I don't know if Barry Letts read any of the many reviews that were given of The Sevenfold Crown, but judging by The Syndeton Experiment he must have been aware of some of the negative reactions that were received.
Letts' second Blake's 7 outing for BBC Radio 4 is a great improvement on the previous one. While still not seeming like 'true' Blake's 7, The Syndeton Experiment is a decent enough story to keep the programme ticking over.
long with Letts, the cast who made up the crew of Scorpio in The Sevenfold Crownall return, as well as director Brian Lighthill. Jeff Mearns' incidental music is also present, though I think it's just the same stuff from the last one, reused.
The story is still set in the forth season, and once again covers the theme of mind control. However, everything seems to be a bit better in this new adventure, with the reduction to sixty minutes being a real benefit. The pace and action is much quicker and we are now spared those terrible scenes where someone lands on a planet and then go around describing everything!
Here's the plot: Avon's latest plan to overthrow the Federation (or rather, in Avon's case, Servalan) is to take over control of the planet Syndexia which is the source of syndeton - an elemental isotope that exists in both hyperspace and normal space and provides a bridge between the two. However, things don't go to plan and Servalan takes over instead!
This is followed by a chain of circumstance, to lunatic to go into here, that eventually leads our 'heroes' to Doctor Rossum, a scientist who has found that syndeton can also provide a bridge between human minds...
As usual Paul Darrow is his excellent self and shines in all the scenes he appears. He dominates the story throughout and sounds no different to when Blake's 7 was on television. Michael Keating is very able as Vila, while Peter Tuddenham plays Orac with all of his usual gusto, and has some good lines, particularly when the computer states in his usual haughty manner: "*I* am never wrong".
Seven Pacey is in fine form as the dim-witted Tarrant and gets to appear in some rather suggestive scenes with Soolin. As for Servalan, well she's gone sex mad! Getting up to some after hours antics with Captain Vledka!
This leaves the two relative newcomers to the Blake's 7 cast Angela Bruce and Paula Wilcox, they are better than they were in The Sevenfold Crown, though still given very little to do.
A particularly annoying part of this adventure is that most of the bit-part characters are played by members of the regular cast, and this is very apparent in some cases. Angela Bruce doing her Newcastle accent being just one very obvious example.
This type of thing leaps out at you when listening to radio drama and can be very confusing. It also gives the impression that they were trying to do the story as cheaply as possible (which very probably is the case).
The guest stars for this adventure are Graham Padden, Judy Cornwell, familiar to viewers of Keeping up Appearances, and that mainstay of cult television Peter Jeffrey. And that's it. Cornwell plays Madame Gaskia, an old 'acquaintance' of Avon's, while Jeffrey is the stereotypical professor Doctor Rossum. Jeffrey is very good in his role: Rossum is quite clearly mad, but sees nothing wrong in what he is doing, as in the case with so many of these obsessed scientist types. At one point, having given his robot creations three arms and three legs, Rossum saying: "it's great fun correcting the mistakes of mother nature!"
Judy Cornwell is less impressive, being very over the top as Gaskia, the dictatorial ruler of Syndexia. Although to be fair, it would have been hard for anyone to have made something of such a sketchy, one dimensional character. And are we really supposed to believe that Avon once er... did things with Madam Gaskia?? She sounds as if she should be drawing her pension.
Graham Padden again plays (the newly promoted) Captain Vledka who, having now appeared in two stories, has almost developed a character. Well done that man!
The creations of Doctor Rossum, the Neurobots (an intentionally rotten name), are quite interesting and the shocking truth about them is one of the best parts of this play. The end is also good, the last scene between Doctor Rossum and Avon being particularly well-written.
The Syndeton Experiment is not a great story by any means, and is certainly not like the Blake's 7 of old, but it is entertaining, inventive and in some places quite funny. It is certainly Barry Letts' best script for radio. Having said that, perhaps now is the time for Barry to stand aside, and give a different writer the chance to pen a Blake's 7 audio adventure...
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