Best of Blake’s 7 – Star One

S02EP13 – This was the finale to the second season/series of BLAKE’S 7 and is a watershed episode in both for the transition moment that it represents and the unfulfilled potential of what might have been . It aired in the United Kingdom on April 3, 1979. By this point, a lot had changed since the first episode. Blake had assembled around him a small crew of criminals, misanthropes and misfits, and on board the salvaged alien starship that they had named the Liberator, they continued to fight an aggressive but ultimately ineffectual war against the tyranny of the Federation. The Liberator was far faster and better armed than any ship the Federation possessed, and it contained teleport technology that allowed the crew to project themselves to the surface of a nearby planet and back so long as they wore a conducting bracelet that allowed for the transfer. The ship also was capable of self-repair and self-guidance, under the auspices of Zen, its computerized central system.

By this point in the show, though, the strain of not really being able to make any noticeable headway against the Federation was beginning to show on Blake and the crew. They’d made a personal enemy of Supreme Commander Servalan of the Federation security forces, who had dispatched the ruthless Travis to hunt them down. Travis was Ahad to Blake’s white whale, and he eventually went rogue in trying to bring Blake to ground. Along the way, one of Blake’s followers, the gentle giant Gan, was killed while helping the others to escape, so the stakes were becoming more immediate and personal. For most of the back half of this season, Blake and the crew of the Liberator had been questing for the location of Star One, the off-world central computerized hub which controlled operations for all of Federation space. Blake planned to seize Star One and destroy it, creating chaos and destruction all throughout the Federation, from which he hoped his revolution would rise. And that’s where this episode opens.

We begin with a collision in outer space, as the luxury liner the Nova Queen smashes into another ship despite the fact that both vessels are being guided by Star One. It seems that Blake may not need to do anything after all, as all across the galaxy, computer controlled systems are running wild. Weather control is malfunctioning, resulting in droughts on arid planets and floods on lush ones. These facts are presented to Servalan, and the problem is obvious: something has gone wrong with Star One. But a solution to that problem is elusive, as Servalan tells her aide Durkim that the location of Star One is such sensitive information that no one, including her, knows where it is!

Servalan’s intelligence is out of date, however, as there is one group of people who knows. That’s Blake and his men, who were able to get the information from the last of Star One’s creators left alive. But it’s further out into space than anybody has knowingly gone before, beyond the rim of the galaxy. Blake and his crew debate the merits of traveling so far out into uncharted space, as if anything goes wrong, there won’t be any aid coming. Tired of Blake’s fanaticism, Avon tells Blake that’s he’s ready to be finished with him and his crusade: “When we have dealt with Star One, I will take you back to Earth. And then the Liberator is mine. Agreed?“Cally is more concerned about the morality of their decision to destroy Star One: “Are we fanatics? Many, many people will die without Star One.” But Blake is adamant: “Don’t you see, Cally? If we stop now, then 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 that I was right.” Avon has a point about Blake being a fanatic.

Back in Federation Space, Servalan has taken advantage of the catastrophes plaguing the Federation to stage a coup. She has her security forces round up her opposition, and she establishes herself as the new President. But her newfound empire is going to be dust if they can’t find and fix whatever’s gone wrong at Star One. She has discovered that a small group of scientists and technicians were left behind on Star One to insure that it would be properly maintained, and that they had all been psychologically conditioned to be unable to reveal its location or to harm the system in any way. We cut away to Star One, where we see that one of these technicians, Lurena, seems to be losing her grip on reality. She’s paranoid, quick to anger, and she’s convinced that the others are plotting against her. Something strange is going on in Star One for certain.

Meanwhile, the Liberator has made it to the coordinates they were given, where they find a single planet orbiting a dying White Dwarf star. What’s more, Avon points out that they are now at the nearest point to the Andromeda Galaxy–the natural route for anything coming from that galaxy towards the Milky Way to take. Training the Liberator’s detectors forward beyond Star One, Avon has discovered an enormous anti-matter minefield stretching out in all directions. Now, the idea of a minefield in space is a bit ridiculous, as the most it would amount to is a slight delay for any ships intent on reaching the Milky Way–you can always go around a minefield in space, no matter how large it is. But Blake isn’t sure if the mines are there to keep humanity in, or to keep something else out. Down on Star One, Lurena eludes her pursuers, only to discover a storeroom in which the very dead bodies of those same people are hanging from a wall. It’s apparent that they’ve been replaced by someone or something. Lurena isn’t the crazy one here–her fellow scientists, or whatever has replaced them, are indeed trying to kill her.

Blake, Avon and Cally teleport down to Star One, carrying enough explosives to blow the place sky high. They swiftly encounter the patrols looking for Lurena and follow them back to the entrance to the base–but Blake and Cally are quickly caught. Cally is able to use her telepathy to warn Avon to remain hidden. Vila is unable to teleport Blake and Cally out of the Star One base, as the structure is shielded, and Jenna warns Avon that another ship is coming in to land near his position. Blake and Cally are brought before Stot, the head of the base, who isn’t surprised to see Blake at all. Blake plays along with him, bluffing his way through the man’s interrogation with arrogance and humor. He learns that Stot has been waiting for a man who will perform The Final Act and betray the whole of humanity. And when the base leader asks Blake which of his hands is artificial, both he and Cally realize that he’s been talking about their dogged enemy Travis.

Avon, however, is able to get the drop on Travis before he can enter the complex. But Lurena gets in the way, allowing Travis to escape from Avon’s custody deeper into the base. Lurena’s mind is breaking down, and she shows Avon how the crew is dead in the hidden compartment but alive out in the rest of the base. Avon outdraws one of the guards who discovers them and is unperturbed when the dead man’s body devolves into inhuman slime. Blake and Cally, meanwhile, have been making use of the fact that they’ve been mistaken for Travis and a colleague to plant their explosives throughout the base. And back aboard the Liberator, Jenna and Vila are alarmed to discover that there is a massive alien fleet massing just beyond the Star One defense zone–waiting for something to happen to clear the way for them. True to his cowardly nature, Vila urges Jenna to run for it.

