Cygnus Alpha Blake’s 7 audio book review

The BBC releases its audiobook version of Cygnus Alpha, read by Mr Paul Darrow himself...

There was a time when the only way a sci-fi fan could relive their favourite shows was by reading a well-thumbed paperback book. Back in the 1970s and early 1980s, there were no repeats or DVDs. You couldn’t download (legally or otherwise) the latest episode and catch up with it on iPlayer – you had the novelizations and nothing else.

Doctor Who fans had the Target series, which brought classic tales back to life and sold by the bucket load. Blake’s 7 fans didn’t fare quite so well. The opening four episodes of the first series were novelized at the time by author Trevor Hoyle, and were published by Sphere Books.

The book was a cult hit at the time, but it’s now a collector’s item. Fortunately, BBC Audiobooks have roped in Paul Darrow, the original Avon, to read it.

To say Darrow enjoys himself would be a serious understatement. He gives it his all and you can almost see him with that famous ‘Avon grin’ as he reads out the lines. His well-worn voice brings the action to life and his impression of Brian Blessed is a joy to behold. If there’s one person who can out overact Brian Blessed, then it is Paul Darrow.

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It won’t surprise long-term Blake’s 7 fans to know that he really, and I mean really, goes for broke when reading out the lines of his own character, Kerr Avon. Darrow really did make the character his own. Colin Salmon was good in the re-imagining, but there really is only one Avon and his name is Paul Darrow. It may have been almost 30 years since he last played him, but Darrow seamlessly gets back into the groove.

Sound effects are used throughout and help Darrow perfectly re-create the Liberator’s computer, Zen.

This audiobook tells the story of the third and fourth episodes – Cygnus Alpha and Time Squad. Hoyle’s narrative really brings the moody atmosphere of the prison planet Cygnus Alpha to life. Like the television episode, it’s dark and gothic in tone.

This really was Terry Nation at his bleakest. Looking back, it’s hard to believe they got away with this as family entertainment. Nation had already gone for broke with the first episode, a relentlessly bleak Orwellian drama in which the lead character is framed for interfering with children.

By the third episode, the fledgling characters are starting to take shape, although with so much at stake – anyone could die, and they do. Blake, Avon and Jenna now have the Liberator, but fly to the prison planet to find a crew.

There is real tension in both the television version and in this reading, which will keep you on the edge of your seat.

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Things take a bit of a nosedive with the fourth episode Time Squad. To be fair, the original version was always something of an anti-climax after the rollercoaster ride of the first three episodes. The 1984 references were toned down and the series shifts into the space opera we all know and love, with dodgy sets and camp costumes – and Servalan hadn’t even showed up yet!

The audio version has more pace than the original episode, which is ironic considering it is far longer in length. Without some of the dodgier special effects, it’s not a bad episode. It’s certainly not the best episode of Blake’s 7, but by the end of it, the final crew are assembled.

Some Blake’s 7 episodes have aged better than others. This audio version has none of the wobbly sets of the original and is pure Paul Darrow. It really doesn’t get any better than this for die-hard Blake’s 7 fans.