The crew of the Liberator are, not for the first time, up against it in this latest audio box set from Big Finish. With their ship crippled at the conclusion of Restoration Part 1, they are forced to undertake a hazardous quest to mend their broken vessel. It’s a journey that will pose questions as to whether their ongoing fight is worth it, or is a different life possible for this bunch of hardened renegades?
There’s a bittersweet feeling listening to these stories which comes from knowing that they represent Paul Darrow’s final contribution to Blakes 7 after over four decades. The sense of sadness is only added to when you learn from the bonus material that the original plan had been for Jacqueline Pearce to appear as Servalan. Sadly, her death in 2018 made that impossible. As evidenced by many tributes, the loss of these two key figures in the world of Blakes 7 has been acutely felt by the show’s fans. More of which later, but what of the stories?
We get underway with The New Age,which sees the crew return to Space World in search of the System, the advanced alien race who built the Liberator. They journey to Eloran, a planet formerly under the System’s control where rural dwelling inhabitants live without advanced technology. Vila finds himself attracted by the prospect of a simpler life, leading him to question his future.
It’s fair to say this isn’t the most action-packed set of stories, with the emphasis placed very much on character over plot throughout the set. The question of why those on the Liberator persist with such a dangerous existence is undoubtedly a valid one, but it doesn’t necessarily make for edge of the seat drama. And the setting of Eloran, a world where characters gaze in wonder at the heavens and say things like ‘people from beyond’ felt a little over-familiar from countless episodes of sci-fi shows like Star Trek (and, come to think of it, Blakes 7 too).
But it’s always a pleasure to spend time with Avon and the crew, and the story’s conclusion asks the uncomfortable but important question of how much of a toll is their uprising taking on innocent bystanders?
Second installment, Happy Ever After places a focus on Tarrant, and an arresting beginning sees him apparently married, content and living a very different life post-Liberator. What lies behind this imagined future forms the basis of a story of intrigue in the kingdom of Zareen, a world where people have a sort of dreamy form of second sight. Tarrant wasn’t exactly the most sympathetic character in Blakes 7 but Steven Pacey is excellent here as he takes his turn at weighing up the possibility of a life of happiness where he won’t be dodging Federation gunfire. It falls to the ever cynical Avon to play Cassandra. ‘They always break your heart…’ he warns.
By the time I got to Siren, I will admit that my attention started to wander. It could have been a lack of variety in a set of stories exploring planets formerly under the control of the System. Maybe it was a somewhat repetitive feel to the dialogue, with ‘Alta’ being said so often that a game of Blakes 7 drinking bingo would surely lead to players being rendered incapable of standing upright. Or perhaps I’m being unfair and the story would benefit from a second listen. It certainly makes a change to have a female focussed episode, with Cally and Dayna taking the lead.
The pace picks up in concluding story Hyperion, with the crew vulnerable to attack on their disabled ship. Avon goes in search of Seline, a mysterious scientist thought to be the only person who can find the System and thus get the Liberator mobile again. An engaging sub-plot sees Cally meet the research station’s chief engineer as she seeks to evade Federation Commissar Krent, a good old-fashioned Blakes 7 villain, dripping with malice. The set concludes with a fine cliffhanger that sets things up for a thrilling conclusion in the next set.
Overall, the stories in the Restoration Part 2 have a more leisurely feel than you might expect from a series about a relentless struggle against a harsh oppressor. Personally, I like Blakes 7 to be a little more hard-edged than here, and feel Big Finish have done stronger stories than we’re offered in this collection. But new Blakes 7 is always welcome and the drama is never less than well-acted, with the writers exploring some new territory for the series rather than falling back on familiar tropes.
As is customary with these box sets, a fifth disc includes bonus interviews with cast and crew. The highlight here is some moving reflections on working with Paul Darrow and Jacqueline Pearce which go beyond affectionate memories to offer an insight into the personalities of the two actors.
Regarding the future of Blakes 7 at Big Finish, the company have ruled out recasting the part of Avon. Restoration Part 3 has been put back to February 2020 to allow the writers to address the character’s absence. Intriguingly, we’re told that there are plans for further adventures in the Blakes 7 universe which will take place away from the Liberator. As Paul Darrow would surely have insisted, the show must go on.
Blakes 7: Restoration Part 2 is available from Big Finish, priced £27.99 on CD or £19.99 download.