Audio Review Big Finish: After the War (The Worlds of Blake's 7)
- 13 Dec 2022
- 1096 Reads
Review by M1795537OCVirn
Written by: Trevor Baxendale, Steve Lyons and Katharine Armitage
Cover Artwork: Mark Plastow
Sound Design: Simon Power, Alistair Lock and Naomi Clarke
Music: Simon Power, Alistair Lock and Jamie Robertson
Director: Lisa Bowerman
Producer and Script Editor: Peter Anghelides
Senior Producer: David Richardson
Executive Producers: Nicholas Briggs, Jason Haigh-Ellery for Big Finish Productions
The galactic war has unexpected repercussions. Humanity struggles. The Federation is reeling. And enemies are still at large...
The artwork by Mark Plastow for this set, featuring a striking recreation of Travis, Cally and Jenna set against a background of the unknown vastness of space, admirably sets the scene for these three absorbing stories.
1. Andromeda One by Trevor Baxendale
Starring Brian Croucher
Space Commander Travis knows that a data thief on the volcanic planet Amerinth can crack the encrypted coordinates for Star One. His road to hell is paved with bad intentions. Will an old acquaintance help him or thwart his treacherous purpose?
I was pleasantly surprised by this one. I was expecting another of Baxendale’s fast-paced thrillers, packed with action, plot twists, and ugly retribution. They are well-written and fun, in their way, but not particularly my cup of tea. Which is why, for me, Andromeda One is much more of a grown-up Blake’s 7 story: there’s plenty of action, but the writer also gives some time to reflection and to exploring the characters and their interactions.
It is set in the gap between the TV episodes, The Keeper and Star One, with strong links to Trevor’s novel, Outlaw. In the interviews at the end of this audio, he admits that Travis is his favourite B7 character, and it shows. We can tell that the writer has spent a lot of time inside Travis’ head, trying to understand what motivated him to betray his own kind. And why would Travis continue to wear Federation uniform long after his dishonourable discharge?
The story is built around a Federation debriefing session, during which the narrative is, from time to time, put on hold while we explore encounters that flesh out the details of past events. A format like this can be confusing to the listener, with new characters being introduced at every turn, but here we look progressively deeper into a small number of relationships, analysing what part they played in the war and its aftermath.
It is great to hear Brian Croucher once again in the role of Travis, his voice adding that familiar mix of snarls and strangely gentle wheedling that B7 fans will remember. Although Travis’ story is central, he does not dominate: there is plenty of room for the rest of the cast to contribute.
Personally, I think we could have a yet more introspective approach to understanding Travis – a little angst wouldn’t go amiss – viewing his decision-making process from the inside, rather than having it explained indirectly. That said, this portrayal does develop a more rounded view of the character. There are even touches of humour among all the seriousness.
This audio also touches on a topic I hope will be developed in subsequent stories – which Script Editor and Producer Peter Anghelides mentions in the behind the scenes interviews - that he wanted After the War to look at how people coped with alien encounters.
Sound and music were by Simon Power, who maintains the urgency of other Big Finish audio music with a driving beat and the familiar motif of simple musical sequences, repeated, modulated and overlaid. His orchestration utilises a wider range of percussion, which makes for an interesting change.
2. Fallout by Steven Lyons
Starring Sally Knyvette
When her life capsule crashes on a farming world, Jenna Stannis strikes up an uneasy alliance with the local population and a suspicious Federation officer. Will any of them recognise the alien menace that threatens to destroy their fragile coalition and their lives?
As if by magic, my wish is granted and next we have a whole story about alien encounters! Steve Lyons, who has written Blake’s 7 audios for Big Finish previously, draws on the background of his Jenna’s Story (The Liberator Chronicles Volume 6) to give us new information about what happened to Jenna Stannis after battle damage forced her to leave the Liberator.
In a relatively short story, we uncover a tale of confusion amid the debris left behind by the war against the Andromedans. Each side must count the cost of the conflict, with both displaced humans and aliens struggling to find safety - and preferably a way home.
The planet Treadmill is suffering actual fallout from the war. First weather control failed, then fire fell from the sky, followed by ships that crashed onto its surface, ending its peaceful agricultural economy.
Into this mess comes Jenna Stannis, herself a fugitive and in need of assistance. Her subsequent encounters with the local population form the basis for the story. It is also another opportunity for Jenna to work to her strengths.
While it seems the humans have probably won the war, this means that the Andromedans must now find a way to survive. For humans, the difficulties are compounded because the aliens are shape-shifters who can infiltrate human society, while for the aliens, adopting another personality may have unforeseen consequences. It becomes increasingly difficult to know who to believe, who to trust, who is alive and who isn’t.
