New Big Finish audiobook The Palluma Project offers another voyage of discovery through Big Finish’s expanding Blake’s 7 universe and, at the same time, the chance to step through an unseen adventure in the established second TV series’ timeline.
Writer Tim Gambrell makes use of the more extensive narrative space provided by the audiobook format to construct a far more complex and intricate tale than was ever available to Terry Nation or Chris Boucher in the confines of a fifty minutes TV script. And with this latest Blake’s 7 title there’s the relatively rare – but very welcome – experience of hearing Sally Knyvette (Jenna) take on the narration duties.
Top secret research
The plot pivots around clandestine goings-on in the far-flung Palluma system. Eager to strengthen the Liberator crew’s hit-and-run capabilities, Roj Blake is hunting for a location in which to build a hidden base of operations. Unbeknownst to the rebel leader, Palluma is also home to a top-secret Federation research facility, where work is advancing on a terrifying new weapons system.
When members of Blake’s team uncover the full horror of what the Federation’s scientists are doing, the layers of subterfuge covering the Palluma Project begin to be peeled away. What’s exposed is a web of conspiracies in which the Liberator itself is soon entangled, and from which Blake’s most implacable nemesis is determined to profit.
Gambrell takes time to scope the different settings of his story. His writing evokes a particularly atmospheric sense of the disturbing environs of the Palluma base. He’s also very adept at handling the slow reveal of the hidden motivations and cruel exploitation of many of those languishing in isolation at the site.
And when it comes to capturing the recognisable natures and speech patterns of the series’ original characters, Gambrell displays a confident familiarity with the Blake’s 7 canon.
Knyvette does a fine job with the book’s narration. She voices the show’s regulars with a deft confidence and, through a range of convincing accents and dialects, brings life to the wider ensemble of characters. She also has a good sense of pace, and is able to combine the variety of tone and texture required to keep the momentum moving over more than six hours of storytelling.
The plot of The Palluma Project shifts the focus away from both Blake and Avon, to turn the spotlight towards others on the Liberator flightdesk. Knyvette clearly enjoys the fact that Jenna here has the opportunity to become both action hero and skilful investigator as the story unfolds.
In last December’s Blake’s 7 audiobook Chosen, writer Niel Bushnell explored little-observed reflective aspects of Gan’s nature. Gambrell is equally intrigued by the dynamic between Gan’s personality and his ‘limiter’, and delivers an unexpected – and effective – spin on the interplay between the two.
Gambrell’s book combines thoughtfully rendered hard sci-fi and fantasy elements with an unhurried tale of intrigue, political machinations, revenge and regret. There is a darker, harder timbre to the story’s denouement than is found in most adventures in the Blake’s 7 universe. But in the context of The Palluma Project’s distinctly bleak premise that feels like a fitting way to wrap up proceedings.