‘Blood Ties’ (SOL) (Audio)

‘BLOOD TIES’ (SOL)

Please feel free to comment on my review.

The End?

SPOILERS ALERT!!!

How many ways can ‘Soldiers of Love’ end?!

Well I’ve made it, everyone! I’ve finished the ‘Soldiers of Love’ CD series! It has been a long journey and I have found each instalment very entertaining in their measure. The performances of the cast were great and the storylines were very intriguing. But was it all worth it in the series finale of ‘SOL’?

‘Blood Ties’ is the fourteenth and final episode of the ‘Soldiers of Love’ series. It’s amazing how far this series evolved from its beginnings in 1999 to 2005. The choices made by writer/producer/director Mark J. Thompson were unusual, but pretty inventive and creative indeed.

Writing this review on the last episode of ‘Soldiers of Love’ is tough for me. I had expected a lot to be resolved in this final episode of the series, with many character developments and plot points resolved. I’m afraid this episode didn’t meet those expectations and I felt cheated on an anti-climax.

I don’t wish to be unkind to Mark J. Thompson as I’m sure he has his own creative mind-set and he’s entitled to how he crafts an audio series and any video production like ‘TravelWise’, which I’ve enjoyed. But with ‘SOL’, I felt that my expectations with the series weren’t satisfied for me to enjoy.

‘Blood Ties’ was released in 2005. To refer you to my review for the previous episode, ‘Revelations’, this episode was expected to be released in the winter of 2004. Clearly there was a delay in its release and this ended up being released for 2005. Therefore no ‘SOL’ episodes were made in 2004.

On the back of the sleeve notes for ‘Blood Ties’, there is a ‘thank you’ note by Mark J. Thompson to us listeners of ‘Soldiers of Love’. I enjoyed reading the note and found it kind of Mark J. Thompson to thank us. By the way, MJTV stands for Mark James Thompson Visuals in case you were wondering.

On the back of the ‘Blood Ties’ CD, there aren’t any character descriptions for our heroes. But there are the names for our heroes on a heart with an explosion in the middle. These include Turnidus, Yztabub, Gamak, Cilla, Madame Deephole, Jake, Snyder, Zalia, Cindy, Frag, Hywel, Violet, Major Grondlepuss, Caelys, Mydas and Mrs. Blumber. There are also CD covers for previous ‘SOL’ episodes.

The episode stars Nicholas Courtney, Anna Karen, Jacqueline Pearce and Gareth Thomas with Mark J. Thompson, Mark Preston, Alison Taffs, Peter Ager, Niall Stuchfield, etc, providing many voices for the supporting characters. I guess all the regular cast for ‘SOL’ managed to stay on for the last episode.

So, where to begin with this ‘Soldiers of Love’ episode? How does it begin anyway? How else? It begins with narration by Alistair Lock as it was previously provided in ‘S.O.S.’ and ‘Revelations’. Alistair Lock gives us a recap of the previous episode as well as reintroducing the regular characters.

Thankfully this last ‘SOL’ episode does come with the main titles music after the teaser at the beginning. I would have been disappointed if there wasn’t any main titles music at the beginning of this ‘SOL’ episode. But I could’ve done without so many end credits music (I’ll get back to this later).

The episode follows up on what happened at the end of the previous episode. Turnidus is so distraught by Arran tricking him to kill his own human body in the grinder. Fortunately our heroes manage to capture Arran, before Zalia makes a deal with the spider creatures in stopping the Retsab.

Yes, somehow the Retsab and Arran have joined forces, which causes trouble for our heroes Turnidus, Yztabub, Gamak, Cilla, Madame Deephole, Jake, Synder and Zalia. Meanwhile Cindy, Frag, Hywel, Violet, Major Grondlepuss and Caelys are prisoners of Dr. Proctor on board The Nick of Time.

Nicholas Courtney returns for the last time as King Turnidus in the episode. I’ve really enjoyed Nick Courtney’s appearances in the ‘SOL’ series. Nick has been a beacon for me to enjoy the rest of ‘SOL’ after Sarah Sutton left. His character of Turnidus is delightfully enjoyable on many varying levels.

In this episode, Turnidus finds himself confronting the monstrous Dr. Proctor again who wants to kill him for some reason. It gets revealed out in the open by Frag that Turnidus is pregnant. I wasn’t expecting that, but Turnidus’ life is spared once Dr. Proctor learns the truth about him having a baby.

There are scenes where Turnidus and Dr. Proctor talk about raising a baby together. Or rather Proctor does whereas Turnidus is more fashion-conscious as usual. We never hear Turnidus having the baby in the series in the end. He probably never will after (spoilers!) Proctor shoots him. Huh?!!!

Anna Karen returns for the last time as Cilla Hammond in the episode. Likewise, Anna Karen has been a delight to listen to in her appearances in the ‘SOL’ series. Her character has remained grumpy throughout, but Anna has kept that sense of humour of Cilla maintained during the ‘SOL’ CD series.

