Set after Fractures, Battleground is the second full-cast audio adventure of Blakes 7 from Big Finish, not-counting the 2013 Warship adventure. Written by Andrew Smith and released in February 2014, Battleground features all surviving members of the original Blakes 7 cast.
Blake (Gareth Thomas) is tracking down Alexa Michelov (Abigail Hollick), a task made all the more difficult by the inability of Orac (Alistair Lock) to pin down the location of the Michelov they’re looking for. Orac’s access to Federation computers isn’t what it once was.
Michelov is giving the Federation technology like Orac, and it’s obviously not in the best interests of Blake’s mission to allow this to happen.
The last Michelov on Orac’s list is located on a planet call Straxis. The Liberator arrives there but is immediately under attack by a large array of satellites – the planet’s automated, but intelligent, defence grid.
Blake and Avon (Paul Darrow) teleport down to the planet whilst the rest of the crew – Jenna (Sally Knyvette), Cally (Jan Chappell), Vila (Michael Keating), Zen (Alistair Lock), and Orac – try to keep the Liberator safe from attack.
Straxis has another name, a codeword – Battleground. They discover that the planet is used as a training ground for Federation troops. Convicted prisoners, and other undesirables that have embarrassed the Federation, are left on the planet in specified zones. They’re implanted with tracking devices. Federation troops then use these undesirables as cannon fodder whilst they hone their training and their efficiency at killing.
In Zone 9, the prisoners are led by an ex-Federation officer who has knowledge of tactics. Assisted by Blake, Abel Garmon (Tim Bentinck) lures the Federation troops into a trap.
Meanwhile, Avon has been captured by those same Federation troops. Prisoners are not required and it’s only Avon’s lack of a tracking device that keeps him alive long enough to be questioned. He encounters the leader of the Federation attack troops, Voss Ferrell (Dan Starkey), who feels the best way to defeat rebels is to throw everything they’ve got at them – much against the advice of his ‘battletracer’ (effectively, Garmon’s examiner).
Without a tracker and, hence, not part of the training, Avon is left to be interrogated by the battletracer, Alexa Michelov. Not blessed with the most winning of ways, or much charm, Avon must try and convince Michelov to help them.
Garmon’s ruse works, and the Federation troops are defeated. Michelov gives the commander a fail mark and decides to help Avon the best that she can. She reveals that she did briefly work on a project for the Federation, something called Fedorac, but that it didn’t work and was abandoned. Avon isn’t so sure but, before Michelov can offer anything else, she’s shot and killed by Garmon.
With Garmon’s failure, the policy of the planet’s main control centre is to call in troops from other zones, close in on anyone they find in the failed experiment – both rebels and Federation troops – and eliminate everyone.
Blake calls for help from the Liberator, and the ship has to fight through the satellites again. Avon and Blake just teleport aboard in time to discover that the Liberator, whilst partially successful in its fight, has suffered massive damage. It can no longer fight, manoeuvre, or escape. And Federation troop ships are on their way.
At a little under an hour, Battleground plays out like a regular TV episode. There’s plenty of action, and the story offers plenty to keep the drama and tension going. It’s somewhat surprising that, for a “full cast audio”, it only really features two of the regular cast. This is most definitely a Blake and Avon story, with the rest of the crew left on the Liberator and only heard from sporadically throughout the adventure.
This is definitely one I would recommend. The original actors are definitely getting their old voices back, including Gareth Thomas as Blake (in the behind-the-scenes interviews, Thomas doesn’t sound much like the Blake that he delivers here at all, demonstrating how much effort he’s put in to recapture his voice – something that wasn’t so noticeable in previous adventures).
I don’t think the project name “Fedorac” is going to trouble anyone’s thinking too much but, with the adventure ending on a cliffhanger, we’re all set to listen to episode 3, Drones.