Monday, January 28, 2013

When BF Kicked MB's Arse

I have to admit that I have slipped in my dedication to duty when it comes to the Blake's 7 verse. Big Finish have been churning out produce for a year now and none of their stuff has been reviewed on this inestimal blog. Partly there's good reason for this - I don't hate it enough to review. It's piss-easy to review something you hate. It's difficult to review something you love. But something that doesn't really hit you hard, well...

Anyway, I have yet to finish Cavan and Scott's The Forgotten, which is basically what you get if you poured the entirety of season one into the Large Hadron Collider and then shaped what was left into Breakdown. Blake sabotages a military base, gets chased by Travis and pursuit ships into an unknown zone of danger that causes Zen to shut down and Gan to go apeshit, while Rontayne and Bercol annoy the crap out of Servalan... this may be one of the few B7 stories you could witness via youtube edits of already existing episodes.

I haven't read Archangel yet. Shows you how exciting the blurb was.

The Liberator Chronicles are basically The Companion Chronicles, a format that I respect but do not love. I'm also bewildered by the decision for so many of the chronicles to be spy stories - I can't think of one where our heroes don't go undercover in enemy territory for weeks at a time, even going to so far as to have Master-style plastic fleshmasks disguising them in False Positive. Considering most of Blake's bluffs were simply to distract some random guard so Vila could clobber him, where the writers got this belief B7 was all about drop-points, forged IDs and smuggling important documents from. I mean, they get the characters pretty right, just not the adventures...

The Turing Test - Vila and Avon go undercover as mad scientist and robot butler at an android warehouse, and the half-built prosti-droid falls in love with Avon and dies nobly. Oh well, at least it explains why this would be a story only Avon would bother to remember...

Solitaire - Vila is locked in a room with only himself and a boring Auron to talk to. Turns out he's been possessed by an alien mind parasite that drops dead at the end of fifty minutes after he recites a rather tedious story.

Counterfeit - Blake goes undercover as a prison warder at a space prison. Then he gets rescued by Avon and Jenna dressed up as Travis and Servalan. Which would have been a bit more entertaining had they had the cast for that.

The Magnificent Four - Avon and Cally are minding their own business going undercover when they meet four rebel-terrorists from the System with their own DSV causing chaos with a logical ruthlessnes that kind of turns Avon on. A neat twist on the "mirror universe" cliche, as well as showing Blake's impact on the universe. Should have been a proper episode in its own right, say I.

False Positive - Raine Cunningham (the poor man's Kate Tollinger and the rich man's Bonnie Langford) is a psychiatrist and Blake is her patient as he waffles on about how he and Avon went undercover. Does the whole "hang on, is this all just a madman's delusion" better than the many, many, MANY times Kaldor City has sledge-hammered the very same theme.

Wolf - that boring Auron from Solitaire is dead. Servalan killed him and Cally's not happy. Turns out it was all some evil conspiracy or other, but the most memorable part is the epilogue where Servalan finds all of the childhood friends who tormented her during an unusually-risky game of Hide and Seek and has them all machine-gunned to death. Which is just SO her, isn't it?


"You're not getting your hands on my ship."
"Who's ship?"
"OUR ship?"
"That will do for now."

Have you been kept awake for years wondering what happened between the end of Star One and the beginning of Aftermath? Have the intricacies of the Intergalactic War gnawed at your consciousness? Does the reuse of stock footage for the fight scenes grind your gears? Well, you're obviously not alone.

Until now, that gap has been the province of fan fiction and Kaldor City's Counterattack - a comic strip partly-dramatized in The Logic of Empire. The strip basically has a rather tedious and one note argument between Avon and Blake. Avon wants to run now the Federation have arrived, Blake wants to stay and help. A random plasma bolt causes the entire ship to break down and Avon and Cally run away, leaving Blake and Jenna to die on the ship, the whole "was Avon a believer?" question answered with a firm "fuck no - nothing believe in anything all of it is pointless we are just meat puppets for the Fendahl life is meaningless ice cream ice cream oh god the pies".

