The BBC television series Blake's 7 is being brought back to life with a series of audio plays and novels from Big Finish. In the latest novel Lucifer, written by former Blake's 7 actor Paul Darrow, we discover what happened in the period after the television series ended. As well as Darrow's character Avon, the novel also features Servalan.
Book Review: Lucifer by Paul Darrow
A review by Steve Rogerson of Lucifer, a Blake's 7 novel written by Paul Darrow.
With two successful Blake’s 7 novels under their belt, the publishing team at Big Finish obviously decided it was time to risk a novel by Paul Darrow, the actor known for his portrayal of Kerr Avon in the original television series. This is not Darrow’s first venture into writing, which was why Lucifer was a risk.
Though most Blake’s 7 fans love Darrow the actor as Avon, they have serious misgivings when it comes to his writing ability. Fans still recall with little fondness Darrow’s first Blake’s 7 novel – Avon: A Terrible Aspect – that meandered through bad writing, poor characterisation and inaccurate science (remember the Clouds of Magellan?) to tell the story of how Avon reached the point where the television series started. Darrow also wrote a script for the original television series. Called “Man of Iron”, it was mercifully rejected though it does create regular amusement for fans when they perform it at conventions.
In Lucifer, Darrow has opted to tell what happened after the dramatic events in “Blake”, the show’s final episode. The story is split into three segments. The first, many years after the events in “Blake”, tells of a power struggle as the Federation tries to rebuild itself. Avon is discovered on an island planet (see below) and the fact that he still knows the whereabouts of the supercomputer Orac means capturing him alive becomes a serious priority. The second section goes back in time to immediately after “Blake”, telling what happened in the seconds, hours and days after we saw Avon shoot Roj Blake and stand smiling surrounded by Federation guards. The third section tries to bring the two stories together to reach a climax.
The island planet
One of the strangest concepts in the novel is the island planet on which Avon is found. This will have the scientists among the readers either laughing in disbelief or trying hard to come up with plausible science that would make this possible. Others might just choose to go with the flow and accept that it exists.
Avon was originally marooned on a planet we were told that was half the size of Earth’s moon. This was involved in some form of collision either with another planet or asteroid causing a sliver of the planet to break free and go flying through space, complete with atmosphere, gravity, wind and sunlight. This is the island planet, and living on it, growing crops and enjoying a happy life, are a group of people of which Avon is one. No explanation was given for the fact that this sliver had apparently Earth-like gravity and breathable, warm air. It also had day and night, though we were given no indication of how long the periods were. The light, we were told, came from the light of distant stars reflecting off dying stars. Later, when Avon had been in a lake, he dried off from the warmth of twin suns towards which, we were later told, the island planet was drifting.
Is Lucifer any good?
Sadly, no. One of the big problems is the waste of words. A good novel makes every word count. Here, boring dialogue and unnecessary asides add nothing to the plot and make much of the reading a bit of a yawn. Oddly, the middle section, the one set immediately after the events of “Blake”, is much better written, almost as if it had gone through a proper editing process, something for which the rest of the book cries out.
The new characters are written without depth – you never really get to know them, and thus neither like nor hate them. This is a pity, especially in the case of Doctor Ess and Travis’ daughter Gabriella. Also, the early demise of Li Lim could have had more impact if we had had better insight into what on the surface seemed a very intriguing person.
There is also a major canonical blunder. In the final series of the TV show, Servalan was presumed dead and was thus going under the name Sleer as she tried to build a new power base. In this novel, in the section set immediately after the series, she is mysteriously back to being called Servalan and again president of the Federation.
There is some humour, such as when someone says to Avon “You’re him, aren’t you?”, a reference to the title of Darrow’s autobiography. There is also some bad science (apart from the island planet). For example, someone should have told him that rockets do not make whooshing or any other noises in space and, also in space, if a spacecraft’s engines cut out it does not “drop like a stone”. This area of space also features crosswinds, but there is no explanation of exactly what these are. One can only presume they are some type of solar winds but, given the other mistakes about space, don’t put any money on it.
All of which is a shame. The first two Blake’s 7 novels from Big Finish were a joy to read, bringing back memories of the original series in a way that made the reader feel that the Blake’s 7 universe was still continuing. It is understandable that Big Finish would want a big name such as Darrow to draw in more former fans to what it is doing, but more care really should have been taken over the final product. It is not as if they were not warned – Avon: A Terrible Aspect is out there and presumably they read it before commissioning Darrow. Give that, the editing team should have been ready for a long job in converting this into a readable novel. There are some potential storylines within there, though not enough twists to make the plot interesting. But surely with effort and will this could have been turned into something worthwhile. However, the result means that the new readers who were attracted by Darrow’s name may choose not to read the much better Archangel and The Forgotten.
Lucifer (ISBN 978-1-78178-046-6, ebook 978-1-78178-047-3, 299 pages), published in 2013 by Big Finish.