Skip to main content

We have to win. It’s the only way I can be sure I was right.


Blake's 7
2.13: Star One


The finale of Season Two follows the basic template of the first year; the climax of Blake and co’s quest to find something of importance to aid their fight against the Federation. But Star One puts a very pronounced emphasis on the epic, whereas Orac was a low key affair in comparison. It acts more as a mirror to the season opener, Redemption, in attempting events on a grand scale that dwarf the Liberator and its crew.


There are some fairly significant plot holes in this story (maybe symptomatic of Boucher picking up the pieces of Terry’s failure to deliver) but what it nails completely is a sense of palpable threat; the crew - and Blake in particular - biting off more than they can chew. And a willingness to throw in scenes that place doubt on who will or won’t survive this ordeal. The dramatic tension makes this a success where the realities of the budget sometimes let the side down (the flotilla of Andromedan ships never looks remotely threatening or dynamic).


The opening model sequence is very effective, though, and sets the scene for the trouble the Federation is in, with a tensely structured head-on collision between space craft. Even if the pilot sounds like he’s really flying Concorde. Jacqueline Pearce is then thrown one of only a couple of scenes in this story, but she makes effective use of them. She’s very good at sustaining scenes with prolonged exposition, and this is a beauty of a “What the hell is going on?” On this occasion Durkim (John Bown, Antodus in the Dr Who and the Daleks film) gets most of the dialogue. Computer flight co-ordination is breaking down on 20 different worlds, climate control disasters are occurring on all frontier worlds; by accident or design Star One is failing!

It’s a great set-up, but it leads to a number of questions, not least of which is the time frame involved. Presumably we are supposed to believe that the Andromedans, having been contacted by Travis (how, exactly?), have infiltrated Star One and begun to effect these system breakdowns. The bodies that Lurena discovers haven’t yet decomposed, so we can’t be talking very long, although there is a sense from the conversation here that this has been a gradually worsening breakdown. But Blake and crew probably left Goth only a few hours after Travis, in a faster ship, yet only managed to arrive once his plan is in full effect.


There’s also the question of Travis’ behaviour. Last week he wanted to rule the Federation through Star One. Now he wants to destroy humanity? There’s no doubting that he’s psychotic, but in the first season it was localised and directed. Now he seems to have become an all-purpose megalomaniac at the whim of the scriptwriters. To be fair, Boucher must at least be aware of this, as he has the Andromedans ask Blake the reason for his ultimate betrayal when he is posing as Travis. We don’t get answers from the horse’s mouth (or, as played by Croucher, arse).


Boucher does great job of writing Blake and Avon in what might have been their last encounter. Avon is unremittingly brutal in his reaction to Blake’s zeal, and understandably so. His contempt for Blake’s mission is delivered by Darrow in that powerful staccato of his, lending an impression of logic and deduction, and thus correct analysis, of the situation. Blake says that he intends to destroy Star One.

Avon: I never doubted that. I never doubted your fanaticism.

And then he pushes home the point. Blake can stir a thousand revolutions, wade in blood up to his armpits, lead a rabble to victory, “whatever that might mean” (superb stuff!) so long as Star One is an end to it.

Avon: I want to be free.
Cally: But you are free now, Avon.
Avon: I want to be free of him.
Blake: I never realised. You really do hate me, don’t you?
Avon: When we have dealt with Star One, I will take you back to Earth and the Liberator will be mine. Agreed?
Blake: Agreed. Assuming the others go along with it.


Interesting that Avon doesn’t respond to Blake’s accusation that he hates him. It comes across as a typical Blake manipulation (like his final scene with Avon in this episode, which I’ll come to); Avon most likely doesn’t hate him. He sees Blake as an obstacle to his goal, scorns his cause, but hate wouldn’t be either logical or constructive. And if events had panned out as described, it would be easy to see Avon getting the ship, companions remaining or not.


Thomas is looking particularly lizard-eyelidded in this episode. Blake has gone overboard. There’s little rhyme or reason to his actions any more.

Cally: Are we fanatics?
Blake: Does it matter?
Cally: Many, many people will die without Star One.
Blake: I know.
Cally: Are you sure what we are doing is justified?
Blake: It has to be. Don’t you see, Cally? If we stop now all we have done is senseless killing and destruction. Without purpose, without reason. We have to win. It’s the only way I can be sure I was right.
Cally: That you were right?

