A few short years before Colin Baker was traversing time and space in Doctor Who, and while still well known to the public from his role as the ruthless Paul Merroney in BBC drama The Brothers, he was to make a memorable guest turn in a 1980 episode of Blake’s 7, bringing charismatic life to another bad guy. Although it was a single appearance, it certainly made a big impression on the show’s fans.
Bayban. Just one name, enough to instil fear in the hearts of Federation citizens. Also known as Bayban the Berserker and – more commonly – Bayban the Butcher, he happened to be second only to Blake on the Federation’s wanted list. With a reputation for mayhem that was unparalleled, Bayban was a force to be reckoned with. Bayban managed to trick the crew of the Liberator into getting Vila (Michael Keating) to help him with a heist he was pulling on the planet Keezarn.
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However, Bayban had underestimated the resourcefulness of Vila, and ended up apparently getting just desserts. ‘City At The Edge Of The World’ has proved to be a real favourite, seeing Vila going against type, not only having his fair share of action, but also getting the girl. Bayban proved to be quite the formidable adversary, but after his being bested in what appeared to be quite a terminal way, it seemed as though he was finished, never to be seen or heard of again.
Appearances can be deceptive, though, and it would seem you can’t keep a good bad guy down. Who would have ever envisioned that some four decades on, a one-shot character from a long-defunct BBC sci-fi show would not only return, but get a box set all of his own. Well, Big Finish are the ones to bring impossible pipe dreams into reality, and as holders of the keys to Blake’s 7 – as well as numerous other cult TV properties – they have done their best to give the fans what they want.
Their latest The Worlds Of Blake’s 7 audio drama set gives the psychotic mayhem merchant a further chance to exert his brand of chaos, bringing back both Bayban and Baker. In the first tale, ‘Conscience’ by Katharine Armitage, we take a journey back to before Blake had even formed his rebellion – smuggler Jenna Stannis (Sally Knyvette) finds that Bayban is embroiled in a scheme involving rare and valuable crystals; when the truth comes to light as to their source, it seems the price may be even higher than she first thought.
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Armitage‘s story is a morality play, managing to encompass both our real-world concerns about animal rights, as well as abuse of natural resources. As the plot unfolds, the various revelations all hit hard, as they parallel things which relate to our present, in the best tradition of science fiction acting as the perfect medium for serving up analogies. Never preachy or hectoring, Armitage‘s script is perhaps the main highlight of what is certainly a very strong set, ably supported by some strong performances and direction.
In ‘The Butcher’s Wife’, the world of Arl finds itself preparing for an imminent Royal wedding, with its Princess Arla (Fiona Hampton) having found a consort. However, the presence of a Federation envoy threatens to derail the pending nuptials. Arl happens to find itself host to a duo of dead men walking, both of whom were thought into have long since met a nasty – yet deserved – fate. What do they want with Arl, and does the planet itself have any realistic prospect of surviving their various machinations?
Lizzie Hopley’s tale suffers slightly by having a similar core notion to its immediate predecessor – a world which has a terrible secret at its heart, covered up by those who happen to be in authority. Although the actual secrets themselves are markedly different – with Hopley’s one actually being a novel revelation – it does feel that its impact is somewhat diluted by having a comparable bedfellow. However, it is a nice touch to see elements from earlier release ‘The Clone Masters’ being followed up on here.
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Concluding the set with Lizbeth Myles’ ‘Vengeance Games’, Vila finds himself getting dragged into a side mission by an acquaintance of an old friend, only to end up with far more than he had bargained for. An unwelcome face from his past who has numerous scores to settle means that Vila will have to rely on his wits – and those around him who have ended up in the exact same position – in order to have any hope of getting back to the Liberator. Vila managed to best Bayban once before, but his luck might have run out…
The main course here has to be what Blake’s 7 fans will have been looking forward to all along – a rematch between Vila and Bayban, as unlikely as it must have appeared after their first encounter. Vila is always a highlight of any episode, all thanks to Keating’s of the character’s nervous energy along with a strong sense of self-preservation; having him cut off from familiar surroundings and shipmates sees him having to rise to the occasion. Keating’s interplay with Baker is also a joy to hear, and elevates the story immensely.
Baker appears to be having an absolute blast, being able to deliver such a large, bold performance, without ever going completely OTT; Bayban is the sort of role where for it to be truly effective, an actor needs to sink their teeth into it, but not the scenery, and Baker manages to get that balance just right. With Big Finish being able to shine a light on pieces of the series’ mythology, and explore characters who deserve more attention, The Worlds Of Blake’s 7 really is proving to be a success, and hopefully we may yet get to hear far more from Baker as the Butcher.
The Worlds Of Blake’s 7 – ‘Bayban The Butcher’ is out now from Big Finish.