It is thirty two years since the final episode of Blake’s 7 left a generation of fans shocked and reeling, the rebellious freedom fighters finally cornered and decimated by Federation guards on the remote planet Gauda Prime, all seen to be killed except the devious computer expert Kerr Avon, the final blasts of Federation blasters over the end credits leaving the slim possibility that he alone had not been executed. In the intervening decades, actor Paul Darrow has kept Avon alive in the novel A Terrible Aspect which told his interpretation of the origin of the character, in numerous audio plays, but has now moved the story forward in his new novel Lucifer.
Opening with a prologue which details the internal collapse of the Federation, the narrative moves directly to Gaius 7 when a crash landed expedition is attacked by the residents of that island planet who possess resources and sophistication beyond that which would be expected. The sophistication is due to the presence of Avon, though quite how he has obtained materials to create undetectable explosives whose fuses can be linked to the computer networks of space vessels is not addressed.
Set in two time frames, a middle section detailing the immediate aftermath of the fateful shootout of Gauda Prime as seen in the episode Blake with the majority of the novel a framing story twenty years later as Avon is finally discovered on his refuge, the impression is that neither Servalan nor Avon have changed in any way in the interim. While Darrow captures the monomania of both and channels their voices well, there is no sense of the two decades which have supposedly passed, no attempt to expand or explore them.
Curiously, it is Avon, who Darrow should know best, who is most underwritten of the two; gone is the warmth that was sometimes glimpsed beneath the barbed cynicism, particularly in the final season when Avon finally accepted his role as leader of the group, a position he had resisted until then. Instead he resembles nothing so much as the straw man the Federation propagandists would paint him as, an asocial misanthrope, a violent terrorist.
The other characters are ciphers or knockoffs, Pandora Ess and Gabriella Travis little more than Doctor Servalan and Senorita Servalan, redundant as soon as the original makes her grand appearance, and all the power brokers of the Quartet, which has replaced the Federation council, speak with the same voice, the inclusion of a two page listing of the dramatis personae necessary to keep track of which stock villain is which.
Rather than progressing the plot the Quartet seem to enjoy endless sessions of fine dining, champagne, tennis and horse riding while scheming to take over the known universe. Strategy meetings feel less like science fiction than awkward society dinner parties where the guests uncomfortably tolerate each other while looking for a way to make a polite exit.
There is no inner voice for any of the characters, with every passing superficial thought spoken aloud as they praise each other’s intellect and deviousness while making promises of loyalty as they divvy up the kingdom, but beneath the gloss there is no life. No more than a token attempt is made to describe the characters, the flashback to Gauda Prime the only hint of atmosphere in the novel, though that may be from recollection of the horror of the broadcast episode rather than anything conveyed by Darrow’s prose.
The grasp of astronomy is no better than that of character: Gaius 7 is described as an island planet, the fragmentary remain thrown off a larger body as the result of a planetary collision. While this should be an interesting and challenging environment, no explanation is made for how it has retained its atmosphere and ecosystem, how it came to have drifted across space uncharted, nor is the setting imbued with anything other than rudimentary generic forests, rivers and caves, a unfortunate prose reflection of the budgetary constraints of the original show.
The feel is not of a novel but of a script which has had minimal annotation for stage direction and the inflection with which the lines should be delivered, but with no insight into the what drives the characters other than the desire for power and revenge, the recitations are flat, the mayhem and violence unbelievable as Avon wages a one man war against better equipped forces which far outnumber him. While the dialogue does capture some of the feel of the show in that it is clunky, expositional and contrived, it is doubtful if this was the intention.
While it is to be admired that the book is undoubtedly Darrow’s own work, that hubris is the key downfall, but the failings must be shared with the editor who did not impress upon him the desperate needs for skilled ghostwriter who could perhaps have salvaged a book that was at least readable.
Lucifer is now available from Big Finish Productions as hardback or audiobook read by Paul Darrow
Big Finish also released the cast reunion audiobook Warship