(Warning! Spoilers, Will Robinson!)
(NOTE: "The Molten Monsters of Moltar" is Episode 4 of the six-episode "Council of Doom" story. This episode resolves the previous installment's cliffhanger, and ends with a new cliffhanger to lead into the next episode.)
The Council of Doom - Brak, Creature King, Zorak, Spider Woman, and Metallus (unseen for now) - eagerly watch on a crystal viewscreen as their sixth member, Moltar, traps Space Ghost, Jan, Jace and Blip in a funnel-shaped oven.
"I've prepared a 'warm welcome' for you, Space Ghost," gloats Moltar as he pulls a lever on his control panel that sends a stream of molten metal - or perhaps lava - down a chute that empties into the top of the funnel.
As the molten metal fills the funnel, it glows red-hot, swells, then bursts open…
…to reveal Space Ghost et al safe; the molten stream runs over an invisible force-field projected by Space Ghost's power bands. Space Ghosts blasts a hole through the side of the cavern, through which he, the twins and the monkey escape.
But Moltar sends his "molten fire rockets" after our heroes. "Now, seek and destroy!" he orders, as the three rockets launch one after the other.
A "scatter ray" breaks their formation, after which Space Ghost's "destructo-ray" destroys them. "I'm going in after him!" Space Ghost announces. "Turn on your inviso-power and stay clear!"
Moltar launches six bird-like "senso-thermal robots", but orders them to "Get the ones who travel with Space Ghost!"
Jace is at first confident that their invisibility will protect them - until the robots begin firing on them! Jace, Jan and Blip attempt to evade the robots, but are cornered on a rocky spire.
Space Ghosts blasts his way into Moltar's control room, only to be confronted by the sight, on Moltar's viewscreen, of his crew surrounded by the birdlike robots. Moltar demands Space Ghost's surrender, "or they will be blown into heat vapors!"
Moltar's ultimatum: "take a long trip" accompanied by Moltar's two giant, humanoid "molten monsters". "Take Space Ghost to the planet Amzot," Moltar orders the monsters. "And remember, Space Ghost, if my ship is not back within the hour, your friends are finished." Reluctantly, Space Ghost agrees.
Landing on Amzot, Space Ghost and his two "escorts" are confronted by The Herculoids.
Zandor demands to know "Why have you come here? And why are you holding that man prisoner?"
One of the molten giants fires a ray-beam at the humans…
…Gloop forms a shield that deflects the beam. "Run!" Space Ghost warns. "Or these molten creatures will destroy you!"
But Zandor is determined to rescue Space Ghost, and orders Tundro to fire energy rocks. The explosive stones take out one of the giants; while a boulder thrown by Igoo stuns the other.
Zok finishes the job by destroying the giant with his eye- and tail-beams.
"Thank you, Zandor," says a grateful Space Ghost as he shakes Zandor's hand. "And thanks to your animals, the Herculoids. But I must hurry back!"
"Good luck, Space Ghost," replies Zandor as Space Ghost boards Moltar's rocket to save his own friends.
Watching the return of the rocket, unaware that Space Ghost is aboard, Moltar evilly laughs. "With Space Ghost taken care of, I can dispose of my hostages anyway!"
Space Ghost flies out of the rocket, shouting orders to Jan, Jace and Blip to "Quick, jet up!" They do so just before the rocket smashes into the robots, destroying them.
"Now, let's see if Moltar can stand a little of my heat!" Space Ghost fires a beam into the open peak of Moltar's mountain…
…the beam overheats one of Moltar's molten pits. Moltar runs for his life as the pits boil over.
The Council of Doom watch, frustrated and angry, as a column of fire erupts from Moltar's mountain lair, signaling the defeat of yet another member of the Council.
But Brak is confident that his "arsenal of rays" will "destroy him for good!"
Space Ghost and company make their way back to the Ghost Ship - "and it won't be too soon for Blip," laughs Jace. "He's tired!" - when they are confronted by a "space cyclone" controlled by Brak.
As the cyclone engulfs our heroes, the narrator implores us to "Watch next exciting episode" to find out if they escape!
Comments: I'm featuring this episode of Space Ghost at this point in the review queue because this marked the fifth appearance of the Herculoids, after two shows (four episodes) of their own.
This episode is notable for being the first reference to "Amzot" as the name of the Herculoids' planet. Other than that, not really a whole lot to say about this, the Herculoids' first (and, until the 1981 Hanna-Barbera Space Stars series, only) guest appearance in another series. Their role occupies a whole minute and five seconds of a six-minute thirteen-second cartoon; not a whole lot of time to introduce new characters, showcase their abilities, and show them interacting with the series' star (since they also have to resolve the previous episode's cliffhanger, tell the story of this episode, and set up the next episode). So to save time, they have to have Moltar's rocket land literally next to where the Herculoids happen to be standing, all gathered in a group, within shouting distance.