Typical imagination and uplifting moral standpoints there, eh, folk?


But now at last Big Finish are giving us a notoriously un-known-un-missing episode to bridge the gap and, unlike Doctor Who, there is absolutely fuck all to contradict it.

Apart from Magic Bullet Productions, but who cares about them?

Here's a little tidbit of trivial info. When Tom Baker and Louise Jameson were recording the opening story of Destination: Nerva, they re-recorded the last scene of The Talons of Weng-Chiang so the new story began seamlessly and also had the actors pitch their performances at the same level. While I, personally, didn't have my enjoyment of the new story particularly improved by that, it is clear that BF love that and a decent few minutes of this story are re-enactments of Star One and Aftermath, and Darrow and Keating have taken it to heart - Avon is on a mellow irony-overdose ("When did that ever stop us?") and Vila is on the verge of a heart attack ("AVON - THIS - IS - STUPID!"). Pearce as Servalan is probably the worse fit, giving her slinky psychopath suited best to Season 4 rather than the bitchy up and coming President of the scene. She's not the grey-shaded immoral defender of humanity of Star One, that's for sure and even her redeeming anti-Alien stance turns to a rather unsurprising back-stabbing of half the galaxy because she simply can't be arsed to do otherwise.

Sad to say that Gareth Thomas is the weakest link. He's a fine actor, but his voice has withered to an amazing degree just since he was doing Dalek Empire a few years ago. He sounds absolutely nothing like Blake, as if he's just smoked a cigarette for every day since he last filmed his scenes in the previous episode. It really does jar you out of the story, and at times I wonder if they should have recast Blake instead of Zen and Orac. Alistair "SYS-TEMM CON-FARMED" Lock does his usual shtick and his Peter Tuddenham impression isn't bad - but it means he's trying too hard to keep sounding like someone else to do a good impression, rather like the Colin Baker and Paul McGann impressionists I've heard in charity audios. They sound dead on, as long as they only have one particular intonation. Orac, for his part, sounds more like a sleepy cat than the coffee-slurping, chain smoking academic of TV - he's gone from Dylan Moran to Bill Bailey.

No, the problem with Orac is his buzz - instead of the usual trapped wasp noise, we get what sounds like a long burst of flatulence from the arse of a Cybusman. All the sound effects (plasma bolts, teleport beams, etc.) have been remade rather than reusing the ones from BBCSFX album 2 or whatever is. And it's not like that's hard to find, I've got them on my computer for crying out. The worst offender is the decision to give the Liberator sliding doors that sigh orgasmically, so anyone who enters the teleport has to wait for the door to finish climaxing before they can have an argument with anyone already present. Sheesh. (Oh wait, the BBC won't let them use the original... what the fuck is up with that?!?)

On the plus side, as the Fourth Doctor stories show, BF have used their ungodly powers to create some evil clone of Dudley Simpson who provides perfect music that fits so well I sometimes wondered if the lazy sods were copying tunes from the TV shows, but no. Amazing. I am in no way being sarcastic, the tunes are brain-shatteringly authentic and sound decent as well. They get double the fist for that alone.

Down to the plot...

Thinking back to Aftermath, one has to be impressed at the lack of info dumps or exposition. You are dropped into the plot at the deep end and you can either sink or swim. If, let us say, the BBC demanded a more new-viewer-friendly version, like the hideous parasites what ruined Crusade, I can imagine them ordering an introductory episode. Hell, the first episode of Crusade was about the aftermath of a galactic war and called Warzone! Coincidence?!? Yeah, probably...

So, not only do we get introduced to the backstory via such subtle methods as Cally and Vila shouting out their resumes at Blake and Avon in lieu of conversation, characters are compelled to dwell in detail on things like tarrial cells, smuggler tricks and of course, what has the Federation ever done for us? The opening monologue from Blake's dictaphone captain's log would still be unforgivable if it wasn't established canon he actually keeps one to ensure the audience know what's going on.

