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Review of Blake's 7: Rebel 
18th-Nov-2007 09:08 pm
I spent my walk this morning listening to Blake's 7: Rebel, the first CD of the recent audio relaunch of Blake's 7 produced by B7 Media. (These were originally broadcast in short episodelets of 5-6 minutes each on the Sci Fi Channel UK website. You can still listen to them on the website if you feel like dealing with streaming audio and Windows Media Player and all that crap.)

This is a complete reboot of the television series, starting from the beginning with a whole new cast with Blake's being arrested, framed for crimes he didn't commit, and deported to the prison planet of Cygnus Alpha. I had mixed feelings about the idea of a reboot. On the positive side, as much as I loved the original show, when I rewatchd some of the early episodes recently, I was struck by how very "1970s BBC sci-fi" it feels. It's often slow paced, and the acting in places is a bit declamatory. Not to mention the "We're so cheap we have to borrow quarries from Doctor Who look. Plus, as a pure marketing matter, the reboot makes sense - you can't expect the average listener to be able to pick up the plot and character threads of a show that was cancelled over 25 years ago.

On the other hand, for the fans of the original series, it means we have to sit through a story we already know, at least in its basic outline. But the real question for me was: Would I be able to accept a totally new cast? It was really difficult for me to imagine someone else playing Blake, or Avon, or even Servalan. Would I buy it?

So far, the answer is an optimistic maybe. I think they did a fantastic job of casting the roles of Blake and Avon. They sound very different from the original actors, but they sound very right and convincing. Jenna and Gan are fine. I'm not as wholly sold on the casting choices for Vila or Servalan, but they're not awful. Still, I was jarred out of the story on more than one occasion when someone asked Avon a question and Paul Darrow's voice didn't answer. I think if I keep listening, I'll get used to it.

(Just to add to the casting follies, there is one character in the crew who was created for the audios and has no direct counterpart in the original series: Section Leader Lora Mezin. You'd think that this would mean that there was one character I could hear without cognitive dissonance. Except that they cast India Fisher, who plays Charley Pollard in the Big Finish 8th Doctor audios. So, there's a part of my brain that keeps delighting in hearing Charley running around being evil and bitchy and threatening Avon with a gun and all that. Very entertaining, but a complete distraction from the real story.)

Anyway, on to the more important stuff, particularly for those who don't have the voices of the original cast hardwired into their brains. The script is quite good. It condenses the events of roughly three of the original televised episodes into 70 minutes. Some things are lost - the audios start after Blake's initial brainwashing by the Federation has been broken, so we don't get to see Blake's realization that he's been living a lie, which I thought was quite effective in the TV series. On the other hand, the audios set up Blake as a much more convincing and effective rebel leader than the TV series. In the first couple of minutes of Rebel, Blake wipes out a squad of soldiers sent to arrest him by boobytrapping his apartment, performs surgery on himself with a kitchen knife to remove a secret tracking device implanted in his index finger by the Federation, and is only captured when he is betrayed by a former associate he thought he could trust.

Servalan is also introduced as a character earlier on than she was in the TV series, and it looks like she may get a bit more development. I particularly liked the scene in which Servalan visits Blake in prison during his show trial, and tries to co-opt him.

They seem to have done away with the Liberator's teleporter in this version of the series. Lead writer Ben Aaronovitch has a blog post that probably explains why.

I have to say that it's kind of gutsy to make a series in which the heroes are basically terrorists in the present political climate, and the temptation to try to read political commentary out of the story is strong. (It's a temptation that I've so far resisted, because I've got enough to do trying to appreciate the audio on its own merits without holding it up against the original TV show.)

The sound design is very good. In my mind's eye, I definitely see much more expansive and elaborate locales than the endless corridors and rock quarries that the TV series used. The more science fiction I listen to on audio, the more I am impressed by how effective sound can be at conjuring visuals. (Not perfect - I still don't really have any idea what the defense robots on the Liberator look like, except that some of them are "big" and "spiky".)

Normally, I don't pay all that much conscious attention to the music on audio plays, unless it's jarringly bad, but I did notice one nice musical touch on this disc - at the moment when Blake and the others first set foot on the Liberator, there's a brief music cue that evokes just a bit of the original theme song. I got a big thrill at that moment. Otherwise, the music did its job and didn't get in the way.

In summary, it didn't blow me away, but it also didn't suck horribly, which it could so easily have done. It was good solid audio drama. I'm eager to hear the next disc, and I'm even more eager to find out where the writers will take things once they've re-established things sufficiently to branch off from the template of the original series. (There are two more audios out currently. By all accounts, these adhere fairly closely to the events of the TV series. Mike's Comics, the U.S. distributor for the Blake's 7 audios, list a further 6 CDs slated for release in 2008 and 2009. A post from Mike's Comics in the Livejournal Blake's 7 community indicates that the sales of these CDs will determine not only whether more audios will be produced, but whether Blake's 7 is relaunched on television.)

So, if you are a fan of the television series, I think you've got to give the audios a try. If you're not a fan, but if you're intrigued by the idea of science fiction audio plays, and want something to start with that's not as continuity-laden as Big Finish's Doctor Who audios, Rebel would be a good place to start. And remember that CDs make excellent holiday gifts! Buy now, from Mike's Comics or the lovely folks at Who North America.

Ahem. Sorry. Got a bit carried away there. I would like to see this series get a chance to strut its stuff.
19th-Nov-2007 10:24 am (UTC)
Hi, I saw you on Mingmerciless's LJ and thought I'd say hello. Glad to see you enjoyed 'Rebel'. Just wanted to point out something, though...

There are two more audios out currently. By all accounts, these adhere fairly closely to the events of the TV series

...That's not quite true. The story diverges to greater and greater degrees in 'Traitor' and 'Liberator'. We've kept some elements in there, but we're also exploring new storylines.

Great review!

19th-Nov-2007 10:20 pm (UTC)
Thank you for dropping by, and thank you for the correction! I'm very much looking forward to hearing 'Traitor' and 'Liberator'.
25th-Nov-2007 11:10 pm (UTC)
Hi Wendy, thanks for the mention! We're thrilled to be the exclusive North American distributors for this wonderful series. As long-time B7 fans, we had some of the same concerns you did with the reimagining of our heroes, but we're very pleased with the quality of these audio adventures.

We have a links page for our authorized resellers of BLAKE'S 7 audio CDs outside the United Kingdom at http://www.mikescomics.com/LINKS2.html, so that anyone looking to support their local economy can do so.

Again, thanks for linking us, and have a great time listening to TRAITOR and LIBERATOR!

----Michael Salvo & Patty Cryan
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