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 Chronicles box sets and books, "Warship" was perhaps the closest Big Finish had got to telling an authentic Blake's 7 story up till that point, and, as such, was highly anticipated by fans. 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, the anticipation was even higher. Fortunately, this is a tight, exciting audio drama that bridges the gap between series two and three fantastically, and affords Jenna and Blake the departure from the Liberator that they weren't given 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. Not only do they have to deal with an alien fleet, but there's one secret the Federation have still got up their sleeve: and it may just get everyone killed. 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 nearly getting destroyed and Jenna and Blake's departure from the Liberator. As such, expectations were running high for such a release. And, to writer Peter Anghelides' 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. The danger, of course, with stories and ideas like that is they 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, 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.
What also helps this story is that 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 - 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. 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. 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. 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 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 fantastic 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. And, fortunately for Blake's 7 fans, rather than just being a one-off, "Warship" ended up launching a whole line of full-cast audio dramas. And, on the strength of this release, it is no surprise at all.
You can purchase "Warship" as a digital download and collectors edition CD from the Big Finish website (see below). Just type "Warship" into the search bar at the top of the page.
All pictures copyright to Big Finish Productions/the BBC. Thank you very much for reading.