It’s been a few years since my last Blake’s 7 audio outing, and things have changed a lot since I heard Avon, Tarrant and Vila spar and bicker in the BBC’s audio drama, The Sevenfold Crown (by Barry Letts). It was a story that never quite captured the world or characters of Blake’s 7, but with Big Finish handling the audio license, Big Finish have done what Big Finish tend to do and taken the show back to its roots.
Ghost Ship is set in Blake’s 7’s series three, where Blake (Gareth Thomas) was lost to the galaxy (to be found in theatre) and Avon (Paul Darrow) had reluctantly taken captaincy of the Liberator with a refurbished crew now including cheeky chops space captain Del Tarrant, and a weapons expert with a consummate talent for getting herself disarmed each episode, Dayna Mellanby. In Big Finish’s inserted series arc, Dayna is missing from the ship (and therefore unsurprisingly, so is actress Josette Simon). Avon believes Dayna’s knowledge of the Liberator makes her a rogue card he ain’t too happy to have wandering the galaxy looking for people to disarm her. In her place, Del Grant (Tom Chadbon), a canonical character from series 2 episode Countdown, has joined the dysfunctional team. The story of Ghost Ship handles these changes to canon fairly peripherally, as it’s really a story about the legendary Blake’s 7 thief who is never far from a locked door or a bottle of Soma – or preferably close to both – Vila Restal.
Ghost Ship is a simple tale: Vila Restal, left behind on the Liberator manning the ship’s teleport, finds himself alone to face the supernatural. With just two super-computers for company, neither of which are particularly interested in the cowardly thief’s protests of strange happenings, Vila must uncover the truth behind the strange power fluctuations and voices that are haunting the large alien vessel…
Vila gets to make a choice some may find contentious, but risks are important to any revival.
The idea fits Blake’s 7 perfectly, both in structure, resolution. It is largely a one man show, utilizing a key show set-piece that all in all gives it the feeling of an episode of a television show constantly scrimping to save on budget. Iain McLaughlin’s story is reminiscent of a couple of other Liberator stories, series 2’s Shadow and series 3’s Sarcophagus, though feels directly like neither. Actor Michael Keating captures Vila perfectly, and performs comfortably on his own, guiding the viewer through the empty, massive ship (Liberator was meant to be far larger than Trek’s Enterprise).
Any issues? Well, I will say this for staunch listeners, as it will annoy a few, age has changed their voices – but that’s life, deal with it. The same was noticeable for the Davison crew in Big Finish’s Doctor Who range; sometimes you’ve just got to accept people – even cult heroes – get older. That being said, Keating’s voice remains largely on key. In the light of Peter Tuddenham’s death, the replacement voices for Zen and Orac are pretty good matches as well. If I was hyper-critical, the script isn’t quite as sharp as the television show, but so much of an improvement on the late, great, Barry Lett’s BBC audio stories.
For all these minor niggles, this is very much Blake’s 7 with a few little Big Finish tweaks to keep it fresh for audiences and actors. There is one moment where Vila gets to make a choice some may find contentious, but risks are important to any revival; as much as an audience should enjoy the expected ghosts of the past, they should equally appreciate challenges to their expectations. With its new arcs and edgy character choices, Big Finish keep Blake’s 7 from becoming a precious, polished antique and a worthy continuation of a bold and uncompromising science-fiction show.
Ghost Ship is available to buy from Big Finish, £10.99 CD or £8.99 download.