Big Finish: The Worlds of Blake's 7 - AVALON Vol 1 Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: The Worlds of Blake's 7 - AVALON Vol 1 Review

Tony’s resistant.
Expanded universes are all the rage in cult TV and movies.

They’re what Marvel’s been up to for a while now, conquering the world with new adventures for characters inhabiting the same fictional universe as its major movie players. The Star Wars expanded universe is, let’s face it, significantly more gripping than the last few episodes of the main movie franchise were.

Big Finish is already a past master at expanded universe content. Everything from Jago and Litefoot to the Paternoster Gang, the Adventures of Jenny, and River Song, and Lady Christina, Gallifrey, the War Master, Missy, and even UNIT, it all expands the main parent-universe of Doctor Who.

We mention this because some people have raised their eyebrow at the launch of Avalon, Volume 1, and questioned whether it was either wanted or needed. Big Finish is expanding the universe of Blake’s 7 now?

Well…erm…yes. Yes, that’s precisely what it’s doing. And there are sound in-universe and ex-universe reasons for doing it.

In the real world, it’s sad but true that to keep running Blake’s 7 full-cast adventures when the actors who gave us Blake, Avon and Servalan are no longer with us becomes ever-increasingly difficult. Not impossible, but difficult.

Meanwhile, in the world of Blake’s 7, the viability of this expanded universe was set up by the show itself – Blake was relatively frequently tripping over ‘other rebel leaders’ and ‘other resistance cells.’ And the thing very few people ever talk about is quite how exceptional the Liberator crew were – they had the fastest ship in the sector, they had the ability to instantly teleport down to a remote location (and back up again), and they had Orac, the ultimate computer hacker’s toolkit. For all they got into scrapes and scraps along the way, the Liberator crew had it relatively easy when it came to resistance fighting. The fictional universe has plenty of space for those other resistance groups that didn’t have anywhere near as comfortable a time fighting the power of the Federation.

So – Avalon. Avalon was a resistance leader in the TV version of Blake’s 7, and has subsequently appeared in a Big Finish continuation of her story. More to the point, she is a relatively strong starting point for the expanded universe of Blake’s 7.

In this first box set of three stories, there are all the hallmarks of that expansion – we don’t get an Avalon origin story as such, but the first story, Terra Firma, by Steve Lyons, bristles with Blakeness, as it’s set during the time of the first episode of Blake’s 7. We hear mention of his trial on child sex offences, we deal at length with the issue of the resistance group meeting he attended where, betrayed by undercover Federation agent Dev Tarrant, the group was massacred, and in fact Tarrant features prominently in this set, with Malcolm James slipping back into the slimy shoes of TV Tarrant, Jeremy Wilkin.

Olivia Poulet returns to the world of Blake’s 7 as Avalon too, so in terms of continuity with prior Big Finish toe-dips into this resistance fighter’s life, as well as tying the series in with original Blake’s 7 chronology, this set has done its homework and is here to deliver. To tie everything together, Terra Firma gives us the story of the first encounter between Avalon and Jenna Stannis, later of the Liberator, as mentioned on-screen.

It’s perhaps not a legendary tale, Terra Firma, but it never stops making sense – in the wake of the resistance massacre and the trial of Blake, Avalon, who’s been working her revolutionary magic on other planets within the Federation, is driven to come home to Earth, if for no other reason than to prove to both the Federation and the people that the resistance is still alive there. She teams up with an old friend who’s not quite old enough to be old yet, Fay (played young by Becky Wright), and the two tangle with a smuggler who – much to Avalon’s dismay - is getting a name for herself. Jenna (Sally Knyvette) is very much at a pre-Blake stage here, increasingly aware she wants to follow someone into battle against the Federation, but that she has some pretty high standards for what they need to be able to achieve. By the end of the episode, Jenna’s decided that Avalon’s not it – at least, not yet – and headed off to her destiny. Fay gets an interesting introduction and we’re never entirely sure what the relationship between her and Avalon is, whether they’re related or simply sisters in the resistance. Certainly though, Fay looks up to Avalon in this first story, and is breathlessly eager to please and impress her leader.

Much of the plot of Steve Lyons’ story is workaday Federation grimness, but in a way, that’s the point – away from the Liberator, there’s a lot of workaday Federation grimness - including here a feud between ex-con Krask (Nicholas Asbury playing a role that back in the Eighties would have pretty much belonged to Stephen Yardley or Michael Attwell by right), and Federation goon-with-attitude Gryson (played with toe-curling officiousness by William Ellis). It all serves the bigger point of Avalon’s return, her re-uniting with Fay, and her testing out of Jenna Stannis as a potential resistance fighter. It’s a useful place to start this reimagining of the Avalon backstory, and having a member of the Blake crew there to bolster the connection between Blake’s universe and Avalon’s is a clever idea that helps us get to grips with the parameters of this new series quickly.

