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The Blake's 7 prequel audios

My commuting listening last week was the set of eight audios produced in 2008-09 telling the story of the various characters of the original Blake's 7 before the start of the story as we know it. I strongly recommend the set as a whole to fans of the series. Some of the characters are taken in a slightly different direction to what we thought we knew of them, but in general I felt it was true to the spirit of the show as I remember it. (Thanks, I think, to watervole for alerting me to these.) All but the last of these is half an hour in length (the last is a full hour).

The first three audios explore the dystopian society from which our heroes escape / are expelled. When Vila Met Gan, told as a flashback from canon time (though I was confused about the references to teleporting not being available), explores future England as a Brave New World society, Gan as an Epsilon being ineligible to court the girl he loves (and the infrastructure meanwhile crumbling round them). I'm coming round to Ben Aaronovitch; the writing and performance really sparkled, and I was really impressed by how well the actor playing Vila had caught Michael Keating's voice (and then felt a bit silly when I actually looked at the CD cover properly).

Point of No Return, by James Swallow, has the rather icky story of Travis deciding whether or not to torture a detained political suspect who he believes (or claims to believe) is planning a bombing campaign. I was never hugely interested in the Travis stories, so it didn't scratch my itches particularly, but I felt it did add a layer of conviction to the social background of the future Earth.

Eye of the Machine, by Ben Aaronovitch, is absolutely brilliant, probably my favourite of the bunch. It tells us how Kerr Avon (played by Colin Salmon), a bright lad from a colony planet at the Oxford University of 2230, falls in with Anna Grant (played by Keeley Hawes) and her radical political friends, at the same time trying to satisfy the intellectual demands of his professor (played by Geoffrey Palmer). This is all in the background context of Roj Blake's Freedom Party contesting the elections; even if the people support them, will they be allowed to win? We know the answer of course but it's a great ride.

The other five audios switch us away from Earth. The next two, Blood and Earth by Ben Aaronovitch and Flag and Flame by Marc Platt, take us to Auron and the experience of growing up as part of a family of telepathic clone sisters all called Cally. The first has Jan Chappell turning up as a voice from the past helping a younger Cally escape a crashed spaceship; the second has two more Callys navigating physical and political hurdles, manipulated by the men in charge of their world. The Aaronovitch episode is the better of the two, but both do a good job of conveying a non-human culture with general telepathy. It's a little unsatisfying that we don't actually find out which of the surviving Callys is 'our' Cally as played by Chappell on TV.

We come slightly closer to home ground with two audios about Jenna by Simon Guerrier, The Dust Run and The Trial. Once again, the first of the two is better, taking us through Jenna's childhood and adolescent rivalry with one Townsend, played very steamily by Benedict Cumberbatch; the second basically fulfills the role of the middle story in a trilogy of getting our main character to where we know she is at the start of the TV series (though again has some colour about the future Earth society). Jenna herself is played by Carrie Dobro from Babylon 5; obviously she was so traumatised by the events of The Trial that she lost her American accent once she was in the London.

Finally, Escape Velocity tells the back story of Zen, or Deep Space Vehicle Nine as he originally was when constructed by The System. The main character is not Zen but the crew member known as healer, played by Zoe Tapper, with no memory of her past life but a strong desire to find out. Zen is played by Alastair Lock and Tracey-Anne Obermann appears as another character. It's another good portrayal of an utterly alien set-up.

These are mostly satisfying and all worth while for the Blake's 7 fan. I think the Aaronovitch stories, and The Dust Run and Escape Velocity, would be perfectly accessible for the listener who knew nothing about Blake's 7, though they might then be a little confused if they started watching the TV show...

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