In the distant future, the tyrannical Federation decides to do away with its most persistent opponent: freedom fighter Roj Blake. Blake is sentenced to exile on the prison colony planet Cygnus Alpha after a conveniently quick trial convicts him on false charges that he molested several children. Aboard the prison ship London en route to Cygnus Alpha, Blake meets fellow prisoners Jenna Stannis, a hard-bitten smuggler, and cynical computer expert Kerr Avon. When they’re enlisted as skilled cannon fodder for a mission to salvage an enormous alien spacecraft, the three prisoners take the opportunity to make an escape attempt. The Federation officer overseeing the prisoners, Mezen, is trapped aboard the alien ship with them. Blake decides to recruit more crew memebrs from the remaining prisoners ferried to Cygnus Alpha by the London, but he finds them under a different iron fist there, as prisoners already living there have set up their own strict society, ruling by the fear of God. Only two of the prisoners, master thief Vila Restal and convicted killer Oleg Gan, opt to join Blake’s crew. Across the galaxy, in the seat of power on Earth, Space Commander Travis – who hunted Blake before his capture by the Federation – warns the newly-promoted Supreme Commander Servalan that Blake is more of a threat than the Federation’s strategists think he is.
Cast: Derek Riddell (Roj Blake), Colin Salmon (Kerr Avon), Carrie Dobro (Jenna Stannis), Dean Harris (Vila Restal), Owen Aaronovitch (Oleg Gan), India Fisher (Lora Mezin), Daniela Nardini (Servalan), Craig Kelly (Travis), Michael Praed (Soris), Tim Plester (Clinician Havant), Sarah Matravers (Revella), Jonathan Rhodes (Prosecutor), Dominic Cotter (Reporter), Robert Lock (Captain of the London), Daniel J. Geduld (Trooper Tanzig), Barbara Joslyn (Sheeva / Computer voices), Frances Barber (Judge Helga Ramotswe), James Gaddas (Sub-Commander Raiker), Nick Brimble (Borchu)
LogBook entry and TheatEar review by Earl Green
Review: Anyone who wants to sell me on a “reimagining” of Blake’s 7, the classic BBC space opera which ran from 1978-81 and happens to be among my top five all-time favorite SF series, has an uphill battle in front of them. B7 Media, the entity formed by producer Andrew Mark Sewell to acquire and exploit the rights to Terry Nation’s Blake’s 7 charatcers and situations, almost has even more of an uphill struggle by default: after years of talk (and the hasty exit of Paul “Avon” Darrow as a staunch supporter), Sewell’s much-mooted revival of the series has borne very little fruit. This first installment of a reimagined Blake’s 7 in audio form rockets through the events of the original series’ first three episodes in record time – it reminds me of Tim Burton’s Planet Of The Apes remake, which compressed the first hour of the Charlton Heston original into something like 20 minutes. This is kinda like that.
Rebel rips through the most salient points of original series episodes The Way Back and Space Fall inside of half an hour. Most of the political intricacy and characterization of these episodes is jettisoned in the retelling. The central conflicts of the original series are oversimplified drastically, and indeed Blake’s motivation from the original show’s premiere is completely missing. We just know that he’s a rebel, and the Federation, being the wearers of black hats, are the bad guys, full stop. We don’t truly get a sense of why Blake is a thorn in the Federation’s side, so in the end, we’re left with two rather antisocial entities and only the broadest strokes of background to tell us who’s being rooted for in the storytelling perspective.
The cast isn’t bad, once you get used to Blake and Servalan being Scottish, Jenna being American, and so on. (It’s almost as if the producers of this new audio version read “Liberation” cover-to-cover and made note of that book’s constant protests of received pronunciation.) Carrie Dobro, best known from the Babylon 5 spinoff Crusade, basically plays Jenna as her Crusade character Dureena Nafeel. The actor who seems to have the firmest grip on his character is Colin Salmon (Dr. Moon from the Doctor Who TV two-parter Silence In The Library / Forest Of The Dead), who gives Avon a cool detachment without necessarily parroting Paul Darrow’s performance. Servalan sounds too young (Jacqueline Pearce wasn’t that old in the original series, but she had a kind of low, husky smoker’s voice that offset her appearance to the character’s advantage). Vila is played almost as a comedy sketch character. I do have to give kudos to India Fisher, best known as Charley from Big Finish’s Doctor Who audio plays; it took me a while to even recognize her voice, as her character and performance are about as far from Charley as you can get.
My biggest beef with this first installment of the recast, rewritten Blake’s 7 isn’t the casting, or even the pacing and the trims made to the original story. Surprisingly, my complaint is that it’s not different enough. There really aren’t that many changes – it’s just that the whole thing is suddenly on speed. I expected wholesale-changes-within-a-skeletal-version-of-the-same-framework – think of the differences between 1970s Battlestar Galactica and the new series here – but it ends up being more like a sped-up retelling of the original scripts from hazy memories of the ’70s series. I was bracing for Galactica-style reinvention but was instead greeted with the edited highlights as acted out by a new cast.