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Blake's 7: Stardrive

There's very little plot in this episode, which really only exists to finish the job of replacing all the bits of exploded Liberator. The genius scientist Doctor Plaxton has designed an amazing new engine, which will allow the Scorpio to go faster than anybody else - if they can get hold of it. Unfortunately for the gang (and for the viewer, arguably), the only people who will fund Doctor Plaxton's research are the Space Rats, a gang of brain dead speed freaks, who couldn't carry a plot if they tried. They look a bit like refugees from one of the latter two Mad Max movies, or perhaps grown up cast members of The Tribe - just without any of the things that made either of those franchises any fun. It's not a bad episode as such, just lacking in subtlety; and it's all too obvious that it really is nothing but another stepping stone to "replacing" the Liberator. If you're making a TV show, I think the lesson to take away from this is to make damned sure the final curtain really is falling before you blow up all your stuff. It does rather test the audience's patience if they have to wait for you to get it all back again the following year.

So on with series four, then. I must admit that the final series is not the best that Blake's 7 has ever been, although it's by no means bad. It does make me smile, though. At some point after filming series three, Paul Darrow apparently lost all semblance of reserve, and is now spitting out every line with a bizarre mixture of drama and barely concealed fury. Consequently Avon can't even talk about the weather without it sounding like a thinly veiled death threat from a madman. I can never quite decide whether or not it's a good idea, but it's certainly never dull. As I said, there's precious little plot in this episode, and in fact the first ten or fifteen minutes consist almost entirely of technobabble. Avon growls his way through a conversation about engine capacity and speed, with a ferocity that you usually only find in talk of blood feuds or vengeance. The inference is that being stranded on Terminal for five minutes has driven him mad. We join him at the beginning of the episode as he does his utmost to prove it.

Avon, in the full grip of his new bonkersness, has hit upon a plan. In order to sneak up on a Federation base, to get new power crystals for the engines, he'll use an asteroid for cover. This involves flying the Scorpio as close as possible to a gigantic chunk of fast-moving rock, and then hoping for the best. The world and its brother points out that this is a bloody silly plan, sure to end in disaster, but Avon has apparently decided that being reckless, and destroying spaceships in the process, is a good hobby. Oddly enough, the ten minutes that the gang spent stranded on Terminal has convinced them that Avon is boss, and even Tarrant, who spent the whole of series three arguing with him over every last detail, is now readily accepting of his authority. Consequently, what he says goes. Even when it's head-butting an asteroid at a thousand miles an hour.

Turns out that crashing into asteroids isn't such a good idea after all. Not only does it make control panels explode, and tears holes in hulls, it also causes space to fill up with badly superimposed fireballs. Never crash into an asteroid. It does terrible things to the SFX.

Avon is perplexed. It seemed like such a good plan. What on earth could have gone wrong?

Avon and Tarrant begin the repair operation, courtesy of a genuinely good idea, superbly fielded by Vila. I like how he pretended to be drunk when he offered it up, to be sure that he wouldn't be asked to volunteer. Slightly bothered that he was prepared to hang around in a disintegrating spaceship, risking everybody's lives, while he pretended to be getting drunk, though. Also slightly worried about the cameraman. I hope he's good at knots.

A passing trio of Federation ships explodes, apparently for no reason. Turns out that a little spaceship, travelling spectacularly fast, hit them as it went by.

The gang immediately see the potential in this. If they can get hold of an engine like that, they can once again outrun the Federation. Orac theorises about Doctor Plaxton, and Vila recognises a symbol on the side of the little speedy craft. All they have to do is run the gauntlet of the dreaded Space Rats. Once again, a plan with no conceivable drawbacks.

Vila and Dayna teleport down to the quarry where the Space Rats live. We haven't seen a quarry in quite some time. I've almost missed them. This is where the show begins to annoy me again, though - or rather Vila does. One moment he's coming up with great ideas, and being brilliantly crafty about it; the next he can't even hold a gun without dropping it and being a prat. He really is the most trying of characters.

A Space Rat. They live to race things, and blast other things. They're not what you might call interesting, multi-layered antagonists. They do have quite nice helmets though, I suppose.

