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?