Review by Ian McArdell
The Palluma Project is the latest Blake’s 7 audiobook from Big Finish. Set in early Series B, it tells the story of a secretive Federation base and its off-book project which Blake and the Liberator’s crew stumble into.Palluma base is where rule-breaking Federation officers are dumped, along with the families of those who find themselves in trouble with the authorities. While not a prison colony per se, as all those stationed there have defined duties, its residents are transported in much the same way prisoners were to Cygnus Alpha. Indeed, we meet the captain and crew of the Bristol, a sister ship to the London, as it delivers Palluma’s new military commander.
Investigating the base and its purpose, as he cannot resist a mystery which might yield an advantage, Blake and the crew become embroiled in a bid for freedom. The Palluma system has some unique astrological features and through them, the indigenous people of the planet Palluma 25 have natural abilities that the Federation is keen to replicate.
From the Federation’s side, Tim Gambrell’s story follows Major Jackstar, who has seemingly engineered his appointment to this most unwanted of positions for his own ends. From our heroes point of view, we primarily follow Jenna as she and Avon infiltrate the base – as well as Gan, who finds himself in a pivotal position onboard Liberator, not least because he has assumed the role of pilot in Jenna’s absence. It is great to hear these two less well-served characters brought to the fore, something the Big Finish books are good at, and Gan garners plenty of well-earned praise for his efforts – he is far more here than simply the muscle!
Away from the Palluma system, as the situation escalates, we also get to spend time in the company of Supreme Commander Servalan. We enjoyed the appearance of Secretary Rontane and Senator Bercol (from Seek-Locate-Destroy and Trial), paying their monthly visit to Space Command; not only are they thoroughly worn out by a deliberate tour of all the least interesting features, but Servalan then gives them short shrift when things get interesting! It is not all fun at Space Command though as we hear her dominate during a brutal interrogation, described in grotesque detail, in order to expose a conspiracy.
Although he has a number of credits in and around the worlds of Doctor Who, this is Tim Gambrell’s first foray into Blake’s 7 for Big Finish. It is clear that he both knows this universe well, and knows how to spin an absorbing tale of plot and counter plot. As well as some great action set pieces, there are plenty of character moments too which are bound to raise a smile.
I’ve made a concerted effort not to spoil the central premise of The Palluma Project, as it is one that is both horrifying – but also provides for some great sequences that allow you to feel as trepidatious as Jenna. It is something I could easily imagine the series trying onscreen, its success being in the hands of whoever was directing (always a bit of a lottery!) Some of the more visceral aspects might have been toned down though, one imagines.
As narrator, Sally Knyvette, who played Jenna onscreen, naturally knows the principal players well and brings them to life entertainingly, capturing a good sense of their delivery. What’s also fun, once you get used to it, is the range of regional accents she deploys to give colour to the wider cast of characters, particularly the aliens. Why not? As Doctor Who fans know well, lots of planets have a north!
All in all, The Palluma Project is a lot of fun and well worth disappearing into for a few hours (it runs to over seven!)
Away from the Liberator, there’s more to come from The Worlds of Blake’s 7 range in the coming months. First up, in September 2021 is The Clone Masters boxset, with its accompanying audiobook The Rule of Death.
Blake’s 7: The Palluma Project is available on download from Big Finish
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