Thursday, 15 March 2018

TV Review - Blake's 7: S4E04 Stardrive

Despite curling out "Dawn of the Gods" for Season 3 and giving a fair indication that he should never be allowed to work in writing again Mad Jim Follet was asked back for Season 4, most likely because there were no scripts, what with Terry Nation concentrating on keeping merchandise money coming in and Chris Boucher having to rewrite everything they did have five times. To be fair to Follet, the episode is a quantum improvement on his first attempt but then the other direction wasn't really available.

It does share a few similarities with "Dawn", however, most notably starting off with far too long an opening scene on the ship. Scorpio needs some fuel crystals so they fly off to get them but somehow this milk run turns into near disaster when Avon flies the ship to close to an asteroid for no adequately explained reason and fucks it up by colliding with the thing. It really is nonsensical; the asteroid's there floating in space and providing no cover while there's time for Avon and Tarrant to repair the damage before the Federation even show up. And while the swirling asteroid is a massive effects triumph by B7 standards the collision involves Matt Irvine dragging the Scorpio model along it on a bit of string. 

There is a smashing scene where Vila fakes a drunken stupor in order to get out of repair work but the rest of the scenes are very dull. The Scorpio set is dreadful with its' overturned beer cooler consoles and super-bright lighting, with the aimed-for Nostromo dank never in reach, and the atmosphere falls accordingly. The two banks of seats mean the crew are just spouting one-liners off to the camera and nothing really connects with anything, a big change from the amphitheatre of the Liberator flight deck. Once again Paul Darrow seems uninterested and just fires his lines off like he's reading an autocue, instead putting his energy into a series of laughable jolting poses. And Vila is seriously annoying here, just incessant noise. Soolin gets to be on the Cool Team with Avon and Tarrant but I'm fucked if I can remember anything she does on the surface.

Compounding the whole contrived asteroid nonsense is the amazing leap of logic by which Avon assumes that because a Space Rat has a really fast space chopper to Doctor Plaxton and her photonic drive, coming up with a series of hunches which lead them to the Space Rats, who have Doctor Plaxton (rather than having simply stolen it). Excellent detective work or super-lazy writing? I know which I favour, really. There is a certain value to Vila and Dayna being sent in as bait (with Tarrant reduced to Avon's diligent henchman) but once the action moves down to the Space Rats' base on Caspar everything rapidly gets worse - their mugging when trying to pretend to be old students; Jossette Simon especially is abysmal.

Does it really need stating that the Space Rats are terrible? Imagine the worst possible combination of what some old British TV crew members think Hell's Angels are like then filter that through B7's budget. Slightly too old blokes with mohicans, face painting and multi-coloured multi-padded costumes, with crap slang and hackneyed dialogue. And they drive around on trikes. It is fucking ludicrous and it's sad to see the series pissing away its' credibility with such idiotic concepts. The whole Paxtron thread is random as well, glossing over the exact details of her alliance with Altan - how exactly did he get her to Caspar and where are resources the equal or better of Federation research labs to build the drive? And Barbara Shelley, a second-string Hammer scream queen drafted in as the big guest star, does nothing to earn her fee here. 

The script is obviously a means to an end to get the Scorpio the drive; like getting them the ship, the new crew member, the working teleport and the reveal that Servalan's alive it's so mechanical that you wonder if it might have been better to just sling a ton more contrivances into "Rescue" and draw the sting in the first episode. Yeah, the moment where Avon orders the drive to be fired and kills Plaxton without compunction is good, but it's not worth it, especially as Darrow again stuffs the pay-off line.

Possibly the most annoying thing about "Stardrive" is that it's not without potential. Tone down or remove the Space Rats for some other shady group, put a bit more zest into the early scenes, work the plot a bit more so it doesn't hinge on Avon doing something dumb then magically grabbing a solution out of thin air and give the dialogue another pass and it might just have been a passable adventure. But it's too slow, too sloppy and too badly made. I often remember the first half of Season 4 as being bad, but it's not until you actually process each episode you realise just how bad it is.

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