at the recording of Happy Ever After courtesy of Big Finish


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