And guess who they got to wrote it? Yes, the A-Man!
And he's decided to show how Vila and Gan first met - you know, the sort of thing that Nicola Mody did the definitive version of here - because he seems to have forgotten to fill in certain details in the finished episodes. But, and this is the real but, but instead of Fagin/Thomas Dodd from Spare Parts/whoever they got to play Vila in the audios, they've got Michael Keating! They've got Michael Keating, Vila 1.0 to play Vila 2.0.
This is like getting Adam West to appear as the lead in Batman Begins.
One can only assume that David Jackson's malingering excuse of being dead stopped them getting him to play Gan and instead stuck with Owen "Nepotism? Moi?" Aaronovitch instead. Actually, Owen's not particularly bad in the role given the similarity of voice and the fact he has little to no personality. And no, that does NOT mean I want the nickname "Cat Strangler" to turn up. In any context.
Starting off now...
Presumably it's cut into the same five minute or less segment so it can be played on digital radio, or maybe A-Man cannot concentrate for more than that amount of time on any given subject. Certainly I was shocked to realize that the tribal drum plus voice over of the audios was much better than the BBC-issued organ-grinder version as the campest, most blocked-of-nose voiceover man minces "A Blake's 7 adventure" like he's some kind of PJ Woodhouse character spawned by the devil. God, that version of the theme is HORRIBLE! And it seems that is the ONLY version of it the BBC have!? I could get a better version off the DVD menus!! Is this some kind of full-fisted revenge from Dudley Simpson?
After the musical equivalent of a kick in the bollocks by way of greetings, we start the story proper. And it's a drunken Vila being dragged out of a pub by Gan. Well, brilliant A-Man, you've only completely missed the point of your AWFUL title! Christ, When Vila Met Gan... That's almost as bad as Horror of Glam Rock or Grand Theft Cosmos! And why is it that all the audios have Vila completely ratfaced? When the only time on TV he was seen drunk was once on a schoolies' week bender and the other time he was either lying or possessed by evil vampire sand! Frankly, Vila sounds more like Keating's character from Year of the Pig than the bloke he did on TV, WHICH RATHER DEFEATS THE PURPOSE, DOESN'T IT?
Nevertheless, Keating's comic timing has not deserted him as his rapid fire "So... we have no cash?" more than a little reminds of Bernard Black and his dimwitted barely-human milk-fed gimp assistant. Who is also quite happy to beat people up which may or may not be relevent if Gan 2.0 ever gets a limiter. Hang on a second... you're kidding me?!
Forgive me, faithful readers, but it appears that this is merely the prologue to Vila and Gan's origin story as this bit occurs during their planet leave and Vila quickly contacts the Liberator to get a shuttle to pick them up. Ben, man, what is wrong with the concept of teleports?! If alien shuttles can head to commerce planets without trouble... why didn't they just leave it there for Vila and Gan? This all is just a fog around the real problem: that Vila and Gan would be trusted off on their own. On a bender. I've heard enough of this series to know that when it comes to loyalty and trustworthiness, the TV series was like the Brady Bunch compared to these backstabbing idiots!
However, all the shuttles are being used by the others for an unspecified reason and so Vila gets the vaguely-offensive Zen impersonator answering machine who is three times less helpful than the average BPay service. So Vila and Gan are left wandering around bitching at the complete lack of teleport facilities, with Vila having a vision of being able to flick a switch and teleport to a planet with his own karioke version of Dudley Simpsons' 'budababudababump!' which Gan is not sure should be part of an official materialization process.
2. The Contract
"Well, I couldn't help noticing, even when you grabbed me by the throat and threw me into the service lift and dragged me out here, that, satorially, you lacked a certain... something."