With that in mind, Warship begins just after the "I have always trusted you" scene and Cally goes to make sure that Blake gets the hell back into bed. Still, you can't blame Blake for being reckless as, despite having been shot through the heart by Travis, the Liberator medicine has got him back to full strength for 99% of the episode, allowing Cally to chew him out over his earlier slip that nuking Star One would prove him right. After so many years, the fact that Blake and Travis were both willing to slaughter billions for their ideas has been discussed and brooded over to such an extent, having a character acknowledge it out aloud feels almost crass.

Anyway, Cally rushes back to the flight deck to reenact the last scene of Star One and we're into the title sequence.

One hour, the Liberator has nuked over twenty Andromedan ships but plenty more have got through the gap and the Federation fleet have not arrived. Nil desperandum, a Dunkirk-style fleet of civilian ships have come to the rescue and Vila comes up with the "not entirely a stupid idea" of getting the hell out of the firing line.

Just then, the Liberator nearly crashes into a dwarf planet - Megiddo, the moon of Star One. Orac (whose role this week is to be an incredibly rude Magic 8 Ball stuck on "reply hazy - try again later") announces it is a Federation base, but it's so old it doesn't have Tarial Cells and thus God knows what's inside it. Since it might contain weapons to use against the aliens, Avon decides to send their most expendable crewman on a recon mission.

Yes, we're talking about Blake, obviously.

Blake is in the observation deck (having apparently gotten confused about what "being under observation" means) and bitching that the moment three litres of pond scum doing Dalek impressions arrive, mankind gets off its arse and fights for itself. Where the hell was that self-determination when it was needed to throw off the bloody yolk of the Federation, eh? What a bunch of apathetic bastards. Avon, however, has no time to welcome Blake to the reality of cynacism. This is going to be their last regular adventure together, so it's time for the sardonic homo-erotic exchanges which even today show Torchwood for the crude sniggering innuendo it is...

"Is this the moment where we embrace?"
"Not while I'm wearing this sling."
"That wasn't what was stopping me."
"Don't confuse hatred with indifference."

Blake agrees to check out Megiddo, but Cally insists on defying Avon and travelling with him ("My people have a saying..." "I was afraid they might. I also have a saying: Blake can handle this alone.") and he finally relents and sends both of them with a warning that, this time, he is under no obligation to come back for them - what with them being in the middle of a warzone and all. Blake and Cally materialize in a freezing quarry and climb into a handy underground base where a crew of humans are wired up by the brains into a computer. They cannot be disconnected without melting into gunge; Blake suggests they put them out of their misery, but Cally's annoyed at his increasing lack of empathy. This leads to her ripping him a new one about his "I must prove I was right" business earlier. She points out that the Federation keep the trains on time, ensure the population are disease free, are reasonably eco-friendly and GOD DAMN IT THINGS ARE NOT BLACK AND WHITE! Blake grumbles that he's kind of had his head up his arse, and they awkwardly get on with the plot.

With some handy telepathic scanning, Cally learns that Megiddo isn't a moon or even a space-station. It's a huge bomb in orbit around Star One, and as soon as it reached the minefeild it'll blow up everything, human and alien, without discrimination. Blake notes that a Federation base must have some kind of off-switch, and so use a handy communicator to contact Federation High Command and ask for IT assistance.

The phone is answered by Servalan.

See, in Star One, Servalan's purges revealed the secret of Megiddo and she knows all about it - this is why she's kept 60% of her fleet out of the danger zone, so when the bomb goes off, she will still have the military advantage with all the aliens and non-aligned armies nuked. In typical Bitch In White fashion, she delights in thanking Blake for inviting her to the bloodfest and prepares to sit back and watch the fireworks. (No one mentions that Travis is responsible for this mess, or has since died, BTW. Guess they never did find out...)

Back aboard the Liberator, things aren't going very well. When Vila shoots an Andromedan warship, it explodes into millions of cybermat-like alien slugs that are organic limpet mines which start burrowing into the hull. Vila and Jenna space-suit up to try and pull them off the hull when Avon decides this shit is getting old and sends out an EMP to fry the mongrels. This doesn't end too well (his time on Liberator in miniature, really) and a dozen of the limpets chase Vila into the airlock and start chewing the ship's junction boxes while Jenna is adrift in space.

