Blake’s 7 series 2 episode 13 – Star One

Matters come to an explosive head at the end of season two...

Blake in Star One

THE PLOTServalan, for once, is worried. Recent events reported by Durkim (John Bown) – such as a fatal collision between passenger cruiser Nova Queen and an unmanned ore carrier and a lack of climate control on the frontier worlds – indicate that the unbeatable control and co-ordination centre Star One is breaking down. Servalan refuses to believe this – simply because no one knows where it is.

Apart from Blake and the Liberator crew, who are voicing their doubts to their leader – especially since Star One is right out on the edge of the galaxy and not easy to find. Avon also attacks Blake’s plans for destroying Star One, saying that he can wade up to his armpits in blood if he likes – but all Avon cares about is finishing the job and taking over the Liberator. Cally also questions Blake’s plans, asking if they are fanatics, since without Star One, many people will die. Blake replies that if they do not destroy Star One, then everything that they have done will have been a pointless waste – and at least he can be certain that HE was right…

Servalan – now President of the Federation – orders Durkim to work harder on what has gone wrong with Star One. The former president and those whop could not grasp the enormity of the situation have been arrested, with Servalan taking on the leadership role. There are suspicions that someone has betrayed the Federation, and so complete unity is needed. Servalan tells Durkim that his former lover Lurena (Jenny Twigge) is one of a party checking and maintaining Star One – forever. Swayed by this bit of news, Durkim agrees to finding the root of the problem.

And there are problems on Star One. Lurena has escaped from the clutches of two other ‘Federation’ workers Stott (David Webb) and Parton (Gareth Armstrong). They are in fact – along with all the other workers bar Lurena – aliens masquerading as the crew. Lurena later finds their lifeless corpses hanging up in an abandoned room.

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The Liberator crew has managed to find Star One, and Cally has pinpointed a ‘door’ to where Central Control is actually housed. Avon and Blake, however, work out that beyond Star One is the biggest antimatter minefield ever assembled, a defence zone either to keep mankind in or something else out.

Blake, Cally and Avon teleport down to where the door is. Blake and Cally enter, but are captured by Stott’s men. Cally mentally warns Avon that they have entered a trap, and tells him to remain outside. Blake is brought before Stott, who has apparently been expecting him – Stott believes that Blake is here to carry out “The Final Act”, a motion of unheard of treachery. But when Stott wonders what has happened to Blake’s eye patch, everything slips into place.

The real man with the eye patch – Travis – lands on the planet, and is held at gunpoint by Avon, who forces him into the main centre. However, Lurena jumps out at them at this crucial point, and in the confusion, Travis escapes.

Vila and Jenna are told by Orac that the minefield is also an alarm system, to keep any alien threats at bay. Orac suggests that a recent scout ship made contact with outsiders – such as Travis’ ship. Vila’s panic isn’t helped when they pick up hordes of aliens on the scanners – leaving them right in the firing line. There is only one thing for Jenna to do – warn the Federation. She instructs Orac to send a message to Servalan, informing her of the 600 or so ships about to enter Federation space.

Having dispatched Cally to place bombs around the control centre, Blake is shot by Travis. Servalan’s former henchman can now deactivate the defence zone, letting the invaders through. Cally meets up with Avon and Lurena, who tell her of what has happened. Avon gets to a wounded Blake, who nevertheless has still managed to shoot both Stott and Travis. Avon shoots Parton, but Travis gets to his feet with his hand weapon trained on Blake. Avon shoots him again, and Travis falls into the central nuclear reactor well, where he vapourises, screaming in agony.

Blake tells Avon, Cally and Lurena that the Federation must be warned, and that all of the bombs need to be removed and disposed of on the planet’s surface. They now face a race against time, since there’s only two and a half minutes. Cally and Avon locate all but one which they throw out onto the surface. Lurena has found the other bomb. While cornered by the remaining aliens, she holds it in her hand as it detonates, killing her and the aliens.

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Having teleported back up, Avon explains to the others that he gave Blake his word that he would fight off the aliens until the Federation got there. Blake himself, still injured, offers to help, but is told by Avon to rest. Blake tells Avon that he has always trusted him – right from the very beginning.

