The Dust Run / The Trial

Blake's 7: The Early Years - The Dust Run / The TrialThe Dust Run: Having grown up as a “spacer”, young Jenna Stannis considers piloting a spacecraft to be a pastime… and a profession. This brings her into conflict with a fellow hotshot pilot named Townsend, another spacer, who challenges her to the Dust Run: a hazardous race through a dense asteroid belt in which the pilot has no computer assistance. Jenna’s sure that Townsend just wants to get into her pants, but in fact he’s playing for much higher stakes.

The Trial: Jenna is in Federation custody after things go horribly wrong in a violent attempt to force transparency about the government’s overturning of the recent presidential election won by Roj Blake. Worse yet, her interrogator – and legal advocate – is Townsend, someone who she thought she knew… but also thought she knew he was dead. But everything she knew about Townsend was wrong, and Townsend tries to convince her that everything she knew about her own criminal activities was wrong. He convinces her to alter her story before her trial, and by the time her verdict is handed down, everything Jenna thought she knew about everyone may be wrong.

Order this story on CDwritten by Simon Guerrier
directed by Alistair Lock
music by Simon Russell

Cast: Carrie Dobro (Jenna Stannis), Benedict Cumberbatch (Townsend), Stephen Lord (Nick)

LogBook entry and TheatEar review by Earl Green

Review: Another very effective double-header along the lines of Point Of No Return / Eye Of The Machine, this double dose of backstory for Jenna is dramatically satisfying not only for exposing what makes the character tick, but for getting things just right with its remit as a prequel: without losing any dramatic tension, The Trial puts Jenna in exactly the predicament she’s in when we met her in the first episode of the reimagined Blake’s 7 series’ “current” timeline. The Dust Run sets up Jenna’s background and her character, and The Trial shows how Jenna relates to the Federation, to Blake’s Freedom Party movement, and precisely how she wound up being sentenced to deportation on Cygnus Alpha.

The sad thing is, the character of Jenna was never ever this well-defined on TV: after a lumpen attempt to give her a backstory involving a shady past with a stereotypical Arab-style rogue (Bounty) on TV, Jenna was quickly reduced to sitting in the teleport room, pining away for Blake, and presumably helping Cally make tea and toast while everyone else was off having adventures. In the first couple of episodes, Jenna was a tough-as-nails, hard-edged character; in the third television episode, the moment she traded in her dingy clothes for something glamorous from the Liberator’s handily-stocked wardrobe, the evolution of Jenna as played by Sally Knyvette came to a dead standstill for the remainder of her time on the show (through no fault of the actress, who lobbied unsuccessfully to return to the character’s early-episode hard edges). This incarnation of Jenna displays some feminine wiles, but doesn’t seem like the kind of person who’s likely to emerge from the bowels of the Liberator sporting a Farrah Fawcett flip.

While the portrayal of Jenna is quite distinct from the original, actress Carrie Dobro has a ghost of her own to fight, namely keeping Jenna from turning Jenna into her Babylon 5/Crusade character, Dureena. It’s a little hard not to make the comparison, but that’s hardly Dobro’s fault since B5/Crusade creator J. Michael Straczynski is such a self-proclaimed fan of the original Blake’s 7. In some ways she’s simply coming full-circle to the source material, and in any case her performance carries the whole thing along very well.

This volume of the “EarlyYears” series, along with the previously mentioned Avon and Travis prequel episodes, are intriguing enough to make me curious about returning to the “main” timeline for more non-prequel stories. However, the recent announcement that B7 Media has been commissioned to create two scripts for a TV re-imagining of Blake’s 7 for Sky TV is starting to make it seem unlikely that audio Blake’s 7 will be getting out of prequel territory anytime soon, which is a pity since the prequels are turning out to be quite good and they’re running out of main characters to “prequelize.” (Editor’s note: since this review was written, the Sky TV remake plans have fallen through.)