I was, quite frankly, shocked at the revelation Swallows had written for B7 Reborn. Mainly because I was shocked ANYONE bar Aaaaronovitch was involved. Never once did I detect any other writer than the perpetrator of the frying pan shennanegins in the first episode. So, if they actually DID write for this range - and let's be honest, not one of them has ever gone on record as even knowing Blake's 7 exists let alone that they liked it - someone was script editing to the point of ghost writing the whole scenario. Is Ben Aaronovitch, so recalcitrent to tell us anything bar generic series details of the series, actually innocent of these crimes against pop culture? Since the sheer crapness of the dialogue elbowed out Marc Platt as sole architect of Traitor, let us see if ANYTHING of Swallows reaches my speakers...
From left to right: Avon, maybe-Servalan-or-Jenna, Blake, maybe-Vila, maybe-Travis-or-Gan and, by the way, what have they done to their faces? It looks like they've been superimposed over artists' impressions? Look at Blake? That nose isn't real? And once again Colin Salmon is the Auton left out in the sun...
CHAPTER ONE: Power
"The so-called Liberator. The misguided optimism of a lost cause."
There's not really much to this episode. Stephan G Travis (G is for Guisborne) is dragged before Servalan who demands to know why the fuck he never told her about the giant alien spaceship earlier. He says he did, she says, "Oh yeah" and then he tells her to fetch it for her as a present. It's little more than catch-up, as evidenced by Mezin's painful speech played in full (though showing us all that we've lost the only experienced audio actor of the whole bleeding lot with more talent and charisma than the rest of the cast put together). However, Swallows is already working his magic (between the long, long speeches that are very obviously the Evil Lunatic Script Editor, or ELSE as I shall dub it). For a start there is a massive retcon - or else a very desperately needed clarification - that Gizzy and Servalan never knew that Blake was aboard the Liberator. They knew he escaped and they knew a new spaceship was on their manor, but no connection between them. This makes Servalan's "Let Them Drink Soma" attitude slightly less cretinous, though the Bitch in White 2.0 is still annoyingly coy and acting like butter would not melt in her mouth. I must be accustomed to Kieth Allan's naked villainy, because I found Servalan's Bonnie Langford impersonations frankly irritating. God damn it, you're a corrupt and highly functional psychopath! ACT LIKE IT!
[And not in the Kaldor City way either, which involves you doing totally random and stupid things, pointing out the randomness and stupidity before adding "I'm a psychopath" which everyone knows is how all serial killers refer to themselves... But I was thinking more of TV's Servalan who in her first episode showed her credentials when she was genuinely baffled by her teaboy's problem with genocide. Or in Aftermath where she and Avon crash at the Mellanby household and within five minutes Avon is de facto uncle and everyone's written off Servalan as a superficial rich bitch with no manners whatsoever. Nevertheless, there is an echo of that here as Servie 2.0 instinctively dismisses Mezin's poor language skills as "she's only a Beta", showing her deep-rooted snobbery skillfully and subtlety.]
Gizzy continues to do what he does best - come across as simultaneously more intelligent but twice as pathetic as his boss and also use the expression "clear and present danger" like Lance Parkin wields "reverse the polarity of the neutron flow". I'm pretty sure Kelly's dark and brooding performance would work on TV, but on audio he comes across like he's had a bet with Zen about who can speak in monotone for longer. And it doesn't help as he gets a ranting speech about the Liberator being a Cthulu-like monster that sucks refineries dry. I mean, LOOK at the cover. That spaceship looks twice as inflexible as the original Liberator, and shows no signs of being able to out-gymnastic one of Ripley's Aliens and tear apart a cake, let alone a space station...
Another thing to bug me is the opening scene where a Texan called Ricks stops Gizzy in the corridor, hurls abuse at him for his recent anti-Liberator measures. It's not so much the objection, but the fact that Ricks seems to be trying to reference as many baffling sci fi shows as he can. For a start, the Arc Royal Fleet (???) was supposed to be fighting the Battle of Proxima (from Babylon Five) and taking on the Privateer Slavers (from Warriors Gate) and Asteroid Pirates (from The Space Pirates). Gizzy smacks Ricks down by a combined RTD namedrop and quote from Phantasmagoria: "I'm playing The Long Game and you can't see the board from where you're standing!" Mind you, the 'don't think outside your pay bracket' snub is a lot better. More evidence of ELSE is working on this scripts? You don't get such variance in quality from a single author in a single bit of dialogue, do you? Do you?