Stot and his men are almost finished bypassing the Star One systems that will permit them to turn off the defense zone–the Final Act. They’ve also been responsible for the chaos throughout the Federation as a softening up tactic. Blake is growing increasingly confused by what Stot is telling him, about maintaining human shape and their plans to wipe out the whole of humanity. But before things can come to a head, Travis suddenly appears and shoots Blake through the chest. This is a wonderfully unexpected moment and carries a real punch. It’s unclear whether Blake is alive or dead at this moment. Stot swiftly realizes that he’s been talking to the wrong man all along. (What the Andromedans need Travis for is never really made clear here. It seems as though they can bring down the defense zone on their own, so why he’s so important to their plans and why they show him such deference is a mystery.)

On board the Liberator, Jenna makes a unilateral decision. Even knowing that she’s betraying Blake by doing so, she orders ORAC to use his carrier beam to send a distress call to Servalan and the Federation Security Fleet, telling them about the enemy massing at Star One in the hopes of summoning assistance. But it may be too late for that, as the Andromedans’ equipment is ready, and Travis begins to bring down the defense zone one section at a time. But Blake, though badly wounded, is able to shoot Travis down, keeping him from finishing the job–and when Travis gets up again, Avon finishes him off with a shot that sends him falling into an electrified shaft of some kind in the center of the room. After two series, Travis is done for.

But so is everybody else if Star One is blown up. So Blake implores his crewmen not to worry about him but instead to gather up all of the charges that they planted and get them out onto the surface where they can explode harmlessly. After they race off, Blake remembers the one charge he had planted in Stot’s office–and Lurena goes to retrieve that one. But before she can get out of the office with it, she’s waylaid by the remaining aliens-in-human-form–and when the other explosives go off after Cally hurls them over the ridge, we know that Lurena and the aliens have likewise been wiped out. So that takes care of her as a loose end in the story.

Back in the Federation, ORAC’s message has been received, and despite how unbelievable it is, Servalan marshals the Security Forces fleet to head for the coordinates that Blake (really Jenna) has given them. But it’s going to be at least four hours before any of the Federation;s defense fleets can make it to the area (and given how remote Star One is supposed to be, and how much faster the Liberator is than anything else the Federation has at its disposal, even that amount of time seems like a miracle.) But the question hangs in the air: “But what happens in the meantime?

And now we get down to the nitty-gritty of the episode, and what is likely the five tensest minutes in the whole of BLAKE’S 7. Back on board the Liberator, Avon tells the others that he gave Blake his word that they would stay and hold off the invaders until Federation help could arrive. This seemingly-suicidal course of action seems very much out of character for Avon, A badly wounded Blake makes his way to the Liberator’s bridge, hoping to be of some help. “Why didn’t you stay in the medical unit?” asks Avon, “Couldn’t you bring yourself to trust me, just this once?“Blake agrees to return to the medical unit, and then speaks the last line he’ll say in this series until the very end: “Avon, for what it is worth, I have always trusted you, from the very beginning.” And with that, Gareth Thomas was finished with the role of Blake, apart from special occasions.

There is only a small gap in the defense zone through which the enemy fleet can pass, which means that only a few ships can come through at once. And so, as we hear radio reports of Federation forces racing to the scene and their estimated time of arrival, the Liberator slowly moves into position at the head of the gap and readies itself to take on the invaders, alone. “They can’t all come through that gap at once!” declares Jenna, in what will turn out to be her final words on the series as well. The direction and pacing here is expertly deliberate, as the tension rises as the moment of encounter approaches. “Avon, this is stupid!” cries Vila. “When did that ever stop us?” replies Avon, coolly, before a moment later giving the order to FIRE! And the credits roll and the season is finished.

Gareth Thomas, who played Blake, had grown more and more unhappy in the role and more and more happy with the direction of the series. From what started out as a science fiction man-against-big-brother series, BLAKE’S 7 had taken a turn into DOCTOR WHO-style fantasy, with alien creatures and strange monsters many weeks. It was more imaginative, but less realistic, and it sat poorly with him. So he decided not to return in the role of Blake and instead took a position with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Similarly, Sally Knyvette bristled at the limitations of playing Jenna, who had started out as a cool and swaggering space pirate but who had become little more than eye-candy over the course of the two series. So she too put in her walking papers. What Star One had to do, pretty much on the fly, was to set up a situation where two of the main leads, including the title character, could be written out in a plausible fashion while allowing the series to continue. As such, it spends its entire back half knocking apart most of the structures that had been set up to this point. With a new enemy on the horizon and the whole of the Federation changing and potentially being forced into a position where they and the Liberator crew were forced to act as allies, anything was possible moving into series three.

That they did so little with it in terms of change is a trifle disappointing–especially considering the big idea that series creator Terry Nation was floating. Nation’s concept was that the invaders who were poised to sweep across the Federation would be his other phenomenal creations, the Daleks, to which he still owned the rights. There are a few veiled mentions in Star One to the Andromedons on the base being merely vassals of another more powerful species. But writer Chris Boucher disagreed with this idea. He felt that it would inevitably turn BLAKE’S 7 into a Dalek series that the crew of the Liberator just happened to be a part of, and he lobbied successfully to go in a different direction. Ultimately, he was probably right, and as he was responsible for most of the most memorable episodes of the show, I’m in favor of following his instinct in this matter. But still–it would have been the coolest thing in the world to see the Daleks roll out of those invading spaceships and confront Avon and company.

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