Our story begins as all decent stories do one thousand metres above the Thames where Vila and Gan are admiring the South Coast in the exact same way post-nuclear-holocaust civilizations inside metal survival domes don't. Vila is showing off the sort of encyclopedic knowledge we all know and love him for (warning: sarcasm, as he perpetrates urban legends as historical fact on countless occasions on TV), explaining that 23rd Century Britain is made up of those wierd futuristic skyscrapers always being prophesized by 1970s Doctor Who annuals, "racked up like dinner plates in a washing up rack". So we've mastered nanotechnology, anti gravity architecture... but NOT wasting water on washing up? Progress my ass. And now Vila is a Beta Grade rather than a Delta, is he? Well, why SHOULD a huge part of his character history be kept along with the original actor, anyway?
After explaining all this in the most condescending and expositional manner outside Big Finish's stage play adaptations, Vila reveals he is in fact a fervant revolutionary stealing from the rich to give to the poor as part of helping the Common Man throw off their shackles! But it turns out with one of those tricks you can only really do on audio that Vila's little Hitchhiker's-style summary of 23rd century living is because he's been snatched by a thug and dangled over a balcony. The thug being Gan, who works for a local fat cat unhappy at his pocket being picked by Vila. Who of course is as blaze at dangling over oblivion as Ace Rimmer having a three way. And thus not ONLY completely unlike the TV version, but also the audio version at once!
A-Man, do you have some kind of short term memory problem or something?
Anyway, Gan doesn't throw Vila to his death because he was only trying to scare the little thief who rather unconvincingly insists that Gan succeeded. The end. Guh, what now?!
3. The Epsilon
"Can you do anything else? Breathe methane? Electrocute people with your bare hands? Fly?"
After a mere ten long seconds of mechanical sound effects, Vila pleasantly invites Gan into his dingy and miserable hovel, the whole "by the ass crack of the infinite you bastard you just tried to kill me" business completely forgotten. Over a couple of cans of "Spanker" (...?), Gan quizzes Vila over his opinions of the Myer family, an Alpha clan elsewhere in this apartment block who run a corner shop. Vila dismisses them due to their upbringing, wealth, lack of decent locks, lack of decent goods to nick, before starting to lust after the "pnuematic" young daughter who, in his words, resembles a blow-up doll.
This leads quite unevenly into Gan who has fallen completely in love with Lola (for that is her name), as they exchanged a smile while the latter was "kicking about". But nothing else. At all. Vila is not exactly impressed at Gan's psychotic belief that a friendly smile means "a CONNECTION!!!" (as young Olag continues to scream), or Gan's desire to marry her, and somehow thinks Vila can help. This kind of obsession is actually a bit creepy, since I can't think of a Nigel Verkoff relationship as comparably awful. And he wants to bang his own sister.
Oddly enough, Vila is more concerned that the class divide is what will keep Gan from his beloved stalkee - as she is an Alpha Grade and he is an Epsilon. Now, as far as I can work out, the scale is:
Alpha Plus - government and effective royalty
Alpha - Upper Class, Private Schools
Beta - Middle Class, Ordinaries
Delta - Working Class, the peasants
Gamma - worthless bums often sold as slaves with nothing
So, Epsilon makes Gan somewhere below Mutoid and live stock level. And as Vila notes, they don't actually HAVE Epsilon Grades on Earth. Over to you to explain that one, A-Man. Oh wait, Gan is in fact a genetic experiment hence his huge hulking physique (and doesn't the bloke on the cover look just like one?), but no other cool superpowers. Amazing. Terry Nation just had him a human adapted to life on another planet, but no, Gan has to be a GELF! Obviously brain chips controlling violence would be a tad too much like Buffy.
Since he knows that Lola Myer's family will wiki-search him right away and discover his ghastly social status, Gan has come to Vila to help change his wiki entry. Vila insists that only a "top flight hacker" could do it (odd how such terminology has dated worse than the original "computer genius", eh?) and he just happens to know one called Kerr Avon. Whoops, sorry, we're supposed to be cryptic on that point. But Vila knows that his... er... contact will not be cheap and Gan wants Vila to help him get some cash together, since otherwise he'll throw Vila off the freaking building. A-Man, what really was wrong with the original Gentle Giant, huh?
4. The Deal
"Possessions are burdon upon the soul. We're doing them a favor."