To some extent, the writer leaves us with more questions than answers, along with some interesting touches that include the continuation of a character from Andromeda One. There is a rare quiet moment when Jenna expresses her feelings for her former companions - her ‘family’ - which contrasts nicely with the disturbing instances where we are left not quite sure who killed who.
As Peter Anghelides comments, even though it is finished, the war is far from over, and for once the aliens may prove a bigger threat than the Federation. This is a fascinating thought, ripe with possibilities for further stories and the chance to keep the listeners guessing.
The interviews that follow give some insights into how each character approached their part. It was good to hear from them all, and to hear Sally Knyvette describing again why she left B7 and how she now feels about returning to it.
My one jarring note was Karib’s accent – not all farmers need to sound like the cast of The Archers!
Following the interviews, we are treated to almost ten minutes of music suites. There are longer versions of the snippets we hear between scenes and whole new themes as well as a couple that are familiar from previous Big Finish audios. Lots of brassy themes from the horn section, and hauntingly thoughtful quiet passages create an enjoyable and evocative mix. Thanks BF, for including this.
3. The Enemy by Katharine Armitage
Starring Jan Chappell and Sally Knyvette
“War makes people desperate: they don’t always know when to stop fighting.”
I have often thought Cally’s telepathy was under-used in the TV episodes. Here we have a tale that almost goes too far the other way, giving us a glimpse of what life might be like in a society of telepaths. The writer later describes how she saw Cally as having found friends and a future with Blake and the others, and now has a lot to lose.
After the war, having lost touch with the Liberator, Cally is alone and hungry for news of her friends – or indeed, any contact. So when she senses someone calling to her telepathically, she responds, and finds herself involved in problems she could never have imagined.
It is hard to describe the plot of The Enemy in much detail, because that might reveal too much about the previous story. Let’s just say that the fallout from the Intergalactic War continues, as do some of the same ideas and characters. We revisit the theme of alien encounters, with our attention directed towards on the point of view of the aliens. If they lost homes and families because the Liberator and its crew spearheaded the destruction of the alien fleet, who is the enemy here?
With Katherine Armitage as the author, I anticipated a personal and relationship-based tale, because in her other work for Big Finish she has tended to emphasise the internal: the emotions and imaginings. Here she also shows us that for the female of the species especially, revenge can take on darker and more vicious forms. Which is worse, physical or emotional torture?
Between telepaths, revenge could become very personal indeed, especially when one side previously trusted the other, as layer upon layer of cruelty is deliberately imposed on the victim. Innocent bystanders can accidentally become unwilling accomplices, compounding the problem. The listener is cleverly forced to consider whether circumstances can ever justify such ‘evil’ retribution.
The music from Jamie Robertson included some passages we have heard before, along with his characteristic intro- and outro- snippets, always appropriate and often strikingly beautiful. Sound design was in the hands of Naomi Clarke, who handles most of the changing scenarios well. However, I did find the soundscape challenging at times, and perhaps a little rushed, with the weird echo effects sometimes making it difficult to differentiate between voices. That meant I was encouraged to hear, in the interviews that follow, Jan Chappell (Cally) admitting that at times even she wasn’t sure where the script was going – and she had it in front of her! Sally Knyvette (Jenna) adds that she found it ‘uncomfortable’ to explore a side of her character that the TV series did not, and hoped future Jenna would find herself coming ‘full circle’.
The four short interviews with both backstage and cast do shed light on how a script is developed and how minor characters add colour and background to the events portrayed. But yet again, I find myself wishing there was more time given to this ‘making of’ side of these Big Finish audios. Blake’s 7 fans are fascinated by this kind of detail. I’m sure many of them would appreciate hearing more about how the stories come together backstage, and - dare I say it? – the bloopers!
Overall, this is a thought-provoking set of stories, with the balance skewed more towards personalities in crisis rather than the crisis itself. Wars change people and leave marks, as After the War attempts to show. It’s a topic that could be explored further – as I hope Big Finish plan to do.
After The War is available now on CD and Download from Big Finish.
You can listen to a free excerpt from Andromeda One here.
The audiobook Outlaw by Trevor Baxendale, read by Stephen Greif is available on Download here: Outlaw.
Liberator Chronicles Volume 6 is available on Download here.
The full range of Blake's 7 audios and books from Big Finish can be found HERE
Photos of Brian Croucher, Sally Knyvette and Jan Chappell courtesy of Big Finish.