Blake’s 7 is going through something of a renaissance just now. The whole series has recently been made available to watch on BritBox, and Forces TV has also begun showing it from the very first episode. Arguably, its profile has rarely been this high since it was originally shown between 1978 and 1981.
Also helping keep the memory of the programme alive over the last decade has been Big Finish, which originally started out as a producer of official Doctor Who audio dramas, but in the last 20+ years has added a raft of licenced continuations or reboots of other cult properties, such as Space: 1999, Star Cops, Adam Adamant Lives!, Timeslip, and Blake’s 7. All of the surviving cast were reunited for a range of new tales set in the dystopian universe devised by Terry Nation, creator of the Daleks.
Sadly, all good things must eventually come to an end, and following the passing of Gareth Thomas (Blake) in 2016, as well as Jacqueline Pearce (Servalan) in 2018, and Paul Darrow (Avon) in 2019, it appeared Big Finish’s revival of the British sci-fi classic could go no further, with three key members of the cast no longer being available. However, Big Finish found a way to work around that constraint, by telling stories that centre on other characters featured in the show.
The Worlds Of Blake’s 7 range has given Big Finish scope to explore and expand upon the series’ mythos, with its latest entry – ‘The Clone Masters’ – focusing upon the race of the same name who were briefly featured in the second season episode ‘Weapon’. It also offers the opportunity to push the characters of Jenna (Sally Knyvette) and Cally (Jan Chappell) into the foreground, giving them the chance to shine which they rarely had during their time on screen.
‘The Clone Masters’ is split into three episodes, all of which are by Tim Foley. The first part – ‘Separation’ – sees Jenna running across an ex-associate, Hinton (Abigail Thaw), who manages to persuade her to head to a remote forest planet, drawing her into a mystery which has a familial connection for Cally. As they head away from the safety of the Liberator, the duo find themselves in a desperate struggle for survival, as something unknown stalks them on the surface.
Foley’s script is a revelation, making ‘Separation’ an entirely female-centric story, and bringing Jenna and Cally out from the shadow of the male leads. Even though the chief villain in Blake’s 7 – Servalan – was female, women featured in the show were not always particularly well-served. Thankfully, Foley manages to put that right here, giving these two crew members the focus of the action, and letting both Knyvette and Chappell really excel, while also making the supporting characters women as well.
Part two, ‘The Rule Of Life’, sees Space Commander Travis – whose vendetta against Blake and his compatriots has led him to increasingly more desperate measures in pursuit of his obsession – approaches the Clone Masters with a rather special request; however, it becomes clear that he is not on official Federation business, and giving Travis what he seeks here could have unforeseen consequences for him. Another surprise also lies in wait for him, buried away in the depths of the city…
One thing which was always glossed over in Blake’s 7 on TV was the re-casting of the part of Travis, with Stephen Greif being replaced for the second season by Brian Croucher, and in the process giving Travis a whole new persona – as well as appearance – with no explanation. Here, Foley’s story does touch upon this, using the perfect opportunity presented by the scenario to explore the duality of Travis’ nature, as well as offering Greif and Croucher the chance to play off against each other, something which pays off handsomely.
The various strands of the first two instalments culminate in the climax, ‘The Conclave’, which focuses upon a successor for the Queen of the Clone Masters being sought, following the death of the incumbent. Cally is drawn to the location of the Conclave, trying to locate somebody known to her, but thought to have long since been lost. With her path crossing with Travis, the pair have to form a temporary – and a rather uneasy – alliance, if they have any chance of survival.
Having the scope of a full set to explore the Clone Masters – giving them an entire life and culture not afforded them on television – sheds light on an unexplored part of the series’ background, and manages to give Chappell the opportunity to do something different, which makes you realise just how underused she was during her run in the programme. While ‘The Conclave’ does give a satisfying conclusion, it also lays down threads which hint at further stories yet to come, and definitely deserve to be followed up.
Whilst retaining the spirit of Blake’s 7, ‘The Clone Masters’ has its own energy and drive, giving something distinctive and special, and doing justice to some of the ensemble who had perhaps fared less well originally. The Worlds Of Blake’s 7 definitely shows the way forward, with an ideal formula for being able to carry on the fight against the Federation, while also telling compelling tales which offer the limelight to the more under-utilised characters.
The Worlds Of Blake’s 7 – ‘The Clone Masters’ is out now from Big Finish.