Gan and Vila head up to Alpha territory as Vila gives another anti-aristo rant about the cleanliness of the upper class and we learn that Paradise Towers style cleaning robots tidy the skyscrapers. Rather than using that nanotechnology to just make the surfaces dirt-repelling (another Terry Nation idea abandoned by the A-Man). In either case, why do the robots only tidy the Alpha levels? Are they personalized to the families or something? Don't they fit into the lifts?! Bollocks! Utter bollocks!
Further sweaty, plum-sized testicles can be found in Vila's nifty Orac device which he happens to have. Although every home is protected by a firewall installed by insurance companies (no, I'm not making this up), Vila's gadget can, if taken directly outside the home, interface with light fittings and from there with everything else in the home that ALSO has a computer chip. I'm left wondering if it would be more efficient to work out how the hell Vila's come across the most powerful technology interface ever, or else try and work out exactly WHAT Vila and Gan are doing wandering around posh suburbia in the middle of the night being as suspicious as possible. It's a good thing this Federation doesn't have mobile phones or security cameras, eh?
Vila is itemising all the potential stolen goods to hand, intending to steal the antiques as they're the most valuable things people tend to have (um... yes, but they're also the easiest to trace, aren't they?). Gan, meanwhile, has forgotten all about his sick desire for Lola and is coming across as all moral to the professional thief he has hired for the express purpose of BEING AN AMORAL PROFESSIONAL THIEF!!
The plot then stops as they notice a poster saying Vote Saxon. Sorry, Vote Blake. "Don't you ever upload a news feed?" demands Gan in another bit of realistic dialogue. Why the hell is Blake putting up posters - in Alphaville no less - when he relies on the internet so much? Why is Blake so popular when, according to Vila, every political party promises the same freedom and valuables? Why is the corrupt Federation holding elections anyway?!? And why is the professional thief so gobsmacked by a poster he forgets what they're up to?! At least his dismissal of Blake as a creepy nutter shows Vila hasn't lost his ability to judge character.
However, what with Gan the incredible hulk and Vila loitering around a part of the tower they're not welcome and shouting angrilly about the corruption of the government, they've attracted the attention of Nancy the Knife, one of Gan's fellow hired goons. And, as any normal person would do, they stand around discussing at length her tendency to rip off testicles and microwave human brains. Rather than, say, legging it pronto. Having finally twigged that his fat cat boss might be annoyed at his moonlighting with a creditor, Gan goes to speak with Mr. Rickitt who might actually get a speaking part in this heavy-handed two-hander.
Oh no, false alarm. The next day, Vila is getting wasted on Soma from the planet Courageous in a roof-top garden in the sort of subtle rendezvous that all professional criminals arrange. Gan reveals his boss will allow them to try to risk their necks robbing places on the condition they copy all the harddrives on the houses they are nicking from. For some reason. Vila takes this on the chin and, continuing this Chathamesque work ethic, decides that instead of doing all the nicking and stuff, they should instead steal some smart gear and gatecrash a disco that so-obviously-not-a-transvestite Lola might be visiting!
...remind me why I downloaded this.
5. The Romantic
Well, it wasn't for this! The day after the disco, the very hungover Vila is idly throwing up when Gan pops in and reveals he wooed Lola by... dangling her over the edge of the balcony in the exact same way he did with Vila in the second episode. And she liked it.
That's it. The whole episode only lasts a minute, including the twenty-two seconds of opening doors, drinking cans of beer, vomitting and flushing lavatories. Gimme strength.
6. The Break-In
"You see? This is what happens when you don't leave crime to the professionals!"
Gan and the still-hungover Vila decide to go ahead with the robbery like the professionals they are - they made a list and Gan checked it twice! But Ben ADHDronovitch has forgotten that Gan was completely disinterested in his employer's desire for the computers of their victims, as here that burning question is foremost in his mind! Unfortunately, Vila is too busy laying ground rules for burglary (he really should have done this before they broke into private property) to notice the distinctive sound of police sirens, unchanged for over three hundred years. Grrr.
