"Avon, do you ever see someone and not think they're a fool?"
"Only when he sees a mirror."
There is a fundamental difference in the way BF treats Blake's 7 and Doctor Who and that's with their respective Chronicles. With the Doctor, nothing in the Chronicles has ever really affected the main ranges - there are plenty of sequels and prequels and companion pieces (haahah!) there has not been a single main release where you need to have heard, say, Ringpullworld to understand a single thing that goes on.
Blake's 7 on the other hand, has suddenly become totally dependant on whatever crap The Liberator Chronicles spew up. This bugs me as it means I'm suddenly obliged to listen to them instead of judging their canonicity based on individual merit as I would do with any and all fan-fiction, including my own. So, you remember that story about Jenna when it turns out her dad was killed or something? No, neither do I, but apparently it's important. Some Federation asshole killed Jenna's dad and is now living in exile on a planet populated by comedy Arab foriegners who sound like Michael Keating in blackface.
For some unclear reason, this asshole might know about Federac and prove to be incredibly useful. So Jenna is for once forced to stay on the Liberator deliberately rather than the writers not having any clue of what to do with her - she is chaffing at the bit to get down there and ventilate this asshole's internal organs. In fact, she throws a temper tantrum. It's all very out of character and deliberately so for the most reliable character in the whole series to go apeshit.
Cally is sent down to the planet to meet the asshole (I've totally forgotten his name, believe it or not) and finds out that Travis is there! Yes, he's given false info to the asshole to make sure the Liberator will come for him (Blake for the info, Jenna to kill him) and thus create the perfect trap for Travis and his bimbo mutoid to, er, make mischief. Having explained this cunning plot, Travis then kills the asshole in a very unsatisfying sequence. I think it's supposed to evoke Farscape where Rygel casually decapitates Durkha, but at least that was meant to be subversive. Oh, and Brian Croucher has aged, man. I wouldn't dare say his talent is diminished, but he sure as hell is not the young hothead he's supposed to be playing. He sounds like an old fat guy with a walking stick and I kept expecting him to yell "Get out of the pensioner's seat, ya young whippernsapper! I fought in the war for the likes of you, you mug!"
While Cally runs around on Cliched Arab planet, Blake takes the Liberator to some whacking huge space station where Federac is. I can't work out how he knows this, or why they wanted to see the asshole if they already knew... oh, well, maybe it's explained. Blake, Avon and Vila teleport over to the space station and find a single cute girl scientist minding her own business with a bunch of those sub-Dalek servo robots who tend to react badly if you mention the wrong serial numbers. Which girl scientist proves by accidentally giving the number to make them all CRUSH-KILL-DESTROY and incinerate everything in sight.
Good thing Jenna can be trusted not to do a runner with the Liberator the moment Blake's not looking... No. Wait. The Stannis Lady immediately heads back to Cliched Arab Planet to pop a cap in the asshole, and the moment he's alone Orac is all "GOD DAMN YOU, YOU WRETCHED HARRIDAN!" and pilots the Liberator back to the space station because he's much more interested in stopping Federac. Jenna finds out she's managed to maroon herself on a distant planet for no good reason and with an ever-increasing gang of mortal enemies. Even Cally can't quite forgive this Tarrant-level stupidity but Jenna smartly steals the asshole's spaceship and spends the rest of the episode leading Travis a merry dance.
Back on the space station, our heroes discover stuff. For a start, the "incinerating" robots are actually teleporting them to different parts of the station. This station has all the smartest, most awesome technology ever by some dead scientist and his daughter is the cute scientist who is running the whole thing. Our heroes also discover that Federac is... A MIRROR!!! By which they mean it isn't a computer like Orac, it's just a computer capable of impersonating Orac and the entire crew and guessing what they're going to do next rather than hacking their accounts. I think. I listened to this twice and I was sure Federac was able to interface with computers the way Orac could. And it definitely isn't the same Federac from the comics, and so I am well and truly tee'd off.
