Warship

Blake's 7At Star One, the Liberator alone stands guard at the recently-breached energy barrier protecting the Milky Way galaxy from an onslaught of aliens from the Andromeda Galaxy. With only one gap in the barrier, the Liberator is able to hold most of the invasion fleet at bay, long enough for a fleet of armed civilian ships from the outlying Federation colonies closest to Star One to arrive and take up the fight. The fight hasn’t been without cost, however; the Liberator urgently needs to withdraw to allow Zen’s auto-repair systems to bring the ship back up to strength. Blake finds it difficult to stay in the Liberator’s medical unit, but Cally has other concerns – namely, whether Blake would have risked widespread civilian casualties just to destroy Star One and bring down the Federation. But before she can spend more time trying to find the limits of Blake’s conscience, Cally is needed on the flight deck; Avon is leading the charge against the invasion, and needs all available hands at their stations.

As the Liberator moves to the rear of the action, away from Star One, a large object unexpectedly passes through space nearby. Orac and Zen identify it as a planet in an irregular orbit around Star One’s sun – a planet with a much older Federation installation than Star One itself. Curious about the planet, but unwilling to spare anyone from the Flight Deck, Avon convinces Blake to teleport down and investigate. Concerned for Blake’s safety, and still troubled by his recent behavior, Cally goes with Blake. The planet turns out to be dangerously cold and icy, with an underground facility whose personnel are kept in a state of deep sleep, awaiting reactivation if necessary. They discover that if the planet’s orbit intersects with Star One’s, and the installation’s sensors detect that the barrier is down, a massive plasma bomb will detonate, destroying a huge area of space and everything in it, including any invading force…and any other ship around. Blake tries to summon help from the Federation, but only gets a response from Servalan, who is rapidly approaching the front (not to lead her troops, but to put in a photo op as the new, self-appointed President of the Federation, following her deposing the existing President on Earth). Servalan refuses to do anything to defuse the bomb, but just plans to claim credit for whatever damage it inflicts on the growing alien fleet.

As Blake and Cally explore the surface, Avon and the others on the Liberator deal with alien mines that attach themselves to the Liberator’s hull and begin causing extensive damage to the ship’s systems. Once Blake and Cally are back aboard, it becomes apparent that the planet’s orbit will bring it close to Star One shortly, setting off the Federation’s nearly-forgotten doomsday weapon. Servalan thinks she can outrun it – but it turns out that even the Liberator can’t do that.

Order this CDwritten by Peter Anghelides
directed by Ken Bentley
music by Alistair Lock

Cast: Gareth Thomas (Blake), Paul Darrow (Avon), Michael Keating (Vila), Jan Chappell (Cally), Sally Knyvette (Jenna), Jacqueline Pearce (Servalan), Alistair Lock (Zen/Orac)

Notes: This audio story, the first full-cast Blake’s 7 audio drama produced by Big Finish, fills the gap between Star One (1979) and Aftermath (1980).

LogBook entry and review by Earl Green

Review: If you’ve ever watched Star One and Aftermath back to back, there’s obviously some missing information there; time has passed and the Liberator is much the worse for wear than it was when the second season ended with Avon shouting “Fire!” Warship fills in the blanks. The invasion is all but over at the beginning of Aftermath, and Warship explains why. In the best traditions of these formative first steps in story arc plotting, the events of Warship ask at least as many questions as they answer: if the older Federation facility is two centuries older than Star One, that piece of information resets the clock on when the threat of an Andromedan invasion first became known – and raises ever more questions about how those events went down, who was involved, and what the Federation was like back then. It’s almost as if there’s a whole spinoff just begging to happen there.

But what Warship is really concerned with is the iceberg of which we only saw the tip in Star One – namely, how far Blake was willing to go in the name of toppling the Federation. If Star One was responsible for weather control, air/space traffic control and countless other autonomous functions that nobody has had to even think about manually controlling for decades, how many people would die as a result of Blake destroying Star One? To provide a contrast for Blake’s relentless drive to destroy the Federation, Warship wisely reminds us that Travis, too, was willing to destroy Star One, allow the alien fleet into Federation space unfettered, and cause the same number of deaths, because Travis was insane. The unspoken question that Cally repeatedly comes close to asking is: could Blake have done essentially the same thing and not be insane himself?

Blake clearly doesn’t want to have that conversation, and that gives Gareth Thomas a chance to turn in a surprisingly introspective performance, given that Warship is all about giving Blake a last hurrah of sorts…but it’s not a last hurrah that reassures us of Blake’s heroism, it’s one that leaves us questioning it. The other cast members get their own moments to shine, and it’s especially gratifying that Jenna (Sally Knyvette) has several moments where, before her character exits the TV series alongside Blake, she gets to be the ex-space-smuggler badass that the show often implied she was, but seldom gave her opportunities to show that experience and savvy. (Cally, on the other hand, is somewhat reduced to being Blake’s nursemaid here – that much, at least, feels completely and kind of sadly authentic to the TV series.) One element of the script that didn’t thrill me was the constant dogpiling of Vila – it seemed as though everyone had a chance to insult him, even though his skills did come into play in the course of the story. Servalan puts in something amounting to a glorified cameo, but even if Blake’s antics don’t decisively turn the tide of his fight for freedom from tyranny, it’s nice that he does have one last opportunity to deliver Servalan a richly-deserved comeuppance, one that leaves her in the position in which we find her in Aftermath.

Portraying a conflict whose opening volley and end conditions were shown on screen, Warship has the unenviable job of taking things where the TV series left them, and then leaving things where the TV series picked up; there’s a real danger that the whole thing is so hidebound to those two sets of variables that it can’t tell its own story and surprise us. The fact that it can, and it does, makes Warship worthy of a listen.