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Thursday, 19 July 2012

Fashion Victims in Space (Review: 'Doctor Who', "The Moonbase")

You comment on my appearance one more time and you’re history, capiche?

[Images from the Doctor Who Wikia]

There’s a certain type of science fiction, most notably personified by Dan Dare, where lantern-jawed heroes defeat evil space aliens, some of whom look a bit Chinese. “The Moonbase” isn’t one of these, but it reminded me of it at times.

My review series now takes me into the Troughton era. The Lost In Time DVD set includes the following episodes before this:
·         Episodes 2, 5 and 10 of “The Daleks’ Master Plan” - I reviewed the audio here, but these three episodes give a further insight into the story.
·         “The Final Test”, Episode 4 of “The Celestial Toymaker” – drags badly until the last 10 minutes.
·         “The Underwater Menace” – comically bad; I was laughing a lot in it. I am informed that Episode 2, recently recovered, is much better.

There is also a collection of clips from some of the other stories, mostly either 8mm off-screen footage or clips cut by the Australian censor, which results in the stuff from “The Savages” essentially being a lot of deaths…

So to “The Moonbase”. This one’s the sixth story from Season 4, the Innes Lloyd/Gerry Davis era and is the fourth of the Troughton stories. Only Episodes 2 and 4 survive, but the audio of the other two are on the discs.

So, let’s go back to the spring of 1967. Both the USSR and the US had landed unmanned spacecraft on the moon, but tragedy had also struck the space race with the deaths of three American astronauts in a fire on the ground of Apollo 1 – in April of that year, a Soviet cosmonaut, Vladimir Komarov, would also die when the re-entry capsule of Soyuz 1 failed to open its parachute properly and crashed into the ground.

Despite these setbacks, it was only a matter of time before man set foot on Earth’s largest satellite. So the Doctor Who team decided that they would capitalise on the huge interest in space, the final frontier[1]…

The Doctor, Ben, Polly and Jamie arrive on the Moon in 2070. As they go outside in their spacesuits, Jamie gets himself injured while bouncing around and the team take him to the Moonbase, where a group of plucky scientists control Earth’s weather through a gravity device called the Gravitron. A mysterious plague is sweeping the station and the time travellers are suspected. In reality, it’s the Cybermen, thought long dead after “The Tenth Planet”[2] who want to destroy life on Earth…

Title Sequence

It’s the same as the one I discussed in my review of “The Crusade” – in fact, this is the last time that sequence appears; as the following story “The Macra Terror” introduces the version with the Doctor’s face.


As the tagline for a certain sci-fi movie reminds us, in space, no-one can hear you scream. This also applies to the surface of the Moon, where there is no atmosphere. The production team, for the scenes set on the lunar surface, decided to use incidental music to accompany the silent action – it works rather well and I found myself humming some of it. Some floor manager talkback got into Episode 4 and couldn’t be removed before TX – I failed to notice it though.

There’s no narration on the two audio episodes, but I found that I got the plot a bit easier than I did with “The Crusade” – although my copy of The Television Companion was needed a bit.


This is a textbook “base under siege” story, with a bunch of scientists and Team TARDIS having to stop the Cybermen from taking over the facility. The Cybermen (who state that “Resistance is useless”) use infiltration via the plague, which gets them reasonably far – then outright assault. The multinational crew are initially suspicious of the Doctor, then accept his assistance when he gets to the (easy after it’s revealed) solution to the plague’s spread.

There’s some great stuff in Episodes 2 and 3, particularly as the Cybermen start converting (just enough for the job at hand) people. Episode 1 is reasonable enough, but Episode 4 kind of lets the side down a little – a bit where the crew all standing together cheer the Cybermen defeat is a bit, well, Dan Dare. Also, there’s one pretty big “how did they miss that?” moment in that episode.

The Gravitron is an interesting concept, but it gets used in a not entirely convincing way – one particular scene didn’t pass my smell test.

Direction and staging

This is entirely studio-bound (Riverside 1, then Lime Grove D). The lunar surface sequences are well done for the limited budget[3] – they were used in the promos. The interior of the Moonbase is also a pretty good set, although I doubt that you’d in reality have windows that big, particularly in a place where there is no atmosphere to stop micro-meteorites.

1960s sci-fi failed to anticipate the advances in computer processing power and visual display – you’ve got tape reel computers here and the visual displays are limited. One character refers to a radio setting in terms of its wavelength – frequency is now the almost universally used way of describing this sort of thing.

A scene where the Cybermen walk across the Moon is done very well – there’s a decent number of Cybermen suits used here (one of which was filled by John Levene, later to play Sergeant Benton), which really helps.

Model work – a bit poor and there are some visible wires in places.

The regulars

The TARDIS gets a bit crowded with three companions, I find.

·         The Doctor – Superb here, with Troughton settled into the role nicely and getting one of the defining lines of the entire show[4]. There’s a scene where the Doctor is obtaining samples to find the cause of the virus that’s very funny, especially when he removes one guy’s boot without asking him first. You could easily imagine Matt Smith doing this scene.
·         Jamie – Incapacitated for quite a bit of the story, Frazer Hines is good, but doesn’t get a lot to do here.
·         Ben – Michael Craze’s chirpy Cockney gets on my nerves. He only really serves to ask the Doctor what’s happening and help barricade a door in the final episode. He’s also a bit sexist when he tells Polly that
·         Polly – I’ve not experienced her before really (apart from “The Macra Terror”, which I’ve largely forgotten), but Anneke Wills’ character was useless in “The Underwater Menace” and isn’t much better here. Sure, she comes up with a key scheme that defeats the first attack, but the rest of the time, she’s reduced to screaming and making coffee. Seriously – making coffee.

The guest cast

There are a lot of fashion victims in this story. The crew were very short-sleeved T-shirts with big name bags in the centre and the French guy wears a rather stereotypical neckerchief[5] – there’s also a rather silly hat worn in the Gravitron control room and the spacesuits have very big fish-bowl helmets.

The multinational crew, who seem to all hail from Europe, don’t on the whole stand out, except for French guy Roget, who isn’t a cliché and British commander Hobson, who is all Second World War colonel. Good, but I’ve seen better.

The Cybermen

Superb. They look a bit different to the modern creatures – better in fact. They’re an improvement on the ones seen earlier in the season:

Peter Hawkins’ voice for them, which sounds like an evil text-to-speech machine, is very creepy and much better than the current voice. The creatures are wonderfully cold, project real menace and perfectly willing to use people without the slightest care in the world as to what happens to them. Well done to all involved with this.


A rather good middle first three episodes are let down by a merely average conclusion. There’s better in Season 4, there’s also a good deal worse.

Final point – this serial was a ratings success – every ep got over 8.1 million and peaked at 8.9, being the most-watched story of the season. Fandom view today is mixed.


[1]The original Star Trek was airing its first season at the time; it would not air in the UK though until 1969.
[2]Which is set in 1986 – it’s referenced by characters here.
[3]There are few places on Earth you can adequately recreate lunar conditions outside – for a start you’ve got a sky and clouds to contend with. For the Apollo missions, the volcanic interior of Iceland was used for training.
[4] "There are some corners of the universe which have bred the most terrible things. Things that act against everything we believe in. They must be fought."
[5]To cover up a name tag error.

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