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And so it’s time once again for another installment in the adventures of the Liberator crew.  Last time around, the erstwhile Vila Restal wound up left behind subsequent to yet another exploratory dead end, forced to commandeer a Federation ship only to find himself joined on deck by none other than their dogged pursuer Travis…

Now a prisoner on icy Horst Minor, Vila is subjected to a psychological and physical third degree, while the Liberator crew mounts a rescue operation.  But there’s far more to Horst Minor than might at first appear, and they’ll face off against the highest order of Federation hierarchy before it’s all over.

Worse, just what sort of horrific genetic experimentation is going on down there amidst the planet’s frozen wastes?

Make no mistake, this is a much stronger effort than last month’s installment Mirror, with its weak “ladies only” side story dragging down the main “just the guys” investigation of the rumored Federac computer.  A true return to form, this is one of the stronger episodes thus far in the season, and here’s a few reasons why.

First thing’s first: the guest cast.

Whoa…Caroline Langrishe?  The same Charlotte Cavendish I was totally in love with back in Lovejoy’s early 90’s heyday?  And yet another appearance by Hugh Fraser, the loveable Captain Hastings of Poirot?  What is this, a “best of the Beeb” reunion tour?  All I can say is, nice…so, guys, think you can get Phyllis (“Lady Jane Felsham”) Logan too?  Geez…tell you what, pull in Zodiac fave and Whodunit regular Anouska Hempel, and that’s it, you’d have topped it all for me…

Secondly, the handling of the regulars, which for the most part shows an ongoing growth and character development in everyone involved.

In seeming direct contrast to last month’s Mirror, Cold Fury offers plenty of room for Sally Knyvette to strut her stuff.  In fact, this may be her most prominent episode to date, with Jenna very much making her presence (and mixed admiration and disaffection with Blake) felt herein.

While the non-Geneva Convention approved “interrogation” tactics Travis employs against Vila aren’t exactly pleasant to sit through, it’s hardly Gitmo territory, and therefore reasonably bearable, with Brian Croucher taking the opportunity to display a more dangerous, comparatively thinking man’s adversary than he’s had the chance to enact thus far in the run.

Similarly, Michael Keating’s Vila continues to get a welcome run of airtime, once again displaying more of a heroic bent (with both loyalty and determination clearly evident) than fans of the teleseries may be accustomed to.  Keating, as always, relishes the attention and focus, and remains the most likeable of the cast (at least in terms of the Big Finish audios), moving beyond the obvious pragmatism of the character as initially established to something more well rounded and fully developed.

Blake continues along the somewhat recently introduced line of being a more conflicted if not outright confused “leader” of the crew than he was in the past.  With his decisions increasingly called into question not only by his peers and “followers” but the man himself, Blake displays a more realistic self-doubt than the nigh-messianic (if admittedly idealistically deluded) figure he was somewhat prone to displaying in the series initial televised run.

Avon remains as sardonic as ever, but some measure of the grudging admiration that offset his character in the early days appears to have been lost, leaving him more of a bitter, perhaps even one-note persona these days.  While some Liberator Chronicles episodes have shown more of the early depth and personal magnetism Paul Darrow can bring to the role, his efforts in The Classic Audio Adventures tend to be more modulated and subdued, leaving Avon reduced somewhat to the occasional snarky aside or accurate if cynical assessment of the futility of the endeavor du jour.  To put it in simpler terms, it’s still in there, you just have to dig for it a bit.

Director Ken Bentley (Fractures, The Death Collectors, Enemy of the Daleks and Sylvester McCoy-era Lost Stories Animal and Crime of the Century) propels the action forward at due pace.  Bringing an authentically Terry Nation-era Blakes 7 feel to the proceedings, Bentley manages to juggle numerous seamless transitions between several scripted subplots without ever leaving the episode feeling cluttered or losing the listener.

Obviously, more than a measure of that same credit is due to scripters Mark Wright and Cavan Scott (a writing team also responsible for early Peter Davison/Peri adventure The Church and the Crown), and more than a nod is due regular Alastair Lock (who also provides uncanny takes on both Zen and Orac on an ongoing basis) for his atmospherically wintry sound design in making the picture evocatively complete.

As always with the various Who, Blake and Dark Shadows related lines Big Finish offers, it bears repeating (and often) just what a joy it is to hear the original cast back together again, particularly in such generally well crafted stories.

While some admittedly minor developments and variances to the original template may put longtime fans noses a tad out of joint, this particular Blakes aficionado (since its first early to mid 80’s Stateside airings, in fact) finds these same elements to give the characters greater depth, evincing growth and most particularly allowing these now seasoned actors a bit more breathing room to really strut their stuff.  Kudos all around, long may it continue.