Monday, 30 December 2013

D4 Stardrive

EPISODE: D4 Stardrive
BROADCAST: 19/10/1981
WRITTEN BY: James Follett
DIRECTOR: David Sullivan Proudfoot
SCRIPT EDITOR: Chris Boucher
PRODUCER: Vere Lorrimer
DVD: Blake's 7 - Series 4

"I'm very sorry about this but that was the backup system"


Scorpio is flying close to an asteroid using it as cover to enter the Altern system when it strikes the Asteroid damaging the ship. Avon & Tarrant go into the drive chamber, protected by a force wall, to make repairs but while they are there three Federation ships approach Scorpio before suddenly exploding. Orac analyses the recording and detects the Federation have re-established their ship building program and lost their main stardrive designer. Viewed slowly a spacecraft is found travelling at standard by 12. Vila recognises the ship as belonging to the Space Rats, a group obsessed with weapons and speed. They assume Dr Plaxton is being held by the Space Rats developing faster stardrives for him so they decide to visit the Space Rats on the planet Casper and steal an example of her work. Dayna & Vila teleport to the planet but are swiftly captured. While the Space Rats are distracted by Dayna & Vila, Scorpio lands and Avon, Tarrant & Soolin infiltrate the base. They free their friends and Doctor Plaxton taking her latest Stardrive with them. As Scorpio leaves the planet it is again approached by Federation Pursuit ships and has no chance of outrunning them. Doctor Plaxton enters the drive chamber and begins wiring in the drive system in. As she makes the final connection Avon activates the system killing her.

I'm really quite fond of Stardrive. I know I probably shouldn't be but I am. It starts with an Asteroid and in 1981 Asteroids could do no wrong having heavily featured in Empire Strikes Back which I suspect provides some considerable inspiration for parts of this episode. Yes the plan to get into and out of the Altern system is barkingly mad but it might have gone OK if the guidance system hadn't gone at a crucial moment (Things 8 year old Phil learnt from this episode: what Murphy's Law was).


Then Vila, who's been on top form so far this season, plays drunk and comes up with a solution to their problem that will get home.... You know I loved that effect where Avon & Tarrant regenerate the hull plate when I was younger... now I look at it and think that'd work if only they didn't include the panel lines on the regenerated section!


Hurrah Federation Pursuit ships! Not seen those for a while.... I think Harvest of Kairos was their only appearance last year. The argument is, and picked up here, that the Federation fleet was decimated at Star One and has only just started to recover. Once they get mysteriously destroyed it's back to base (hurrah, Scorpio enters the hanger at a slower speed than in Rescue) for Orac to cryptically hint and leave the crew to do the hard work instead of just telling them what's happening.

Then off we traipse to Casper for Avon to steal the Stardrive. Sticking Vila & Dayna in to get caught, while he Tarrant & Soolin sneak in round the back, is a bit naughty though! There's a fab sequence where Dayna & Tarrant speak to Avon and they expect him to be on the flightdeck but he's traipsing over the sand dunes (apparently a quarry near Dunstable in Bedforshire). It's amusing that an earlier part of the episode involves Avon & Tarrant regenerating a wall yet later on they're dissolving one as part of their heist!

The Space Rats, a kind of galactic Hell's Angels seem a good concept, however the implementation is a bit off! Liz's instant reaction to seeing the Space Rats was "oh that's very silly!". Look at that hair, how do they get it under their helmets? And it must go under the helmets: Vila & Dayna get captured by a Space Rat inside - Rat has hair, they get marched outside for plot purposes so Avon can see them - Rat has helmet on, they get brought before Atlan - Rat has hair! Conclusion: it's the same space rat and yet not a hair is out of place in the second shot! The real reason he's wearing the helmet in the exterior shot is the same reason Dr Plaxton's got a cloak, she wears it earlier in the episode when she goes to see Atlan and then again with the hood up during the escape: it's to save on the expense of hiring the actor for the location shoot when a cheap extra will suffice! The Space Rats choice of ground vehicles - the little buggys and trikes immediately made me think Space 1999 and Day of the Daleks!

Some more fab effects work here, especially Scorpio and the Asteroid and Scorpio sitting on Casper's surface.

What happens to Doctor Plaxton's assistant Napier? He just disappears mid episode!

Soolin watch: This week she gets to find the ship on the video and gets grabbed by Altan to use as a hostage. Still nothing major while Dayna's played big roles in all four episodes so far and been sent out on both missions. There again Dayna's known Avon a while and likely to take his use of her & Vila a bit better. And keeping newcomer Soolin with Avon allows her to ask questions and Avon to do some explaining.

Then there's the episode end which is wonderful stuff. Being pursued from Casper by the Federation, Avon powers up the Stardrive just as Plaxton makes the final connection frying her when she does. The flowing starfield and crew hammered back in their seats gives you a clear impression of the power of what they've just stolen. But it's the closing lines that live on with you:

Dayna: What about Doctor Plaxton?
Avon: Who?
Superb stuff. She was only ever a means to an end for him. He wanted the Stardrive and wasn't remotely interested in her after he'd got it!


Doctor Plaxton is played by Barbara Shelley who's got a whole load of horror films on her CV plus would appear as Sorasta in Doctor Who: Planet of Fire. Damien Thomas play Atlan. He'd later appear with Soolin actress Glynis Barber in Dempsey and Makepeace as Tony in the episode Guardian Angel as well as appearing as Michael Samuels in House of Cards. Leonard Kavanagh, Napier, was in the first Sweeney film as the Pathologist and Jonathan Creek: Mother Redcap as Judge Forrest Sweetland.

Stardrive was included in the Blake's 7 novelization Scorpio Attack written by Trevor Hoyle along with Rescue & Traitor. Stardrive was repeated on 25/06/1983. It was released on video on 7th July 1992 as part of Blake's 7 tape 22 where it was paired with the next episode Animals and alongside Tape 21 Power & Traitor. Blake's 7 season 4 was released on DVD on 24th April 2006.

1 comment:

  1. Interestingly, Soolin had a lot more lines in the novelization, like 'I hope so, Avon, for your sake' when she has expressed her anger at Avon using Dayna and Vila.