Blakewatch: 52 Weeks of Blake's 7. Week 43- Stardrive
Season Four Episode 4- Stardrive
(1981) Writer: James Follett / Director: David Sullivan Proudfoot
The search for a better way of powering the Scorpio brings the crew to where renowned scientist Dr Plxton the inventor of the powerful stardrive is based only to find she is working for the notorious Space Rats.
You’ve got to hand it to Paul Darrow. Whatever nonsense is going on, however absurd the scenery, he just carries on yelling at people, shooting people and generally acting as if he is having the time of his life. Nothing can detract him from taking this all very earnestly. Not even face painted, hedgehog haired bikers it seems. Retrospectively it is claimed his tongue was firmly in his cheek throughout but I don’t believe a word of it. It is perhaps only his commitment to an episode that is either being dreary or ramshackle that sells it to the uninvolved viewer.
Reader, I fell asleep. It’s never happened before not even during the worst excesses of even `Harvest of Kairos`. It was only a nap, only about five minutes and when I woke up nothing had changed. There was still an improbable star drive that was powerful enough to send ships to speeds of standard by 12 but could be picked up by one person. A system that was capable of being installed in under an hour, utilising the existing engines of the Scorpio which surely it would just blow out totally when activated? There were still these bikers who didn’t own a bike and somehow managed to get their spiky hair under a helmet that also had imitation spiky hair on it! For good measure they wear face paint and speak like Home Counties bankers pretending to be aggressive. The way they are built up as the fearsome Space Rats makes them seem more interesting than they are- perhaps something could have been done about that but it isn’t. We never find out what makes them tick.
`Stardrive` makes the cardinal fictional sin of being about something dull. Like The Phantom Menace and its obsession with trade talks or Survivors’ endless crop rotation dramas, spaceship engines are just not interesting. Unless you’re Jeremy Clarkson. Of course what you can do is wrap your dull story in something characterful, a narrative that soon forgets about the engines and becomes a drama about the people involved with the engines.
I know it sounds a bit clichéd, but how about some kind of attraction between Dr Plaxton (Barbara Shelley who really deserved a better episode) and Avon? Or anything really. Instead the crew argue a little, the punks and the scientist antagonise each other a little but I don’t believe in it. There is no conviction in the dialogue, the plot or indeed much of the acting. Towards the end when the action suddenly happens it just looks like people playing at being alien bikers, scientists and freedom fighters.
But, hey, Soolin does something. Four episodes in she contributes a little gun fighting and attitude though she seems very prim for someone who has supposedly lived on a lawless planet. From the sour look on Glynis Barber’s face, she knows she’s got weeks of this to go and she seems uncomfortable with the whole thing. I can certainly empathise with that. Also Avon is a better shot than Soolin anyway as the final confrontation shows.
The episode climaxes, if that’s the right word, with a bonkers chase and the one good moment when Avon lets off some weird flashing bombs. After that we have the unconvincingly swift re-fitting of the engines and Dr Plaxton’s inevitable death. Not inevitable because it would be poignant or difficult but because it conveniently removes a non regular cast member. At times like this you can almost hear the wheels in writer James Follett’s brain whirring round all these years later.
After last week’s improvement, `Stardrive` plunges us back into decline. I’m told better episodes are ahead - there could hardly be worse.