The Liberator is crippled and at high-risk of becoming uninhabitable as well as unnavigable. The ship’s crew must locate the technology that can salvage the situation before things slide past the point of no return. The vessel limps towards Space World (which Blake’s team first visited in “Redemption”, the opening episode of the second TV series), hoping that, in the wreckage of the System, and its connected planets, they might yet find the materials they need.
This is the promising opening premise for the second instalment of Big Finish’s Blake’s 7 Restoration trilogy. One of the themes that runs through each of these four stories is the intense pressure that the Liberator crew find themselves under as their future and their fate comes into sharp relief once more. Blake’s 7 is always at its best when this band of space rebels finds the odds hopelessly stacked against them. In the more reflective moments in Restoration different residents of the flight deck again ponder if an on-the-edge existence as an interstellar subversive is the life they truly want.
A new age
Mark Wright’s opener “The New Age” sees Avon and his followers arrive on the planet Eloran, after escaping near-disaster aboard the fast-collapsing Space World. With the tyranny of the System lifted, the inhabitants of Eloran split. Those determined to cling to their technological assets retreated underground, while their Luddite-like brethren adopted a simple bucolic life on the surface. The story pivots on the character of leader Vaulkris, who’s wedded to a myth of the System’s fall. She’s determined to thwart Avon’s hopes of scavenging power cells from below the surface. There’s some good world building in Wright’s script, and a strong series’ shaping plot. The best character moments come from Michael Keating’s always assured performance as Vila, as the locksmiths’ nemesis, entranced by the simple pleasures of life amongst a collective smallholding of peaceable farmers, considers his future options.
Next episode “Happy Ever After” sees Steve Lyons channelling the kinds of storytelling tropes viewers used to find in a Tanith Lee Blake’s 7 script. Tarrant and Avon transport to the planet of Zareen, where they discover that their arrival has long been anticipated. In the royal castle, a wedding is imminent, but the identity of the groom, and soon to be king, comes as a complete surprise. This is a story bursting with complex folklore, duplicity in the corridors of the palace, and unexpected temporal shifts.
The society on Zareen binds together because of the threads of a ‘mind web’: an existential network which anticipates future events and shifts individuals’ experience between past and present. While the plotting and mythology gets unnecessarily dense at times, this is still a great two-hander for Avon and Tarrant. Their fates intertwine and break apart across a variety of possible timelines, as the pair question their loyalty to one another and to their shared anti-Federation mission. This makes for some sparky exchanges between the two, with Pacey and Darrow getting great value from Lyons’ rich dialogue.
Dana and Cally pursue a parallel, and equally vital, scavenging mission in Sophia McDougall’s “Siren”. Landing on another former System colony, they discover that remnants of the defeated regime, in the guise of the Altas, are fighting back. The technology that once ruled the planet is using a form of mind control to enslave those now free of its clutches. Despite Dana’s protests, Cally insists on a high-risk strategy that could destroy the last vestiges of the System and free the world for good.
McDougall’s writing has the strongest emotional texture of the stories in this set. The characters of Mida and Veskar provide good foils for the series’ regulars in what’s close to being an all-female cast. As a new rebellion takes shape, the System’s opponents all wrestle with questions of identity and of self-belief. Here it’s Cally who wonders if her choices have been the right ones, before a life-or-death confrontation with the System’s agents forces her to decide where her convictions lie.
The Liberator crew are reunited for closing instalment “Hyperion”, which sees Trevor Baxendale craft an endgame which is both exciting and far from predictable. Still smarting from their earlier failures, the crew make a ‘last hope’ space crawl to a research station. It sits orbiting the gas planet of Hyperion, a sun-like giant circled by strange debris rings. When the Liberator begins to revive, the crew teleport down to the research facility on a clandestine mission to find the enigmatic Dr Selene Shan (Evie Dawnay, clearly enjoying playing a no-nonsense scientist). When they learn that the Federation intends to bring Shan and her independent station back under its control, it’s a race against time for Avon and his compatriots to find what they need and get back aboard ship.
Baxendale’s plot is simpler and more streamlined than some of the preceding tales. This means that the jeopardy and ticking-clock elements of his adventure story can be given more space. There’s plenty of action for all of the series’ regulars to enjoy, and a fantastic turn from Vincenzo Nicoli in the role of maintenance engineer Sherna, whose interplay with Cally unfolds in some surprising ways.
The finale of the episode, already reworked from the original plan following the sad death of Jacqueline Pearce (Servalan) last September, cannot help but come with some additional and poignant undertones. Paul Darrow died shortly after recording his scenes for all four episodes. Restoration: Part 2 has unexpectedly become his epitaph in the role. Everything that happens in “Hyperion” keeps faith with the harsh logic of the Blake’s 7 universe, with no unwarranted sentimentality injected into proceedings; which is exactly what the consummate professional Darrow would have expected.
In addition to the in-studio interviews with the audio team, a final segment sees the original members of the Blake’s 7 TV cast share their warm and affectionate memories of both Paul Darrow and Jacqueline Pearce. It’s a fitting sign-off for this box set, as is the news that a redesigned part three, bringing the trilogy to a conclusion, will be released in February.
Blake’s 7: Restoration Part 2 is available, in CD and download formats, from the Big Finish site.