"Travis, we live in a delicate balance of power. Political strength rises and falls and a ship like that could tip the balance," Servie whispers in what is clearly supposed to be a seductive manner. "Imagine all that power under our control, enforcing Federation law. Look how it moves. As you say, instinctual, feral and deadly. We can't so lethal a vessel in the hands of a dissefected Beta. It cannot and will not be allowed to remain outside Federation control." You know, the original show assumed us intelligent enough to work out why everyone wanted control of the Liberator without all this bollocks...
So, all in all, this episode is an improvement. A bit like the second series of Torchwood, it does seem to be half and half an apology and retcon of the earlier crap. Is Liberator really good, or just not as complete crap as the stuff I have earlier on had to endure?
CHAPTER TWO: Outlaws
"It just doesn't feel right. We don't belong here."
The plot cuts to the Liberator with my all time favorite characters Vila 2.0 and Jenna 2.0. To be fair, Dobro's quite good in this episode, sounding surprisingly like a consistent human being, while I've discovered just why Vila 2.0 bugs me so much. It's not that he's a wind-up complaining machine and total jerk, it's that he doesn't actually sound like he cares. He speaks these lines about being scared and worried and never once actually convinces that he gives a damn. It's not so much bad acting per se, but it makes him come across as completely insincere and thus annoying. Plus, of course, we have to accept the idea that Vila is convinced the Liberator is evil and spying on him (despite Zen's reboot), and that he might get inducted (despite Zen's reboot), but NOT that he might get his head blown off by Zen. Even if we accept the idea he didn't give a tinker's cuss about Mezin, the fact she died on the flight deck (or Bridge as we must call it here) appropos of nothing doesn't seem to strike our theief. Mind you, Jenna doesn't win in the dialogue stakes as the author of this bit has that baffling hack idea that sci fi means characters randomly and pointlessly talking about sci fi - in this case, Jenna's not just bored, she's a spacer who chats about the heat death of the universe as you or I might use 'Christmas' as a measure of time. Yeesh.
Anyway, Vila's litany of complaints finally get a point as he uses his amazing powers of deduction to conclude that the Liberator... is alien. Sigh. It wasn't actually a secret, was it? I mean, even in B7 Reborn it's been stated in pretty much every episode. So Jenna's defense that the ship is suited to human beings is twice as pathetic as Vila missing it. I mean, in the very previous episode, Guisborne worked out it! And, like Guisborne, Vila fears that the aliens will come looking for their missing war ship. Wow. It's almost like they're building up to something... (to give it its dues, the idea that the System will come after the Liberator is more credible in this universe as it wasn't abandoned in a space battle but had a server crash).
Vila and Jenna return to the... Bridge... where Avon, Gan and Blake are tinkering with a console and Zen is being typically unhelpful in a scene that is so close to the original Blake's 7 - especially after the travesty I've had to suffer for the last twenty five chapters (hah, Travis-ty, get it?) - that I get a massive nostalgia buzz. Avon points out that ancient rights of salvage ("Finders Keepers") that the Liberator belongs to them, in a kind of unamusing wittless parody of Zaphod's "Property is theft, therefore theft is property therefore this ship is mine!" speech. Hopefully someone can keep count of how many poor Hitchhikers' homages these audios contain, because it just depresses me too much to count. As Gan bitches that all the instruction manuals are written in Auron (??), Jenna suddenly gets a panic attack that the Liberator might be off course by a tenth of a degree... clearly not remembering that Zen is there and supposed to compensate for such things. Once again, how did such a paranoid spaceaphobe get to be a notorious smuggler? Similar thoughts must strike Blake, who thinks they should all learn basic piloting techniques in case Jenna suffers a total personality failure starts trying to rip people's throats out. Again.