Avon and Tarrant explain their secret plan to Soolin. Vila and Dayna are bait, intended to get captured to provide cover for the rest of the gang when they go in to steal Doctor Plaxton's prototype super-engine. How they managed to make a secret plan is anybody's guess, mind, since they were aboard the Scorpio the whole time, and it only has one room. Maybe some of Cally's telepathy rubbed off. I like Avon's display of ruthlessness about the whole affair, and also how Tarrant manages to look amused by the plan and guilty about it at the same time. One drawback to watching Blake's 7 is that shows about whiter-than-white heroes seem awfully boring in comparison.

Soolin has, remarkably, made it down to the surface of a planet. She even gets to shoot some people, although she looks hilariously posed while she does it. She also did in Dempsey & Makepeace I suppose, but perhaps it's a bit less glaring without the space clothes and the ridiculous hairdo. Poor woman. It's so painfully obvious that she was a last minute replacement for a departed Cally. Nobody's taken any time to think up a personality for her, and she's so obviously filling Cally's largely pointless shoes. I really do wish they hadn't bothered, even if it is nice to see Glynis Barber.

Sorry. Plot. They teleport down, they approach the Space Rats' base, they manage to be a bit more low-key about it than Vila and Dayna do, even with Del "If You've Got It, Flaunt It" Tarrant, and Kerr "Subtlety Is For Wimps" Avon on the team. Meanwhile, Avon does his best to glare the scenery into submission, just in case it's getting any ideas.

Elsewhere, a berk in a lime green jumpsuit captures Vila and Dayna. In order to avoid instant execution, Dayna pretends to be a student of Doctor Plaxton's, thereby ensuring that she, Vila and a veritable army of Space Rats are right where Avon is planning to sneak into. So much for being a distraction elsewhere. Serves Avon right for his secret planning, and also ensures a high speed car chase in a quarry, which is never a bad thing. I always did like Dayna. She's second only to Tarrant for causing chaos with minimum effort.

Doctor Plaxton is meanwhile being threatened by a nut with stupid make-up. He has a spiky hairdo and is wearing pink and silver plastic. The poor woman should probably get an award for managing to keep a straight face.

Tarrant attempts to laser his way through a wall. And this is Avon's plan to sneak in subtly?! Anyway, it doesn't work, since the room's full of people. In no time at all, the gang are on the run, with Doctor Plaxton and an amazing super-engine.

Soolin has got something to do! And it's only taken her four episodes. At this rate she'll be getting her own episode somewhere around 1987.

Rather gloriously, they make their escape in a little buggy. It's a great fun chase, but I do wish they'd had a slightly more dramatic getaway vehicle. Slightly amused at how a pair of control freaks like Avon and Tarrant let Doctor Plaxton of all people drive; or, rather, Doctor Plaxton wrapped up in a cloak and hood, to hide the fact that she's really a stuntman.

The Space Rats give chase on their super bikes. It's great fun, this. The one drawback to science fiction is the sad lack of car chases.

The gang win, obviously, and take off in the Scorpio. Doctor Plaxton hurries to fit the super-engine, to make sure that they can outrun the Space Rats. Before she's finished, however, three Federation ships hove into view, with plasma cannons blasting.

Avon orders the engines brought on line. The moment Doctor Plaxton makes the last connection, the super-engine will snap into life, and allow them to outrun the plasma bolts. Doctor Plaxton will fry, but if they don't do it, the plasma bolts will fry the whole ship. One of Avon's most famous lines here. "She's dead either way."

Goodbye, Doctor Plaxton. Conveniently she can now no longer build her super-engines, so the team have once again got a uniquely fast ship. Let's try not to destroy this one at the end of the series, yes?

At new super-speed, the gang hurtle through space. Everybody's angry with Avon over Doctor Plaxton, but Avon's reaction is characteristically cold. "Who?" He really has gone over the edge this series. I wish I could figure out why. It's not that I don't like it exactly, but the only real explanation that's ever been given is that Paul Darrow thought it would be cool. Which is fair enough I guess, but doesn't exactly work in-story. It can't just be because Servalan tricked him on Terminal? Losing the Liberator was always going to be hardest on him, but it was his own silly fault. Anyway, whatever the reason, he's nuts now. I'm sure this can only end well.

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