Review by Ian McArdell
Released as a tie-in to the full-cast boxset The Clone Masters, is the latest Blake’s 7 audiobook from Big Finish. As well as building on the events of that excellent three-part drama, which saw the destruction of the Clone Masters and their living city, this story goes back to the well; the civilisation of genetic manipulators and their culture were first introduced in the Series B episode Weapon. Here, writer Trevor Baxendale develops the stories of various characters who were caught up in the machinations of Servalan, weaving them into an exciting tale.
The Rule of Death focusses first on the fate of the surviving Blake clone from that episode, as well as the freed bond slave Rashel. We discover that they made a life together, lived peacefully and fell in love, until he became unwell. This prompts an appeal, calling on the original for assistance. Almost certain that it is a trap of some sort, Blake of the Liberator cannot resist responding and it sets the crew on the trail of a surviving Clone Master. However, it is customary to pay for such an audience, leading them into an incredibly dangerous heist which, naturally, does not go to plan. Set not long after Gan’s death, his loss casts a large shadow when another of their number is badly hurt – although it also prompts some very funny moments too.
Meanwhile, another returnee from Weapon is Carnell, the psycho-strategist who was working for Servalan. Forced to lie low after his failure, he is less self-assured and has become a functioning drunk, but still deviously plots a way to restore his standing with the Federation. It’s great to see the return of this character and have him interact with Blake this time, as the pair never met during his original appearance. For her part, Clone Master Rin and her acolytes are seeking to start again, planting a seed of their living city far from the reaches of the Federation. However Rin was herself an outcast, shamed for her creation of the duplicate Blakes – an imperfect process which violated the Clone Master’s self-imposed rule of life. Despite her fresh start, she still feels the need to atone for her sins.
Writer Trevor Baxendale clearly knows the worlds of Blake’s 7 inside out and I enjoyed his development of the themes of cloning and identity throughout the story. He writes tense action scenes well and scenes on the Liberator, with those who did not teleport down, had me laughing – they felt authentic, if sort-of filler as used to happen onscreen, albeit casting Avon into the unlikely role of reluctant caregiver. It was highly satisfying to pick up on the elements of Weapon, particularly the surviving Blake clone, and draw them out to a satisfying conclusion. I wonder if this is something that might have been followed up onscreen if Gareth Thomas had not left the show? Probably not. However, The Rule of Death does leave a couple of threads dangling too. Just as there were deliberately unresolved elements in the full-cast drama, might characters from this audiobook reappear in either of the upcoming tie-in novels?
This audiobook is narrated by Glynis Barber and I’m thrilled to hear her involved in Big Finish’s Blake’s 7 output again (she also played a role in their excellent 40th anniversary tale The Way Ahead). She is incredibly well-spoken and enlivens a whole cast of characters – her Avon is particularly fun. Glynis Barber, of course, starred as Soolin in the show’s fourth series, well after these events are set, but she gets the feel of the show and how it works. So, in short, The Rule of Death is a cracker, full of twists and reveals, and well worth picking up – especially if you enjoyed The Clone Masters.
Next up for The Worlds of Blake’s 7 is Colin Baker (doubtless at full volume) for Bayban the Butcher due in December, with its own tie-in audio book Bayban Ascending.
The Worlds of Blakes’s 7 – The Clone Masters: The Rule of Death is available on download from Big Finish. When Orac picks up information about a Clone Master living in secret on an outlying planet, Blake is intrigued. Then, a message from the freed bond-slave, Rashel, makes visiting the outpost a priority: the Blake Clone is dying. But things are never as straightforward as they seem, and with psycho-strategist Carnell lurking in the shadows, this visit soon becomes a life or death battle for all the Liberator crew…
The Rule of Death is available to download from Big Finish.
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