Travis arrives and reveals his mutoid is the scientist's other daughter, and her unmodified sister takes this badly. As in "hits the self-destruct screaming yippy-kai-yai-mother-fucker" badly. In true B7 tradition, all the cool tech is blown up and neither side wins - and also, our heroes are so dysfunctional they have made it almost impossible for them to escape. But, in the end, Blake, Avon, Jenna and Cally escape in the Liberator. Vila finds his own salvation, but even as he's working out a way to rendezvous with the others and get the status quo back to normal, he realizes he's stolen Travis' pursuit ship.
With Travis still aboard.
Oh, as they say, shit.
"Risk is all we do these days - since Earth Control we've been chasing one shadow after another. First Star One, then Mikalov, Federac... lurching from one mistake to the next."
Our continuity-cross-over-driven episode kicks off a mere couple of days after the last episode ended. Vila has been trying to escape Travis' pursuit ship more times than Michael Palin in that Ripping Yarn episode about Coldtiz, but to no avail. Travis, for his part, is genuinely impressed at the sheer variety of McGuyver-style ploys Vila can pull out of his arse and how close he keeps coming to escaping and the fact the little thief keeps insulting him every time he's allowed to draw breath.
Alas, Travis proves to be surprisingly clever at cruel psychological torment than you'd expect for a bloke with a laser canon that goes off whenever he gives people the finger and after lots of systematic torture, starvation, manipulation, drugging and shouting "THE WORD!!!!!!" over and over again succeeds in breaking our unbreakable thief and leaving him like a meth addict at a Gilbert and George exhibition, convinced that Blake et all are uncaring assholes who abandoned him to die.
Aboard the Liberator, the crew are looking for any clue for Vila's references and even the old "tell Orac he's a useless piece of crap" ploy isn't working (of all of them, Blake is beside himself with worry). Just then they get one of Vila's recorded distress signals coming from the ice planet of Horst Minor. Avon points out this is certainly a trap like every other BF story they've ben in, but our heroes go anyway.
Of course, Horst IS a trap and now, we finally meet the President of the Terran Federation - OK, OK, he cameos in the previous episode, so what? - who is played by Hastings from Poroit rather than the bald WarLord Scientist dude who played him in Shadow (and is still alive and in BF, so they really don't have an excuse bar the fact B7 recasted recurring characters on a regular basis). This seedy balding bloke is right of 1970s children's television in the sense despite his popularity, he's a depraved oversexed highly-strung maniac with clear psychological problems.
If you've been listening to The Liberator Chronicles (and, let's face it, who the hell does?), you'll know this neurotic backstabber was doing pretty well ruling the galaxy until Blake started blowing it up and has rapidly become paranoid that everyone's out to get him, especially Servalan who he's bonked on more than one long weekend in a very pathetic attempt to keep her under control. He's been masterminding this Federac thing to play all sides against each other and defeat Servalan, Travis and Blake in one go - but given he's now so unhinged he murders field medics who save his life on the grounds they know he isn't totally immortal and indestructible means he is probably less of an intellectual threat than Jarvik the nudie bricklayer.
As the Liberator arrives after a yawn-and-miss-it massacre of pursuit ships, Cally gets a telepathically-induced orgasm from Gustav Nyron!!! Who, you ask? Well, er... he's an Auron. Who appeared in two Liberator Chronicles, and one of them was killed and in neither of them actually met Cally. I can't think of any other interesting facts about him, but he seems to be a simple plot device to get Cally ridiculously overwraught so she'll act stupid like Jenna chasing her dad's killer or Avon after Shrinker, or Gan's limiter malfunctioning. It's really a pathetic contrivance, and notably the rest of the crew basically go "Nyron? Ah, fuck him!" and refuse to have anything to do with him. They also do the same to Blake when he finds out Travis is in da house and no sooner have they all put on those very unflattering silver thermal suits, the gang teleport down into the wintery BBC Quarry and check out the local Federation base. They immediately find some frozen corpses that look just like Cally. How odd.
Within, the President is not pleased to discover the local technicians have tried to clone Blake, Avon, Vila and Nyron for nefarious purposes - the President is terrified the Clonemasters will open a can of ass-whup if they find out someone's muscling in on their turf. Similarly excited is the real Blake, who finally has a chance to do something similar to the President himself and Jenna has to bitch-slap him to calm him down, conveniently forgetting her own bloodlust last week. She even delivers the "low blow" of mentioning Gan before telling Blake, "Spare me the testosterone - I'm not Avon."
