AUDIO REVIEW: The Clone Masters

Rating: 4 out of 5.
  • A Big Finish production
  • Full cast, including Jan Chappell, Sally Knyvette, Stephen Grief, and Brian Croucher
  • Written by Tim Foley
  • Approximately 3 hours
  • Released in December 2021

In all the galaxy, there are few groups as enigmatic as the Clone Masters. When these mysterious genetic engineers need to elect a new leader, it comes to the attention of many different groups. Travis, Cally, and an unknown third party head for the world of the Clone Masters. But their goals could not be more different . . .

Blake’s 7 was no stranger to duplicating actors. Roj Blake was cloned as part of a Federation plot (and that clone is presumably still out there somewhere). Stephen Pacey played not only the primary Tarrant, but also his conveniently identical brother. And of course Cally was an Auron, a race of clones. Mostly, this was a means of giving the actors a chance to stretch themselves a little, but I imagine it kept costs low by halving the number of actors required. But the implications went further than that. The Federation was now a place where anyone could be duplicated. Where doppelgangers roam the stars. A concept as thrilling as it is chilling. With The Clone Masters, Big Finish at last dives deep into the murky world of clones.

The opening story here is the strongest. Partly because it brings together Jenna and Cally in one of the best, yet underused, character pairings. Sally Knyvette and Jan Chappell are in full command of their respective roles, and the interplay is perfect. It also features that classic of 70s and 80s BBC science fiction: The base under siege. It’s a tense piece as our heroes unravel the mysteries of the abandoned facility, all while being stalked by an unknown abomination. If Big Finish ever go full horror with Blake’s 7 release, then this story bodes very well for their chances.

It’s ‘The Rule of Life’ – the middle volume of this trilogy – that makes full use of the audio form however. Because when you have multiple versions of a character, you don’t need one actor to play both parts. On TV, Stephen Grief played Travis for a single season before being replaced in the role by Brian Croucher. Thanks to the magic of cloning and audio, both men get to step into those shoes once again in The Clone Masters. Their relationship is best described as contemptuous rivalry, because of course Travis can’t even get along with himself. But having the two bounce off one another for an hour is as delightful as the conclusion is brutal.

It wouldn’t be a clone story without Cally, however, and it’s in the concluding story that Jan Chappell really gets to shine. All good actors enjoy a chance to chew the scenery every now and then, and Chappell makes as devious a villain as she does noble a hero. Despite her terrorist tendencies, Cally always struck me as one of the more idealistic members of Blake’s ensemble. Here that nobility is on full display. Cally will take the time to mourn the deaths of those around her, even as her duplicate merrily slaughters them all.

The Clone Masters fleshes out (in a disturbingly literal sense) a previously only hinted at corner of the Blake’s 7 universe. Mixing horror, politics, and action, it’s a great entry point for this expanded audio range, and one I fully recommend.

Published by Alex Hormann

I'm a writer, reader, and farmer, with an interest in all things speculative.

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