, , , , , , , , , , , ,


“His eyes twinkled with mischief as he asked me if I’d like to swim.  I told him I’d not brought a swimsuit…and he said I didn’t need one.  I didn’t say no…but I didn’t say yes.”

In my post about the untimely passing of a man I’d venture to call my friend, Paul Spragg, I made note of what we’d come to joke about as “psychic” coincidences: where I’d request some older releases I’d managed to miss out on for review, only to discover shortly after publishing that they were quite necessary and shed much-needed light on the events of a now current release.

For just one very obvious example, I’d requested Gods and Monsters, as it was one of a few releases from a year or two back tying in to some televised Who adventure (in that case, the Curse of Fenric – the Magnus Greel study Butcher of Brisbane was another).  I’d listened to it a few times over the next month or two, mulling over how to phrase my conflicted thoughts on the piece, when Afterlife appeared.  Honestly, I’d had no idea this was upcoming – just one incidence among many of pure ‘coincidence’.

And so it is with last month’s review of Blakes 7 the Classic Audio Adventures, when I happened to mention that the only piece missing to make the series complete was the ongoing absence of Jacqueline Pearce’s sultry Servalan.  In one of our informal post-review chats, Paul mentioned some of the difficulties in working this out (interested parties are likely already aware of Pearce’s personal concerns and till recently, residence half a world away) but that we would be hearing from The President shortly.

Cue both Cold Fury, featuring the ineffable Hugh Fraser as the President, and Liberator Chronicles 8’s President, featuring none other than the woman of the hour herself, Ms. Jacqueline Pearce as Servalan.  How’s that for service?

While most of the veterans Big Finish has gathered together in the worlds of Who, Blakes 7 and Dark Shadows have, in the main, been able to deliver an uncanny approximation of their more youthful selves (and even, on occasion, impressions of departed coworkers), Jacqueline Pearce pulls off what I’d imagined to be quite impossible here.  She manages, in what I can only presume to be a fairly advanced age, to sound sexy.  Color this listener officially impressed.

As an actress and character long known for her slinky, seductive demeanor, Pearce can be seen without much of a stretch as Decadence personified.  Whether as a woman more serpentine than female (the Reptile) the alluringly sinister Supreme Commander Servalan or guesting on Who (The Two Doctors), she always manages to bring a certain persona and feel alongside her, one we must understand to be intrinsic to the woman herself (some behind the scenes anecdotes relating to her poolside behavior in Spain during the filming of The Two Doctors should suffice to confirm this assertion).

As one of the first (and to this day, very few) short-coiffed females to still exhibit an intense aura of sensuality, Pearce exudes something of a Jazz Age sensibility, drawing equally on the sophisticated, nigh-perverse aesthetic of Weimar-era Berlin and the recklessness of the more Fitzgeraldian Stateside version thereof. With the barest hint of Sade exuding from her very movements about the room, her speech patterns complete the portrait, with sly undertones giving the most ostensibly straightforward and ‘innocent’ of phrases the sexualized connotations of the perverse, the dominatrix, the hedonic, the sensualist.

Naturally, this is not exactly the sort of thing one associates with a person best known for her work in the late 60’s and early 80’s, delivering a performance in the year 2014…and yet…it’s all there, in spades.

Whether or not Pearce is able, given her personal situation at this time, to grant her welcome presence to future Blakes 7 offerings (to in fact add her to the cast of the Classic Audio Adventures would be a coup, providing the final link in the chain to cement the veracity of the “full cast” designation thereof), author Simon Guerrier (last season’s Spy, last month’s Companion Chronicles offering War to End All Wars) has provided a strong character piece with President, allowing Pearce the stage to present something of a one woman, floorboard stomping tour de force.

“I’ll see what I can do,’ he told them.  A politician’s answer, sounding positive, and yet promising nothing concrete…it meant nothing.  The President promised nothing.  Nothing would be changed.  And yet, I could see it in these people’s faces, and in the faces of the newspeople watching…it was a triumphant success.”

Following the rise to power of the Supreme Commander of the Federation, Servalan is shown manipulating her way through the corridors of power, learning the tricks of the trade and the slick, cynical jiggering of public relations endemic to the world thereof.

Displaying no small measure of comprehension of how this sort of thing plays out in the real world, President should be essential listening to every high school civics course, not to mention the more naive sectors of the general public per se.  Behind the smoke and mirrors, smiling, shaking hands, kissing babies and trigger-word peppered positive yet noncommittal speeches, world politics is a game of chess and cynicism, wholly motivated by the search for personal power, rather than any heartfelt desire to help the public or effect change for the better.  It’s a horrible truth to admit to, but one proven out time and time again.