The sirens fade long enough for Gan to note, "That was unsettling!" before what seems to be a homage to Reckless Kelly has every squad car in the land turn up. Exactly how they surround a doorway INSIDE an apartment block over 1000 metres off the ground is one of those funky details you can't expect an experienced TV, radio and novel author like the A-Man to sort out can, you? That's just not fair! Especially as we only know are told that the entire armed forces have not come for Vila and Gan, but instead two doors down where explosions and gunfire can be heard from the Myer's window front showroom! Gan instantly runs off to find his beloved... though considering this is a girl who gets kicks out of near-death experiences, she's probably the one using all the guns and explosives in the first place!
Scenes then occur which would require more than two actors, so let's rejoin the story when Paradise Towers is being evacuated and Vila is overlooking his famed survival instinct by looting all the deserted apartments armed only with a cricket bat. Sweet Onion Chutney, yes. A cricket bat. Not only must we stomach a world that should have forgotten what PENCILS are still has cricket, but that a non-aggressive pacifist like Vila would wield one in the first place. I mean, if said cricket bat was one of the antiques he was nicking, it could be coped with but... anyway, he instantly bumps into Gan. Gan reveals he got the Myers family out of danger and "down to the train station" which is a thousand metres below, so even with a lift that would have taken a lot longer than you'd think. Unless the train stations are above street level. In any case, Vila isn't the only looter and mobs of non-speaking hoodlums are ravaging the Myer shopfront windows! It's the kind of anarchistic breakdown of society that shatters Gan's soul to the core... presumably that's why he didn't escape with Lola and her family and make a good impression on her family.
Vila reveals that the government have locked down London and declared this looting 'an unacceptable breakdown of law and order'. Exactly how Vila the ignorant and hungover recluse found this out is unknown, but Gan explains that this overreaction is the government diverting attention from the fact Blake won the election. When did that happen? While Vila was asleep that morning? How the hell did the Federation let Blake win when they can control everything? Hell, they can control the elections on OTHER PLANETS! And riots... aren't they doping the water supply with suppressents? Aren't the people supposed to be brainwashed?! Why the hell did no one mention Blake winning the election in Rebel? According to that they got to him before he won, brainwashed him and got him to pull out of the race! I mean... GAHHH!
But the Federation have instead decided to end the whole democracy idea and remove all voting rights from the entire populace. Subtle, huh? They've only managed to piss off the entire populace and triggered a 28-Days-Later collapse of society - what the hell were they worried Blake was going to do instead? And did you notice we've gone from 'minor looting blown out of proportion by the state' to 'worldwide chaos' in less than twelve seconds? Cause we have? Benji, is there some sort of medication you should be taking?
Returning to the Chatham vibes, Vila and Gan decide to head back to Vila's dirty bachelor pad to get drunk - since all the pubs will already be being looted.
7. The Plan
"If Mr. Rickitt doesn't want it stolen, then that's what I want to steal!"
Much time has passed and society continues to crumble at the same rate as the plot. Vila is nicking other people's emergency supplies to feed him and Gan as they hide in his room like some demented offspring of Black Books and Threads. Over a couple of self-heating cans of Curried Goat (....????), Vila and Gan discuss how monumentally fucked they are. Even if law and order are restored, they will soon be killed by the underworld for not carrying out the burglaries and paying off their debts - especially now all the Alphas have fled and now cannot be robbed since all their stuff was looted anyway. Vila suggests they rob Rickitt before he can send the hitmen around (and... what? Sell him his own stuff and hope he doesn't notice??!), by heading to the floor above his apartment and lowering themselves into his pad.
Since Gan is freakishly huge and strong and Vila slight and petite, they can get around the motion sensors and power source detectors by Vila being lowered in and out via a bungee cord, a cunning plan that Master Restal worked out while Gan was dangling him upside down earlier on in what we shall hereby refer to as the plot. Gan is not convinced as Vila doesn't NEED to be put into this quite life-threatening position, and yet is doing so. I quite agree, but Vila's been so out of character in this adventure I barely noticed this "strange" behavior.