It’s pretty rum reasoning, and Cally is right to be rather stunned. But, as Avon has commented several times this season, Blake is not a thinker. His retreat in the face of Gan’s death has, one must conclude, allowed him to realise that he can continue with the deaths of his friends on his conscience. And that means he can live with the deaths of millions too if he feels he can justify his cause; a tyrant in waiting (and what would his reception on Earth have been like, having wreaked such havoc upon innocents?) It also highlights the streak of hubris dictating his actions; as in his exultant exclamations of success in Pressure Point, it all comes down to him; what he’s achieved and whether he is proven correct.

Blake has spent a season attempting to knock out Central Control, but now he’s on the verge of succeeding he doesn’t even have a coherent plan. Cally points out the rub to him but now he has a stomach for moral compromise. It makes his u-turn when confronted by alien invasion sit strangely (but perhaps in keeping with his clueless strategies) as he is willing to bring hardship and destruction to billions throughout the Federation but draws the line at enslavement (and potential destruction) by outsiders (I wonder also as to the damage or otherwise the bomb that kills Lurena wreaked, since it went off in Star One).


Blake’s reaction to Star One is mirrored equally and oppositely by Servalan. She uses the crisis as the opportunity to wrest control of the political functions of the Federation from the President and High Council; Space Command is “the only force capable of dealing with the present emergency”. Durkim, who has to convey the response of the average person in the Federation (we don’t see anyone else, although the episode is no less effective for that microsmic view) is aghast, but in the course of a scene where he is manipulated and threatened (he knew Lurena) arrives shrewdly at “May I offer you my congratulations and loyalty?” Servalan’s well aware that her manoeuvre is chancy; she’s relying on Durkim to work out where Star One is.

Servalan: I will not be President of a ruined empire.


It makes sense that Star One would need scientists (who were carefully conditioned by the best psycho-manipulation teams to ensure that they would stay the course and do what was necessary to keep it ticking over) to remain on site, but it does suggest short term thinking. What happens when they die? Will a new team replace them? Star One seems like a scenario ripe with potential for going wrong in some shape or form, and that it’s taken as long as 30 years for that to happen is something of a miracle in itself.


The infiltration of Star One by the Andromedans is only gradually revealed, and more effective for that. It’s apparent that Lurena is the odd woman out, but the set up by Servalan has cast suspicion on her, a nice red herring from Boucher. There’s a vibe of both The Invisible Enemy and John Carpenter’s The Thing of a few years later with the possession of the crew of an isolated base.


David Maloney directed this one uncredited, I believe. There’s the sureness of touch here of someone who knows how to create an effective atmosphere.  I wasn’t quite sure whether the Andromedans’ natural form is supposed to be steaming sluggy entrails, or that’s just what they look like when they’ve been shot (but the use of steam is effective, and it’s something Carpenter would repeat in The Thing). If the Daleks had appeared as (conjectured to have been) planned, this take-over of the base would have needed to be effected rather differently.


Avon’s detection of thousands of satellite generators “out there” as a defence zone (they are at the nearest point to Andromeda) adds to the intrigue, although Orac will eventually advise that this combined alarm system and minefield, which is controlled and monitored from Star One, was built gradually over a very long time and was precautionary rather than a response to a specific threat. The implication is that there was some intimation of a vague threat out there at some point. I suppose that if control wasn’t moved until 30 years ago, the building of Star One probably began a good while before that (I expect the parallels between the Death Star and Star One are not coincidental).


Jenna’s allowed a chance to show herself as not just one of Blake’s sheep, advising Avon that Blake is rushing things and has not allowed himself time to think (but as mentioned above, he’s had a whole season to come up with a coherent plan) and Avon again refers to his lack of skills on that front.


On the planet, Blake and Cally are surrounded by Andromedans quite sharpish. This being a Boucher script, Cally gets to use her telepathy to warn Avon. Presumably Travis arrives in an Andromedan ship (Jenna refers to it as a new type of craft)?


Blake shows he can think on his feet when not-Stott (David Webb, Leeson in Colony in Space) assumes he is Travis (so Travis hasn’t met them? How did they agree on a plan?) Why the Andromedans should care to allow Travis to carry out the final act personally once they have attained their target is debatable, except that it justifies Travis making an appearance.