Aboard the Liberator, Avon and Orac do some sudoku or somesuch shit ("What part of the the word 'random' don't you understand?" the computer demands when asked to do some hard work.) and note that they make a wacky Holmesian double-act who could easily become the main characters next series. In fact, they briefly consider stealing the Liberator to do just that. But they don't. Obviously. Avon teleports down to Horst Minor to help out the other losers he calls shipmates, only to be mugged by his own clone. How existential, no?
So, once Cally enthenases all the deformed and insane clones, she pops along to rescue Vila while Blake charges into the spaceport with Jenna in tow and start shooting absolutely everybody - especially those who haven't got a speaking part in the ongoing plot. The President effortlessly escapes the firefight in his personal bourgeousmobile and Avon strides in and saves the badly-injured Blake and Jenna from the crossfire. Orac teleports everyone back to the Liberator as the pursuit ships close in for the kill.
Except Vila's sold them out to Travis who teleports aboard the Liberator and this time is slightly more credible a threat without his opera cape and mummy outfit.
"Winning or losing has never been a factor in this crusade. Logic dictates that, sooner or later, luck runs out. Our luck just ran out."
Travis and a posse of mutoids now rule the Liberator as she flies toward Titan Base near Saturn, and our monocular, monodexterous monomaniac lists in minute detail all the awesome subtext of him perverting the symbol of freedom against Blake. Blake, as ever, finds Space Commander Travis heartbreakingly pathetic and barely worth insulting - unlike Vila, who Blake sounds quite willing to murder with his bare hands. The people's pickpocket seems to have totally flung in his lot with Travis, and takes pleasure in repaying the crew for their constant assholedom towards him. Only Avon can tell there's no point them trying to reproach Vila, since calling him a worthless sack of crap was pretty much how they said good morning to him.
But even as Cally confirms Vila has betrayed them all, can we really believe Vila would willingly work with the man who killed Gan?
Well, considering the sheer number of times he's tried to kill Blake by the second scene, maybe...
Liberator arrives at Titan Base - aka the Cage, and the mighty DSVII is immediately wheel-clamped (as you can see on that cover above). The rebels are marched off to their cell, robot drones swarm over the Liberator, and the whole thing is pretty much Redemption only with Travis instead of Altas in blue spandex. However, while Travis has Orac he doesn't have the key and Vila has to awkwardly frisk Avon for said item - a sentence that alone could launch a thousand slash fics, especially as it ends with a kinky bondage torture via the sickening method of David Bowie albums on a continual loop... poor Avon...
In their cell, Blake is pretty down in the dumps as not only have they lost, but they dug their own graves by treating Vila like crap in the first place - and frankly he has had it up to his neck with all the others blaming him for Gan's death et all instead of, I dunno, taking some own freaking responsibility for their own miserable lives. Is it Blake's fault none of them have the guts to actually stand up to him?
The President arrives at the Cage, insane as ever, and instead of executing Vila as a traitor deserves, spares him on the grounds the guy is the funniest character in the franchise (after all, B7 is nigh unique as a show where every single villain has a sense of humor). Travis has his military honours returned and all he wants in return is to kill Blake once he's a broken man. Oh, what could go wrong?
Vila orders Cally and Jenna to put on spangy hot pants at gunpoint, an action that even an Auron considers "sick". Then they and Blake are invited to a fancy dining room for dinner with the President himself. This frankly bizarre meal starts with everyone being forced to kneel before Zod, er, the President, and then share some expensive sherry and oysters as they discuss political theory. Mein gott, is sparacus writing this?
The President points out that the freedom fighters are deluded terrorists and haven't given any thought to what they're going to do if they DO destroy the Federation, or have any plans how to feed the multitudes or run the galaxy without a government. He then outlines his evil scheme:
"While Servalan and Travis were hunting you across the galaxy, when your name began to be said in hushed tones by the common man, I started planning for this day. I realized it was going to take more than pursuit ships to bring you to heel. This is a cage for you, Blake, for your crew and your ship. The ship that now belongs to me. She is a symbol, like all of you. If I am to truly bury your crusade, the people need to see those symbols crushed. That is why you're alive. You're going to watch as the greatest symbol of you rebellion is ground to pieces before your eyes. This is much more than a prison; it's an operating theatre. My scientists will probe, cut and dissect the Liberator for every secret it has to give up and when they have finished, when they have learned all your ship's secrets, the Liberator's gutted carcass is paraded through the sky of every Federated World - and you can't stop me!"