"OH SHIIIIIIIIIIIT!" wails Vila as he begins this death-defying Mission: Impossible sort of stunt as he wanders around the place bragging that he started his career of professional theft thirty years ago, the day he was big enough to pick up a crowbar (Vila's incredibly violent, remember? No, nor did I), and now considers himself the best thief in London, perhaps even Europe! So, he's quite humble compared to Vila 1.0, isn't he? Alas, this pomposity allows Vila to trip off some military hardware, so he steals Rickitt's safe of uncertain content (probably fan letters from Mark Goacher) and is hauled to safety before a firestorm can happen.
8. The List
"Maybe we should stop thieving and put our skills to better use? Maybe we should take a stand against the tide of corruption that's overwhelming the Federation? We could be like the masked vigilantes from ancient literature, fighting injustice forever... hahah, had you going, didn't I?"
Vila and Gan open the safe with our lockpick's usual stealth... by drilling it open. Inside, they find no cash, just bits of paper (so I was right! Sparacus' secret love notes! I knew it!) and a list of people who have oh-so-conveniently perished in the riots earlier in the story. Unimpressed Vila instantly identifies it as a Death List and idly looks for anyone on the list they know personally, while Gan comes up with the revolutionary ferver quoted above. I didn't realize he was joking at first since this cretinous and cliched emo rants are identical to every single other one I've heard in these audios. Parody requires exaggeration, remember, A-Man?
But Gan does have a new plan, that he and Vila head off to Wolthamstow, Mice and Men style, to start a new life with some sheep. There they can enjoy the pubs, rob the rich and woo the still-definitely-a-woman-no-doubt-about-it Lola. So, I guess civilization HASN'T ended then? Or has it as Gan bemoans the pointlessness of stealing money with nothing to spend on? I'm confused.
Seriously, this IS the same Ben Aaronovitch who wrote Rememberance of the Daleks, right? He hasn't had a sinister brain swap operation with Chris Chibnall has he? Cause, seriously, that would explain a lot.
"I need a drink."
With the flashback over we return to the drunken Vila and Gan loitering in a bus terminal coming up with ridiculous schemes to steal spaceships on the grounds that since no one expects anyone to try and hotwire a space shuttle, it will ergo not have the safeguards that cars have. Amazingly enough, they succeed, but they have stolen the shittiest planet hopper known to science fiction which doesn't seem to understand what 'escape velocity' means. Are we aiming for Gan throwing Vila out an airlock?
Desperately, they ring up Zen to save their sorry asses, but our Main Computer is sick of them ringing him up every five minutes asking for help and tells them they can kiss their arses goodbye as they have a minute before they burn up in the atmosphere. Now, actually, I was expecting him to teleport the winos out of danger to go with the odd title (mind you, most titles in this farrago have been pointless) and because of Vila's gibbering in episode one about teleports. But no, that'd be way too logical...
That's what they did. With a "funky" new remix of the teleport music.
OK, A-Man, explain why Zen didn't do that earlier? And how he managed it without bracelets? And how does this fit in with Rebel and the others since AFAICR, they don't have teleport before the series ends? Mind you, explaining why Vila looks, sounds and acts completely different is probably not going to be explained either. And of course they decide not to tell Blake and the others about their new ability because, well, it's far too much bother and they might get in trouble.
The End. Cue that bloody awful music.
In conclusion, When Vila Met Gan is not as bad as I feared. It's certainly easier on the ears than Rebel. The only real failing on the acting front is that Keating simply doesn't convince as in the countless drunk scenes where he is called on to talk with a slur. The ones where he is completely pissed and filled with Dutch Genius, or else achingly sober are great. Owen's Gan isn't bad at all. As the B7 Audio equivalent of Whitnail and I, this isn't a bad little story, except it keeps flipping between The Way Back and Gambit with no rhyme or reason.