What’s a little odd about the second story in the set, Throwback, by Gary Russell, is that Avalon’s barely in it.

Sure, she’s a prime mover of the story, but really, this is an origin story for a new member of Avalon’s crew, super-civilized dome-dweller, Argo Madison.

Madison, played by Cliff Chapman, has quite a backstory – his parents should, according to all the social pressures in the Federation, have aborted him, but they refused. Madison grew up fussy, clever, always in need of the status quo – and with a prodigious memory. His work as a data clerk was both inevitable and also strangely necessary to him, setting his world in order.

When Avalon and her crew come to blow up his corner of the records archive, it ruins a lot of his life.

Being interrogated by a man named Travis doesn’t exactly brighten up his life either. But what that gives you is a tight mostly three-handed episode of torture and memories, as Travis (Stephen Greif) and Madison (Chapman) trade words, memories, and probing questions, with occasional input from Travis’ helper, Dag (Dawn Murphy). It’s soon apparent that Madison has an ulterior motive and a mission of his own, but which will be able to out-think the other – Travis or Madison?

If you want a mood, think Clarice Starling meets Hannibal Lecter for the first time – if Starling were strapped to a pain-inducing lie detector, and Lecter were in control of the dials. It takes a fair amount of gumption to play a scene like that with an actor of Greif’s calibre and vocal quality, but to give him his due, Chapman more than holds his own, making the story a subtle battle of wills and words and making us invest in Madison’s future, despite the fact that as a character, he’s difficult to warm to – a fact not lost on his fellow resistance members as time goes on.

Not to set episodes against each other, but it’s quite possible Throwback takes the laurels of this set, simply for the intensity of the truth-or-torture setting, and pitting Greif and Chapman against each other produces something powerful, the kind of audio you can eat a hell of a lot of popcorn to. And probably a few fingernails too.

Black Water, by Trevor Baxendale, rounds off the set with a story that sees Avalon and her team plan to disrupt the hydroponics centre that supplies a lot of Alpha grades. There’s some Star One energy here – what happens to the little people when you’re busy fighting the big empire? They suffer, they might even die, as collateral damage in your war against the State. And there’s a pleasing amount of command blindness on show in Avalon’s personality in this episode, bringing the ‘greater good’ argument to bear, while preparing to hurt a lot of the ‘little people’ – however Alpha grade they are. While it’s not the first time in the set that Olivia Poulet gets the chance to stamp her voice on the role, it’s probably the episode in which she gets to do the most interesting things – including a little double-crossing, and the exposure of a traitor in her midst.

In something of a spoiler, we can tell you that that Madison is a strong presence in this story too, and a gloriously whingy one, having been whisked out of his safe life in the dome and forced to deal with sleepless nights, unfiltered water and protein derived directly from animals. Or meat, as we 20th century barbarians would call it.

More though, this story shows the first strike of Avalon’s new group against the mechanics of the Federation, and brings the connection between Avalon’s group and Blake’s friends on Earth to a conclusion, as Dev Tarrant is, not to put too fine a point on it, rumbled. But is he rumbled in time to save both the group and the plan, or will Tarrant bring another resistance group to its knees?

It’s a close-run thing and there are casualties along the way, leading Avalon, at the end of this set, to head back out into space, having made a point there on Earth, to keep the resistance fighting in the heart of the Federation.

Just as the first story-bloc of Blake’s 7 dealt with the corrupt Federation on Earth, and was extra-specially bleak as a result, so Avalon’s first box set focuses on keeping the resistance alive at home. There’s a cogency to the set as it moves from her return home to her bolstering a new team, and then, having attempted a major strike, having to run back to the stars. The first set leaves you with a sense of something completed, and looking forward to whatever’s coming next. Olivia Poulet gets to show some of the steel and some of the compassion in Avalon’s character, as well as how – at least at the beginning – she deals with the pressure of being a known ‘legend’ in the resistance.

The universe of Blake’s 7 is expanding. Avalon is taking up the fight. And with the likes of Stephen Greif providing a bridge between this world and the world of Blake, and the likes of Cliff Chapman and Becky Wright supporting Olivia Poulet’s confident central figure, Avalon, Volume 1 is a great way to start opening up of the Federation’s universe. The resistance is back – and it sounds brilliant.

The World's of Blake's 7: Avalon Vol 1 is exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until 30 June 2021, and on general sale after this date.

Tony lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at

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