27/06/2012

Blakewatch - Week 26: Star One

Season Two Episode 13- Star One
(1979) Writer: Chris Boucher / Director: David Maloney
With Star One finally located the Liberator heads there despite misgivings from the others over Blake’s intentions. However the facility has already been invaded and a plan is unfolding that threatens the entire Federation.

Star One` is a terrific episode, bristling with developments, action and a wholly unexpected alien invasion that changes the game. It glides into view with an eerie sequence in which a space collision gradually becomes inevitable and the off screen voice of the pilot changes from normal to panic. Chris Boucher’s script covers all bases and yet unfurls at an even pace. If anything matters are underplayed- after all the Federation is collapsing here-which has the advantage of not losing the characters in the rush to finish that happens in some series.

"I''ve always believed in you Avon." "Get lost, this is my show now"

Star One itself does seem a rather odd enterprise though after all the searching for it. It is a base built whose location is unknown to anyone (according to Servalan) which means that hundreds of people who worked on it must presumably been killed. Such isolation becomes impractical when the Federation is threatened by an invasion like this. Nonetheless Boucher adds a crucial element of the crew on Star One having already been despatched and replaced by alien replicas. Thus he is able to deliver a two pronged story- on the one hand political, on the other an atypical for the series alien infestation.

Everyone is on top form of course. Jacqueline Pearce never leaves her familiar office but dishing out orders and threats Servalan is in her element seemingly making a bid for the Presidency. Her dialogue with her assistant shows tremendous economy of script from Boucher. He is able to paint a vivid picture of what is happening just by the conversation of two people, a gift that none of the series’ other writers save Robert Holmes can do as well. He adds some lovely touches too amongst the crew as they debate their mission.

As for Travis, it has been difficult to rate Brian Croucher as highly as his predecessor and this is the character’s swansong and he gets shot twice before falling down a flimsily protected but clearly dangerous hole in the floor that for some unknown reason is stuck in the middle of one of the control rooms ! It does seem a slightly ignominious end for the character but Travis has become a plot device whose miraculous escapades have stretched his credulity.

The tension between Blake and Avon this season ebbs in unexpected directions in this episode, especially when Blake declares near the end that he always trusted Avon after the latter has revealed his seeming mistrust of every one of Blake’s decisions. What has been interesting about this antagonism is that the viewer is unsure which side to support. Both Gareth Thomas and Paul Darrow have created iconic characters whose differing opinions are the crux of the season.  It would be good if occasionally one of the other regulars had an idea that they follow. At this point there is a disparity in the amount of attention they get compared to Blake and Avon; this week though this is partly rectified.

What 1979 viewers would not know but which we of course do is that this is also Gareth Thomas’ last regular episode and the final time we will see Sally Knyvette. She was presumably still undecided about leaving as there is no particular Jenna moment. It seems a long time ago that she started off as the strongest of the main cast but slowly her individuality has been subsumed and it is not surprising the actress left.

Blake on the other hand is clearly headed for the exit and gets a great sign off, Thomas in combative form throughout. In a  difficult role he initially seemed to struggle in making us believe that Blake would be a leader people would follow, however he grew into the part and made it his own. He and the writers have ensured Blake remains idealistic, ambitious and flawed but we do understand him more. You do get the sense that just as Blake and Avon are vying for primary position so are the actors playing them! Perhaps the series might not be big enough for both, but they do provide a broad view from two sides that the other regulars cannot encompass. There is a wonderful irony in this episode too, the fact that Blake has to end up saving Star One to prevent an even greater threat.

The ambition of this finale is occasionally almost undermined by the visuals, notably the stock footage of other planets shown to Servalan and particularly when we get to see the alien fleet. What resembles a set of kitchen pots and pans hanging in mid air, with little perspective to make them seem large seems disappointing to look at especially as the miniatures and effects have been of a high standard this season. Yet in the end it doesn’t matter; the cast and the script sell the situation and prove you don’t necessarily need a fleet of CGI spaceships to make an impact.

All that and they end on a cliffhangar as well! This is quite exciting if you only have a week to wait; imagine how thrilling it must have been for viewers in 1979. So, we’re halfway through the year and halfway through B7. Watching a series evolve week by week has so far been absorbing and, the odd terrible episode aside, enjoyable and `Star One` is definitely a show running on maximum power.


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