I don’t think there’s much to talk about with Cilla in this last episode, although she doesn’t feel any sorrow after Arran’s seemingly-like death by Yztabub. Cilla also pilots The Nick of Time spaceship back to Earth with Major Grondlepuss helping her. I wish Cilla could have done more of that in ‘SOL’.

I’m not sure what Cilla’s fate was at the end of the episode, since it was all confused when she and the Major made contact with Mydas and Mrs. Blubber on Earth and there was a dodgy teleport taking place. She could be dead. She could not. I don’t know, but the series is open to interpretation.

Jacqueline Pearce returns for the last time as Madame Deephole in the episode. I have to be honest; I didn’t feel Madame D stood out for me as a character in ‘SOL’. That’s not to put any blame on Jacqueline Pearce since her performances have been very good. But the character didn’t excite me.

I am glad that her character development got somewhere in the last two episodes of the series, especially in her connections to Arran and Yztabub. I liked it when Madame D showed concern for Yztabub as well as making a few flirty jokes with people around her which happens quite a lot here.

The last number of scenes between Madame D and Yztabub were touching up to a point, as she wanted to reach out to him as her mother. It becomes a shock when Yztabub as a drinks machine manages to kill Madame D. Yes! You read that right! Yztabub kills her! How?! Why?! I won’t reveal it!

Gareth Thomas returns for the last time as both Hywel Hammond and Arran in this episode. Gareth Thomas’ rich performances as both these characters has been engaging to listen to. I’ve not seen ‘Blake’s 7’ at all as I write these ‘SOL’ reviews, but I can see why so many take to Gareth as an actor.

Arran’s character remains vile, cruel and calculating to the last as the final episode progresses. His scenes with Yztabub were mesmerising to listen to. I did wonder though if Arran really loved Yztabub when he mentioned it to him. But as the episode reaches to its conclusion, there’s a shocking twist.

Meanwhile, Hywel is delighted to be reunited with his lover Jake in the episode. I don’t need to go into too much detail about the reunion scenes between Hywel and Jake when they’re alone together. It then turns out that Hywel has a bomb planted inside of him by Arran. What a big shock that was!

Mark Preston returns for the last time as Yztabub and Frag. Yztabub’s character is no longer the one we knew in previous ‘SOL’ episodes. Yztabub becomes hell-bent and determined to kill his father Arran for all the things he’s done. I thought Yztabub did kill Arran and Madame D. But did he really?!

Frag also seems to have an unfortunate end in this final ‘SOL’ episode. She’s reduced to getting the biscuits and drinks whilst everyone else is busy on The Nick of Time spaceship on the way back home to Earth. But she confronts the Retsab/Maureen with Teddy Tempkin and endures a horrid change.

Mark J. Thompson returns for the last time as Galileo Gamak, Cindy, Major Grondlepuss and real Mydas. Gamak is happy to be reunited with Caelys and manages to ease the tension between him and Synder in this episode. He gets shocked when he realises Caelys is really Colonel Franklyn’s son.

Cindy gets to enjoy spending time with Caelys in the last half of the episode when they’re in the swimming pool on The Nick of Time. Unfortunately, Cindy is reluctant to have a relationship with Caelys due to her not having long left to live. They still haven’t resolved this bit! How cruel is that?!!!

Major Grondlepuss doesn’t really have much to do in this episode apart from co-piloting The Nick of Time spaceship back to Earth. Again, I do like that the Major’s hitch-pitched voice is amusing to listen to. But still, it would’ve been nice if he had one standout character moment from this episode.

Nick Kirby returns for the last time as Helmut Synder. Disappointedly, Synder doesn’t turn into a wasp in the episode as I’d hoped. The tension between Gamak and Synder also seems to have been resolved quite quickly here. But there’s still confusion about whether Gamak or Synder is Caelys’ real father.

Alison Taffs returns for the last time as Violet Goodgrip, Zalia and Retsab/Maureen. Again, like Major Grondlepuss, Violet doesn’t do much in the episode apart from checking The Nick of Time’s engines on the way back to Earth. Would it have been difficult to give her a standout character moment too?

Zalia has an interesting character angle in this episode, as she interacts with the spider-like creatures through telepathy to persuade them to fight against the Retsab creatures on Xoolian Major. Zalia remains on Xoolian Major to continue on with her spider-creatures fighting against Retsab creatures.

The Retsab has become completely cold-hearted with the last remnants of Maureen gone from her. She still has Teddy Timpkin inside of her and wants to merge with another human to form a new Retsab. It was a shock when Frag chopped the Retsab in two and they became Maureen and Teddy.

Peter Ager returns for the last time as Jake, Hywel’s lover in the episode. I don’t think there’s much to say about Jake apart from his reunion with Hywel. Jake gets concerned for Hywel when he finds there’s a bomb inside him. There’s tension when Jake sees that Hywel is about to self-sacrifice himself.

Niall Stuchfield returns for the last time as Crispin Caelys and Dr. Proctor in the episode. Sadly Caelys doesn’t get to learn who his real father is when he tells Gamak about Colonel Franklyn being her mother. He also gets pretty distraught when he hears from Cindy that she has only hours left to live.

