HomeAll postsDoctor Who (1967): The Moonbase

Doctor Who (1967): The Moonbase

The Moonbase
A review by Nalini Haynes
  • Director: Morris Barry
  • Writer: Kit Pedler
  • Stars: Patrick Troughton, Frazer Hines, Anneke Wills

The TARDIS tumbles through time and space, making a forced landing on the moon. Excited by the prospect of visiting the moon (months before the first real moon landing), the TARDIS crew suit up and step outside.

Oblivious to impending danger, the Doctor (Patrick Troughton), Polly (Anneke Wills), Ben (Michael Craze) and Jamie (Frazer Hines) play on the surface of the moon, jumping in the lighter gravity, scuffing up moondust and generally having a good day at the Doctor Who equivalent of the beach until Jamie injures himself.

Concerned for Jamie, the crew seek help from a nearby moonbase. Security is non-existent so our friends gain access without hindrance, only to be accused of carrying a plague or sabotaging the gravity device with which the moonbase controls Earth’s weather in 2070.

Sinister shadows lurk in the corners of the moonbase. Less is more with only a foot or a hand appearing until, at the cliffhanger scene closing episode 1, Polly screams at the sight of a cyberman!

Only a few months after ‘The Tenth Planet’ was made, ‘The Moonbase’ continued the cybermen’s story. Costumes were considerably upgraded although actors still had difficulty (and suffered some pain). The number of cybermen – for a BBC production – was impressive. I haven’t forgotten 3 daleks surrounding a building several years later!

‘The Moonbase’ was highly educational for its era, carefully explaining the lack of atmosphere on the moon, the need for suits, the low gravity and more. Only months later, Americans landed on the moon; one wonders if Doctor Who‘s excellent special effects (for the era) is one of the reasons conspiracy theorists decided the moon landing was faked.

The Doctor plays the clown in this story although apparently somewhat toned down with Morris Barry as director. ‘The Moonbase’ features fewer than normal closeups of Patrick Troughton’s face, fewer than normal emoticon-like facial expressions, as the Doctor is more serious.

Kit Pedler wrote this story – the same Kit Pedler who is still credited with writing cybermen stories in the 21st century thanks to his world-building and development of the cybermen. Cybermen poison humans with something that spreads along the nervous system, visible as a network of vein-like markings. In later stories, cybermats poison people by biting them, the visible signs remaining similar. I can’t help but think that these days we’d say the ‘poison’ is nanites converting people; such prescience in a humble writer from 1960s Britain, the BBC no less.

The cybermen declare “Resistance is [a synonym for futile]”; I’m sure Kit’s cybermen directly inspired the Borg. Likewise, these cybermen ‘alter’ humans – never ‘upgrading’ them, not yet – as cybermen increased their numbers. I don’t remember this facet of cybermen behaviour from my childhood but 21st century cybermen are at it again.

Original footage has been lost so episodes 1 and 3 replace film with animation. The sound track – voices plus music – seems flatter in these episodes, with the sound effects muted or absent in comparison to film episodes 2 and 4. As with other lost and replaced footage, the BBC has considerable still footage (photographic) archives so I suspect photographs and scripts formed the basis for the replacement animation sequences. The replacement sequences are consistent with the style of the film ‘zodes.

The extras include Anneke Wills, Frazier Hines and Reg Whitehead (cyberman sans costume), discussing ‘The Tenth Planet’, ‘The Moonbase’, the moon landing, costumes, writing – including almost writing Jamie out of the story – and much more. The extras are a must-watch for serious fans.

I think ‘The Moonbase’ holds up really well, not just for Doctor Who in the 1960s, but for Doctor Who today. However, others disagree. Wikipedia says

Paul CornellMartin Day, and Keith Topping gave the serial an unfavourable review in The Discontinuity Guide (1995), writing that it was “illogical and boring, reducing the Cybermen to the role of intergalactic gangsters”.[5]

I wonder if they’re still of the same opinion nearly 20 years later?

  • Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5 stars for the story
  • Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5 stars for the extras
Nalini
Nalinihttps://www.darkmatterzine.com
Nalini is an award-winning writer and artist as well as managing editor of Dark Matter Zine.

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