The latest instalment of The Liberator Chronicles brings to a close the current run of this particular strand of Big Finish’s Blake’s 7 imprint, in confident and engaging style. By a sad coincide of timing; this release was issued within weeks of the passing of Gareth Thomas (Blake), who died in April at the age of 71. Although a lead on the whereabouts of the missing Blake is one of the plot drivers of two of the three linked episodes of volume 12 (which are all set within the timeline of the third TV series), the show’s titular hero does not appear in this closing trilogy.
First episode “Corners of the Mind” is a tautly plotted two-hander, focusing on Avon (Paul Darrow) and Cally (Jan Chappell). On a mission to hunt for a secret ancient weapon, Avon’s cover is blown and he is taken hostage by a group of archaeologists, led by the ruthless military commander (and a former nemesis of Avon’s) Ariel Dortmund. As he attempts to solve a series of taxing and potentially lethal puzzles, set by the creators of a hi-tech maze, he is able to contact Cally using an improvised communicator (salvaged from the desiccated remains of a former explorer), who provides support and encouragement as the Liberator races to come within teleport range.
The conversation between the two (other crew members are referred to, but none appear on microphone) is well executed, and the storyline explores some interesting territory: Avon becomes uncharacteristically open about his past shortcomings as a solo operator (unconcerned then by the type of ideological obsessiveness that now drives Blake). Although his analytical faculties never let him down, Avon’s memory begins to deteriorate as an unknown force affects his mind. Darrow revels in Avon’s return to centre stage (effectively this is his story) while Chappell, although limited to the role of ‘shipmate on the other end of the line’, gives great value as Cally; determined to ensure Avon’s survival, but continually frustrated by his archness and reckless lack of caution. Andy Lane’s script serves both actors well, and the episode mixes themes of melancholy, failed ambitions and of retribution to impressive effect.
Second episode “Capital” (by Guy Adams) focuses on the misadventures of Tarrant (Steven Pacey) and heralds the return both of the fearful, planet-decimating weapon The Armageddon Storm, and of Vila’s estranged father, the deeply untrustworthy Solvin Tavac (astutely voiced by the ever-prolific David Warner). When a party from the Liberator returns to the ruins of outer London in the hope of sabotaging the Federation’s new planet-killer, they are ambushed, drugged and captured. In prison they learn, via vid-screen, of Servalan’s plan to discredit them by implicating the rebels in the destruction of planet Earth. Tarrant escapes but is injured in the process. As he struggles to repair a damaged landing craft for flight, he relates, in flashback, the story of his shipmates’ efforts to locate the apocalyptic super-weapon. Pacey’s performance is energetic, and his ability to impersonate the vocal mannerisms of other members of the Liberator is striking. “Capital” has a strong action-and-adventure motif and director Lisa Bowerman makes good use of the fast-moving and tense plot to deliver this volume’s most immersive soundscape.
The closing episode “Punishment” (Adam’s second) switches the focus to Villa (Michael Keating), whose story begins with him under lock-and-key: a prisoner facing interrogation. Villa recounts to his gaoler, the story of his (seemingly unsuccessful) attempt to locate and disable The Armageddon Storm, now threatening to decimate the home world. Keating finds just the right balance of humour, pathos, vulnerability and unlikely heroic impulses in Villa. The roguish thief enjoys a rare outright victory at the episode’s end, as Villa’s true role in the team’s plan is revealed; and as he rebuffs his unscrupulous father’s self-serving bid for familial reconciliation.
The two-hander technique employed in The Liberator Chronicles works extremely well; with the listener able to buy-in to the dramatic conceit, without feeling in any way short-changed, thanks to the quality of the scripts and of the performances. Volume 12 signs off the current run with three strong adventures, which for the most part see this rag-tag group of space rebels come out on top; or at least emerge undefeated. In the context of Series C, the absentee figure of Blake remains, as Tarrant puts it: “the ghost that haunts the Liberator”. Big Finish’s announcement regarding the future audio adventures of that ship and its crew (and that of Scorpio for that matter) is keenly awaited.
THE LIBERATOR CHRONICLES – VOLUME 12 / AUTHORS: ANDY LANE, GUY ADAMS / PUBLISHER: BIG FINISH / STARRING: JAN CHAPPELL, PAUL DARROW, MICHAEL KEATING, STEVEN PACEY, DAVID WARNER / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW (FROM BIG FINISH SITE); 31ST MAY (GENERAL RELEASE)