'Blake's 7: Warship'—Review
The first full-cast 'Blake's 7' audio from Big Finish sees the Liberator crew going up against an alien fleet, and Blake and Jenna's departure from the Liberator...
One of Big Finish's most exciting products in their Blake's 7 range has to be their very first full-cast audio, Warship. After a number of narrated Liberator Chronicle releases and books, Warship was perhaps the closest Big Finish had got to telling an authentic Blake's 7 story up till that point. Set in the gap in between series two and three, and telling the story of the Liberator's fight against the alien fleet featured in the final episode of series two, this is a tight, exciting audio drama. While hardly being novel or original, is an exciting story that bridges the gap between series two and three fantastically, and offers Jenna and Blake the departure from the Liberator that they weren't afforded in the TV series.
The plot of Warship is exactly what you'd expect from a story set during the fabled Intergalactic War that turned the show upside down between series two and three. Picking up right from the closing moments of series two finale "Star One," and running right up until the very beginning of series three opener "Aftermath," this story covers what happened to the Liberator during the war. This is a story that fans have dreamed about for over 30 years; perhaps the ultimate unmade Blake's 7 story. After all, this is the story that features a massive space battle, the Liberator getting nearly destroyed and Jenna and Blake's departure from the Liberator. As such, expectations were running high for such a release. And, to this release's credit, this story avoids simply falling into box ticking and fussing over plot minutia. Warship is simply trying to tell a good story, and leaves the tying up as Easter eggs for the hardcore fans. This is absolutely the right approach for stories of this ilk: big, fan-pleasing stories that have spent years in gestation. Blake's 7 has had a few of these over the years—from the Intergalactic War, to what happened to Blake and Jenna, to what happened after the final episode. The danger, of course, with stories and ideas like that, that have been allowed so much time to gestate that they become monsters, and anyone who attempts to tell them won't be able to satisfy the majority of fans. Fan expectation can get out of hand with a story like this, but Warship avoids most of these pitfalls, and comes out all the stronger.
Warship does tie into the stories it's bedded between, but still carves out its own direction and does its own thing. Namely, of course, regarding the inclusion of Mygedo and the limpet mines, but also in the themes it brings up. This episode is very much a love letter to the original show, though, right down to the banter between Avon and Vila. It takes advantage of the audio format as well, however, so, while paying lip tribute to the show as was, it's actually pushing it forward. Sure, this isn't a story you should listen to if you've never experienced a Blake's 7 episode before, or even if you only have a passing knowledge of the show, but it is a good audio to start with if you're a fan of the TV series and want to get into the audios. It also helps that writer Peter Anghelides gives each of the characters something interesting to do. Despite the hour long run-time, each of the regulars gets something to do which is more than just stand around operating the teleport and saying "standard by 9," which would often happen in the TV series. Certainly Blake and Avon are given the lion's share of the meaty material, but that's not to say the others are ignored. Cally, Vila and Jenna get little moments in the story that utilise their character traits well—whether that be Vila's comedy cowardice, Cally's sympathetic attitude or Jenna's hard and steely determination. Even Zen and Orac get their moments to shine. It's a real ensemble piece for the crew, and Anghelides should be praised for making it so.
However, because of this, there is no guest cast at all. Apart from the Liberator crew, the only other cast member is Servalan, once again played by Jacqueline Pearce. And, let's be honest, she only contributes to a couple of scenes (and pretty much steals them, I might add), so her role is pretty much an extended cameo. So, Anghelides is basically forced to find a number of creative workarounds to get around such a problem, and, to his credit, he just about manages it. It's only when you stop to think about this issue that you realise that it exists. While listening, you will barely notice it, I promise you. And, to be honest, I feel like it better suits the story that's being told here. It's not about a massive space battle (well, it is, but you get my point), it's about a group of characters who were initially brought together by sheer serendipity, and whom have become friends through adversity facing their biggest challenge yet. The biggest strength of Warship is undoubtedly the way it mixes the intimate elements Blake's 7 is famous for, and the epic scope and scale that being on audio allows Blake's 7 to be. It helps to make this a fantastic story that really appeals, both in terms of its authenticity and its willingness to push at the boundaries of Blake's 7.
Of course, this is the first time this cast have been back together since 1979 (in fact, since "Star One," the episode that precedes this one chronologically), and they instantly slip back into their roles and dynamics fantastically. It's amazing how most of the cast sound like they have aged very little. Sure, Gareth Thomas doesn't quite sound the same, and both Jan Chappell's and Paul Darrow's voices have aged ever so slightly, but they do all recapture the character's they played in the 70s very well. Michael Keating and Jacqueline Pearce, in particular, sound just like they've walked off the set of Blake's 7 to record this. Their performances are pitch perfect. As for Sally Knyvette, Thomas, Darrow and Chappell, well, they turn in just as engaging performances, if not more so than had this been made in 1979. Sally Knyvette probably gives one of her best performances in the show here—helped, I suspect, by the script giving her more to do than she ever had on the TV show, but also perhaps due to her having grown as an actor since her time on Blake's 7. Jan Chappell is also fantastic here. This script gives her a lot to do regarding her telepathic abilities, and she rises to the challenge fantastically, giving a very spirited performance that suits the tone of the material. But the two standouts here are definitely Thomas and Darrow—both of whom get to fill in key moments in their characters journey's. The scene of Blake and Avon on the Liberator's observation deck is brilliantly written, but is nothing without the performances from the actors.
Of course, this story also features computers Zen and Orac, as played in the original series by the late Peter Tuddenham. Here, however, the parts have been taken on by Alistair Lock, who does a fine job at recreating the voices of the distinctive computers. He sticks very closely to Tuddenham's original, and manages to add to the authentic feel of the production with a pitch perfect performance. It helps that Lock is clearly a fan of the original series. He says as much in the Behind the Scenes documentary that accompanies this release. Therefore, he knows how these characters should sound, and he therefore gives a perfect performance, that's in keeping with Tuddenham's original. Lock is also in charge of the sound design and music, and, as with his other Blake's 7 productions that he has worked on, he produces an exemplary soundscape to compliment the action. His recreations of the various Liberator sound effects are put to good use here, and his work with the rest of the story is equally impressive. The sections on the surface of Mygedo are a particular highlight. The sound work here really immerses you in the action. The music is also stellar, like the Blake's 7 movie we never got. This is all helped by Ken Bentley's cinematic direction, that has a real flair for the exciting action sequences, and an intimate focus for the more character driven moments. Production wise, this is absolutely standout, and a leap up from the previous Liberator Chronicles audios, as you would expect from a full cast audio drama.
Overall, Warship is an absolutely standout production, in every sense of the word. Despite the limitations that the production faces, this is as good a recreation of the TV show as you could expect. Warship fills in the gap between series two and three of the show with a gripping, engaging tale of war between the Federation and the alien armada. With a standout script, great character work, stellar acting and superb post-production, this is a fantastic audio drama, and, for fans of Blake's 7, it must be considered an essential purchase.