Time for Jenna to get her, as Kevin Rudd would say, a fair suck of the sauce bottle. She climbs onto a passing Andromedan battle cruiser, kicks down the airlock door and before any of the crew can say "blobbiblobbibob" she's nuked the smeggers into oblivion using one of Vila's lockpicks. Next thing, Jenna's hotwired the alien spaceship and heading onto a collision course for the rest of the fleet - but never fear, she has an Old Smuggler's Trick TM (patent applied for) to slingshot around the enemy and, um... er... ah... do something very clever.

(I've relistened to it and there's no explanation for what Jenna was ultimately going to do. Nuke the bastards from behind, maybe? Oh well, it's not like B7 is free of plotholes. I dare say we can examine the subtext and discover that Jenna is suicidal because she was secretly a serial killer or something...)

Anyway, the others don't know about this cunning plan so Blake and Cally return to the Liberator and then rescue her. With the gang back together, Vila and Cally discover that the limpets have destroyed the ship's weapons, teleport and lots of other stuff too. So, with Avon's first "busy day" in charge left with a crippled ship in the firing line of a neutron bomb and an advancing alien fleet things can't seem to get much worse.

Until the Andromedans suicide-run the mine-field, creating gaps for the fleet to swarm into the Milky Way. First they atomize Star One as the crew watch on helplessly (OK, maybe in Aftermath Avon forgot about this - he had just been concussed twice and was playing dumb to trick Servalan into telling what she knows...). With the defense sheild completely down, the Andromedans wipe out the human fleet and head straight for the Liberator - unaware just how completely screwed DSV2 really is.

Blake comes up with one last cunning plan. He gets Jenna to fly the Liberator at Megiddo, so the aliens will follow, thus triggering the bomb. The Liberator then sling-shots to safety as the aliens are reduced to fried calimari. Avon is typically optimistic: "I hope you know what you're doing, Blake." "He knows someone who does," Jenna retorts. Shit, girl, why do I feel Nerf Herder should be playing in the background whenever you're around?

Once again, Jenna proves frighteningly competent and the explosion wipes out the Andromedans. However, the Liberator ends up caught between the expanding wave of hot liquid energy death and Servalan and the remaining 60 per cent of the Federation. Blake leaves an even-more insulting answerphone message to Madam President as the shockwave slams into them.

While the Federation fleet is reduced to the contents of an ash tray (bar Servalan's command ship which, naturally legs it at the last time), the Liberator rides out the shockwave - but with the damage combined with the limpet-mine sabotage means the whole thing's breaking down and it's time to play to Vila's strengths by running for their lives. Blake cannot believe they're going to abandon ship and Avon retorts the only alternative is "a glorious death - witnessed by no one and signifying nothing!"

As the lights start to go out, Avon, Cally and Vila run off with Orac to the escape capsules. Blake's had a rough day and Jenna gives him a quick shot of morphine that leaves him as high as a kite and in a nostalgic mood as he remembers the good old days of Season 1. A surviving alien ship shoots the stricken Liberator, which on TV knocks Avon unconscious, but also means Jenna and Blake have to escape a burning corridor into the starboard escape pod bay. As Blake is ejected to safety, he listens to his captain's log and makes a strange double-entendre about "coming back" that means he's over his ego-trip and fighting the good fight for its own merits. Or something. He's stoned off his face, remember.

The end - though we are promised further tales from Season 3 from Blake's point-of veiw.

And all in all I'm totally satisfied with Warship - certainly more so than any other B7 audio, as this is without doubt the first to have the entire cast AND have them behave appropriately. True, there is the awkwardness that this episode, this missing adventure, is totally disposable and doesn't really change anything, but on the same time it's a strength it achieves it. The Sevenfold Crown and The Syndeton Experiment warped the franchise so out of shape it was sickening, while The Mark of Kane was so drowned in continuity its plot genuinely consisted of nothing more than butch people shooting each other. Had The Logic of Empire been the last episode in a season, its self-indulgent wangst and paranoia might have worked in isolation... but the fact is, had I not been a B7 fan I would have not been turned by any of those plays, with no desire to see more. Warship has smart alec quips AND a plot, moral discussions AND kickass space babes shooting stuff, and - unlike anything by Magic Bullet - an Avon who can actually have a heroic slant thrown on his actions, not just selfish-cynacism.

