‘The Turing Test’
By Simon Guerrier, Directed by Lisa Bowerman
Release Date: 28, February 2012
On the run from the Cassini pirates, Vila and Avon infiltrate an experimental Federation lab, posing as a brilliant scientist and an astonishing android. As Avon attempts to convince the assembled scientists that he is an impressive imitation of human life, he encounters a robotic creation named 14. Sculpted in the shape of a young girl, 14 has been coldly tortured and experimented upon. She cannot speak, but her eyes tell the tale of her torment and it ignites an intense rage in Avon, disgusted at the inhumanity of these scientists.
The Turing Test is scripted by the astounding Simon Guerrier, fast becoming one of my favorite audio writers. It immediately captures the context and texture of the vintage 1979 TV series in the opening moments. Paul Darrow, the true star of the B7 cast, purrs his lines beautifully (with only the occasional whistle from his teeth betraying his age). I was nervous about Darrow coming back to this character, but it’s like he’d never left.
Vila and Avon are sent to the top secret base, they investigate the experiments being made there in artificial intelligence. Their mission is to infiltrate the coven of boffins and find a particular invention, but things get out of hand when Avon becomes personally involved.
The interplay between Darrow and Keating is spot on and I was overjoyed that the majority of the adventure is a two-hander with the story split between the pair of them. as they are my favorite characters from the TV drama. Vila, the cowardly clown able to crack any lock, plays a barely passable scientific inventor, but the scientists are of course more interested in Avon, thinking that he is an almost human synthetic being.
The notion that a sociopath like Avon would impersonate a robot built to appear human is just inspired. Avon is a cold, calculating man whose Chesire cat smile covers his true intentions, known only to him. Avon narrates The Turing Test, offering listeners a glimpse inside his mind that few have ever been granted… and its a frustrated place, full of pent up anger and bottled anxiety directed at just about everyone. As he is led by a scientist into a bedroom for a new test, he smiles and complies on the outside while internally he growls, ‘Where ARE you, Vila?’
Faced with an actual synthetic creature, Avon plays up to the scientists, ‘We’re the same.’ It’s an act, but is it closer to the truth than even Avon would admit? Despite his cold exterior, does the outsider Avon truly yearn for companionship, for acceptance and safety that he can never have?
It’s a crime that many of my fine readers have absolutely no idea what Blake’s 7 is or why anyone would want to promote it as the best thing ever. Created by Terry Nation after the success of the Daleks in Doctor Who and the Survivors on his own, he tackled a science fiction vision of the ‘Dirty Dozen in Space’ that pitted a rag-tag group of malcontents against a corrupt system of authority.
The only reason that Blake’s 7 is not more well known in the United States is because it was barely shown on PBS. Even I only caught the pilot and most of the last series by accident. By the time I realized how great it was, it was gone and I had to wait for the advent of DVDs and my region free player to see the whole thing.
The program featured model work, guest actors, music and even costumes that would be familiar to fans of Doctor Who because, well… they were from Doctor Who. It’s all good, though, because Federation guard helmets were used several times over in Doctor Who in the 1980’s.
But looking at the surface details misses the point, which is that Blake’s 7 was groundbreaking. It was Star Trek in reverse. Even the logo is a variation of the Federation emblem tilted on its side. The Star Trek crew were interested in exploration of the human journey, Blake’s bunch hatched numerous cunning ploys against the system in a desperate maneuver to awaken the drug-addled citizens. In many cases, Blake and his followers escaped by the skin of their teeth, some didn’t even make it at all. Blake is a charismatic and driven man, determined to see his message of universal freedom screamed from every corner of the galaxy.
The crew of the Liberator, a strange alien ship that had drifted from some other galaxy to ours in the aftermath of some cosmic battle, are not altruistic. They are criminals on the run, looking for weapons to use against their oppressors in their journey across the colonized worlds. They encounter science gone wrong, frustrated geniuses and angst-ridden barbarians (and Brian Blessed), but nothing like the glimpse of hope that lay in the science fiction dream that Gene Roddenberry produced. No, this was something entirely different.
The Turing Test has the unenviable mission of re-invigorating interest in Blake’s 7 in a new way. Several attempts have been made before, from a Barry Letts-written radio drama to an audio series featuring an all-new cast (which is in itself rather good). There have also been rumors of a new updated modern version of Blake’s 7 that could come at any moment… but hasn’t.
The Big Finish project, however, could be the most successful of the lot for its sheer simplicity. Rather than re-inventing Blake’s 7, it has inserted new adventures within the existing body of work. Enlisting Gareth Thomas as Blake, Michael Keating as Vila and the (many times) aforementioned Paul Darrow as Avon, grants the audios a kind of integrity and nostalgia value that makes them instant classics.
Rather than trying to find what made Blake’s 7 work or re-interpret the ideas for a new audience, this is a return to the program as if it had never ended. I had not expected that for some reason, despite the high caliber of talent involved.
Simon Geurrier’s The Turing Test references a procedure in which a machine is challenged to think as a human being. This is of course reflected in the many tests that Avon endures as the stand-in android, but a darker version of it is explored in the implied treatment of 14.
Blake attempts to liberate 14 (of course), but finds that it is just not possible. She must live on Quentil due to her programming. Yet rather than return to her place of torture, she chooses death. Blake cannot understand this, which angers Avon, ‘She’s not like you, she doesn’t want to fight… but his mind was set. Always the grand gesture… and to hell with everyone else.’
In the end, the Liberator crew destroys the research on Quentil in a clever ploy to develop new androids. Vila insists that Avon must be satisfied by this punishment as, after all, Avon was after revenge for what had been done to 14. But Avon refuses to accept this. He was just being practical. ‘No good comes of being wide eyed and naive,’ he muses. He does, however, accept Vila’s statement that he and 14 were two of a kind, but whereas 14 was incapable of showing emotion, Avon had shut off that part of himself a long time ago… in order to survive.
Actor Paul Darrow today (massive display of talking Daleks in the bg)
He’s a queer duck, that Avon.
Actor Paul Darrow said it best when, in describing Avon’s psyche, he stated:
“He’s psychologically damaged, I suppose, if you stand back and look objectively at him, but then, who isn’t?”
(More Blake’s 7 images by Mateen Greenway can be found here)
The Liberator Chronicles is the first of a new series of audio adventures exploring the iconic science fiction program.
Next: Michael Keating as Vila in ‘Solitary.’
Michael Keating (Vila)
Blake’s 7: The Liberator Chronicles can be ordered directly from Big Finish and domestically in the US from Mike’s Comics.
Click on the image to order!