Dr. Proctor gets to see Turnidus again before she discovers he’s pregnant. For a while, I found it difficult to refer to Dr. Proctor as a female instead of a male. This could be due to Proctor sounding male rather than female. Proctor gets ambitious as he wants to marry Turnidus and become his Queen.

I’ve saved the real Mydas and Mrs. Blubber for last in my review of the characters because they don’t have a big contribution in the episode. But they do something rather risky. They attempt to teleport to The Nick of Time and get lost in space. I don’t think the real Mydas is that impressive as the fake one!

Again, like in ‘Revelations’, there is no song provided for the ‘Blood Ties’ CD. For the fact that most of the ‘Soldiers of Love’ episodes had songs on the CDs, you’d think there’d be one provided for this final instalment. But nope! That doesn’t seem to occur here. Not that bothers me a lot to be honest.

But even then, there’s one more thing to talk about regarding the series’ ending. I wanted to save this for the end because it’s a big deal. You’re probably wondering how this episode disappointed me with its conclusion. How come my expectations with the ‘SOL’ series weren’t met with this one?

Well you see; this episode features four end credits moments. Four?! The first three are fake-outs to imply that they’re the end of the series. But they’re not and they’re added with fourth wall behind-the-scenes cameos of Mark J. Thompson, Nicholas Courtney, Anna Karen, Jacqueline Pearce and Gareth Thomas. Now I appreciate this is meant to add humour to the fact that it can’t be the real ending.

But these fourth wall cameos annoyed me. It breaks all sense of fictional reality with actual reality in the series. It’s got to be worse than…well, William Hartnell’s fourth wall “Merry Christmas!” to us in ‘The Daleks’ Master Plan’ Christmas episode. How come they did it not once, not twice, but THREE times in the episode?! What was Mark J. Thompson trying to do? Another ‘TravelWise’-like debate?!

Was he asking the listener to choose which ending was better: The first one, the second one or the third one? Was even the actual fourth final ending better? The first one had them all happily going home; the second one had Frag in trouble with Restab/Maureen and Teddy and the third one had Hywel finding he had a bomb inside of him with Jake. Personally, I would have gone with the first one.

But that’s not how ‘Blood Ties’ ends! Oh no! The episode ends when it turns out what’s become of Yztabub and Arran and then The Nick of Time spaceship finally explodes in space. WHAT?! How can they end the series like that?! It’s not fair! And with so many character and story points unresolved.

The CD concludes with Nicholas Courtney and Gareth Thomas reading out the credits of the ‘Soldiers of Love’ series to indicate that it’s finally over. I’m glad Sarah Sutton’s name was mentioned in the credits. But all the same, I finished listening to ‘Blood Ties’ hanging my head in utter disappointment.

Everyone, please try and understand. I have enjoyed ‘Soldiers of Love’ and it has been an extraordinary 14-part series to listen to. But even I have to say…I’ve found the last episode very disappointing. Not everything is resolved as I would have liked and there’s so much more to be told.

I felt that the series ended up on a downbeat ending, especially in 14 lengthy episodes. The series should have ended on a triumphant high where our heroes saved the day and defeated the enemy. I know that might not agree with those who like the series’ ending, but for me it was very unfulfilling.

I wish now there’s another ‘SOL’ episode to answer the unanswered questions I would’ve liked answered. Sadly it can’t happen as Nicholas Courtney and Gareth Thomas have passed away. I’d like want to know what happened to Colonel Franklyn’s corpse when it was stolen in ‘Earth Quake’.

‘Soldiers of Love’ has been an unusual and extraordinary audio CD series to listen to. It had an interesting progression and evolution in its first thirteen episodes and a disappointing conclusion in the fourteenth. I wish I could say ‘Soldiers of Love’ is a great series, but it’s been very mixed for me.

Perhaps I could write my own ‘Part Fifteen’ in ‘Soldiers of Love’? Maybe that’s what Mark J. Thompson wants us to do as a listener. To form our own conclusions about what really happened in the climax? Like with ‘TravelWise’ perhaps. I could resurrect Colonel Franklyn back to life somehow.

I don’t know and to be honest, I’m not really in a hurry to find out. But don’t get me wrong in thinking that I haven’t found ‘Soldiers of Love’ a worthwhile series. I actually have. It was worthwhile to hear Sarah Sutton in it as well as hear Nicholas Courtney, Gareth Thomas, Anna Karen and others.

I’m very pleased I got some of my CD covers of ‘Soldiers of Love’ signed by Sarah Sutton and Colin Baker at conventions. It’s a shame that ‘Soldiers of Love’ didn’t live up to my expectations, but I can’t have everything can I? I really must get on with making my own drama series starring Sarah Sutton. 😀

So there you have it! My journey into ‘Soldiers of Love’ is complete! It was a flawed journey with a disappointing conclusion. But then I hope you’ve enjoyed my thoughts on how I’ve found this CD series.

‘Blood Ties’ (SOL) rating – 5/10

‘Soldiers of Love’ CD series rating – 7/10


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