Warship may not be perfect, but it is the Blake's 7 I fell in love with back in 86. Full fist, Big Finish.

Full fist.

Blake's 7 - now officially 53 episodes long.

Coming up next on ABC tonight, it's Tom Baker as Doctor Who in... The Auntie Matter!


Miles Reid said...

The older I get, the more thankful I am that I never continued with my 'Blake's War' reimagining of the Blake's 7 story.

If anything, Blake's growing anger issues and insanity should have been played more like John Crichton in Farscape.

I would keep the topless propaganda reading newsreader though.

Youth of Australia said...

The older I get, the more thankful I am that I never continued with my 'Blake's War' reimagining of the Blake's 7 story.
I understand. Mind you, your pitch-dark vision was more palatable to me - the idea that Blake had become the enemy worked because everyone else was morallistically-upgraded.

If anything, Blake's growing anger issues and insanity should have been played more like John Crichton in Farscape.
How fucking awesome would that have been? He could have had an invisible Travis in his head... mind you, he would pretty much spend most of the time agreeing with Avon...

I would keep the topless propaganda reading newsreader though
The terrifying thing is... it would work... it actually would.

Not just blokes going "ooh, boobies" but the ladies would be getting all insecure or envious. And no one would pay attention to the news.

I swear, you could rule the world with a few more ideas of that quality, Miles.


Please don't have me killed.

Miles Reid said...

Jared, don't kill him...


Oh yes, I forgot about Head-Scorpius. Admittedly, I was going with the fact that as the first season progresses, John is really not doing well and it just seems to get a lot angrier, aggressive and a lot more unhinged due to his circumstances. Blake, would probably be doubting every single thing he did, simply because the Federation kept screwing with his mind.

Perhaps what Blake sees, isn't an invisible Travis, but an invisible Blake, the Blake he used to be, or rather an idealised version of the Blake he used, the Blake HE thinks he should be.

Youth of Australia said...

Played by Steven Pacey?

Jared "No Nickname" Hansen said...

That Magic Bullet comic is awful. In quite a few ways (What the hell is going on with Jenna and Cally's faces) but I am amazed at the lack of respect for the characters AND the continuity - somehow they seem to have missed that the episode ends with Avon at the bridge pledging to fight and Blake reluctantly sitting the battle out. Suddenly their roles are reversed, in a way that handily undoes the character development of the actual scene. Way to go, guys.

As for Big Finish - I have to say that Warship sounds pretty damn good. I mean, it sounds like a couple of minor continuity errors, but nothing implausible. The one criticism I guess I'd have (just going off your synopsis) is that Servalan seems a bit TOO ingenious if she helps to arrange the Federation's apparent destruction for her own benefit down the line but on the other hand I guess that explains how she got the presidency so quick off screen..

And I agree with you that any sort of 'undercover' work seems out of place for B7. When I was working on Sequel Project storylines I was struck that you need to capture the right sort of boy's own spirit for it to feel like an actual B7 plot. (And I think I fucked it up so that's why I never finished that one :P )

Jared "No Nickname" Hansen said...

HBO could do a show with topless newsreaders.

Also I need to watch Peacekeeper Wars.

Miles Reid said...

I think Magic Bullet are always missing the point. Comically so.

I think that was what was missing from 'Blake's War'. I was busy going 'Ambiguity! Blake's 7 for Post-9/11 Society! Blake as Osama Bin Ladin! Grrrrrr' (In my defense, 2007/2008 where really shitty years for me) That I was forgetting that Blake's 7 is not just about fighting the Federation, it's about weird Auron scientists with giant heads and tiny body.

It's about Space Rats with Mohawks.

It's about the gayest Rebel Alliance ever in Warlord.

It's about WHERE? IS? ORAC?

