The already-impressive Blake’s 7 Restoration trilogy reaches a fitting (and a more than a little emotional) conclusion in this just-released final four-story boxset. These closing stories make their canonically adept way through a series of entertaining adventures that attempt to address the unanswered questions posed in the first TV series: what were the intentions of The Liberator‘s creators; what was their enemies’ agenda, and what led them both to disaster in the debris field somewhere between Earth and the prison planet of Cygnus Alpha?
Opening story ‘Parasite’ picks up immediately after the events of the finale of part two ‘Hyperion’. Avon is still missing in action, presumed dead. The remaining crew are passengers back aboard The Liberator but their ship is in the control of an alien intruder, leaving them powerless. Only flight deck newbie Selene is confident that she can tackle the parasitic invader; but Avon’s team are reluctant to trust their latest would-be recruit. Trevor Baxendale’s well-crafted script alternates the travails aboard ship with a story unfolding on a doomed planet. The ancient power supply on Tronis is failing, but the devout inhabitants of the world are reluctant to accept their fate. It’s a classic Blake’s 7 set-up, and as the story unfolds the fates of the two sets of protagonists inexorably collide.
Duplicity and double-dealing
With neither Avon nor Blake aboard, and Zen and Orac largely AWOL, the gender balance aboard The Liberator has shifted. As the feisty Selene Shan, Evie Dawnay more than holds her own against the regulars. But there’s no immediate turn to supportive sisterhood in space. Yasmin Bannerman hones in on the grumpy and resentful sides of Danya’s temperament as she views the new arrival with suspicion. Jan Chappell’s Cally also gets more opportunity to be a pro-active problem solver as well as the crew’s emotional compass. Elsewhere in the guest cast, Becky Wright shines as the breathless and truculent apprentice Zoraya, who infuriates her patient mentor Valren (Trevor Littledale, nicely mixing dignified reverence with a growing sense of self-doubt).
Things get a little more complicated in Steve Lyons’ ‘Failsafe’. Dropping the listener into the middle of an already complex story, it’s easily the most demanding listen of the set. Luckily, this richly intriguing tale of duplicity, double-dealing and forced alliances merits the attention. Federation General Mordekain finds himself trapped underground in an unknown location. Seriously injured, he cannot remember how he ended up in this predicament, or why he is now handcuffed to Del Tarrant. As the plot unfolds, it reveals another unfortunate manacled pairing. Each duo are bound together through a neural link which ensures that the experience of pain, or even of death, will be shared.
A series’ totem
Lyons’ muscular plot is confidently put together, with sound designer Simon Power rising to the challenge of cleverly differentiating the subterranean locations that these characters are moving through. There’s great material for Stephen Pacey’s Tarrant, while Bannerman gets to reconnect with Dayna’s more combative side. John Green is excellent as the bewildered General Mordekain, while Hugh Fraser’s President continues to channel that delicious trademark mix of cruelty, megalomania and arrogant disdain.
It is a shame that in this last outing for the heroes of The Liberator so little time is spent discussing the motives and morality of Blake’s dwindling band. The question of whether the rebels are freedom fighters or terrorists has remained a totem for the series since they first seized control of the ship. But in this story, Blake’s guerrillas shoot local rebels dead (albeit in self-defence) alongside Federation officers. Tarrant blames the President for their deaths, but the issue merits a fuller discussion than there’s time for here.
Return of Alta-One
David Bryher’s ‘Reunion’ sees a return to prison planet Cygnus Alpha, and a showdown-by-proxy between the Quonar parasite and Zeera Vos for a uniquely valuable prize. This story puts Vila centre stage, allowing Michael Keating space to display an impressive combination of his character’s vulnerable, brave and empathic sides. It’s emotionally touching stuff, all the more so in the context of the approaching end game.
Baxendale returns to script duties for finale ‘Imperium’, which reveals the efforts of the Federation President to secure his position as the unchallenged leader of a new era of intergalactic tyranny. It’s a fast-moving story that sees the return of Alta-One, agent of The System last seen in the opening episode of the second TV series ‘Redemption’. The cast interviews reveal that Sheila Ruskin does not remember much about her time at BBC TV Centre in 1979. But she drops back in to the role of Alta-One with gusto, clearly enjoying the revelation of the more expressive sides of Alta-One’s nature.
The sad death of Paul Darrow in June 2019, forced Big Finish to recalibrate the finale of what was already an intricate storyline. Baxendale worked meticulously through the extensive back-catalogue of Big Finish Blake’s 7 audios to compile a list of Darrow’s lines that could be repurposed for this story. It’s both a clever and a respectful technique, which means Avon can play a decisive role in the resolution of the team’s dilemma.
Blake, Avon and Servalan
An hour’s worth of interviews, sees producer-director John Ainsworth confirm that future full-cast audios in the Blake’s 7 universe are in the planning stages. That’s clearly encouraging confirmation for fans, even though it’s clear that this boxset will be the last time that stories unfold on the flight deck of The Liberator, and that the voices of Blake, Avon and Servalan will not be heard again. Ainsworth acknowledges that, with the Restoration trilogy complete, “emulating the format of the TV series – which has always been the goal – is now no longer possible.”
Even under the extra weight that that sense of expectation brings, Restoration Part 3 does not disappoint. As a final original audio adventure for Deep Space Vehicle 2 and her rag-tag rebel crew, this more than measures up. Down and safe.