Review by Ian McArdell
Outlaw is the latest Blake’s 7 audiobook from Big Finish. Like it’s immediate predecessor ‘Uprising’, it focuses on a lesser developed character from the show. In that case it was the ill-fated Gan, here the light is shone on Blake’s nemesis, Space Commander Travis.It is said that everyone is necessarily the hero of their own story; if the television series was Blake’s, this one belongs to Travis – although he is well aware that he is no hero. Exclusively following Travis, the book is structured in three parts, each a phase of his relationship with the Federation: “Commander”, “Outlaw” and “Traitor” – and each prefaced by an appropriately nihilistic quote from Nietzsche.
Delving into his personal history, we meet Travis as a brutal Federation Captain and see his recruitment to the mission of putting down the rebellion – and in particular that dangerous rebel leader Roj Blake. Characterised as a blunt instrument of the Federation, there was a backstory and a personal enmity between the pair on-screen, with Blake responsible for the Space Commander’s disfigurement, necessitating a robotic arm and eye. Trevor Baxendale’s story explores the roots of their enmity as we understand the run up to that first near-fatal encounter from the latter’s point of view.
Afterwards, deftly weaving in and out of established events, we get to visit some familiar locations as well as the criminal underbelly on the edges of Federation space. We are introduced to new characters such as Intelligence Commissar Ura Lekta, who becomes Travis’ counterpart for a time, with whom there seems to be a glimmer of attraction. There is also a terrific encounter with a band of pirates which, as you might imagine, does not end well for them!
Naturally Servalan appears, but she remains a background presence for the most part, embroiled in her political machinations while Travis works for her behind the scenes. We are treated to some other old faces too, such as Maryatt, Secretary Rontane and Senator Bercol. The “Traitor” section ultimately leads us to the events of ‘Gambit’, setting Travis on the path to his fateful destiny on Star One.
Outlaw takes the time to provide some explanations for long held questions, including the nature of Travis’ changing prosthetics (and changing actor onscreen), as well as his altered demeanour in Series B. With a lesser writer, skipping in and out of established chronology could make the whole endeavour rather perfunctory, but this is done incredibly well, and with restraint. Travis’s intense dislike of politicking, and the constant tension between the military and civil power structures in Federation are explored. His decline into paranoia is well-handled and there are no attempts soften the edges of his character; Travis remains a distastefully cold and calculating pragmatist to the end.
Stephen Greif, who played the first iteration of Travis on-screen, provides the narration here and relates the story in compelling fashion. As well as naturally nailing the central character, he gives a good account of some familiar voices, particularly the confident tones of Servalan and the arrogant superiority of Secretary Rontane.
In an interview section at the end of the book, Greif answers some fan questions in amusing fashion, as well as giving a touching tribute to his friend, the late Paul Darrow.
Outlaw is a highly entertaining dive into Travis and a very different take on a Blake’s 7 novel. I highly recommend it, especially if you have just re-watched Series B.
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