THE PLOTThe Liberator is on the trail of Servalan, having followed her for 27 days. With only Calcos left, the crew have come to the end of the line. When Servalan’s ship enters an invisibility screen, the Liberator follows, where they find that she has landed on the planet Sardos. Intrigued by Servalan’s apparent confidence, Avon suggests finding a way of seeing what she’s up to.
An incoming freighter piloted by fugitives is picked up on the scanners by Zen, so Tarrant and a reluctant Vila teleport abroad. Tarrant and Vila land on separate sides of the door – Tarrant has to wait as Vila is greeted by one of the fugitives, Doran (Davyd Harries) and is invited into a celebratory party. When they touch down on the planet, Vila sticks with Doran, but is confronted by an angry Tarrant, who threatens the thief with a gun – Vila says that if it comes down to that, there’s really not much point.
Servalan has been invited to Sardos by Section Leader Grose (John Hartley) and his right hand man Lector (Mark Sheridan). Entertaining Servalan over a banquet, Grose tells her that this is no ordinary planet, and that there are things that she should see. In fact, it is only when Servalan is taken to a mysterious computer room that contains the suspended form of former Federation Colonel Astrid (creator of an entity called Moloch) that the facts begin to emerge. Grose has shifted loyalties to serve Moloch, a computer intelligence that has the capabilities of duplication. Grose demands that Servalan’s ship be duplicated, as an unseen voice from the main computer console orders that Servalan be given over to Grose’s men.
With Tarrant stunned by troopers, Vila has now come across the captive Servalan. Together, the two reluctantly escape. En route, Vila gets into a fight with one of the troopers, but the trooper is shot by Servalan, who makes quick her escape.
Avon and Dayna, concerned at the lack of response, have also teleported down, right outside the computer room. Avon inspects the computer, but before he can complete his studies, Grose and Lector barge in, overpowering both Avon and Dayna. Avon is tortured, apparently for information, but Avon says that his knowledge could have been worked out by the computer in microseconds. He realises that the computer cannot – or will not tell Grose what he wants to know.
Having met up with Tarrant and Doran again, as well as a female worker called Chesil (Sabina Franklyn), Vila has also found the computer room, where he hears Avon cry out in agony.
The group bursts in, and during the melee, both Grose and Lector are shot. However, the room seems to take on a mind of its own, and as Doran and Chesil attempt to escape from the room, they are electrocuted by a forcefield directly outside. The Liberator crew look on as the top of the computer console opens to reveal a shrunken, one-eyed little creature – Moloch – the computer intelligence himself – who now plans to control and rebuild the Federation. Moloch’s plan is to teleport aboard the Liberator, and with one of the teleport bracelets and an imitation of Tarrant’s voice, achieves his aim…
…Only to end up dead, as without the life support of the computer console, could not survive the teleport transfer. The Libeartor crew make ready to retreat from the planet, especially with Servalan in hot pursuit…
ANALYSISComputers – can’t live with them. Can’t live without them. Seems that none of us can get by without the bloody things. We use computers for just about everything these days, from communication to working through to playing games. Give it time, and we’ll probably use computers to eat and breathe for us by the year 2050.
On the planet Sardos, however, they use computers for duplication. A computer on Sardos can copy anything from a chicken leg to a spaceship. All of which is thanks to the eponymous title character of the latest tale from Blake’s 7‘s third season. It’s regrettable that Moloch’s appearance is laughable – a bizarre glove puppet thing that looks a bit like a 1000-year-old Bruce Forsyth. It’s difficult to believe that such a being is responsible for such advanced technology, but then the budget, by this time, couldn’t allow for such expensive appearances.
In keeping with the low budget, other aspects of Moloch are dead giveaways. The planet Sardos turns out to be an oil painting. We get to see that same old bloody shot of Prison Ship London not just once, but twice. Colonel Astrid ultimately turns out to be a badly superimposed drawing of what appears to be Mick Hucknall from Simply Red, as scribbled by a thick five-year-old.
The lack of budget seems to be reflected in Ben Steed’s script, which although reasonably entertaining, isn’t the most stellar example of season three. A hotch-potch of overly talky scenes, computer bafflegab, sexist, brutal thugs, and more blatant sexism, Moloch is a tricky one to dissect, since none of the elements really come together.
Being a Ben Steed script though, the treatment and depiction of women isn’t great in Moloch. The women are either gullible (Servalan again) or weak-willed (Chesil). There’s the rather iffy implication that the women on Sardos are used by Grose and Lector as toys for the boys, to put it politely. Not wishing to sound all Mary Whitehouse, but this aspect of the story is just wrong on so many levels.
Indeed, like The Harvest Of Kairos, it’s difficult to work out what sort of message Steed is sending out here. Like Jarvik, Lector and Grose (who looks like Al Murray with a wig) are two arrogant bastards that treat their women like Hacky Sacks, pushing them about, slapping their backsides and even hitting them. Whereas Jarvik was Medallion Man, Grose and Lector are Captain Cavemen – the sort of blokes who live in rubbish-strewn bachelor pads that contain copious amounts of crushed beer cans, Comedians DVDs and way too many jazz mags.
And there’s the difference. Whereas Jarvik was portrayed in a sympathetic light, Grose and Lector are definitely not. Brutish, arrogant and nasty, Grose and Lector are not the sort of men you want to meet down the pub. Even the initially friendly Doran turns out to be a woman hating psycho. The bumbling Terry Scott lookalike goes from jokey ruffian to misogynist in just one word to Vila: “No.” (After Vila asks Doran if he likes women). All of which suggest that Steed isn’t on the side of these men, but it’s a shame that the way in which he writes such heavy handed misogyny brings down the episode in such an obvious way.
None of the regulars get a great deal to do. Cally is on teleport duty, Avon and Dayna indulge in some clunky infodumping, Tarrant is back to bossing Vila around, and even threatening him with a gun at one point.
Ironically, Vila comes off the best in Moloch, after his initial moaning and cowardice. His response to Tarrant’s trigger-happy threat is spot on, and he also makes an unlikely comedy double act with Servalan, during their clumsy attempts to overpower a guard. Jacqueline Pearce shows great comic timing here, in her exasperated facial expressions as she eggs on Vila from behind the bushes. Maybe The Servalan And Vila Show could have been a comedy offshoot from Blake’s 7, but it’s likely that Vila wouldn’t survive past the first instalment.
Moloch is reasonably entertaining, if a little run of the mill. Vere Lorrimer’s direction is competent enough, although he’s evidently struggling with a tight budget. The acting is generally fine, if slightly wooden in places (Mark Sheridan’s Lector is a bit stilted). I guess that after so many great stories this season, I’ve been spoilt. Moloch doesn’t quite live up to that potential and is less inspired and hollow when compared to earlier classics. Still not a disaster by any means though, and generally worth a look in places.
Check out our review of season 3 episode 10 here.