The crew discuss what to do now the Liberator is public enemy number one, two and three in a scene that Swallows clearly wrote as all the characters act and sound like they should. Avon suggests they flee to the frontier, Blake suggests they continue repairs and refueling, so Avon agrees to compromise. "What?" spits Blake. "And become PIRATES?! Paint a skull and crossbones on the hull?!" (I think ELSE has returned to the script editing chair) but Avon and Vila don't mind the idea of sailing the seven sectors living off the spoils of ships bound to be their inferior, and they don't even have to kill people. Blake points out that the Federation will just keep expanding and so Avon suggests they just keep moving. "You surprise me. I never thought you'd be so short-sighted," Blake says, and we must remember that Avon has saved the day six times in these audios compared to Blake who has... uh... well, if you call "nicking the keys" saving the day, a single once. Reeling from this chutzpah, Roj "Big Picture" Blake points out that basically they have the Liberator and the "power to alter the face of the galaxy!"
Ok, reason why the original series was much better # 2049: since Avon, Jenna et all lived with Blake for eight months, they know him well enough to know he'd use the Liberator against the Federation. Thus there was more interest in his methods rather than this "hey, kids, let's topple an empire!" grandstanding. This moves on to reason #2050: Blake was an amateur. Yes, he was a notorious rebel leader, but he was also completely green at space travel and his memories of his career were at the end of the day a vivid LSD nightmare. He was, therefore, improvising for pretty much most of the time, which made the character endearing in the way British TV always supports the amateur rather than the professional. Basically, Blake came across a lot better when he wasn't giving out "Feed the World!" speeches like he had just become Prime Minister and had a manifesto. Especially one as bad as:
"Liberator's technology is light years beyond what Earth's has and we can use it! There are dispossessed and disenchanted people all across Federation Space - the security forces keep them isolated! They stop them from connecting! They stamp out common cause! But if those people could be rallied, if they had a unifying force... We can turn this ship into a flagship against the Federation and despotic leaders like Servalan!"
"You're such an idealist, Blake," says Avon with disgust comparable to the reactions Jeff gets in Coupling. I'm sorry, Most Popular Revolutionary Ever and Avon's just twigged this? What the hell? Didn't he notice, you know, every single thing Blake has done in his presence ever since?
Suddenly, a fleet of Federation Pursuit Ships arrive at ludicrous speed, having somehow cloaked themselves with some bushes or something. Gan swears mightily how fucking retarded this all is as Jenna technobabbles like her life depends on it. Rather than, you know, dematerialize or something sensible like that, Blake orders all hands to the weapons, but tragically Mr. Gung Ho has been out Gung Hoed as the Pursuit Ships open fire first... um, don't they want to, you know, salvage the ship for Servalan?
And why couldn't Zen get to say "Plasma bolt launched"? Is it so much better to have Jenna squeal "They're firing!"? I mean, seriously?
CHAPTER THREE: Face Off
"Take a long hard look at this ship, Travis. It marks the end of the old order. It's a weapon the likes of which you've never seen. The Liberator is the herald of a new era, one where the Federation's injustices will not be tolerated, where they will be met by reprisals, by force!!!"
Despite the title, this episode sadly does not involve the cast cutting off their faces and swapping it with their mortal enemies. Or, tragically, with the original cast. Oh well. Instead we have Gizzy leading a flotilla of pursuit ships on the Liberator - amazingly enough only the second time this has happened in the audios and already as boring as hell as "the raptors" exchange space talk which boils down to "ooh, we hit it, I think, maybe, nothing's happening, is that bad?" as Gizzy wearily reminds everyone that Servalan wants this as her new Porsche and so they can't simply blow it up. Again, as the Liberator is a hundred times bigger than anything the Federation have, why are they so confident they can blow it up... and why the hell haven't we got a force field? That is, methinks, a retarded idea for an alien spaceship not to have a force field. This is the Liberator, not Starbug!