It's about Vila, Avon and Orac playing speed chess against Deep Roy. (and Avon spit-taking his food.)

It's about Cally and Jenna's fabulous outfits.

It's about Servelan's purring bitchiness.

It's Blake and Travis ripping off the Kirk/Gorn fight.

You need the camp, silly parts of Blake's 7 just as much as all the serious drama. You just do. That's part of Blake's 7's charm.

Youth of Australia said...

Way to go, guys.
Yes, and seriously, what a stupid comic book - Blake repeatedly tries to get them killed. And only Avon bothers to argue. And then they leave the room. What an epic of graphic storytelling.

I mean, it sounds like a couple of minor continuity errors, but nothing implausible.
The most difficult one I know of is explaining how Mike Yates and his pal at the start of Aftermath are describing a long drawn-out conflict rather than "WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT?!?!?"

Servalan seems a bit TOO ingenious if she helps to arrange the Federation's apparent destruction for her own benefit down the line but on the other hand I guess that explains how she got the presidency so quick off screen..
Yes. I assume the 40% she was sacrificing were the ones she wasn't sure were dedicated to her side...

When I was working on Sequel Project storylines I was struck that you need to capture the right sort of boy's own spirit for it to feel like an actual B7 plot. (And I think I fucked it up so that's why I never finished that one :P )

I mean, the undercover plots are fine, per se but... where did they get this idea that B7 was disguised rendezvous in bombed-out cafes rather than mysterious derelict spaceships full of monster clones?

But yeah, Warship made me happy.

Not as happy as topless newsreaders, but...

Youth of Australia said...

I know what you mean. I think when I really got into Farscape was That Old Black Magic, which was basically Duel/Arena/whatever only even more cynical - the hero doesn't spare his enemy but properly tries to kill him. But this is balanced by hilariously camp sitcom stuff with Rygel with a cold stealing Crichton's boots, a camp albino torturing two-headed vulture birds for the greater good (and to flirt with Zhann) and...


Keith Allan playing the Celestial Toymaker in the style of Jerzei Balowski.

That's B7, right there.

Miles Reid said...

But we're all agreed about the Topless Newsreader's, right?

Miles Reid said...

Although, if I was to do Blake's War now... it'd be awesome and there would be merry blaster fights a plenty...

Youth of Australia said...

Maybe the topless newsreader could be a regular... like Soolin...

Miles Reid said...


Given that I'm actually thinking about it, perhaps the Federation would play up the 'horrendous, horrible, horrible, harsh uncaring universe' aspect in order to keep it's citizenrey on Earth and heavily controlled Federation planets. It's only when you reach out of Federation space do you see the true wonder and insanity of the Galaxy.

Youth of Australia said...

Cool idea. Kind of like how, in The Long Game, the Daleks keep mankind stupid by simply closing the borders and cutting off any outside stimulus.

Which, given my own personal belief the Federation is born from the ashes of the Dalek attack in Parting of the Ways, borders on a frankly creepy conspiracy...

Miles Reid said...

Well, considering that the Federation in Blake's War were going to be a more subversive, benevolent dictatorship with a smiling veneer of cheerful democracy... what'll it be now? The Federation trying to keep people controlled because of financials difficulties of maintaining a galactic super power?

Youth of Australia said...

Well, considering that the Federation in Blake's War were going to be a more subversive, benevolent dictatorship with a smiling veneer of cheerful democracy... what'll it be now? The Federation trying to keep people controlled because of financials difficulties of maintaining a galactic super power?

Money was tight in the original B7, which was why the Federation upped the drugs in the food (which in turn is why the rebellion reformed after Blake shut it down). Even evil Dev Tarrant knew that cutting rations any further would lead to revolts. After the Galactic War, Vila knows several planets have been forced to turn to cannibalism to make ends meet, because all the food planets broke down when Star One shut down. And, of course, the worst news in Season 4 is that the Federation have got some decent accountants, since Orac was convinced they didn't have the budget to create any new pursuit ships...

Personally, I think Servalan's tailor was doing more financial damage to the Federation than the Liberator ever did.