With the aliens closing in, and only a minute to strike range, the remainder of the Liberator crew take battle positions. Despite Vila’s protests that this whole plan is stupid, Avon replies “When did that ever stop us?” and gives the order to fire…

ANALYSISIt’s ironic that Star One is actually the shortest episode of Blake’s 7, since it has an awful lot to do in its 48 and a bit minutes. It needs to tie up the loose ends of the Star One subplot (and open a whole new can of worms in the process). It’s also the last one to feature Travis, Jenna and even Blake (who would make two further end-of-season cameos). And it has to tell an excellent story in its own right. And amazingly, Star One manages to deliver on all three counts.

Chris Boucher provides a gripping season finale with a lot of extra depth for good measure. His basic storyline is perfectly thought out. Originally, it’s just a simple quest to find and destroy Star One. But this is turned on its head when it’s discovered that Travis has sold out and is now helping a horde of blobby aliens in the process to close down the defences and let a horde of invaders through the barrier above the planet. Ironically, by warning the Federation at the end, Blake is ultimately left to help the very force that he set out to defeat. This is superb writing, and is completely out of left field – a common trait of Blake’s 7: Just when you think events are going to turn out one way, they take a sudden detour into brand new territory.

Boucher also examines the nature of Blake’s crusade, even going so far as to call the Liberator crew fanatics. Avon’s memorable quote of “You can wade in blood up to your armpits” is a disturbing image, but it cleverly sums up what Blake is really setting out to do. Cally is incredulous when Blake later says that if they destroy Star One, then at least he can be certain that HE was right. All of which portrays Blake as a blinkered fanatic, who is so single-minded in his quest to destroy the Federation, that he’s blinded by the fact that his actions will destroy many other people.

The complicated conflict between Blake and Avon also reaches its head here. Initially, Avon just wants to be rid of Blake after his leader has outlined his lofty plans. ” I want to be free… Of HIM!” he sneers angrily, to which Blake replies: “You really do hate me, don’t you?” Avon typically doesn’t reply, leaving his real meaning as ambiguous as ever, And yet at the end, Avon gives Blake his word that he will fight off the attacking aliens – and furthermore, he seems genuinely affected by Blake’s final declaration that he has trusted him from the very beginning. While Avon’s greed to get his hands on the Liberator shows in the early parts of this episode, by the end, he seems to realise how much he is valued by Blake – almost a brother figure substitute perhaps? Needless to say, Gareth Thomas and Paul Darrow are at their best here – Avon’s leadership for the next two seasons is complete by the end of the episode, as he manages to finally kill off Travis and lead the Liberator into battle against the aliens. In fact, all of the regulars give it their all in Star One, although Sally Knyvette is blatantly reading her lines off a cue card at one point – and not very well either.

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We finally get to say goodbye to Travis. Much like Season Two, Brian Croucher’s performance has varied considerably, but here, he gives one of his best performances, for example when he sneers “His name is Blake. His name WAS Blake.” And while Travis is instantly destroyed in the reactor well, Servalan is still alive, now President – but President of what, given that the Federation is on the point of collapse? Jacqueline Pearce, too, gives one of her best performances, and for once, Servalan seems genuinely rattled at events that are unfolding beyond her control.

All of this is brilliantly handled by series producer David Maloney. As with some of his best Doctor Who work, Maloney adds a real sense of urgency to proceedings, and really brings out the drama in Boucher’s script. The production values are generally excellent – the curving interiors of Star One base are hugely impressive, for example. So its a shame that the aliens tend to be no more than floating yoghurt pots of doom.

Which makes all the difference if you rely on visuals alone. Turn the sound down, and it may be difficult to take the last few sequences seriously. The dreaded yoghurt pots of doom wouldn’t pose a threat to a terrified hamster, let alone the Liberator crew. Turn the sound up, however, and both the superb acting and the equally effective background music from Dudley Simpson successfully convey the threat. The rapid intercutting of the close ups of the crew and Avon’s shout of “Fire!” make it a highly memorable season cliffhanger.

Overall, Season Two is like a big dipper. Plenty of highs but quite a few lows too. Overall, it manages to deal with the story arcs of Star One and Blake’s out-of-control fanaticism very well. And even if the lesser episodes weren’t that successful, this was compensated for by some great stuff like Shadow, Pressure Point, Killer and Countdown. Season Two desperately needed a good final episode to give the story arc closure. Star One does that in spades and manages to be one of the best stories of Blake’s 7 in the process.

Check out John’s review of the previous episode here.

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