Big Finish, Blake's 7, Blakes 7 the Liberator Chronicles, Blakes Seven, Cally, David Warner, Del Grant, Del Tarrant, Jan Chappell, Kerr Avon, Lisa Bowerman, Michael Pacey, Paul Darrow, third eye cinema podcast, Tom Chadbon, Vila
Blakes takes a bit of an odd detour, giving center stage to a character who appeared in a single episode of the teleseries.
Now, I’ll admit, it’s been several years since I’ve sat down to revisit the original series. In point of fact, the continued lack of availability to Stateside viewers (and ongoing lack of a complete series box set release on the UK end) of Blakes 7 remains a baffling if not inexcusable blemish on the part of its respective rights holders (and yes, that’s a rather pointed hint to get on the stick already, whomever the responsible parties may be).
But Del Grant? Sorry, the name just doesn’t ring a bell.
Now I did take a few minutes to investigate, and discovered the character (essayed by Tom Chadbon in the aforementioned second season sole appearance of “Countdown”) to be the revenge minded brother of the (presumed) late Federation spy cum amour fou of Kerr Avon, Anna Grant.
Ah, now I remember. Or more precisely, I remember Anna, who turned up under the guise of “Sulla” and did eventually expire at the hand of her lost target/love. I also vaguely recall Del, if not by name, then certainly as someone with a pointed grudge against Avon. Like I said, it’s been some years.
So…wait. While I do recall some mise en scene wherein the two old rivals had to work together to joint ends against the Federation, Grant was a mercenary. He had nothing further to do with the Liberator crew thereafter.
OK, so a bit more research. Apparently a year or two before my awareness thereto, Big Finish put out an entire volume of the Liberator Chronicles devoted to a triptych of stories entangling Del Grant and the Blakes crew once more. I must defer to the longtime Chronicles listener on the details here, having not been exposed to same.
But from my own perspective, this comes right out of the blue.
“She was never…who she said she was.”
“Are any of us?”
In the opener Defector, an Avon not voiced by Paul Darrow enlists the two Dels (the other being Stephen Pacey’s Del Tarrant of the Avon-led series 3 and 4, who essays the bulk of the narration of the tale) to work an espionage/assassination attempt on a Federation official. Impersonating a pair of delegates to a large scale function, the two discover that this particular mission may not be all that it seems…and may in fact be their last.
Tom Chadbon’s Del Grant takes the lion’s share of the action herein, proving himself more than competent as an ostensible lead, delivering his lines with appropriate gusto and lending his throaty nigh-baritone to a decidedly assured performance worthy of a veteran. While his comparative unfamiliarity to the listener does throw the comfort level off somewhat, I’m positive that with time and increasing involvement he should make a fitting adjunct to the crew (as would appear to be in the cards for the future).
“Some missions, however, are better than others.”
Next up, we head back into more expected territory with an adventure featuring Paul Darrow’s Avon and Jan Chappell’s Cally whiling their time and money away gambling, man about town style. Until they manage to connect with their Federation High Council contact…
“It appears you have a secret admirer. I told you it was a nice dress.”
With as close a brush with 30’s and 40’s style Hollywood by way of Old Time Radio glamor and romance as we’re ever likely to see from Blakes 7, Avon’s cold demeanor and Cally’s hardline putoffishness would hardly seem to be the ideal pairing to fill the Nick & Nora Charles by way of Lamont Cranston & Margo Lane role. But a knowing script and wry performances on the parts of both Darrow and Chappell manage to carry across what would seem to be impossible – a “romantic” mystery that evokes equal parts Tommy & Tuppence Beresford and James Bond while never making any true concessions towards an uncharacteristic affection between the two.
Character continuity is never violated, but enough knowing winks are cast the audience’s way to allow more feverishly fanfic-minded brains to run wild with vague possibilities. It’s a nice touch, and even more enjoyable than Liberator Chronicles 7‘s Spy in its own way.
David Warner (Nightwing, Time After Time, The Omen, Concorde Airport 79) delivers his typical high standard of performance and a measure of extra gravitas by his assured presence as Solvin Tavac, the trio finds themselves in the middle of a Poseidon Adventurelike disaster film scenario and much fun is to be had by all.
Definitely this volume’s standout adventure, no competition.
“Considering my own tortured connections to certain members of this crew, I can hardly comment, can I?”
Finally, Del Grant returns to join Michael Keating’s Vila Restal as they attend a black market auction for weaponry, once again crossing swords with reluctant partner Solvin Tavac…who just happens to be Vila’s long lost father(!)
While on the surface another Del Grant driven story akin to Defector, this is really all about familial relations and an unexpected reunion between a deadbeat father and his enraged bastard son, at 30 years remove.
Despite all this, Secrets is hardly the sort of Lifetime special maudlin human interest piece that bit of information would seem to point towards, but a highly charged, very real character study taking place amidst yet another of the danger-frought, political intrigue driven snatch and grab missions Blakes 7 is long noted for.
“Maybe we’re not all that different.”
With some tense interplay between Warner and Keating, this is easily the most personal and character driven story of the set.
Offering Vila what may very well be the most defining in an ongoing succession of revealing explorations of the most human member of the Liberator crew, further defining light is shed on just what brought the man we thought we knew into existence – a backstory far more eyebrow raising than any of us previously suspected.
Authors Cavan Scott and Mark Wright continue to evolve and improve. The obvious progression from the early grue of the Project:Twilight trilogy to the highly entertaining if simplistically genre-appropriate Pathfinder Legends to stories as nuanced and allusive to cinematic (if not old time radio-oriented) history as Planetfall and as powerfully character driven as Secrets is a notable one, and much welcomed.
With Lisa Bowerman and Ken Bentley apparently splitting directorial duties, this set is also something of a double act – two writers and two directors handling stories involving two characters apiece*. Even in Planetfall, when the two leads follow separate paths during the second half’s Irwin Allen-worthy disaster sequence, they find surrogate pairings to fill the gap – Chappell with Warner and Darrow’s Avon with the (unvoiced) Kittring.
Or by deliberate design?
*Arguably, Secrets throws a bit of a wrench into this theorem, but Grant plays a surprisingly minor part in the proceedings, with the story unquestionably revolving around Vila and Tavac.
While the episode opening the set pales by comparison to the formidable centerpiece showcase for Darrow, Chappell and Warner and the father-son rivalry of the closing installment, ostensible new recruit Michael Chadbon proves his Del Grant to be a formidable, if still fairly unfamiliar former minor character worthy of addition to the latter series Liberator team. The other two stories are practically inassailable by Liberator Chronicle standards, each in their own manner.