Jacqueline Pearce’s Servalan was a truly eye opening presence among the absurdly conservative television landscape of the early to mid 80’s, one that made both my own youthful eyes and those of my equally shocked (and smitten) father widen with surprise and fascination.  A woman this self-assured in both her sexuality and control of any situation, simultaneously powerful and feminine, strong and langorously seductive?  What man could resist her charms?

To hear her seemingly unchanged at so many years remove is not only an eyebrow raising surprise, but a distinct pleasure.  The more things change…

…was there anything else in this series of the Liberator Chronicles?

(long pause)

Oh, yes, right.  Something about Blake and another story involving Cally.

Well. (ahem).  I suppose we need to address those as well, at least in passing…sorry, still thinking about Servalan here (insert hearty laugh).   Speaking of which…

Marc Platt (of televised McCoy-era Who Ghost Light, early Big Finish Who Loups-Garoux, and the aforementioned The Butcher of Brisbane) brings us The Sea of Iron, wherein our Auronar freedom fighter investigates a long lost personage from her past and runs afoul of none other than Servalan (meaning yet another most welcome appearance from Ms. Pearce this season).

Exuding a sly hospitality, Servalan enlists the assistance of her old enemy in relation to a sort of neo-black hole cum sargasso of ships, the titular Sea of Iron, wherein a particular Auronar freighter of interest to the Federation has become trapped.  But is that all there is to the story?  And why does Servalan appear to hear the voices whispering in Cally’s head?

Both a fascinating speculative investigation into yet another mystery of deep space and an unusual two woman character study, The Sea of Iron postulates some curious background and heretofore unsuspected interrelations between the Blakes 7 cast.

While essentially a Cally solo adventure, Pearce’s presence and force of personality dominates the proceedings to the point where she seems an equal if not predominant partner in the affair.  Despite having less than a quarter of the airtime of Chappell, it is quite apparent that at least the character of Servalan bears far more gravity and self assurance than the ostensibly more youthful and emotionally driven Cally, leaving her the clear master of the two regardless of situation or trappings.  Always in control of the situation (or bearing the appearance thereto), there is no question here as to just who directs every move, or who will come out on top in the end.

While Chappell acquits herself memorably (as usual for her solo or paired adventures with Big Finish), Pearce effectively undermines what would appear on the surface to be a Cally story, making this far more of a team effort.  Amazing performance, likely driven to no small extent by a strong script beneath.

“Well, that’s politics for you.  We met in simpler times.  Fighting for freedom, that’s an easy concept.  But once you’ve got it, things are no longer black and white…”

Finally, James Goss (of Jago & Litefoot singalong Night of 1000 Stars and silly Womblingesque Companion Chronicles singalong The Scorchies…given his resume, I’m surprised Blake wasn’t going all panto music hall this time around!) offers Spoils, wherein Roj Blake meets The Dream Maker.

Much as with the prior season’s The Hard Road, this offers an opportunity for Blake to perform a spot of introspection and metacognitive analysis of what might be should he ever actually achieve his ostensible goal of liberating the galaxy from Federation rule…but is victory something of a poisoned pill?

“…a dream gone wrong.”
“Dreams?  No, sadly, this is all too real.  I’m a terrible leader of a corrupt, ailing dictatorship little better than that which I replaced.  I tried so hard…but I went so wrong.”

A nasty but realistic little taste of dystopia and the sort of devolution into infighting and anarchism (or contrarily, a return to totalitarian fascism, courtesy of the very “freedom fighters” who overthrew the prior iteration thereof) that follows even the best intentioned of revolutions, Spoils is something of a hard swallow, leaving a bitter taste in the mouth while simultaneously smacking of a welcome realism.

A well scripted object lesson, this is perhaps the most true to Terry Nation’s unspoken underlying intentions and subtext to the entire Blakes teleseries: on the one hand a call to revolution against totalitarian oppression, but simultaneously a warning of the dangers of success, with a grim fatalism driving the entire course of its four seasons.

While the Blake and Cally stories are certainly par for the course with what we’ve come to expect from the Liberator Chronicles (if not better), this series is all about Jackie Pearce and Servalan.  Gareth and Jan get plenty of love in monthly reviews of Big Finish Blakes offerings, so they should know how much I enjoy and respect their efforts…and know that there’s no shame in being overshadowed this time around by the long awaited return of a devastatingly sensual character to the fold.

Whether we see more of the Supreme Commander from here on out or no remains to be seen.  But thanks to Guerrier, directors Lisa Bowerman (Bernice Summerfield, The Companion Chronicles) and Ken Bentley and the lady of the hour herself, we’ll always have Paris, as it were…