After having the crap kicked out of them, Blake has the brilliant idea of firing the guns (not neutron blasters, coz that'd sound stupid) even though they haven't recharged (recharged? From what? The last time they used it was blowing up Tepesh in Traitor!) and Gan gives ridiculously expositional descriptions. "Yes, sheared them right through the torpedo bay!" Why not something a tad more prosaic like, "Got the bastard!"? Avon points out that they are outnumbered and he considered the rest of the crew non-functional morons and suggest they dematerialize. It only takes a couple more direct hits before Blake decides to agree with top-flight hacker and the least idiotic character in the show and tells Zen to turn the "stardrive" up to 11. Stardrive. Give me strength.
Alas, Gizzy has a handy-dandy plot device called the Sensor Baffle (what a dull name) which EMPs Zen and the Liberator back to the stone age. Exactly how Gizzy got his hands on technology so perfectly in tune with an alien warship I dunno, but the whole crew are too much cowards to hit the power with all the scanners showing static, since they can't jump if they don't know where they're going. How the hell does that work, ELSE? They vanish into hyperspace, which is the point! Direction is immaterial in the short term! And, as Vila notes, "Can't you just look out the window?"
Gizzy rings up the Liberator and tells Mezin to kiss her ass goodbye. Since Avon needs a couple of days to rig up a counter-countermeasure to the Sensor Baffle, Blake decides to follow Vila's suggestion, look out the window to see where the Sensor Baffling pursuit ship raptor thingamajig is and get Gan to shoot it into teeny tiny pieces. However, even THIS will take the rest of the episode so our beloved leader must pad out the running time like there's no tomorrow which there might not be. Thus, he rings up Gizzy and tells the Space Commander that the biggest, baddest space warship ever is being run by Mr. Self-Harm Frying Pan Terrorist.
Now, this is kind of a good scene as completely smug Gizzy's face audibly falls as he realizes he's dealing with Blake. It's SUPPOSED to be up there with Robin using the pitch on Cyber-Gizzy in Childhood, but actually comes across like the first episode of Angel where our eponymous hero treats a two-bit villain like this is the Second Coming itself. But it's played a lot better and, out of context, could actually be quite entertaining. Even as he delivers the crippling putdown of "Rhetoric won't win your battles, and since you can't work that derelict it is worthless!" Gizzy sounds quite scared.
Anyway, Blake gives a long speech basically saying "We don't have to surrender peacefully, so we shall now kick your ass, bwahahahaha!" which is really quite scary if ELSE thinks the audience is supposed to think Blake is in the right, rather than a total nutter. He then nukes the pursuit ship that has the Sensor Baffle, restoring the Liberator to full power. But do they then escape? Oh no, that'd be dull. Instead they nuke all the remaining ships as well in a pointless bloodlust fury, but Blake spares the escape pods on the off chance that Travis will survive and pass on the message that Blake has the big spaceship of death. I mean, hell, Avon was prepared to spare defeated enemies (check out Aftermath where the tells Dayna not to kill his would-be murderer, "His friends might still manage it!"). And if Blake is so freaking determined to be noticed, why not carve SERVALAN SUX on the surface of a moon or something?
The episode ends with Gizzy ala Darth Vader, tumbling out of control in a space ship as the actor uses every last atom of his talent ot make "You can run, Blake, but you can't hide!" sound remotely convincing. But he can't, despite his best efforts. I'm sorry, did everyone else forget the scary psycho whispering of the original Travis, which I feel like quoting because it's a much better end to the episode. Or, indeed, anything...
With them gone, Travis cradled his false hand and looked up at the ceiling, imagining that to be the way Blake's ship had gone, not caring whether or not it was. Low and angry he said, "Run, Blake. Run. As far and as fast as you like, I'll find you. You can't hide from me. I am your death, Blake."
CHAPTER FOUR: Dead or Alive
"Do you have some trust issues, Blake?"
Some time has come and past, and I'm finally willing to return to Liberator to finish off the bleeding review if nothing else. This week starts with Vila hanging around Avon like a nerd trying to become cool by association. Avon 2.0 reveals another difference between the characters, as this one has a rather lazy sarcastic side - telling Vila he's casually planning to take over Zen and kill them all. Unlike Avon 1.0, who was often painfully honest as part of the cosmic irony that the dangerously insecure computer genius was technically the only honorable person in the galaxy. I wouldn't trust Avon 2.0 if he gave his word to make breakfast on Tuedays.