So we get really brief samples of the Herculoids' powers: Gloop stretches out and forms a power-beam-proof shield over the humans, Tundro fires a few energy rocks, Igoo pitches a boulder, and Zok zaps an enemy with his "laser" beams. (And since Gleep is a smaller version of Gloop, we can infer that he'd have the same abilities.)
And poor Tara doesn't even get to speak! Why couldn't she have been the one to deliver the line "Good luck, Space Ghost!" spoken by Zandor as SG departs? Would it have killed them to have had Virginia Gregg (the voice of Tara) speak that one extra line during her recording sessions for their own series? Hell, Dorno gets a line! "A strange ship is landing, Zandor!" (Yeah, I know I gripe a lot about how criminally underutilized Tara is during the original series.)
But I do have a few choice words about the rest of the episode, heh heh heh…
Don't get me wrong: as a kid, I loved Space Ghost; until The Herculoids came along, it and Jonny Quest were my favorite cartoons. As a matter of fact, I still like the series enough that I could not stomach what they did to him years later in Space Ghost Coast To Coast. I still consider that egotistical buffoon to be an imposter. Or, to paraphrase Sen. Lloyd Bentsen during his 1988 vice-presidential debate: "I knew Space Ghost. I was a fan of Space Ghost. You're no Space Ghost."
Having said that…
There's still a lot about this episode that just doesn't work. Most of what's wrong (but not by any means all) stems from the restrictive time format (if nine to ten minutes isn't long enough to tell many of the Herculoids' stories effectively, think how much worse six minutes is!), and the decision to feature the stars of another series as guest stars.
In fact, the entire "Council of Doom" story arc suffers from what must have been an executive decision (perhaps even promulgated by the network, CBS) to use these Space Ghost episodes as introductions to the stars of the new Saturday morning shows debuting that year (1967). So you get Space Ghost meeting The Mighty Mightor in the second part, "Clutches of Creature King" and the genie Shazzan in episode 6, "The Final Encounter" (as well as the Herculoids here in episode 4), and Jan, Jace and Blip encounter - I'm not kidding - Moby Dick in the third installment, "The Deady Trap".
So instead of what could have been a gripping mega-saga of Space Ghost's arch-enemies pooling their talents to destroy him, we get a "tag-team" series of encounters in which each villain takes on Space Ghost one at a time! What's worse is that these people seem to have forgotten everything they knew about Space Ghost's abilities, and the variety of rays and force fields at his command via his power bands. Witness the fact that Moltar is surprised that Space Ghost and his companions survived his molten oven*; didn't it occur to him that SG would use some kind of force field to protect them from the boiling lava?
The "Oh, Come ON!" Moment comes near the end of the episode: Space Ghost returns from Amzot to find his wards Jace and Jan trapped against a spire of rock by Moltar's six senso-thermal robots. The twins (and Blip) are surrounded on every side - horizontally, at least - and sense somehow that the robots are seconds away from firing on them at point-blank range. So how does Space Ghost rescue them? He shouts to them, "Quick, jet up!" And they do. Because there was nothing preventing them from doing so. There were no robots above them. Which means that they could've "jetted up" anytime they wanted. But, durrhh, they have to wait for Space Ghost to tell them when to escape. (It's actually hard to tell who's having the bigger "idiot moment" here: Moltar, for not having one of the robots cut off their possible vertical escape route, or Jan and Jace for not taking advantage of it sooner.)
I try not to pick on anything in these cartoons that I feel is merely the product of low budgets and tight schedules (so criticism of the animation, for the most part, is off-limits). But this was just poor storytelling! Maybe having Space Ghost destroy the robots with a destructo-ray, or projecting a force-shield around Jan and Jace, was just too "been there, done that".
I notice, also, throughout the "Council of Doom" arc that their spaceship is referred to as the "Ghost Ship". Did the writers forget that its name is "The Phantom Cruiser"? And I can't help but wonder if Gary Owens, the voice of Space Ghost, remembered that and brought it up during the recording sessions, only to be told "don't worry about it, just recite what's written."
Looking back, maybe it's a good idea that the second "season" of Space Ghost consisted only of the six Council of Doom" episodes. The writers, I think, were running out of ideas for challenging opponents and situations for SG; better to just rerun the first season episodes for one more year.
*Geez, everything's "molten" with this Moltar guy - molten pits, molten ovens, molten fire-rockets...