Audio Review: Big Finish: Bayban the Butcher (The Worlds of Blake's 7)

The Worlds of Blake’s 7: Bayban the Butcher
Review by M1795537 OC Virn

Written by Katharine Armitage, Lizzie Hopley and Lizbeth Myles
Sound Design and Music by Nigel Fairs
Cover Artwork by Tom Newsom
Directed by Louise Jameson and Nigel Fairs
Produced by Peter Anghelides and David Richardson
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

Barbarian, Berserker... Bridegroom?
Even a psychopath must start somewhere. Bayban's criminal career began well before he first met the Liberator crew. Somehow, his career also survived that fatal encounter with them.
Bayban isn’t the forgiving type. Jenna, Vila and even Travis are about to learn that they don't call him the Butcher for nothing.

When you see names like Jason Haigh-Ellery, Nicholas Briggs, Peter Anghelides and David Richardson behind the release of a new trilogy of stories, you know they're going to be worth listening to. To have Sally Knyvette, Stephen Greif, Michael Keating and Colin Baker reprising their roles from the original TV series whets the appetite still further.

The cover art for the box set is by Tom Newsom, who creates an evocative montage of images that expertly set the scene.

The three stories in this box set follow Bayban as his character develops from merely 'Bad' through 'Butcher' to homicidal maniac intent on revenge. Along the way we encounter some old friends and even more enemies.

1. Conscience by Katharine Armitage
Bayban: 'What is more beautiful than the shine on a beautiful crystal? Yes - a load more crystals!'
Jenna (Sally Knyvette) is hanging out with Hinton (Abigail Thaw) in a story set before she met Blake, and before the events in The Clone Masters: Conclave. Here we find out more about their past association, and while they already know each other well, I wouldn't say they are friends.

Jenna's career as a smuggler - sorry, Free Trader - takes her to Samara, where she's been offered what looks like a profitable deal. But is she cut out for a 'ground' job, overseeing the export of Samara's crystals? Where do the crystals come from? When she discovers that her supplier is someone she knows only too well, the sparks start to fly.

Bayban the Bad (Colin Baker), a man who does not play well with others, is already working his own scam on Samara. The Samaran leader believes she's exploiting a natural resource for the benefit of her people, but her own son leads the protests against her 'immoral' policies. It's an explosive mix.

We're quickly involved in an adventure that soon takes a distinctly grisly turn. There's plenty of action, but it also has a deeper side - as we'd expect from Blake's 7. When mistakes are made at the top, it's the innocent who suffer. Conscience is about making informed choices… and sometimes, we simply don't have all the information.

It's great to have Colin Baker back with us, relishing playing Bayban. He brings such energy to what he does, even if, as he admits in the discussion that follows the story, it wasn't easy working with actors he'd never seen, due to Covid restrictions.

Another returnee is Louise Jameson, who co-directed with Nigel Fairs. It's a combination that seems to work well, allowing each of characters to develop and find their own 'voice'. Sally, in particular, says she is finding new facets of her character - and herself - that she didn't know when she was in the TV series. Perhaps it helps to have a female writer. Katharine Armitage brings different strengths to the scripts, emphasising that Blake's 7 is character driven, rather than merely action-packed adventure.

Nigel Fairs also created both sound design and music, giving us sensitive background soundscapes that are informative but neither repetitive nor intrusive.

As with previous Big Finish audios, I'd have liked longer cast and crew talks (with fewer flashbacks to the audio) telling us how they approached the story, and brought the characters to life. I also admit that it would have helped to have the timeline explained to begin with. Otherwise, it's a great start.

2. The Butcher's Wife by Lizzie Hopley
Hinton: 'You'll be destroying a whole civilisation!'
Bayban: 'Done it before.'

There are shades of Shakespearean character mix-ups as we hear instantly recognisable voices given completely different names. Nothing is as it seems, and only the inhabitants of Arl are who they say they are. Probably.

An innocent princess (Fiona Hampton) locked up in a tower sounds like the start of a fairy-tale, but with 'Marcello' Bayban (Colin Baker), 'Marryat' Travis (Stephen Greif) and Hinton (Abigail Thaw) in the mix, a happy ending seems unlikely.

As a reward for risking his life to save Princess Arla, Bayban has been offered sanctuary, of sorts, on Arl. However, he is hoping to discover - and take - the fabled wealth of the planet, once he's persuaded the princess to marry him.

Perhaps the only person that can be trusted is Shenrir (Karen Archer) who has reasons of her own for wanting to protect the Princess, even from herself. As the story develops we begin to suspect why.

Aspiring psychostrategist Hinton has been following Bayban, fascinated to study such an unusual character. She also establishes a hold over Travis. But there is a lot about Arl, and Princess Arla, that none of these off-world visitors could ever have suspected.

It's a strong script by another female writer, who intended to 'free Colin Baker to be himself'. In the (woefully short) ten minutes of 'making of' discussion we hear something of how the main actors saw their roles, and snippets from a characteristically intense conversation between Peter Anghelides and Colin Baker about Bayban's future involvement in Blake's 7. It seems we have both fans and Colin himself to thank for these ongoing adventures.

Nigel Fairs was again responsible for music and sound design, putting together combinations of dramatic or martial music for the exciting bits, but managing to convey an almost medieval touch, well suited to this fairy-tale, through choice of instrumentation (the brief but unmistakeable 'crumhorn/oboe' sound) and early music rhythms.

Well done, all.

3. Vengeance Games by Lizbeth Myles
Bayban to Hinton "I liked you a lot better before I got to know you."

Co-director Louise Jameson accurately describes this story from our third female author as a 'romp of violence'. Time has moved on, and from his modest beginnings as merely 'bad', Bayban has now sought out his enemies and brought them together to wreak his revenge.

Vila (Michael Keating) is one of those enemies, since Bayban hasn't forgiven him for what happened on Keezarn. As so often happens, Vila finds himself being used, both by Hinton and even by other detainees, notably Ashan (Tom Mahy) and Innis (Jessica Wilde).

These three find themselves in an impossible situation, while Bayban settles down at the monitor screen to enjoy watching their despairing efforts. It all becomes loud, violent and confusing - a situation on which Bayban thrives, until Vila yet again proves that he's not as daft as he looks. Unfortunately for both of them, neither is Hinton…

It's so good to hear Michael Keating and Colin Baker together again! They both enjoy the chance to reprise their characters from the TV series, Colin explaining that Bayban survives due to his 'enormous ego and self-centeredness', while according to Michael, Vila is just along for the ride.

Colin Baker's Bayban predictably dominates this story, but not at the expense of the other actors. We also see how Hinton is growing more confident in her role as 'puppeteer'. Peter Anghelides tells us he wanted to explore the possibilities of psychostrategists like Carnell, steering events for their own ends.

Again, Nigel Fairs has been extra busy, with both sound design and music to his credit. He locates the listener with recognisable ship soundscapes and provides added excitement with dramatic music for the fight scenes, and a driving drumbeat to signal the threat of Bayban.

I found the story a little predictable, especially after listening to the Clone Masters trilogy where there are some similar ideas, but here those ideas are expanded and wound into an original and disturbing twist.

There are doubts about the morality of almost every character in this story; a fitting end to this box set.

Bayban the Butcher is now available from Big Finish here: Bayban the Butcher
The tie-in audiobook novel Bayban Ascending by Nigel Fairs will be released in February 2022, and is available for pre-order here Bayban Ascending.

The full range of Big Finish's B7 audio dramas, novels and autobiographies can be found here: Blake's 7 from Big Finish