Review by Ian McArdell
After break of almost two years, Blake’s 7 have returned to Big Finish with a new box set of adventures under the title The Spoils of War.
Set within the third series of the television show; due in some part to the sad passing of the show’s original lead Gareth Thomas, this production features all the show’s principal stars of that run, save for Josette Simon who has chosen not to reprise her role as Dayna (to be fair she’s pretty busy with the RSC!). While the previous audio series fashioned a storyline around the character’s absence, this time producer John Ainsworth has chosen to recast with Yasmin Bannerman (best known as Jabe in Doctor Who’s ‘The End of the World’ and prose/audio companion Roz Forrester) talking on the role.
As series C on television dealt with the aftermath of intergalactic war; with the Federation’s Star One control base being destroyed, so this run of stories follows some of the conflicts impact on Federation space and handles changes to the show’s line up.
Liberation by Steve Lyons
The set begins with a story which focusses on the newcomers; both Dayna and Del Tarrant (Stephen Pacey); a former Federation officer turned outlaw, have yet to find their place in the Liberator’s crew. Early on in their respective stories, each are paired with an old hand; the hot-headed, weapons obsessed Dayna with laidback Vila, who tries to show her the ropes, while Cally accompanies Tarrant, leaning on his former Federation credentials to infiltrate a prison in search of the missing Jenna. Meanwhile, Avon sits alone on the Liberator and cannot resist weighing up his options in conversation with Orac.
This is a strong team-building story and serves as a good (re)introduction to the characters while as Dayna’s aggressive rabble-rousing nearly has fatal consequences. It also features an excellent performance from Sara Powell as the planet’s frustrated and delightfully nasty Captain Rokon, who butts heads with Tarrant and sadly gets her just deserts. The story concluded; I particularly enjoyed Avon’s advice to the rebel leader about figureheads, which applied as much to the Liberator’s new situation as it did to the planet, and there was a terrific gag about the name Tarrant being as common as Smith; which is guaranteed to make any Terry Nation fan smile.
Outpost by Christopher Cooper
Soon after, Vila (Michael Keating) and Tarrant gain some quality time together as they follow up on an offer directed at Blake that seems too good to refuse. Going in pursuit of a Federation data core, offered by a desperate technician named Shuuna (Sophia Hannides), they find themselves stranded among drug runners and criminal gangs, while the Liberator withdraws to the edge of the system for safety.
Unfortunately, the pair are not the only respondents as others arrive too – led by an old acquaintance of Vila’s, played hilariously by Tracey Wiles, who has her own agenda and some rather amorous intentions! There is plenty of great character work again here as the mis-matched pair try to build a working relationship, with jokes about Tarrant’s straight-laced nature and similarity of his curly hair to Blake’s. As ever; Michael Keating is joyous as Vila, the coward who’s primarily interested in what he can order from the bar, and later in his own survival.
Close Enough by Sophia McDougall
Playing out at the same time, the remainder of the crew head for a remote planet, lured in by rumours of Blake. Ostensibly on a mission of mercy, Cally (Jan Chappel) and Avon (Paul Darrow) soon become embroiled in an experiment in which Avon is the test subject.
I’m keen not to spoil the nature of the story, which is a highlight of the set, but suffice to say that it places Avon into a highly unusual situation which grants him a fresh perspective and allows us some insight into Cally’s unique position on the crew. Charlotte Wilson guests as Imra, a sympathetic and rather nervy scientist who has an ethical dilemma over the consequences of her experiment, while Keith Drinkel plays Kaverin, her throughly amoral boss.
Solus by George Mann
The final adventure reunites the whole crew with their greatest enemy as Avon, failing to learn from his mistakes and pursues a distress call from a damaged space station, only to end up face to face with Servalan.
Of course, as she appears on the cover, it is no surprise to find Servalan cropping up and Jacqueline Pearce delivers in spades as her latest cunning plan to take over the Liberator goes spectacularly with dangerous, potentially universal consequences. Effectively a bottle show, mostly taking place on board the Liberator and featuring only the regular cast, Solus has a killer premise and offers plenty of great interaction for the cast. I particularly enjoyed hearing Dayna’s frustration at once again being unable to fulfil her promise to kill Servalan, and that the story granted Vila a chance to be heroic.
Across the four stories, all the principals get some time to shine and there are some charming character moments alongside healthy doses of action. In addition, Alastair Lock plays dual computer roles, as the crabby Orac and imperious Zen, and he complements the principals perfectly. The sound design from Nigel Fairs & Luke Pietnik is excellent too.
Recasting is always a perilous task, but I’m pleased to say that I found Yasmin Bannerman slotted into the crew effortlessly; recapturing Dayna’s sense of youthful vigour and frustration. While it is true that some of the other voices in the cast may carry the weight of the years a little, and let’s face it – Blake’s 7 hits the big four-0 next year – their enthusiasm for these characters remains undimmed, as the CD Extras attest to.
The Spoils of War is the first of four box sets on the Big Finish slate, with the following three to be released in quarterly and comprising a wider ‘season’ of stories under the title of Crossfire, still set in series C. As these tales progress, one thing we would love to hear are some familiar period voices in the guest cast – often the added joy of a Blake’s 7 episode is seeing someone like Richard Franklin or John Leeson turn up and it might be a fun way to utilise some of the wider Doctor Who companion cast too.
Frankly, I’m hooked again and the TV box sets will be back in heavy rotation. This set is a great restart to adventures on the Liberator, I’ll gladly rate it Standard by 9 (out of 10) and look forward to more.
You can buy it on CD or download here https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/the-spoils-of-war-1652