Travis: I thought you were supposed to be the one with brains.
Avon: Brains but no heart. Now talk or scream, Travis. The choice is yours.


The Andromedans’ explanation of their strategy is not so far away from Blake’s. The chaos and destruction already unleashed should be enough to ensure that resistance is slight. I wasn’t sure how to read the line, “Policy is not our concern, Travis. It is sufficient to serve.” Does he mean sufficient for humanity to serve, or that this bunch of Andromedans stick to their orders and leave the bigger plan for humans to someone higher up the totem?

Travis escapes Avon when Lurena manages to get in the way; I would have assumed that the Liberator guns lasered/burnt their victims. But when Avon shoots one of the Andromedans there is a Peckinpah-style blood splatter that even speckles the wall. Nasty stuff!

Lurena: What are they?
Avon: Unfriendly. Which is fortunate, really. They’d be difficult to love.


And the shootings continue as Blake cops it in the back from Travis. I like the way there’s no build up, or threatening dialogue. He just blasts him. It’s unexpected and shocking. Why does Travis wear a stretched Star of David on his breast?

Stott: Then who is this?
Travis: His name is Blake. His name was Blake.

Reminding us of Lurena’s conditioning (she’s quite the tragic character here, as her circumstances are unremittingly bleak from the moment we meet her until she ends up dead) is sensible as it emphasises the earlier conversation the Andromedans had about needing to infiltrate the base slowly.


It’s Jenna, too, who has the presence of mind to make a call to the Federation (even though Knyvette fluffs her lines instructing Orac). Kynvette’s decision to leave the series is understandable, as she hasn’t been well served this season, but at least Boucher gives her a few memorable moments in her final story.


I’m really not that convinced by Travis’ Looney Tunes desire to bring humanity to its knees; it’s not even intimated that the Andromedans have offered him a position of authority. But I do like the matter of fact violence inflicted on regulars here; Blake shoots him in the back (and shoots Stott as well), which is about time given all the occasions when he let him go free. 



And Avon getting to finish him off (Travis falls down a conveniently positioned well) seems entirely appropriate.



Blake: Is he dead, Avon? Is Travis dead?
Avon: He is now. Are you?
Blake: I’ve had better days.


The last-minute dash to remove all the detonation devices casts doubt over how powerful the charges actually are, since Cally seemed to be all right after throwing a bag of them over a sand dune.


Blake: We cannot blow this place up. Humanity is going to need all the resources it can get.

It’s all very well to say that now... Lucky that Jenna made the right choice warning the Federation, eh?


The transition back to the Liberator is a little abrupt, although it was probably intentional in order to have a “Did he, didn’t he?” question over Blake’s survival.

Avon: I gave him my word.
Vila: To fight off that fleet until the Federation gets here?
Avon: That is what I promised.
Jenna: Why, Avon?
Avon: Why not?


His conversation with the bandaged Blake, where he tells him he should have trusted him and stayed in the medical unit, may not be as altruistic as it seems (Avon after all, has symbolically taken command from the fallen hero; the Liberator is now his).


Blake: Avon, for what it’s worth I have always trusted you. From the very beginning.


As usual, Avon keeps his reaction unreadable. But it comes across as Blake either showing how flawed his judgement is (if he means it), since Avon has repeatedly shown a willingness to leave Blake when it comes down to it, or attempting to manipulate him into further service. Perhaps his last words do have an effect over time since, when Avon convinces himself that Blake betrayed him in the final episode, it’s as if he has been caught off guard, his usual penetrating logic failing him.


Speaking of which, it’s this season that uses the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid “against impossible odds” cliffhanger first.


Vila: Avon, this is stupid.
Avon: When did that ever stop us? Fire!


A thrilling finale to the second season sees the series return to the “anything might happen” place it had reached when Gan died. And all the better for it. The sense of pace and drama mostly allows it to overcome the numerous plot holes. As a season this has been patchier than the first but it’s also been commendably willing to take risks. Can that continue?

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

You're not only wrong. You're wrong at the top of your voice.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
I’ve seen comments suggesting that John Sturges’ thriller hasn’t aged well, which I find rather mystifying. Sure, some of the characterisations border on the cardboard, but the director imbues the story with a taut, economical backbone. 

