Review by Ian McArdell
The Terra Nostra returns us to the criminal organisation first glimpsed in the Blake’s 7 episode Shadow, for a set of stories in the shady underworld of the Federation. Taking their inspiration from the Mafia, the Terra Nostra seemingly stretched throughout the galaxy and it was heavily implied that they existed as a form of Federation soft power within the criminal classes. This boxset also draws together strands from the previous two in The Worlds of Blake’s 7, The Clone Masters and Bayban the Butcher – notably the story of the psycho-strategist Hinton.
The first story brings us Jenna Stannis, who has returned to her smuggling ways after the intergalactic war that kicked off in Star One. As Sally Knyvette left the show after the first two series, it’s a part of her character’s life which has remained for most part unexplored.
Here, Jenna arrives on the destination world of Stor Jayden with cargo of hot merchandise to offload and makes an ally of businessman Rax Aptford (Pal Aaron). The planet has a newly elected President (Jamie Zubairi) who is keen to maintain independence from the Federation; he also needs to make good on election promises to clean up his world’s corruption problem.
Stor Jayden’s main draw, aside from its attractive climate, is ‘The Dream’ – an immersive virtual experience. However, when it becomes a murderous nightmare, Jenna finds herself trapped in a web of intrigue with political and personal implications.
Showing the Terra Nostra’s all-pervasive influence, here we find them utterly entwined with the Federation. Their representative is a Space Commander, keen to offer the services at her disposal to the new President and his politically astute wife. As the drama unfolded, I enjoyed the layers of conspiracy and the multiple reveals of James Kettle’s story.
Vila Restal (Michael Keating) joins the fray for the second story; ‘rescued’ from an escape pod, he’s delivered to perform a job for the notorious criminal Kaiser Frick (the delightful Ariyon Bakare). Frick is assembling a team for a daring robbery and he needs a ‘Master Cracksman’; given little choice, Vila is the thief for the job.
Robert Valentine’s heist tale is a lot of fun with a gang of engaging, well-defined characters. From the youthful pilot Legra Minassian (Shvorne Marks) to the muscle Jok Rock (Joe Shire – a world away from Torchwood Soho) and Frick’s loyal lieutenant Darra Teevan (Turlough Convery), all are vividly written and played; I could happily heard more from the whole gang. Entrapment is a well-plotted affair too, with numerous twists and turns before it dovetails neatly into the final story.
The conclusion brings Vila to Spaceworld, where he’s hoping to enjoy a rendezvous with the Liberator. However, he’s failed to take into account the machinations of the Terra Nosta and its local representative, known as ‘The Enforcer’ (who is the latest client of the amoral psycho-strategist Hinton (Abigail Thaw).
Drawing on elements of the earlier stories, and indeed the precious two Worlds sets, Peter Anghelidies weaves the surviving characters into a clever, satisfying narrative. He also picks up on dangling threads left by Chris Boucher in his onscreen episodes. I’m mindful of saying too much about it, for fear of spoiling the fun, but there’s far more going on than simply slotting the pieces into place and it’s all very clever.
As the principal guest star, Karl Howman is on great, gruff form as the Enforcer as well as the comical Tudnam (surely a nod to the late Peter Tuddenham who voiced Zen, Orac and Slave onscreen). Ajazz Awad excels as his humourless right-hand woman Grovenar too and in a delightfully comic role, I also enjoyed Rakie Ayola’s Councillor Zukonar.
The two Blake’s 7 regulars are well catered for here. Working alone, Jenna is granted the space to become the smuggling badass we were always told she was, but seldom saw. For Vila, he’s as loveably entertaining as ever and driven by more than cowardice – particularly in the final story. Director Lisa Bowerman assembles an impressive cast around them and nails the gritter, more conspiratorial tone these that tales demand. I also rather enjoyed the neon-soaked cover by Tom Newsom.
Despite the limits placed on the range, due to the untimely passing of so many of the show’s original cast members, The World’s of Blake’s 7 range has impressively shined a light on the lesser explored corners of the series. It proves that, despite the numerous audiobooks and dramas already released, there’s still plenty of adventure to be found in Terry Nation’s dystopic universe (which was carefully cultivated by script editor Chris Boucher).
Beyond that, I hope we’ll be hearing more. Avalon certainly has bags of unexplored potential and the Extras on this set reveal that the final story was due to feature the cloned Travis, but he wasn’t used for fear of overstuffing the plot. While that’s understandable – there was plenty going on – the campaign for a Clone Travis boxset starts here!
The Worlds of Blake’s 7: The Terra Nostra is available on CD and download from Big Finish.
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