Nathan and Theroux travel to one of the Moon’s distant outposts to speak to Michael Chandri (David John Pope). The work that Chandri is conducting is highly secret, and also hidden behind many layers of security, but eventually Nathan is able to prise some facts from him.
Chandri has developed an intelligent listening system which can scan the world’s chatter and isolate key words. By using this, Chandri says he’s discovered that a group of terrorists – named the Black Hand Gang – plan to hijack an Earth to Moon shuttle.
Elsewhere on Earth, a series of accidents (at an industrial plant and in the Channel Tunnel) are attracting attention. Computer failure is given as the official reason, but maybe there’s a more sinister explanation. And Nathan also has some personnel issues to deal with, namely two crooked Star Cops – Hubble and Kenzy. He decides to fire both of them – but Pal Kenzy isn’t going to take her dismissal lying down ….
When Intelligent Listening for Beginners was scripted many of the concepts were definitely futuristic – indeed, the Channel Tunnel wouldn’t open until 1994, some seven years after the episode was transmitted. And the notion of a computer which could isolate words from the world’s chatter was also pure science fiction (or if it was a reality it was kept tightly under wraps).
The revelation that the computer failures at the chemical plant and the Channel Tunnel were caused by a worm (also referred to as a virus) seem obvious from a modern perspective, but back in 1987 this was something else that would have been new to many people. It’s notable that the internet doesn’t seem to be part of the future we see here – in both cases the computer virus was hard-wired into the system and triggered by a code-phrase (a quote from William Blake).
It later becomes clear that Chandri’s intelligent listening system doesn’t work and he’s engineered these disasters himself. The reason? He remains in thrall to his dead father and always lived in fear of his father’s disapproval. So if he can generate disasters and claim that his intelligent listening system was on the brink of locating the terrorists (before it too succumbed to the worm) then he can somehow save face.
Yes, Chandri is quite, quite mad. David John Pope does manage to invest him with character though, rather than just portraying him as a gibbering lunatic. Also, it’s nice to see what the Kandy Man looks like in the flesh.
There’s some slightly clumsy scripting, such as when Nathan first meets Chandri. He admires his collection of books and just happens to select a volume by Blake. So when it’s later discovered that each disaster is preceded by a computer message quoting Blake it’s easy to put two and two together.
In fact there’s some general clumsiness all round in this one. Erick Ray Evans sometimes struggled to deliver his dialogue naturally (but when you have lines like “don’t patronise me, you supercilious bastard” it’s understandable I guess).
The highlight of the episode is Nathan’s first meeting with Pal Kenzy. Nathan’s convinced that she’s crooked and fires her. But she’s not prepared to go quietly and tells him she’ll be back (Pal has friends in high places apparently). As luck would have it, Kenzy and Devis are both traveling back on the shuttle when it’s hijacked. Quite why terrorists would attempt to hijack a shuttle is a bit of a mystery – it’s only traveling from the Earth to the Moon, so it’s not as if they could really turn it around and pilot it somewhere else.
Ignoring the whys and wherefores (and also that the terrorists are pretty inept) Kenzy and Devis are able to save the day. The resulting publicity makes them both heroes and Kenzy cannily uses it to praise her boss Nathan Spring. When Theroux asks him if he’s planning to reinstate her, Nathan wearily tells him that she’s reinstating herself.
There’s some impressive model-work in the story (although the model of the lunar buggy does look rather too much like a model, it’s still impressive). The opening at the chemical factory is quite energetic, as various stuntmen fling themselves off buildings and fly through the air with great abandon. Chandri’s motivations are a little strange (although after watching some of the erratic characters in Moonbase 3 maybe less so) but by the end of the episode the core team – Nathan, Theroux, Devis, Kenzy – are present and correct (although Kenzy has yet to earn Nathan’s trust).