Review by Ian McArdell
Bayban the Butcher grants Colin Baker’s famously off-the-hook villain centre stage. Although best known for playing the colourful Sixth Doctor, he gave an entertainingly big guest performance years earlier in Blake’s 7; Bayban, a self-aggrandising baddie with a penchant for alliteration, came up against Vila in Series C’s City at the Edge of the World.
This self-titled boxset follows an appearance in the recent Avalon series and there’s an audiobook origin story, Bayban Ascending, due in February too. While Bayban apparently died at the end of his only onscreen appearance, it seems you can’t keep a good berserker down.
Set before The Way Back, in Jenna’s ‘free-trader’ past, Conscience offers her first introduction to Bayban. The tale begins with Jenna (Sally Knyvette) and her protégé Hinton taking a job exporting valuable crystals from the planet Samana when other lines of work become too hot.
With a tightly controlled supply, as the rare gems can be used in weaponry, the ambitions political leader of Samana is keen to leverage a better standard of living for her people. However, they have let another third party in to handle the production process; with Bayban in the mix, matters soon get out of hand creating a substantial moral dilemma.
Katharine Armitage’s script introduces us to an early Jenna Stannis, out for herself and for profit. It’s the earliest we’ve met Hinton too with the psycho-strategist still honing her skills. Exploring a fascinating concept, of crystals growing within living beings, the story soon reminds us that Bayban is utterly focussed on his own personal gain.
As the story develops, entwining the political with the personal, all involved are forced to consider where their moral red lines are; just how much does Jenna want to make a profit and at what cost?
The Butcher’s Wife
The second story brings three off-worlders to the closeted, wealthy planet Arl. While Hinton assists Chancellor Shenrir, the protector of the soon-to-be-queen Princess Arla, she finds herself dealing with the threat of a charismatic interloper: Marcello. Except Hinton knows full well that Marcello is none other than Bayban and clearly on the make.
Having survived events on Keezarn, Bayban is keen to restore his fortunes. However, he hasn’t gambled on the arrival of a suspiciously familiar Federation Ambassador – one who bears an uncanny resemblance to the late Space Commander Travis. In fact, he’s the errant clone borne in The Clone Masters, with the face (and both arms) of Travis’ first incarnation (as played by Stephen Greif).
With competing agendas and multiple layers of deceit, Lizzie Hopley’s story is a delight and easily our favourite of the set. From Hinton and Travis circling each other, to Travis and Bayban conspiring, to Bayban’s endeavours to corrupt the innocent Princess Arla (Fiona Hampton), sending her off course and into his arms, I could easily imagine this rich tale playing out across a whole boxset of its own. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention there’s a clever (and cruel) science fiction twist to the story too!
Finally, set sometime later (but still in Series C), Lizbeth Myles’ Vengeance Games brings everyone’s favourite thief Vila Restal back into the orbit of Bayban. Abducted by Hinton, he soon finds his specific set of skills deployed on a mission with a couple of other people who have crossed ‘the Butcher’.
In tight confines, on a defunct but powerful ship which Bayban desires, there’s an entertaining battle of cat and mouse as things go wrong for Bayban and Vila needs all his ingenuity to survive.
It’s always great to hear Michael Keating as Vila and the story gives him plenty to do. Of course, we suspect from the outset that his fellow prisoners won’t make it out alive and it was difficult to muster much sympathy for them as former allies of Bayban who turned on him.
Much as he did on the show itself, Colin Baker clearly has a blast playing Bayban and why not – it’s a gift of a part! While his Doctor, for the most part, was restrained by a moral code, Babyan has no such qualms. While a monster, the villain is also incredibly charismatic and it’s great to hear him at play in the quieter moments – such as the seduction scenes of The Butcher’s Wife.
Abigail Thaw’s Hinton runs through the set as a sometime ally, sometime foe of Bayban. While the Blake’s 7 regulars naturally have our sympathies, her role is fascinating one. In the absence of a major Federation villain, the amoral wannabe puppet master helps to sell an interconnected universe. Naturally, the fact that Abigail Thaw is quite terrific in the role doesn’t hurt and it’s no spoiler to say that she’s due to appear in The Terra Nostra set too.
Bayban the Butcher is another entertaining spin-off, although quite different in tone from The Clone Masters which preceded it. These stories are shot thought with Colin Baker’s infectious enthusiasm for the role and, as a result, lots of fun. I imagine there’s plenty of room for a few more stories yet before the Butcher hangs up his boots!
The Worlds of Blake’s 7: Bayban the Butcher is available on CD and download from Big Finish.
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