Anyway, Avon's tinkering with Zen is to generally stop the ship being complete crap and allow it to be bushwacked by pursuit ships and EMPs. Vila tries to beat me by pointing out the flaw in continuity before I can - that Avon was convinced such an adjustment would take days - but Avon points out that days HAVE passed and their body clocks are all fucked up from being in space with no sunlight to balance it out. Which is an interesting idea, I guess, as all bar Jenna were 'earther land lubbers' prior to the series beginning. Of course, this was probably dealt with in the missing four months in Space Fall so IN YOUR FACE! NATION: WIN!!!
On the Fligh... the Bridge... Jenna is being boring and spacey again as she smacks down Gan for assuming that the Federation might be hiding Pursuit Ships in the dead solar system they're currently hiding in. Well, screw you, bitch, that was the same logic you all had the LAST time Gizzy and his homies turned up! Blake has parked the Liberator next to an unstable star, just in case you didn't know our main character is insane and has a clear death wish and he now wants to travel to Rigel 4 (presumably to meet Kang and Kodos from The Simpsons). But when Avon and Vila turn up, Blake has another of his paranoid fantasies and assumes that Avon doing what he was told is a sign of total betrayal. Now, I might let this go except Aaronovitch was very and publically vocal that he had no desire to change the 'strong' personalities of Blake, Avon and Vila. And now they're basically different people entirely. More evidence the A-Man is ELSE's puppet?
Vila decides to show off his own awful characterization by picking a fight. Unlike his TV persona's blind faith in his friends, this one does not like Blake's fait accomplis and lack of democratic processes. For, if you remember, Blake did a little song and dance to Travis and completely blew their cover (despite only having chat over audio, it seems they all had their ugly mugs shown wide on TV screens to every possible survivor of their road rage, so we'll just go with this). Vila is convinced this was not, as we'd all assume, down to Blake being a complete idiot, but a deliberate ploy - now Avon, Vila, etc. are now known to be with him, they are public enemies of the Federation. They can't even flee the Liberator for their own devices, and they're all stuck on the Liberator with Captain "Frying Pan" Queeg.
"I'm not forcing anyone to do what they don't want to," pouts Blake pathetically, and the fact he can't even out-argue a weak dog like Vila 2.0 is a real kick to the bollocks of this uber-terrorist-massive-charismatic-finger-cutter. Assuming there are any bollocks after Rebel. Actually, this scene isn't bad and, had the original cast been there, this would be sizzling stuff. Apart from the fact that Jenna is so stupid she niether understands or cares Blake's betrayal and Gan doesn't give a crap either way. And the A-Man was so determined the lesser characters stand up for themselves to the audience, wasn't he? I dare say you could easily forget Gan is in it.
As the Liberator dematerializes, Servalan recieves the second of no-doubt-many-to-come "the Liberator kicked our asses" emails. Get used to it. Giving us a moment to learn that although Gizzy survived against all odds, Blake's 'restrained' massacre wiped out hundreds of people, our sulky antihero takes the phone and, after Servalan asks, "Where's my prize, Commander?" tells Servie to get off her fat ass and win it for herself for a fucking change and actually justify the waste of time, effort and sound design required to involve her.
No. Wait, that was just me, projecting. Gizzy bitches that he could have nuked the gigantic Liberator if Servalan hadn't thought it might look good in orbit around her garage (presumably blocking out the light of the sun), and that Psycho Blake is in charge of the space death ship. "He'll never surrender that ship," Servie pouts in a clear ELSE moment, "Not to us! His hatred for the Federation and me is far too strong!"
Wow. No shit, Servie. Are you going to sit around crying into your adrenaline and soma or are you gonna do something? What, you're telling Gizzy to do... exactly what he was doing in chapter one? Wow, brilliant. And "you don't tolerate failure"? Except apart from those last three times, then? In fact, Servie, I'm trying to find a moment of you actually do anything EXCEPT tolerate failure?
Servalan, Supreme Commander of the Terran Federation? No fist. Don't you ever appear in this series again!
CHAPTER FIVE: Safe Harbour
(I'm working on it.)