Ben Steed? That name is familiar. Have we had one of his stories before? Oh, we have. Oh no.
I was frustrated by how Ben Steed wrote Servalan in The Harvest of Kairos and after viewing Moloch it’s abundantly clear that the word ‘feminism’ has never registered. I did not find Moloch as bad an experience, perhaps because I went in with low expectations. The only natives of Sardos are female and are there to press buttons, serve at dinner, be threatened and have their bums smacked while wearing low-cut jumpsuits. Like Kairos‘s Jarvik, all the male guest characters are nasty and thuggish.
Moloch has a rambling plot that doesn’t go anywhere for the majority of the episode and nobody’s intentions are clear. After an entire series of showing no interest in actively pursuing the Federation, why have the Liberator crew followed Servalan to Sardos? How have they been tracking her? We are also more than halfway through the episode before Grose demonstrates the replication machine.
While Servalan isn’t completely irrelevant to the story, her presence does seem forced. The Liberator could have stumbled across Sardos instead – just like they have with other places this series. Grose could have lured any Federation ship there. It’s such a meandering episode and none of her scenes are essential.
Structurally, the episode would have benefited from changes. Moloch lacks hints about what is really happening on Sardos – the women’s attempts to get outside help as well as their treatment by their new rulers all look like a planet under the thumb of the Federation, as per usual. I think an early scene showing the replicator in use or else an opening flashback to Grose and Lector’s mutiny would have been beneficial. Most the information is delivered when Grose explains it in one scene to Servalan and more entertainment could have been gained from a ‘show don’t tell’ formula.
Oddly, there is a ‘tell then show’ approach: we have a scene in which Avon and Dayna attempt to figure out the replicator machine and discover the body of the floating Federation officer, Colonel Astrid, but it comes after Grose has explained these to Servalan. The audience has already learned the answers to any questions the latter scene might pose. Scrap the earlier scene and this second one would have been a decent way of delivering some key information, and with some more reworking, Grose and Lector’s plans could have been uncovered differently.
The episode has a rushed ending as we meet Moloch for all of two minutes and it seems an anti-climax. Meanwhile, we haven’t seen Servalan since she left Vila but she turns up to issue some threats. I dislike episodes that end with the Liberator preparing to flee Federation ships as it feels like we are being denied an exciting confrontation.
Not so special effects
The Moloch creature is disappointing but as it appears so briefly at the conclusion, it didn’t bother me much. Blake’s 7 has only had humanoid aliens generally and though I once regarded this as unimaginative, something like Moloch shows playing it safe can be for the best.
If I was to choose an effect to improve from this episode, I would alter the floating body of Colonel Astrid to make it more realistic. I think it should be shocking and horrifying. The reveal would have then benefitted from a close-up of his face or just his eyes as we hear that he is still alive in there.
Vila’s rape-y friend
I loved that Vila had made a friend, especially one who defended him from Tarrant. The Liberator crew do often seem to regard Vila as a colleague to be tolerated and here in Doran was someone who enjoyed Vila’s company.
At first, Doran appeared the same sort of lowly criminal as Vila and he felt they had bonded. His desperation to find Vila later on was funny and must be the first time Vila has been wanted for a good reason. Yet this nonetheless jarred by that point in the story and the character of Doran is an odd mix altogether. He has this friendly, pal-y exterior but it doesn’t sit right once Vila has learned more about him.
Doran “My problem was always women.”
Vila “You like them?”
It’s an unsettling moment and Vila is more unsure of Doran afterwards. This aspect of his personality is a questionable inclusion as it serves no purpose in the plot; the one time he is alone with a woman it is played humorously and there is little threat to her. If the intention was for Doran to be basically sadistic, this doesn’t work either. After his murder of the surrendered Federation guards towards the end of the episode, Doran comments that the gun “Went off in me hand, didn’t it?” implying that the killings were accidental-on-purpose, and the tone is not serious.
Doran might have been a great one-off buddy. Remove the woman-hating, let him be part of the group that liberates the planet, and he would have made a fantastic contrast to the Federation’s guards. Doran could have been used by Blake’s 7 to continue demonstrating that the Federation’s convicted criminals are often the better human beings.
“Vila, you really must try and be a bit more trusting.”
Vila in a Federation guard’s uniform was striking, particularly as he clearly lacks the confidence and bearing of its usual wearers. Without a doubt, he was the worst possible member of the Liberator crew to be guarding Servalan, and I include Orac in that.
The couple of scenes between Vila and Servalan were enjoyable, with it apparent that both know the other well now. Hesitating over the shooting a guard, Vila was very cowardly, even for him, and for a moment it looks like his hesitation might cost him dearly when Servalan has grabbed his gun. I groaned when I saw his bracelet come off though – they must have been designed for humanoids with far larger wrists than any of the crew because it never takes much for one to disappear. These are one of the most important items they possess but it only needs a tiny knock for them to go flying.
With Tarrant still aggravating me, he manages to crank it up a notch by pointing a gun at Vila. Maybe Vila is irritating to live with, but I like him and hate Tarrant so I was livid. Therefore, I was happy to hear Avon defending Vila to Cally.
Avon “He shouldn’t have made him go.”
Cally “He’s a free man – he didn’t have to go if he didn’t want to.”
Avon “He was under pressure. It’s all very well for Tarrant to play the hero – that’s his decision, but Villa…?”
I think I especially enjoy these moments when Avon sticks up for Vila (there was another in City at the Edge of the World) because, to his face, he does often treat Vila in the same dismissive way as the others, so it’s good to know that a part of Avon is concerned with looking out for him.
Moloch wasn’t dull and I enjoyed Vila’s scenes with both Doran and Servalan. However, its plot lacks clear direction and it fails to build tension or much excitement. The crew manage to get by with relative ease: apart from a brief moment when Servalan is pointing a gun at him (and arguably when Tarrant does), Vila is never in danger during his entire time on Sardos. Even after Tarrant is shot (yay!) and captured, we see nothing of him until Vila rescues him, which is achieved swiftly with no problems. It’s only in the final part of the episode that Avon gets interrogated, with his injured arm providing literal leverage (this is at least the third time Avon has injured an arm, poor sod). Yet even here, I had faith that Avon would hold out because of the state we saw him in at the start of Rumours of Death after several days of Federation questioning.
I don’t think Moloch had a wonderful base but I do believe it could have been done better. Chris Boucher’s scripts remain the ones that have impressed me most in Series C, so if we are to end it on a high, another one or two of those should help us bounce back. As Servalan’s appearance in this episode didn’t add much, I would like something more satisfying from her too.