Avon, Big Finish, Blake's 7, Blakes 7 the Liberator Chronicles, Blakes Seven, Gareth Thomas, Jacqueline Pearce, Kerr Avon, Michael Keating, Paul Darrow, Roj Blake, Servalan, third eye cinema podcast, Vila
“There’s an old Earth saying that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
Blake is having recurrent nightmares about a mysterious girl, torn to pieces by alien wolves in some far flung swamp setting. Is there some glimmer of truth buried deep beneath his Federation brainwashing, just prior to the events that brought the Liberator crew together?
“According to Zen, Velan had been in talks with the Federation years ago…but that was as far as he’d been prepared to go. When it had come to the crunch, when Velan had been asked to sign over his world, he had declined. For his daughter’s sake?
…about eighteen months later, Velan signed that treaty anyway. His world had become the latest Federation protectorate. He remained as its President, but a puppet ruler now. I wondered what lie they’d told him to change his mind. I wondered what they’d made him believe.”
Heading back to a Velar marked by propaganda and confused opposition to resistance forces, Blake is driven to return to the Federation rehab center where he was “reprogrammed” and “indoctrinated”, seeking clues as to the reality that lie behind his compromised memories…
With eerie parallels to the contemporary politicosocial milieu domestically (if not worldwide), the situation on Velar bears a disturbing familiarity and relevance to the listeners of today.
Like all the best science fiction, Steve Lyons’ Velandra offers a dire wake up call to those with ears to hear delivered beneath the trappings of a more simplistic and straightforward sci-fi adventure. Always a uniquely politicized series, Blakes Seven is well served by these sort of narrative fables, with the current story being no exception to that time-tested rule.
Narrated Companion Chronicles-style by Gareth Thomas, Velandra gives the veteran actor (Star Maidens, Children of the Stones, Doctor Who) free reign to emote and pontificate in suitably dramatic fashion under the ever-assured direction of Lisa Bowerman and Ken Bentley. Martin Montague provides an unusually strong sense of Everglades-like atmospherics to the swamp sequences, making the portrait complete.
“Like I said…you have to watch your friends.”
Next up, we get another in what’s become something of a series of entertaining double acts involving Michael Keating’s Vila Restal running throughout the Liberator Chronicles. Like Volume 7’s Disorder, this one puts Keating’s cowardly comic rogue together with Paul Darrow’s ever-wry Kerr Avon, once again making good use of the surprisingly fertile dynamic between this seemingly quite mismatched duo.
Answering a distress signal on an uninhabited moon, Vila and Avon run into an old mate of the former who claims to have turned over a new leaf, inspired by the example of Blake and company. But when he convinces the pair to join him in a rescue operation on his Federation-occupied homeworld, they find themselves caught up in an underworld vendetta…with Vila as its target. But even when events seem at their darkest, it’s clear they haven’t reckoned with Kerr Avon…
“I’m afraid of what you’re capable of.”
“What am I capable of?”
“Anything…if it benefits you.”
John Banks (Butcher of Brisbane, The Wrong Doctors, Spaceport Fear, King of Sontar) provides a suitably seedy Ragnus Lang, all oily underclass menace. Paul Darrow brings his ‘A’ game, displaying an increasingly assured ownership and comfort in stepping back into the shoes of what is arguably his most famed role.
Of course, it may just be the sheer eubellience and clear enjoyment Michael Keating takes in reprising his ever more nuanced Vila Restal rubbing off on him. Longstanding favoritism towards Darrow’s Avon aside, it’s unquestionable that Keating is the linchpin around which the Blakes revival audios revolve, in terms of both a quite welcome comic release valve to the generally grim milieu the Liberator crew reside within and as its emotional core.
If Avon and Blake are its ostensible leaders and protagonists (whether from ideological motivation or a more guardedly cynical intellectually driven “enlightened self interest”), then Vila is certainly the heart, and most obviously and likeably human of them – a heartfelt hats off to both men once again.
“Once again, Blake, you vastly underestimate the human capacity for greed. These people aren’t angry because they feel that their hero has let them down, they’re angry because they’ve failed to gain any advantage from the situation.”
This run wraps up with Una McCormack’s Ministry of Peace, which offers a far darker view on global politics than we’ve come to expect even from Blakes Seven.
When the Liberator invited to the planet Speranza by members of a victorious resistance, they discover a South American revolution cum Reign of Terror-esque situation marked by factionalism and terroristic opposition between varied resistance groups. While Blake immerses himself in the politics of the situation, Avon and Cally find themselves shanghaied into a grindhouse prison film milieu…
“When I said I didn’t want to be mixed up in a prison riot, I didn’t say that you should incite them to revolution instead!”
It’s always a pleasure to hear Jacqueline Pearce. An all too rare presence in the Blakes revival line, Pearce last reprised her role as the slinky, decadently sexual Servalan in two stories of Liberator Chronicles Volume 8 (President and Sea of Iron). While Darrow’s Avon provides the bulk of the narration and resides at the center of the action here, even in this sort of solo walk on role, Pearce evokes strong hints of her commandingly central televised persona, turning an effective cameo into a welcome bit of business that enhances the episode despite its narrative tangeniality.
Paul Darrow, of course, continues on the same tack he displayed in Retribution, appearing more lively and emotive in his ownership of the character than he had in some cases previously noted among earlier Classic Audio Adventures and Liberator Chronicles. While remaining appropriately dark and cynical as befits the role essayed, there appears to be far more thrust and vigor to his performance this time around, and a welcome (if subtle) difference it is.
While the politics McCormack presents herein are so particularly cynical as to invite questions of Toryism, there is an unfortunate truth that underpins the stance: namely, that human nature, particularly among those in a position of power, plays both sides against the middle for an ultimately self centered advantage, leaving ideals and visionary beliefs in human potential and a better world feeling somewhat ephemeral and illusory in light thereof.
Personally, I believe that allowing too much of that sort of negativism and cynicism to dominate the discourse can only serve to the advantage of the worst and most tyrannical (if not atavistic) of leaders current or potential, and while duly noted as bearing some measure of unfortunate reality, must be denied as a worldview, and with due vehemence.
But it leaves a disturbing taste in the mouth, nonetheless.