Cult BBC TV series Blake’s 7 has been a part of the Big Finish stable since 2012. The series, created by Terry Nation (creator of the Daleks for Doctor Who), tells the story of a band of rebels fighting against a cruel and tyrannical Federation. Long before Game of Thrones made killing off major characters a regular “thing”, this series was shocking late 70’s audiences by doing just that and, as a result, reshaping the science fiction landscape.
Commemorating the show’s premiere 40 years ago, Big Finish presents this two-part story (written by Mark Wright) which reunites many of the original cast from the series. Sadly, Gareth Thomas (Blake) passed away in 2016 and as a result the story lacks a focus that made the early series really work.
Unfortunately, the years have not treated the majority of the cast’s voices well. Many of the cast sound unrecognisable with the exception of Paul Darrow’s legendary portrayal of Kerr Avon, Michael Keating’s Villa, Jan Chappell’s Cally and Sally Knyvette’s Jenna. This makes for a tough time suspending disbelief. Jacqueline Pearce as Servalan is still as charming and villainous as ever (despite the change in voice).
The script also suffers from lengthy padding including many framing sequences between Avon and Magda (played by another original cast member, Glynis Barber) and this well and truly grinds the pace of the whole production to that of a snail.
The first part, subtitled Project Aquitar, is set in the show’s first season and tries desperately to recreate the feel of that first year. Without the characters of Blake or Gan (actor David Jackson having passed away in 2005) though, it fails to capture any of the energy or spirit of those episodes. Especially missing is the constant friction between Blake and Avon which drew fans in during the show’s original run.
The second part, subtitled Dissent, is more successful with a much tighter script that reflects the original’s third season perfectly. In this episode, the role of Dayna is played effectively by Yasmin Bannerman (replacing the unavailable Josette Simon) and the dual roles of computers Zen and Orac are captured perfectly by Alistair Lock.
As usual, it is hard to fault the production values with sound and music by Simon Power being at the high standard we have come to expect from the Big Finish team. Director John Ainsworth, through tight pacing and editing, does his best to keep the story moving along despite the troublesome script.
As a bonus there is an extended behind the scenes disc which sheds much light on both this production and the original series, containing interviews with many of the cast and crew associated with it.
The Way Ahead is an interesting piece of nostalgia for fans of the classic series, and, indeed, many long-time fans of the show will enjoy hearing the original actors return to their roles. As a story though, it is very lightweight and first time listeners to the series may be better served by listening to earlier releases from Big Finish or, better still, watching the original series.
Reviewed by Rodney Hrvatin
Rating out of 10: 5
Released by: Big Finish Productions
Release date: January 2018
RRP: $26 (CD), $13 (Download)