Wow. He seems a better political than Tony Abbott, that's for sure.
Downstairs in the Room of Pain, Travis is failing spectacularly to break Avon - he considers all Travis' ploys cliched and is too damn kinky to be tortured conventionally. He calls Travis out for trying to make himself more like Servalan, even down to keeping Vila as a pet flunky, and Captain Eyepatch loses his shit and whips out the anal probe and orders Vila to use it on Avon.
And Vila does use it...
...on Travis! Yay! Vila wasn't evil! (Seriously, he was very convincing.) He pretended to go evil to stop Travis torturing him and naively assumed Blake and the others would easily save the day, except he overestimated their abilities and underestimated just how easy it would be to convince them he had joined the dark side. His original plan to save these idiots himself were then derailed by the sudden arrival of the President - something even Avon admits would put HIM on the backfoot if their positions were reversed. Luckily, while Avon has no idea where the key is, Vila does. He nicked it, after all.
The President meanwhile is making Blake watch the robots starting to tear the Liberator apart and reciting some dialogue from The Caves of Androzani about how screwed the rebels are before Blake announces he's had enought of this shit and tries to kill the despot using only his teeth. The President shows his own remarkable intelligence by yelling "Oh yeah, that's right! I said you were a thug!" instead of, I dunno, leaving the room. What a retard. "You can kill me, but the Federation will endure!" he whines, as if this somehow will convince Blake to let him go. Seriously. How does that logic work? "Let me live and the Federation will collapse?" Give me strength. And when Travis arrives to shout that, actually, he's kinda been fooled by a Delta Grade moron, the President announces he was going to reneg on the deal and betray Travis all along. Because that is ALSO a clever way to handle this situation.
You can kind of see why Servalan was considered such a sensible choice over this guy, can't you?
Needless to say, our unarmed spandex-clad Jenna and Cally wiped out the Presidential Guard between scenes. Travis tries to out-insane the President by threatening to kill him unless Blake surrenders, and this unusual logic takes quite a lot of explaining - as the President is the only one who can save the Liberator, they have to keep him alive. The President then begs Blake to save him and promises to reform the Federation from the inside out, but he's batshit crazy enough to actually be genuine in his offer.
Cally, about as sick of this shit as the audience, says they just take both Travis and the President hostage and end the impasse. Not that there was really one in the first place; Avon and Vila have found Orac and put him to good use in completely screwing over the Cage, shut down the drones, recalling all the troops and also hack all the info on Star One hidden behind the Federation firewalls.
Blake - energized by finding out Vila didn't betray them and also the sight of Travis on his knees, wetting himself with terror and begging the President not to blow his head off - shoots the crazy motherfucker in the head and blows off Travis' knee-caps as well. Unfortunately the deadman switch triggered by the President's death sets off a sterilization protocol whereupon the Cage will be flooded with poison gas, so our heroes have to leg it before Blake can kill Travis. And he really DOES try to kill him this time, there's no mercy or cruelty this time, Blake wants the asshole dead once and for all.
But Travis sneaks off in some escape pod or something. Who cares? He was probably sharing a taxi with Davros or something...
Between Avon's sharp-shooting and Vila's lockpicking, our heroes return to the Liberator and junior-bird-man their hell out of there, blasting the Cage open with neutron blasters. Generally they're working quite well as a team and disproving the harsh critique given by that disembodied alien at the start of this mini-season and they escape with their lives and some of their dignity intact accompanied by some truly punch-the-air Dudley Simpson impressions. Blake expects a JFK-style chaos across the Federation now the unnamed President is dead, but Avon points out this doesn't change anything - and is proved right when they get a phone call from the President himself.
