Sunday, April 27, 2008

BLAKE'S 7 is new and improved

About ten years ago, my good friend Bob Lautz introduced me to the 1970s British sci-fi TV series Blake’s 7. Bob had VHS copies of all four seasons, I think it was — some 52 episodes. The show was created by Terry Nation, the guy who brought the Daleks to the Doctor Who universe. The special effects were terrible. Most of the acting was over the top. But I liked the show’s premise — a small band of intergalactic freedom fighters doing whup-ass on an evil Federation — and watching it was addictive. Despite the awful production standards, I was obsessed with moving beyond each clumsy cliffhanger. I knew there was a Blake’s 7 fan base somewhere, but I never pursued it, so after returning the videotapes to Bob, I pretty much forgot about the series.

Well, thanks to Jesse Willis at SFF Audio, I learned a few weeks ago that Blake’s 7 has been reimagined recently as an audio drama. A group called B7 Media has released Blake’s 7: The Audio Adventures, and just as Willis reported, it improves on the original series in the same way today’s Battlestar Galactica does its predecessor. The first “season” consists of three consecutive stories — Rebel, Traitor, and Liberator — each broken into 12 chapters of five or six minutes apiece. And that season is now available in a four-CD box set that includes a CD-ROM of special features (three videos, three MP3s, and a computer wallpaper).

The set ain’t cheap, and it seems to be available only from B7 Media itself in the UK. But mine arrived in the mail just a few days ago, and it’s absolute dynamite. The cast is perfect. The effects that make up the series’ “soundscape” are fantastic. And the stories are riveting — easy enough to follow (not an uncommon challenge for audio dramas) but exciting, fast-paced, and fully drawn enough to bear up to repeated visits; in fact, I’ve listened through the series twice already. And I’m ready to jump onboard again.

Blake’s 7’s story of mismatched and often uncooperative rebels fighting a despotic regime isn’t, of course, new to sci-fi. But this redo of the old TV series is surprisingly thoughtful, filled with complex characters struggling through knotty circumstances. Nothing’s simple and straightforward, the show says, especially not the fight for liberty. Not when the people you plan to liberate are more disposed to suffer than shrug off the masters who oppress them. And not when your allies all have conflicting loyalties and agendas. This new, improved, audio Blake’s 7 is a “must” for libertarian science fiction fans. These first three adventures are not just thrillrides of empire-bashing fun; they’re a marvelously sophisticated initial launch in what promises to become a classic libertarian space saga. More adventures, I’m told, are on the way! So until then…up the rebels!

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