Since the final shootout on Gauda Prime thirty two years ago, there have been several attempts to bring Blake’s 7 back to television, the latest still apparently in active development, but a much more successful avenue for the adventures of the crew of the Liberator has been aural rather than visual, first via BBC Radio 4 in 1998 and more recently through the audiobooks of Big Finish Productions, best known for the plethora of Doctor Who stories they have created.
Unlike their previous Blake’s 7 releases under the banner The Liberator Chronicles which focused on specific characters from the show, Warship is a departure, a fully dramatised audio play featuring the original cast members Gareth Thomas, Paul Darrow, Michael Keating, Sally Knyvette, Jan Chappell and Jacqueline Pearce as Roj Blake, Kerr Avon, Vila Restal, Jenna Stannis, Cally and Supreme Commander Servalan, with Alistair Lock replacing the late Peter Tuddenham as Orac and Zen.
Written by Peter Anghelides and directed by Ken Bentley, Warship bridges the gap between the second and third series, resolving the cliffhanger when the crew of the Liberator discovered the Andromedan plot to invade the galaxy and put aside their differences with the Federation to stand as lone defender of the remote central computer core until a backup force of Federation Pursuit Vessels could arrive.
That episode, Star One, was also important in that it marked the last appearance of both Thomas and Knyvette as regular cast members, and this tale affords them the opportunity to grant their characters a more fitting farewell than the abrupt offscreen departures on the actual show.
Swiftly bringing the listener up to speed on the situation with an entry in Blake’s personal log dictated while he recuperates in the medical bay, the story launches into action moments later as Avon gives the order to fire the neutron blasters on the invaders before another mystery comes into play, the dwarf planet Megiddo whose rogue orbit brings it close enough for Liberator’s scanners to pick up indications an advanced technology may exist beneath the surface. Facing overwhelming odds in battle, Blake and Cally mount an expedition in hopes of finding resources that may aid them in their stand.
While the voices of all the actors have changed over time, Thomas in particular, they are all recognisable and slip into their characters easily. Anghelides has captured the rhythm of the dialogue and the voices of the characters, the style of the show faithfully recreated with the use of the original sound effects completing the illusion. This adherence to format does have drawbacks; as with the original show, some diversions feel designed simply to pad the story, and much of the dialogue during the battle elements is necessarily functional rather than exploring or developing the characters.
This is a frustration, as the relationship of the crew when they are allowed to talk at length is the greatest strength of Warship; ever the optimist, Blake ponders why the citizens of the Federation couldn’t have banded together against their oppressors the way they unite to fight they invaders even as their ships are mercilessly destroyed. Avon is cynical and pragmatic, a dour realist who tells his crewmates they will be abandoned if they do not return from Megiddo by his deadline, while Cally is dominant and confident, and despite her alien nature, the most human of the characters, forcing Blake to consider the repercussions the destruction of Star One will have on innocents, pointing out that for all its failings, the Federation offers stability, and admonishing Avon’s obvious coveting of command of the Liberator: “Before you desire, you should deserve.”
Other than an excursion on the hull of the ship, Vila is given little to do beyond reprising his familiar cowardly act, nor is Jenna, whose dialogue predominantly involves piloting the Liberator, a situation whose confines informed her original decision to leave the show; her character above all should have been showcased in this story, though she does at least have the final scene she deserves.
In the dual roles of Orac and Zen, Lock’s voice is notably different from Tuddenham’s, though he successfully recreates the attitudes of his two computerised charges. Currently undergoing treatment for serious illness, Jacqueline Pearce’s involvement is largely ceremonial, though even in that diminished capacity she shines, reminding why Servalan was equally adored and despised by her subjects, her enemies and the many fans of the show.
There are contrivances, some acceptable, with neither the Andromedans nor Megiddo using Tariel cells, meaning Orac cannot tap into their information systems, though the circumstances which result in damage to the life support system to tally with the order to abandon ship in the opening scenes of Aftermath feels forced, when a much simpler explanation of battle damage would have sufficed. Another odd directorial decision, presumably to indicate the change of location, is that the teleport room is now apparently accessed via a sliding door rather than an open corridor.
Regardless of any niggles, packaged with a second disc with a comprehensive behind the scenes documentary interviewing many of the players and creatives behind the ongoing series, this this well realised disc is thoroughly enjoyable, a nostalgic reminder not only of how talented the performers were and how good the show was despite the sometimes crippling budgetary compromises, but also an indicator of how much Blake’s 7 still have to offer.