Yes, the crazy-ass loonbag pulled a fucking Borad on their arses! THEY KILLED A CLONE!
(In fairness, this isn't comparably out-of-the-blue. The Horst Facility was working on clones, clones that tended to go crazy and collapse, and the "President" fitted that to a T and was also supposed to be hiding in protective custody after the events of Trial anyway.)
The President explains he has won, more or less - they've got some of the Liberator's secrets, he's seen Blake's true self (a glory-seeking killer) up close instead of propaganda, he's still alive and the fun of giving a very vicious "reason you suck" prank phone call. Blake is devastated, and Avon tells him to build a bridge and get over it: they now have info about Docholli, and that Servalan herself is hunting him down to Freedom City. Avon, Jenna, Cally and even Vila are willing to continue the plan to destroy Star One.
And, spoiler alert, it turns out Blake is as well! I know! Unbelievable!
VILA: That's it, rebel scum! Keep moving!
AVON: There is such a thing as overdoing it.
VILA: Do you mind? I'm creating a character here!
AVON: There's a first time for everything.
(An alarm goes off.)
AVON: That didn't take long.
VILA: Someone must have released Travis from the magna-locks. I told you, we should have killed him!
AVON: No you didn't. You said he'd suffer more for letting us escape.
VILA: Oh. Did I?
AVON: I thought you'd got a taste for playing the hero.
VILA: Only when it's not going to get me killed...
So, in conclusion? There's a sense of rapidly-increasing panic behind the scenes of this saga, as the stories become increasingly interconnected until it becomes a one-after-the-other tale, and the increasing links to the Liberator Chronicles for material clashes with the normal B7 procedure of "make shit up on the spot - ideally an identical long-lost twin". It's like the writers realized that there was so little they could work with between Voices from the Past and Star One without being one long continuity-gap filler (hello, Mark of Kane, shouldn't you be on a register somewhere?) and needed anything else.
Looking at it objectively, Fractures has basically been a six-chapter version of Voices from the Past. After some alien-esque stuff that drives a wedge between all the crew, they become fixated on a brand new mission and ignore Star One. They start teaming up with the resistance, seeking out a behavior-controlling macguffin created by Auron defectors that could tip the balance of conflict. But oh noes! Travis is involved, and no one - least of all the script writers - is entirely sure who he's working for! We meet epically-huge characters oft mentioned but unseen, including an important politician who should surely have been seen before. With the crew divided, Travis uses this to seek control of the Liberator, there's a pitched battle massacre and... everything's back to normal. Next stop, Freedom City.
Now, don't get me wrong. I think it's universally-accepted Voices could have been a hell of a lot more awesome than it finally turned out, and B7 has often cheerfully recycled its own stories (The Web as Animals, Deliverence as City at the Edge of the World, Redemption as Ultraworld, Rumors of Death as Blake, et all). But the thing is B7 was actually often anti-story arc due to BBC policy which demanded that most episodes could be shown entirely out of order for repeats rather than stick to a rigid format. The self-contained nature of the stories is, in my not-at-all-humble opinion, one of the more enjoyable aspects. Hell, it added a kind of verisimilitude with episodes starting with Vila noting absolutely bugger all interesting has happened for months, since real life very rarely follows the 24-style every-single-thing-is-significant.
So, while BF's audios are certainly acceptable, the problem is more and more writers are becoming obsessed with the political intrigue and dark miserable endings (as RTD would note, it's easier to be dark than light, and anyone could do Children of Earth but it takes genius to do City of Death) rather than the fun madness that was so often around. Where are the aliens? The crazy comedy space pirates? Ironically, the most functional and least-invested opener of this saga is the one most like normal Blake's 7. The writers should remember that the universe is a big place, and the Federation isn't everywhere...
But nonetheless, this has been enjoyable, entertaining and truer to the spirit of B7 than any previous attempt at audio drama be it fan or professional. I'll end with my favorite moment from the last story.
Jenna is still pretty pissed off about Vila's double-cross, but he points out she did the exact same thing with the Amagons in Bounty. This shuts her up pretty damn quick I can tell you.
"As an argument, Jenna, that's hard to fault," agrees Avon wearily. "Which is why I don't trust either of you."