Season Three Episode 11- Moloch
(1980) Writer: Ben Steed / Director: Vere Lorrimer
The Liberator follows Servalan beyond the edge of Federation space where they discover a planet with a secret.
Of course it’s not as exciting as it sounds. The secret at first appears to be that they’ve invented a cabinet but it turns out the planet, Sardos, is run by a super computer that can copy anything including living matter. A rogue bunch of Federation troops have commandeered the whole place and subdued its inhabitants. It’s difficult to know where to start with an episode which is by turns dull or embarrassing and lacks even the unintentional amusement that `Ultraworld` and its giant loaf provided. This is played strictly seriously and that makes it worse.
|Uncle Jasper looked worse for wear after an hour trapped in the microwave
You can see what Ben Steed was aiming for but it’s been lost in translation, partly due to a lack of script editing and partly because of some production design mistakes. Moloch itself barely looks capable of boiling an egg and the depiction of its power is absurdly basic- put object in, a few bleeps and seconds later a card pops out which you then insert elsewhere and-bingo- your perfect copy emerges. Surely in 1980 this seemed silly but in 2012 it is beyond believability even within the confines of the Blake’s7 Universe.
There is insufficient explanation as to Moloch’s origins and the introduction of a floating bloke in a water tank (again badly realised) makes things even muddier. When it turns out that there is a living thing under the lid as well and that a designer thought a one eyed Einstein puppet was the way to go we are almost into surreal territory. Perhaps it’s just one of those ideas that creates too many problems for a decent story.
The episode mostly seems to avoid any development of the relationships between the Liberator crew that have occurred in recent weeks. Steed’s new characters seem designed to annoy especially Doran overplayed by Davyd Harris who pals up with Vila with excruciating results. The chief Federation officer, Grose, who challenges Servalan is played by John Hartley with a permanent scowl and you wonder why she doesn’t just shoot him right away.
|"And I'll have a vat of porridge please Mr Moloch"
Steed offers little –and the designers even less- of a picture of what the inhabitants of the planet are about and they seem to be represented by only two attractive but badly treated women who still manage to get their hair dome somewhere and who are left alone to monitor the stars and then punished. If the Federation guards don’t trust them, why do they leave them on monitor duty?
Servalan seems uncharacteristically gullible in this episode. Her strategic skill deserts her as she travels all this way on a whim but without any back up. If there is a suggestion her power is waning and this planet is an example of how the Federation is fracturing then it never really comes across too well. And even she must be amused by the number of times she bumps into one of the Liberator crew. You can tell from the expression on Jaqueline Pearce's bemused expression how she felt about this episode.
The end result is an episode that feels like a dramatisation of an incomplete script with half formed ideas and some wobbly production. One final thing though; knowing what Federation guards are like why don’t they just use Moloch to make copies of the women? Or unlimited food? Or a stash of money? Then at least they might be chirpier.