Review by Ian McArdell
Restoration Part 2 is the latest release in the current Blake’s 7 audio series. Although forming the middle part of this trilogy of box sets, these four tales also follow a tightly-linked storyline themselves: desperate to repair their ailing ship, nearly abandoned in tense finale of the previous set, Avon has brought the Liberator back home to ‘The System’.
Recorded before his recent passing, Paul Darrow reprises his indelible role of Avon, along with regulars Michael Keating (Villa), Jan Chappell (Cally), and Steven Pacey (Tarrant). Yasmin Bannerman and Alastair Locke round out the cast as Dayna and Orac.
The New Age
The action begins on familiar territory, with the Liberator limping to Space World: the heart of The System. Their last visit, depicted in Series B’s opener ‘Redemption’, saw the crew make a narrow escape when the Liberator’s owners sought to reclaim it. This adventure writes those events into myth, retold on one of the three System planets, with Vila and Dayna taken for gods when they teleport down.
Of the two, it is Vila who finds the charms of a simple, agricultural life alluring. The survivors have begun to create a society, shunning the use of technology. Vulkris (Carolyn Pickles), the community’s charismatic leader, is welcoming but insistent that the local System bunker must not be opened. Unfortunately, Avon is equally insistent, believing it contains vital power cells which could aid in the Liberator’s repair and Vila becomes stuck in the middle.
It is fascinating to have the crew return to the scene of an old adventure and writer Mark Wright sets the scene well, with Cally and Vila reminiscing. We also see the havoc they wrought: Space World is full of dead bodies and critically damaged. The story provides a real dilemma for Vila, which Michael Keating brings to life vividly, and we loved his joyous reactions to the taste of real food!
Happily Ever After
Resolving to investigate the other two planets, the crew split up, Tarrant and Avon arriving on what seems to be a feudal planet, where the former receives a rather warm welcome. The inhabitants of Zareen enjoy a shared dreaming experience of the future which, apparently, is for Tarrant to marry their Queen.
Writer Steve Lyons tells his story with a clever dual structure: in a future where Tarrant left the Liberator and married, and in the present where he is both fascinated and flattered, if troubled that his life is already mapped out. Naturally, Avon is remains deeply suspicious, and he soon sniffs out an isolationist conspiracy at the heart of this seemingly idyllic world.
With court intrigue aplenty, we felt Tarrant’s desire for stability and understood the attractions of this regal future with Queen Janylle (Lisa Bond).
Concurrent with ‘Happily Ever After’, Cally and Dayna investigate the third planet, where survivors have escaped the fall of the System – but where it appears to be resurgent.
Dangerous but unfocused, a pair of Altas roam, attempting to impose their will. The System may not be what it was, but those previously conditioned are still dangerously prone to its influence.
Sophia McDougall’s story examines further the allure of the System, building on the events from Crossfire’s ‘Resurgence’, in which Dayna was recruited as an Alta. With an almost all-female cast; save for a former system guard, a theme of sisterhood develops as the System is explored from various perspectives; Alta, guard and slave. The story also serves to deepen the bond between Dayna and Cally, exploring how the former has learned to weaponise her grief.
The crew are all back on-board for the concluding tale. Desperately limping to an independent base, draining the final reserves from essential systems, Avon is on the trail of a research scientist named Selene Shan who might just hold the key to the System. However, as they approach the gas planet of Hyperion, which the base orbits, the Liberator’s repair systems suddenly spring back into life thanks to a mysterious signal emanating from its rings.
Realising their best chance is to allow the ship to power down all non-essential systems, the crew go to ground on the station, hoping to wait out the repair, as well as track down Shan. They are not her only visitors though, as a fussy Federation Commissar has come with a Presidential offer she might not wish to refuse.
Trevor Baxendale’s story is highly entertaining, as the crew try to hide in plain sight while Commissar Krent (Richard Reed) becomes an increasing threat, the tensions throughout reinforced by strings on the score. Naturally, the story gives us another heart-stopping cliff-hanger, ready for the final box set.
We enjoyed the warm interaction Cally had with base engineer Sherna (Vincenzo Nicoli), while Evie Dawnay’s tetchy scientist Shan put us in mind of Orac’s creator, Ensor. A smile was raised too at the use of an “etheric beam locator”, a piece of technology often mentioned in Doctor Who.
As the stories develop, they really sell the disintegration of the team along with the Liberator. First Vila, then Tarrant consider their future on board. We also see the reliance on an increasingly irascible Orac, with his brilliant crabbiness delivered by Alastair Locke.
It has been fascinating to pull on the story thread of the System, a critical piece of Blake’s 7 backstory left undeveloped by the television show. For three stories, after the Federation civil war and its aftermath, it was also fun to explore different aspects of the universe too. As ever, the production and sound design is exemplary across the whole set and John Ainsworth’s casting is diverse, bringing in some welcome new names to the Big Finish fold.
At the end of the customary Extras, John Ainsworth leads a simple but gorgeous tribute to both Paul Darrow and Jacqueline Pearce. As well as being Darrow’s last work on the show, ‘Hyperion’ was originally written to feature ‘Servalan’. The cast share some touching memories of working with the pair and their attitudes to these career defining roles.
After Restoration’s concluding box set, due in February 2020, we are told there will be further adventures in the Blake’s 7 universe, away from the Liberator. In the meantime, Big Finish have also provided a Travis-centric novel, ‘Outlaw’ by Trevor Baxendale, to keep us occupied.
Rating 8 out of 10.
Buy this story now on CD or Download https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/blake-s-7-restoration-part-2-1973