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

You must find the keys for me!

Doctor Who The Keys of Marinus
Most of the criticisms levelled at The Keys of Marinus over the past 50 years have been fair play, and yet it’s a story I return to as one of the more effortlessly watchable of the Hartnell era. Consequently, the one complaint I can’t really countenance is that it’s boring. While many a foray during this fledgling period drags its heels, even ones of undeniable quality in other areas, Marinus’ shifting soils and weekly adventures-in-miniature sustain interest, however inelegant the actual construction of those narratives may be. The quest premise also makes it a winner; it’s a format I have little resistance to, even when manifested, as here, in an often overtly budget-stricken manner.

Doctor Who has dabbled with the search structure elsewhere, most notably across The Key to Time season, and ultimately Marinus’ mission is even more of a MacGuffin than in that sextology, a means to string together what would otherwise be vignettes to little overall coherence…

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my "back pain", Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, part to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me back up again, and morphine... Well, because it's awesome.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Along with Pain & Gain and The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street might be viewed as the completion of a loose 2013 trilogy on the subject of success and excess; the American Dream gone awry. It’s the superior picture to its fellows, by turns enthralling, absurd, outrageous and hilarious. This is the fieriest, most deliriously vibrant picture from the director since the millennium turned. Nevertheless, stood in the company of Goodfellas, the Martin Scorsese film from which The Wolf of Wall Street consciously takes many of its cues, it is found wanting.

I was vaguely familiar with the title, not because I knew much about Jordan Belfort but because the script had been in development for such a long time (Ridley Scott was attached at one time). So part of the pleasure of the film is discovering how widely the story diverges from the Wall Street template. “The Wolf of Wall Street” suggests one who towers over the city like a behemoth, rather than a guy …

Nobody trusts anybody now. We’re all very tired.

The Thing (1982)
(SPOILERS) The Thing has been thesis fodder for years, as much so as any given pre-1990 Cronenberg movie, and has popularly been seen as a metaphor for AIDS and even climate change. Now, of course, provided we’re still in a world where film is studied in the aftermath and we haven’t ball been assimilated in one form or another, such staples are sure to be scrubbed away by an inundation of bids to apply the Coronavirus to any given text (much in the way Trump has been popularly overwritten onto any particular invidious fictional figure you care to mention in the most tedious shorthand). And sure, there’s fertile ground here, with rampant paranoia and social distancing being practised among those in Outpost 31 (the “virus” can even be passed on by pets). That flexibility, however, is the key to the picture’s longevity and effectiveness; ultimately, it is not the nature of the threat (as undeniably and iconically gruey and Lovecraftian as it is), but rather the response of…

Oh man, they wronged you. Why they gotta be like that? You exude a cosmic darkness.

Mandy (2018)
(SPOILERS) Sometimes you're left scratching your head over a movie, wondering what it was about it that had others rapturously raving while you were left shrugging. I at least saw the cult appeal of Panos Cosmatos’ previous picture, Beyond the Black Rainbow, which inexorably drew the viewer in with a clinically psychedelic allure before going unceremoniously off the boil with a botched slasher third act. Mandy, though, has been pronounced one of the best of the year, with a great unhinged Nic Cage performance front and centre – I can half agree with the latter point – but it's further evidence of a talented filmmaker slave to a disconcertingly unfulfilling obsession with retro-fashioning early '80s horror iconography.

It always seems a bit abstract, doesn’t it? Other people dying.

Game of Thrones Season Six
(SPOILERS) The most distracting thing about Season Six of Game of Thrones (and I’ve begun writing this at the end of the seventh episode, The Broken Man) is how breakneck its pace is, and how worryingly – only relatively, mind – upbeat it’s become. Suddenly, characters are meeting and joining forces, not necessarily mired in pits of despair but actually moving towards positive, attainable goals, even if those goals are ultimately doomed (depending on the party concerned). It feels, in a sense, that liberated from George R R Martin’s text, producers are going full-throttle, and you half-wonder if they’re using up too much plot and revelation too quickly, and will run out before the next two seasons are up. Then, I’m naturally wary of these things, well remembering how Babylon 5 suffered from packing all its goods into Season Four and was then given an ultimately wasted final season reprieve.

I’ve started this paragraph at the end of the eighth episode, No One (t…