Of course, ideally I'd want to say "as long as you forget the TV series, this is great", but it fails on that front too. The plot is full of inconsistencies as civilization dies and revives between scenes, and it's painfully obvious at the lack of budget. What the hell was the point of the flashback as it does nothing to explain how Vila and Gan got arrested, or what happened to Lola, and crucially misses the scene where they first meet anyway! It not only fails to tie into the audio series, it completely contradicts it - and not such because of the casting. The scenes with them on a bender are amusing, admittedly, but the whole teleport angle is stupid, self-aware and defies belief, almost as much as the cheapness of the whole thing.
Just WHAT was the point of this?
WHAT THOSE OTHER LISTENERS THOUGHT
Miles Reid: To be honest, the only thing good about it is Michael Keating as Vila. But unfortunately, it takes every possible oppotunity to tell you that this is actually set in B7 Audioland and not TV Series land. So, are B7 productions going to be continuing their terrible B7 Adventures?
Jackie Emery: I didn’t like the use of contemporary place names. I accept that this version isn’t set in the Domed City of the original series, but using those names made my mind picture those places as they are today. There were also anachronistic references to present-day technology – one that especially jarred was ‘mobile’: this communication device will probably be out-dated within the next ten years, let alone two hundred! Similarly, the sound effects of police sirens, one has only to watch cop shows from the 1960s and 70s to hear how much they’ve changed in only a few decades, so it’s most unlikely they’ll sound the same centuries from now.
Horizon Fan Club Official Statement: Was it worth the wait? Yes, always, because it's Blake's 7... it can never fail to please. B7 Media: if it aint broke, why fix it, eh?
Spike Ombre: I got a very strong feeling that the characterisation was deliberately sacrificed in order to make a more satisfying double-act, and when characterisation is such a fundamentally important part of B7, this is a very dangerous thing to mess with. It was Michael Keating's voice, but another character's words.
Apparatchik: I am glad to see Michael Keating doing Vila again but after the fiasco of the audios, in my view, I cannot trust B7 media. Maybe the next one will be: "When Cally met the Tharrn". We could see Cally and the garden gnome make a new life together, sort of like "The Good Life" with Jan Chappell doing Felicity Kendal. Do we really need B7 Productions? I ask you.
Stormgiest: It's pretty lame stuff. Inoffensive and not without a certain charm - most of which comes from the joy of hearing Michael Keating back in his career-defining role - it's handicapped all the way through byBen Aaronovitch's script shows off his usual penchant for overcooking the dialogue, and his sorry knack for missing the point of his own work. Sure, he gives us the would-be first meeting of Gan and Vila, but he offers almost no insight into why they became friends, bar an underdeveloped suggestion that Vila is touched by Gan's clear love for Lola. Why Vila should be touched by this, why he should even give a flying toss about this, is not looked at. Owen Aaronovitch, it almost goes without saying, is a plank as Gan, which is therefore something of an improvement on some of his previous performances. It is good to hear Keating back in the role, and for sure his portrayal of Vila continues to piss over Harris' from orbit.
Theseafarer: 'We can be like the masked vigilantes in ancient literature fighting injustice wherever.' You can write this shit, Ben, but you sure can't say it...
21st Century Anorak: I guess I'll get this one day, but I've got better things to spend my money on right now. Like beer. This tat really just lasts for 39 minutes? Wait... this crap I'm listening to contains all of the extras? How come the site says its 50 minutes? Sweet baby Jesus, this sucks the big one.
Nicola Mody: I am somewhat nervous about listening to the CD. I've heard it is not just rather crap and that Gan is from Croydon (these two facts possibly connected) but it's not from the B7 universe at all, but the alternate B7E one set 200 years in the future but with contemporary helicopters and police cars. Yes, the same one that will be in the miniseries. Still, it's Michael Keating, so it can't be all bad. Can it?
Michael Jackson: Why am I a criminal for dangling people over balconies when Gan is shown as a romantic fool? You're all ignorant!
Someone Who Hasn't Heard It: So long as they're consistent and don't contradict either themselves or the series canon, that wouldn't worry me. I'll probably give it a miss anyway; there's enough fanfic around here...