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Audio Review: The Clone Masters

The Worlds of Blake’s 7: The Clone Masters
Review by M1795537 OC Virn

Written by Tim Foley
Sound Design and Music by Jamie Robertson
Cover Artwork by Anthony Lamb
Directed by Lisa Bowerman
Produced by David Richardson for Big Finish Productions

The dark history of the Clone Masters holds many mysteries. Cally and Jenna discover some are lost in time, long before the Federation - while other secrets were buried by the Clone Masters themselves before they retreated to their home world.
Gatekeepers or conspirators, pragmatists or prophets, defenders or destroyers... At the height of their powers, how will the Clone Masters respond when Travis plans to weaponise them?

I tend to approach new Big Finish audios with a measure of trepidation - will they get it right? How can anyone resurrect a series from forty-plus years ago, and ensure it's still as good? But when I learn that many of ‘them’ are every bit as much Blake’s 7 fans as the rest of us, the worries fade. Writer Tim Foley says of himself on Twitter: “If it's weird, I'll write it”. It's a good start.

The Clone Masters comes as a three-part box set, expanding a tiny corner of the Blake's 7 universe which received perhaps ten minutes of screen time in the episode Weapon. A whole world, a philosophy and some mind-blowing possibilities were introduced… and never heard of again! Other than a single reference by Servalan to 'the untimely destruction' of the Clone Masters, we know nothing more of them. This series sets out to change that.

The Clone Masters also provides an opportunity to give 'the Liberator girls' more action and better lines. Jenna and Cally star in the first and third episodes respectively, while the middle episode explores something many fans have puzzled over - how did Travis 1 (Stephen Greif) become Travis 2 (Brian Croucher)?

The starting point for this trilogy is that the Queen of the Clone Masters is dead. Leaderless, they must begin the difficult process of finding her successor. Others see this as a time of opportunity. Now read on...

The first part, Separation, introduces a new character - Hinton, played by Abigail Thaw. As fellow privateers, she and Jenna Stannis have history, although Jenna moved on to freedom fighting and Hinton has since become a puppeteer. Our experience of Carnell (Weapon, again) should make us suspicious of any psychostrategist, but Jenna doesn't realise quite how sneaky her old friend is until it's far too late to withdraw.

As a fan of Servalan, I was interested to note that the character of Hinton possessed many of the same qualities: '...sharp, sly, intelligent, confident, manipulative...’ Now who does that remind me of? Maybe Servalan is a secret psychostrategist?

We also learn about another Auron - the mysterious Lara K - and meet Dr Sim (Tilly Vosburgh) whose research into cloning gives her insights she later regrets.

Overall, Separation is a satisfying story. It opens up more questions than answers, but this is no bad thing. High points for me were a lovely soundscape of Jenna and Cally doing the washing-up together, and a quote: “Sometimes we have to face the things that scare us, even if they're ourselves”, which to my mind represents what lies behind the whole of Blake’s 7. We’re exploring us.

The story continues in The Rule of Life, with many of the same characters involved, together with a few significant newcomers. Travis 2, supposedly attending the coronation of the new Clone Master Queen, has demands of his own. Meanwhile, Dr Sim reports back to her superior, the exiled Clone Master, Vast (Lucy Sheen).

What follows shows the difference between all life is sacred and all life is linked, when things start to become really weird, and a lot darker. Since all Clone Masters are female, where are their males? How is the city alive, exactly? And what does it eat?

Travis (Greif), the younger, fitter but less streetwise version - at least to start with - gives a brilliant performance in his encounters with Croucher's Travis, although they do leave a poor mutoid confused...

Again, credit goes to Jamie Robertson for great soundscapes - notably some delightfully squelchy nastiness, and the switch from the atmospheric tinkly bells of Clone Master world to the horror of hotel muzak in Travis's accommodation.

The third episode in this series is Conclave, with the Clone Masters patiently waiting for their new queen to be revealed. Shar (Richenda Carey) presides, trying to keep all her guests happy, while having a vested interest in the choice of successor.

Their system holds the seeds of its own destruction, although what Cally gets up to in the roots of the living city/tree doesn't help. But is it Cally, or is it Lara K? Jan Chappell rediscovers her Sarcophagus voice to play both characters against each other - and doesn't sound a day older after forty years. Croucher's version of a scared, half-mad Travis is both believable and shocking.

There was much I liked about this trilogy. The direction by Lisa Bowerman keeps things moving, without being too obvious. It was great to have both Travis actors in one episode, but hearing both together highlighted the mismatch between their characters. I couldn't help wondering how the Greif Travis lost his RP accent to become the Croucher Travis.

The behind-the-scenes interviews seemed a bit of an afterthought, and far too short, but did provide some interesting insights. Comments from younger actors - second generation fans - were illuminating, and it was poignant to hear Sally Knyvette's thoughts on how much she missed 'absent friends'.

Favourite quote: “Advanced years give you permission to say what you like.”

Well done, Big Finish. And as Tim Foley says: “This one's for all you clones out there. We got you.”

The Clone Masters and the tie-in audio novel The Rule of Death by Trevor Baxendale are now available from Big Finish here: Clone Masters and The Rule of Death.

Photos of Sally Knyvette, Jan Chappell, Brian Croucher and Stephen Greif copyright Big Finish


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