Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.
When Avon learns about a new, super-fast propulsion system, he insists the crew track down its creator…
Series D, episode 4. Written by: James Follett. Directed by: David Sullivan Proudfoot. Originally broadcast: 19 October 1981, BBC1.
Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Tarrant (17) and the team have found an asteroid that, if they shadow it, will allow them sneak into the Altern system and acquire some much-needed fuel for the Scoprio. Later, though, the craft is damaged and Tarrant and Avon have to set about fixing the problems – they work with only a force field shielding them from the vacuum of space.
* Avon (42) advocated the mission to Altern 5 to get some selsium ore, but then takes the risky decision to fly within just 50 yards of the asteroid. After the plan goes wrong and Scorpio is badly struck, his colleagues quickly turn on him. A new mission then presents itself when Avon learns about a high-tech stardrive – can they steal one for the Scorpio? Their quest leads them to the planet Caspar, home of the vicious Space Rats. (Vila explains that they’re ‘maniacs, psychopaths; all they live for is sex and violence, booze and speed.’) Avon callously sends Vila and Dayna on as a distraction, then teleports to the Rats’ base with Tarrant and Soolin. They manage to nab a stardrive and also rescue a scientist called Plaxton (Barbara Shelley, trying gamely to add some dignity to proceedings).
* Soolin (4), Dayna and Vila spot three pursuit ships while Avon and Tarrant are repairing Scorpio, but then the ships mysteriously explode. Later, Soolin watches a recording of the disaster and realises that there was another craft nearby – one so fast it must have a new type of engine.
* When the explosions are still a mystery, Dayna (17) is given the first shift of analysing the 10,000 frames per second of the recording. Later, she and Vila are sent on a mission to negotiate with the infamous Space Rats. But the Rats turn on them and kidnap them. Dayna then attempts, unsuccessfully, to pretend that she knows Dr Plaxton, the Federation scientist who developed the new drive and who has been working with the Space Rats.
* Vila (43) isn’t happy with Avon’s asteroid plan. Then, after it’s gone awry, he quickly gets drunk and leary. (Or so it seems. He actually fakes it so Avon won’t ask for his help in fixing the Scorpio.) When the team watch back the footage of the explosions, Vila recognises that the killer craft belongs to a Space Rat.
* Slave (4) does some more answering-questions-and-sounding-like-Parker-from-Thunderbirds.
* Orac (26) watches the recording of the explosions but refuses to tell the others what caused them. He does later reveal that Dr Plaxton has perfected a photonic drive that uses light to exert thrust. It’s nicknamed the ‘stardrive’.
Best bit: With the Scorpio damaged and drifting in space, Slave reports that the life-support system will last a further 151 hours. ‘By the time the oxygen runs out we’ll be bored as well as dead,’ quips Soolin. (The episode’s Star Wars-style screenwipes for passages of time are quite fun too.)
Worst bit: The Space Rats. They should be violent, threatening, sneering, dangerous Hell’s Angel punks – like something out of Mad Max. But they just come across as silly with their Day-Glo costumes and love of words like zap and splat.
Review: It takes around 20 minutes for the Space Rats to show up, and this is emblematic of episode as a whole. It wants to be an urgent, visceral, life-on-the-edge thriller, but there’s no drive, no momentum. The Scorpio crew don’t actually affect what’s happening on Caspar until the last few minutes of the story.
Six gooks of 10
Next episode: Animals