Stardrive opens with Avon deciding to tangle with an asteroid. He tells the others that if they want to keep Scorpio operational “we have to visit Altern Five in order to recover selsium ore to make fuel crystals. Hitching a ride into the Altern system on that asteroid is the only way we’re going to get past any Federation patrols and within teleport distance of Altern Five.”
Everybody else considers this to be a very bad idea indeed, but as usual Avon gets his way. It’s a sign of things to come that Avon’s proven to be badly wrong, since all that happens (via some fairly shaky modelwork) is that Scorpio gets badly holed and so ends up in an even worse state than before. The first ten minutes or so are somewhat superfluous to the rest of the story, partly existing to demonstrate two interesting character points. The first, as we’ve seen, is that Avon is liable to shocking lapses in judgement and the second concerns Vila’s skills at manipulation.
After the ship is holed and all looks bleak, it’s not surprising to see Vila staggering about with a flask of alcohol, clearly more than a little merry. In his drunken state he blurts out a possible solution, which makes perfect sense to Avon, who rushes off with Tarrant to apply the fix. But Vila wasn’t drunk at all, he was simply pretending, the crafty devil!
The most important reason for this section of this story is that it allows a stranded Scorpio to observe three Federation pursuit ships apparently blowing up. But they didn’t blow up, they were destroyed by a small craft travelling at standard by twelve – which is impossible.
Very quickly Avon realises that Doctor Plaxton (Barbara Shelley), formally head of the Federation Space Drive Research Centre, must have developed a new Stardrive. Oh and she’s teamed up with the Space Rats who, according to Vila, “live for is sex and violence, booze and speed. And the fellows are just as bad.”
It’s impossible to ignore, the Space Rats look absolutely ridiculous even by Blakes 7 standards. Goodness knows who thought their look was a good one, but it rather negates the little menace they possessed. Apart from their dress sense their characters aren’t terribly well drawn either. This possibly isn’t surprising since they’re supposed to be hedonistic speed-freaks who love to live life on the edge, but at least their leader, Atlan (Damian Thomas), is a little different.
He’s not a Space Rat, but he dresses like one and the others accept him as their leader because he’s able to give them what they want (the opportunity to pilot fast spacecraft and kill people I guess). There was potential for Atlan to have a more interesting character motivation than the others but this opportunity is rather frittered away. Thomas’ rather mannered performance doesn’t help either.
Doctor Plaxton is a rather pallidly drawn character too. We learn that she’s no longer a member of the Federation, hence the reason why she’s teamed up with the Space Rats (they scour the galaxy providing her with the raw materials she needs in order to continue her work). But it’s never made clear why she wants to complete the Stardrive. The scientific challenge or because she plans to sell it and make a fortune? Your guess is as good as mine.
Avon sends Dayna and Vila down to investigate, but it quickly becomes obvious that they’re simply diversions – the others land Scorpio and launch a second front. Avon’s callous disregard for the others couldn’t be clearer – he’s hoping and expecting that Dayna and Vila will get captured, which will make his job of pinching the Stardrive a little easier. And if they get killed, well that’s just tough luck.
Part of the problem with this part of the story is that whilst Dayna and Vila are already inside the base, tangling with the Space Rats, the others – Avon, Tarrant and Soolin – are some distance away. And the three of them seem to move so very slowly, giving proceedings a rather lethargic air. The scenery – a typical quarry in winter – isn’t terribly appealing either.
Vila’s done his best to big up the Space Rats but frankly they’re rubbish and Avon’s easily able to nab the Stardrive and make his escape. Indeed, if they hadn’t been there at all then the story wouldn’t really have suffered (and maybe might be a little better regarded).
Doctor Plaxton’s returned to Scorpio with the others, although it’ll come as no shock to learn that she doesn’t last very long. Just as there was no need for Ensor to stick around once Blake and the others had Orac, so we can wave goodbye to Doctor Plaxton now that the Stardrive is fitted. But the manner of her death is another shocking example of Avon’s single-mindedness.
Doctor Plaxton volunteers to fix the Stardrive into place and Avon elects to fire the motors as soon as the final connection is in place, meaning that the unfortunate Doctor Plaxton ends up rather dead. Avon does say that she’s dead either way, although it isn’t quite clear what he means by this. After it’s over, Avon’s already put her out of his mind, saying “who?” when Dayna mentions her name.
A lack of characterisation (the Space Rats and Doctor Plaxton) means that Stardrive is rather disposable. Better motivations might have made this a more compelling story, but as it is it’s just another episode where the regulars mooch about in a quarry.