With Travis as its unexpected anti-hero, new Big Finish Blake’s 7 audiobook Outlaw, examines the off-screen history of the series’ most celebrated male villain. The plot carefully aligns with and extends the show’s canonical history to impressive effect. The book explores two separate timelines: the early years of Blake’s putative rebellion against the Federation, which unfold before the events of opening TV episode The Way Back; and the period between series two story Trial and second series’ finale Star One.
Author Trevor Baxendale is fully immersed in the intricacies of the series’ mythology. He plots his story with meticulous care and attention to established detail. Yet the story components are not simply “canonically correct” (important though that is to many fans). With that assured, Outlaw presents some imaginative and surprising interpretations of unseen developments in the Blake’s 7 universe. That’s the kind of conceit that’s easy to pull off badly (as any number of fanfic stories attest), which makes Baxendale’s accomplishment in doing this so well all the more satisfying.
The pleasures of this audiobook are all about discovering how that journey unfolds, and there’s no intention to spoil those surprises here. Suffice to say that this listener learns more about the backstory of Travis’ disfigurement and his physical and mental rehabilitation. As he recovers, there’s the chance to revisit some familiar deep-space locales and explore some new ones. On top of that, the listener discovers much more about how the Federation assessed the risks of an alien incursion into its territory.
Servalan also enjoys a sub-plot of her own, as she attempts to manipulate her way to maximum power (to coin a phrase) on the Supreme Council. It’s her efforts to secure “legitimate” authority that unfold in parallel with renegade Travis’ unofficial black-ops campaign. While the character of Blake does appear in Outlaw, and plays a key role in the story, he’s seen exclusively from Travis’ perspective.
The exploration of Travis’ nature and his motivations is a thread running through all of the action and adventure elements of the plot. Quite rightly, Baxendale has no intention to “soften” Travis’ cruel and ruthless character. Yet it is intriguing to view events through his eyes (the good one and the one with the patch), and to consider his calculations on questions of morality, loyalty and the exercise of command. Those qualities come to the fore as both Travis and Servalan have to negotiate and deceive their way around others in the Federation more powerful than themselves. These were times when, in contrast to the image they presented to their opponents, their authority was far from absolute.
The fact that Stephen Greif narrates Outlaw, with consummate skill and good-judgement, greatly adds to the story’s atmosphere and impact. The first actor to play the character of Travis on screen, Greif gives sonorous voice to a host of different characters; clearly relishing the chance to place Travis centre stage. His talent for accents allows us, amongst other things, to discover that Blake’s was not the only Welsh voice at large in the galaxy.
By way of special features, Greif provides intelligent and pithy answers to a series of questions about the character of Travis and the storyline of Outlaw, and ends with some heartfelt reflections on his long friendship and professional associations with the much-missed Paul Darrow.
The cumulative loss of Darrow, Gareth Thomas and Jacqueline Pearce raises acute challenges for those planning future full-cast Blake’s 7 audio dramas. The success of Outlaw and its equally effective predecessor Uprising confirms that the single-voiced audiobook provides at least one format that can continue to do the series justice: especially when crafted with this degree of attentive care.