Once he and his ill-assorted crew had seized control of the Liberator, Roj Blake became preoccupied (some might say obsessed) by the goal of becoming a catalyst for a popular rebellion against The Federation.
Time and again Blake and his band of rebels attempted to inspire the oppressed to revolt, sabotaged Federation operations, sought out potential super-weapons and tried to thwart the efforts of the space imperialists to extend their sphere of control. While they could rarely claim a decisive victory in those first skirmishes, and were frequently diverted into games of cat-and-mouse by their Federation pursuers, their guerrilla campaign knocked up some notable successes – always secured against the odds.
It is in this period, after their initial collective escape from a life of incarceration on Cygnus Alpha, and before the crushing disappointment and the death of Gan in the events of Pressure Point, that Blake’s revolutionary motivations are at their most straightforward. It is during these febrile months of high hopes and undimmed aspirations that Big Finish’s new Blake’s 7 story Uprising unfolds. It’s a conducive setting for some high stakes space opera, and Christopher Cooper’s well-plotted script does not disappoint.
This single-voice audio (also released in eBook format) is narrated by Stephen Greif, the actor who originally played Commander Travis before Brian Croucher took over in series two. Greif’s sonorous vocalisation of the story is first-rate. He invests each of the Liberator’s crew with just enough of their vocal mannerisms to give the listen an authentic sense of them, without being tempted to deliver an inevitably faux impression.
The story begins with Blake’s latest mission: a bid to disrupt a major agricultural supply colony, and to inspire the indigenous rebels to throw off the yoke of the Federation, the better to encourage others to follow suit. But after things do not turn out exactly as expected, the Federation’s “most wanted” set off in the hopes of tracking down and destroying a far higher value target; if they are able to confirm its location, and if they can deflect the relentless attention of Travis who is once again in hot pursuit.
The core action-and-adventure elements of Cooper’s story are very well crafted, driven forward by a plot that is both energetic and frequently inventive. He acquits himself especially well in those components of the story focusing on less explored aspects of the Blake’s 7 universe. Cooper presents an intriguing picture of the inner-workings of Olag Gan’s psyche, moving beyond a focus on his behavioural limiter to examine Gan’s attempts to reconcile his feelings of loyalty, empathy, solidarity and kinship with the more volatile and violent impulses with which he battles.
A parallel to Gan’s struggles with his sense of self is revealed in the efforts of mutoid Jade to recover a connection with the person she was before her memories were wiped and her body transformed into a hybrid of flesh and machine. That the reflective and the explosive elements of the story blend together so well is a reflection of Cooper’s evident narrative talents.
Some listeners may object to so rich and nuanced a characterisation of Gan. It’s certainly a more sophisticated rendering of this particular member of Blake’s crew than actor David Jackson was allowed to explore on screen back in 1978-79. But the dramatic licence deployed here returns dividends, offering a fresh perspective on the life of the first of Blake’s crew to pay the ultimate price for rebellion.
The audio package is rounded off by a short Q&A session with Stephen Greif, in which he reads out and responds to questions submitted in advance by Blake’s 7 fans about his work on the TV series. Greif’s answers are revealing, unassuming and disarmingly modest.