Star One

Written by:
Chris Boucher
Directed by: David Maloney
Episode Length: 48’20
Original UK Transmission Date: 3/4/1979
Original UK Ratings: 8.2m
Original UK Chart Position: 30

DVD Availability: Try or Amazon

Starring: Gareth Thomas (Blake), Sally Knyvette (Jenna), Paul Darrow (Avon), Jan Chappell (Cally), Michael Keating (Vila) and Peter Tuddenham (Orac/Zen).

Guest-Starring: Jacqueline Pearce (Servalan), Brian Croucher (Travis), Jenny Twigge (Lurena), David Webb (Stot), Gareth Armstrong (Parton), John Bown (Durkim), Paul Toothill (Marcol) and Michael Maynard (Leeth).

Crew: Geoffrey Manton (Production Assistant), Sheelagh Rees (Production Unit Manager), Mat Irvine/Peter Pegrum/Andy Lazell (Visual Effects Designers), Max Samett (Film Cameraman), Paul V.Wheeler (Model Sequences), John Gatland (Film Recordist), Sheila S. Tomlinson (Film Editor), Brian Clemett (Studio Lighting), Malcolm Johnson (Studio Sound), Elizabeth Parker (Special Sound), A.J. Mitchell (Electronic Effects), Dave White (Senior Cameraman), Sam Upton/Malcolm Banthorpe (Series Videotape Editors), Barbara Kidd (Costume Designer), Anne Ailes (Make-Up Artist), Dudley Simpson (Music), Terry Nation (Series Deviser), Chris Boucher (Script Editor), Ken Ledsham/Ray London (Designers) and David Maloney (Producer).

Trivia: Ironically for such a cataclysmic instalment, at 48’20 minutes this is the shortest episode of Blake’s 7.

Persistent rumours abound that the aliens behind the minefield were going to be revealed as Terry Nation’s Daleks in a crossover from Doctor Who.

Many plot aspects of this episode do not make sense. How did Travis reach Star One before the Liberator? Even though he had a head start, the Liberator is the fastest ship in the galaxy. Also, if he’s only just set up with the aliens, then how have they been able to establish such a formulated plan? And if none of their ships can pass through the minefield, then how have some of them been able to board Star One and assume the appearance of the research team there in the first place? It’s perhaps best not to think about it too closely and just enjoy it…

Story: A series of disasters are occurring throughout the Federation Empire. Many computer guidance systems are failing, including one that causes the crash of the ship Nova Queen at co-ordinates 040 (above an unnamed planet) into an unmanned ore carrier. The crash killed all 4000 passengers and sent the ship’s neutron drive down into the planet’s atmosphere, achieving ground zero on Keldon City and killing half the population. Planets affected by extreme climate changes include Vilca, Suni, Hereon and Palmero (the Federation’s main producer of tropical fruit). In fact, “all the frontier worlds” are cited as undergoing harsh climate changes. Determined to find out the cause, Servalan orders scientists to estimate the location of Star One, and, suspecting a plot, orders the arrest of the President and the High Council, appointing herself as the new President.
Meanwhile, the Liberator travels to “the nearest point to Andromeda” where Star One is situated. It has shielding to block the ship’s teleport range, and has been covertly taken over by shapechanging aliens who assume the forms of the station’s technical staff. There are thousands of minefields beyond the computer centre, all of which are primed to set off anti-matter implosions to any invading ships. Working with Travis, the aliens plan to disconnect the mines and allow their ships through to destroy the human race.
Passing himself off as Travis, Blake plants bombs throughout the base, though is discovered and nearly fatally wounded by him. Avon rescues Blake and finally kills Travis, while removing the explosives when it’s realised that around 600 alien warships are preparing to invade. Jenna informs the Federation of the fleet, who send their forces, including the flagship Gallileo, to the area. However, until they arrive, the Liberator has to face the impending alien fleet alone…

Avon: Avon tells Blake that after they destroy Star One, he wants to return Blake to Earth and own the Liberator. Blake agrees to his terms, providing the others do, too.

“We have to win… it’s the only way I can be sure I was right.”

At last! With half a season of weak episodes, season two finally delivers some first-class Blake.

There’s a fair share of boom mike shadows, off-camera clunks and electronic feedback, betraying the rushed nature of the piece. But this is excellent television, Boucher giving some much-needed depth and ambiguity to the series. Without wishing to get too political or potentially offensive, you have to remember that the IRA campaigns were regular news when the series was going out. Having the crew cast as terrorists who know their lives will have been given to senseless killing and bloodshed unless they can justify it by succeeding, is a daring point. With their strikes on structural targets you can also equate it with more recent events in the world. The series doesn’t give answers or judgements, just presents the story objectively. This is why Chris Boucher is the series’ best writer - Terry Nation would have provided black and white, Chris is well aware of the importance of grey areas. The other writers? They don’t even come close.

It’s not just in the polemics that Star One scores. There’s also the underlying depth in the Blake/Avon relationship. Avon wants to see the back of Blake, yet appears genuinely touched when he tells him “for what it is worth, I have always trusted you… from the very beginning.” It’s a love-hate relationship that goes beyond surface sniping. Avon seems to want Blake’s acceptance somehow, yet also knows he can never grow in stature as a person with him around. There’s a genuine love between them, not a homosexual love, though you can see why such a layered relationship has inspired much slash fiction. It’s also clever how Avon is fully thrust forward as the lead in this episode. They must have known Gareth Thomas was leaving at this point, so he’s presented as a viable lead. It is initially somewhat disappointing to see Blake in his last regular episode shot up and secondary to Avon (who even kills Travis for him, Blake’s personal nemesis), but seen again it’s a logical move.

Jacqueline Pearce (Who - Project Avalon aside - has been nowhere near as camp as I remembered at this stage) gives possibly her best performance in the series. And while still obviously a set, the circular construction of Star One is possibly the finest one they ever achieved in the programme. Boucher keeps the thing free of the SF pulp that it could have slid into, (with a potential “resistance is useless” even becoming “resistance is slight”) and the final irony of the Liberator aiding the Federation is delicious. Absolutely superb.