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

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…

Dude, you're embarrassing me in front of the wizards.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
(SPOILERS) The cliffhanger sequel, as a phenomenon, is a relatively recent thing. Sure, we kind of saw it with The Empire Strikes Back – one of those "old" movies Peter Parker is so fond of – a consequence of George Lucas deliberately borrowing from the Republic serials of old, but he had no guarantee of being able to complete his trilogy; it was really Back to the Future that began the trend, and promptly drew a line under it for another decade. In more recent years, really starting with The MatrixThe Lord of the Rings stands apart as, post-Weinstein's involvement, fashioned that way from the ground up – shooting the second and third instalments back-to-back has become a thing, both more cost effective and ensuring audiences don’t have to endure an interminable wait for their anticipation to be sated. The flipside of not taking this path is an Allegiant, where greed gets the better of a studio (split a novel into two movie parts assuming a…

I don't like bugs. You can't hear them, you can't see them and you can't feel them, then suddenly you're dead.

Blake's 7 2.7: Killer

Robert Holmes’ first of four scripts for the series, and like last season’s Mission to Destiny there are some fairly atypical elements and attitudes to the main crew (although the A/B storylines present a familiar approach and each is fairly equal in importance for a change). It was filmed second, which makes it the most out of place episode in the run (and explains why the crew are wearing outfits – they must have put them in the wash – from a good few episodes past and why Blake’s hair has grown since last week).
The most obvious thing to note from Holmes’ approach is that he makes Blake a Doctor-substitute. Suddenly he’s full of smart suggestions and shrewd guesses about the threat that’s wiping out the base, basically leaving a top-level virologist looking clueless and indebted to his genius insights. If you can get past this (and it did have me groaning) there’s much enjoyment to be had from the episode, not least from the two main guest actors.

When two separate events occur simultaneously pertaining to the same object of inquiry we must always pay strict attention.

Twin Peaks 1.5: The One-Armed Man
With the waves left in Albert’s wake subsiding (Gordon Cole, like Albert, is first encountered on the phone, and Coop apologises to Truman over the trouble the insulting forensics expert has caused; ”Harry, the last thing I want you to worry about while I’m here is some city slicker I brought into your town relieving himself upstream”), the series steps down a register for the first time. This is a less essential episode than those previously, concentrating on establishing on-going character and plot interactions at the expense of the strange and unusual. As such, it sets the tone for the rest of this short first season.

The first of 10 episodes penned by Robert Engels (who would co-script Fire Walk with Me with Lynch, and then reunite with him for On the Air), this also sees the first “star” director on the show in the form of Tim Hunter. Hunter is a director (like Michael Lehman) who hit the ground running but whose subsequent career has rather disapp…

An initiative test. How simply marvellous!

You Must Be Joking! (1965)
A time before a Michael Winner film was a de facto cinematic blot on the landscape is now scarcely conceivable. His output, post- (or thereabouts) Death Wish (“a pleasant romp”) is so roundly derided that it’s easy to forget that the once-and-only dining columnist and raconteur was once a bright (well…) young thing of the ‘60s, riding the wave of excitement (most likely highly cynically) and innovation in British cinema. His best-known efforts from this period are a series of movies with Oliver Reed – including the one with the elephant – and tend to represent the director in his pleasant romp period, before he attacked genres with all the precision and artistic integrity of a blunt penknife. You Must Be Joking! comes from that era, its director’s ninth feature, straddling the gap between Ealing and the Swinging ‘60s; coarser, cruder comedies would soon become the order of the day, the mild ribaldry of Carry On pitching into bawdy flesh-fests. You Must Be Joki…

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

Ain't nobody likes the Middle East, buddy. There's nothing here to like.

Body of Lies (2008)
(SPOILERS) Sir Ridders stubs out his cigar in the CIA-assisted War on Terror, with predictably gormless results. Body of Lies' one saving grace is that it wasn't a hit, although that more reflects its membership of a burgeoning club where no degree of Hollywood propaganda on the "just fight" (with just a smidgeon enough doubt cast to make it seem balanced at a sideways glance) was persuading the public that they wanted the official fiction further fictionalised.

Well, who’s going to monitor the monitors of the monitors?

Enemy of the State (1998)
Enemy of the State is something of an anomaly; a quality conspiracy thriller borne not from any distinct political sensibility on the part of its makers but simple commercial instincts. Of course, the genre has proved highly successful over the years so it's easy to see why big name producers like Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson would have chased that particular gravy boat. Yet they did so for some time without success; by the time the movie was made, Simpson had passed away and Bruckheimer was flying solo. It might be the only major film in the latter's career that, despite the prerequisite gloss and stylish packaging, has something to say. More significant still, 15 years too late, the film's warnings are finally receiving recognition in the light of the Edward Snowden revelations.

In a piece for The Guardian earlier this year, John Patterson levelled the charge that Enemy was one of a number of Hollywood movies that have “been softening us up f…

Luck isn’t a superpower... And it isn't cinematic!

Deadpool 2 (2018)
(SPOILERS) Perhaps it’s because I was lukewarm on the original, but Deadpool 2 mercifully disproves the typical consequence of the "more is more" approach to making a sequel. By rights, it should plummet into the pitfall of ever more excess to diminishing returns, yet for the most part it doesn't.  Maybe that’s in part due to it still being a relatively modest undertaking, budget-wise, and also a result of being very self-aware – like duh, you might say, that’s its raison d'être – of its own positioning and expectation as a sequel; it resolutely fails to teeter over the precipice of burn out or insufferable smugness. It helps that it's frequently very funny – for the most part not in the exhaustingly repetitive fashion of its predecessor – but I think the key ingredient is that it finds sufficient room in its mirthful melee for plot and character, in order to proffer tone and contrast.

You're going to need a nickname, cos I ain't saying that every time.

Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)
(SPOILERS) I had a mercifully good time with Solo: A Star Wars Story, having previously gone from considering it a straight-up terrible idea when first announced, to cautious optimism with the signing of Phil Lord and Chris Miller, to abject pessimism with their replacement by little Ronnie Howard, to cautious optimism again with the advent of various trailers and clips. I have numerous caveats, but then that's been par for the course with the series ever since Return of the Jedi, whichever side of good or bad the individual entries end up falling. The biggest barrier to enjoyment, judging by others’ responses, seems to be the central casting of Aiden Ehrenreich; I actually thought he was really good, so the battle for my allegiance was half won right there. No, he isn't Harrison Ford, but he succeeds admirably in making Han Solo a likeable, brash, smug wannabe scoundrel. Less so at being scruffy looking, but you can’t have everything.

It looks as i…