Audio Review: Blake’s 7 – Crossfire Part 2

Review by Ian McArdell


Hot on the heels of their thrilling 40th Anniversary release, Big Finish are back for more as Crossfire – a twelve-part season of stories set within the programme’s third series – continues.

In the first set, battle lines were drawn as the Liberator crew discovered that not only was the former Federation President still alive, but that he was plotting a return to power and a showdown with his usurper Servalan, backed by his legion of resurrected, partially cybernetic troops.

This second set takes us into the conflict for episodes 5 – 8 of Crossfire, but while battle is joined, Avon and his band of rebels endeavour to remain firmly on the side-lines.


Funeral on Kalion by Trevor BaxendaleWith control of the Kalion shipyards seemingly up for grabs, since the death of the fiercely independent planet’s ruler Thern Sorron, both the presidential rivals are drawn there in order to bring their influence to bear. It is a prize too great for Avon to resist also, knowing that control of those shipyards could well be the deciding factor in the civil war. As the former President and Servalan ingratiate themselves with the diplomatic Maldor (Trevor Littledale), Kalion’s Chancellor and Thern Sorron’s funeral director, the Liberator crew remain on the outside of the situation – trying to find a way onto the locked down planet through it’s tight security restrictions.

In amongst the funeral proceedings, Trevor Baxendale’s script provides some great hi-jinks for Vila and Avon and the tale works effectively to restate the battle lines and pull us back in to the conflict. While reviewing Crossfire Part One, I said I could not wait for a confrontation between Hugh Fraser‘s former President and Jacqueline Pearce as Servalan. I did not expect it to be served up quite so soon but the scenes between the pair do not disappoint. Hilariously venomous and dry, they bicker like ex-lovers at a wedding, unsubtly vying for power while attempting to appear cordial for the sake of appearance.


Shock Troops by Cavan Scott
This initially smaller scale story takes us behind the mask of a Federation Trooper, and spotlights Dayna (Yasmin Bannerman) as she experiences life behind enemy lines first hand.Clever and incredibly dark in places, we begin the story from the perspective of troopers Niner (Imogen Church) and Jay (Tam Williams) as they are deployed to a new assignment under their tough Captain (Tania Rodrigues). Niner sends warm and funny messages back home to her father, though which we learn about their role in the conflict and the life of a trooper.

I will be incredibly cagey about the plot of Cavan Scott’s tale, and say little more than it was not at-all what I expected and delivered some shocking moments, before building to a highly emotive showdown. Yasmin Bannerman is tremendous in her role as Dayna here, and the supporting cast are all highly engaging, particularly Imogen Church as Niner. While Shock Troops is definitely off-beat in tone for Blake’s 7, and does not feature many of the main cast, it is arguably the standout episode of the set and offers a fascinatingly different view on the rebellion and those who persecute it.


Erebus by Paul DarrowPaul Darrow has made various contributions to the Blake’s 7 canon over the years, not least his trilogy of Lucifer novels which follow the story of an older, post-Gauda Prime Avon and his recent tale in the Heroes short story collection.

In Erebus, Avon is lured to the titular planet by a face from his past; evolving a story from Vila’s quip which first introduced Avon to Blake back in Spacefall. Unable to resist, Avon returns to face his nemesis Eve Adams (Issy Van Randwick), his former lover and the woman who caught him. Seemingly as devious and untrustworthy as Avon himself, Eve has allied herself with the former President and has been working on her own creation, Nada – a computer to rival Orac. While Avon is the focus here, the story provides plenty of fun for the remainder of the regulars as Tarrant and Vila go through an entertaining capture and escape, while Dayna gets some badass action moments towards the end, even taking strategy tips from Orac; as ever delightfully brought to life by Alistair Lock.


The Scapegoat by Steve LyonsRounding off the set, Vila becomes the pawn in a plot to discredit Blake’s crew and through them Servalan, for her failure to capture them. Engineering a terrorist atrocity on Astra Valadina, a world which produces weapons, Vila is captured and Tarrant finds himself trapped with others beneath the rubble of an entertainment complex, with not enough room for a rescue by teleport.

Steve Lyons provides an interesting situation for Vila (Michael Keating); confronting him with another version of himself, Lockwood (played superbly by Toby Longworth). There are some great moments between the pair, as Lockwood accuses Vila of lacking depth and of not being believable in his cowardly performance – and later as Vila shows that there is more to him than just the familiar front he puts up. I also enjoyed the chance afforded to Tarrant (Steven Pacey) to show a more heroic side; working to win over the woman he was trapped with, Kerry Skinner’s desperate Zheanne. As well as Hugh Fraser’s President, and a number of comical robots, we are also treated to a return of his right-hand man Mordekain (John Green), the ruthless, harshly voiced and partially cybernetic general who will surely play a crucial part in Crossfire’s final act.


Summary

The civil war is up and running throughout these four stories, with Avon and the crew remaining on the edge, yet not being able to resist being drawn in, even though both the winning prospects are unappealing. Naturally Avon takes a leading role throughout, but Dayna, Tarrant and Vila all get their moments to shine. For her part, Cally (Jan Chappell) seems to spent a good deal of time manning the teleport controls on the Liberator, but it is important to take a broader view and remember that she enjoyed a strong solo adventure, True Believers, in part one.

It is interesting that two stories here, both Shock Troops and The Scapegoat give us cause to reflect on how the Liberator crew are viewed by Federation citizens, both troopers and factory workers, who are told that they are dangerous terrorists out to destroy civilisation. Again from a casting point of view, John Ainsworth brings us some fresh voices and it really helps to sell these tales as something different from Big Finish’s Doctor Who output. As ever, the music and sound design are of a terrifically high standard.With only four more stories to go in Part 3, which is scheduled for April, I am looking forward to seeing how this Presidential clash resolves. Knowing its placement within the Blake’s 7 timeline, it is easy to make some assumptions about the victor – but as ever, the thrill is as much in the journey as the destination.

Hedging our bets (but secretly rooting for Servalan), I will give this set a rousing 8 out of 10.


Order/download here: https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/blake-s-7-crossfire-part-2-1654

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