Sunday, 30 January 2011

The Moonbase


  1. The Cybermen return in a story that is essentially a rerun of their first adventure with the Moon replacing Antartica as the venue of the isolated human community.

    Although it's lacks the seminal originality of 'The Tenth Planet' for me this story is actually an improvement on it. I think this is because the plot works better for me overall and the acting by the supporting cast is much better.

    Patrick Troughton is on immensely fine form, throwing himself into the comedic section when he is taking samples with an almost Chaplinesque grace. This culminates when he is dusting down Benoits' boot which the Frenchman steps out of leaving it in The Doctors hand. His face as he rises to be confronted by Hobson is absolutely priceless. He remains at that level throughout the whole serial, being equally amazing when he realises that the Cybermen have infiltrated the base.

    Fraser Hines as Jamie is asleep for around half the story but like Michael Craze and Anneke Wills is really good when called upon. And I do enjoy the fact that Pollys coffee making abilities are actually used for a crucial plot point.

    This brings me to a plot point that puzzles me. If the sugar has been contaminated surely all the men that take sugar would get infected at around the same time, rather than over an extended period. Unless they are a rather indecisive group who can't decide whether to sugar or not sugar their beverage. In which case not people I would trust to control Earths gravity. Ho hum.

    I like the Cyberman who manages to avoid detection by throwing a blanket over himself which apparently makes it impossible for humans to notice his huge size and big silver boots sticking out. And the image of a large group of them walking across the lunar surface is really effective.

    So there really is loads to enjoy here. I feel it should get one more mark than "The Tenth Planet' but it should also lose one for the lack of originality. So I'm awarding a watchable 7/10.

  2. A lovely sense-of-wonder comes through in this story from the very first moments. It feels like actual hard SF in a way that Doctor Who rarely manages.. The first moments on the moon. The spacesuits. The low gravity.

    In the immortal words of Neil Armstrong: "We're on the fucking moon".

    It's nice to see that once again we're in the multinational future that we've seen before, in the first Cyberman serial. Again, it adds to the feeling of verisimilitude that I mentioned earlier.

    The sets are magnificent, and throughout there are many little touches that make it real, such as when the two astronauts go through the airlock and their oxygen cylinders are obviously just large plastic drinks bottles that have been stuck to their backs. But the fact that they check the bottles and seals before going out onto the lunar surface sells it completely.

    And having talked about how the SF feels real, it's particularly interesting that the first episode is basically a ghost story. With the gravity device not working for reasons that no-one can ascertain, the fact that "We're being monitored", the mysterious silver hand, the bodies vanishing overnight... And then the reveal of the first episode cliffhanger that it's the Cybermen!

    A shock return from the dead for them, in an episode that doesn't have their name in the title. Something that they'll do again, but that the Daleks never seem to quite have got the hang of.

    "Why not make some coffee to keep them all happy while I think of something?" asks the Doctor, and Polly's response shows that her coffee-based brainwashing still seems to be in effect. She makes some more at the end, too. Good Polly. You understand.

    This story also marks the first appearance of what is (to me at least) the Cybermen's definitive theme music. As well as sporting a new look, the Cybermen have acquired new voices. I like the new, raspy version too. And they are brilliant villains. We know what they want, they have a plan to get it, and their desires are utterly inimical to humanity. Brilliant.

    What I love most about this is the raising tension and the fast pace. There's always a new threat. Deal with the Cybermen inside the base? There's more of them outside. Relief ship on the way? The Cybermen have got control of someone in the Gravitron.

    A hole in the dome? Got it covered with cloth. Which holds for a second, and then doesn't work any more. Fortunately the dome gets sealed properly with a previously-chekhoved tea tray.

    Jamie's out of action for most of The Moonbase, his first story as a companion, due to a sudden conk on the head. Which seems odd, until you realise that these scripts were written before he was signed up as such.

    Fantastic monsters. An excellent story. Resistance is useless.

  3. Is it actually possible to have a bad fall on the moon?

    The station is strikingly designed, particularly the main room and the impressive Gravitron itself. The crew are diverse and interesting and their interactions have a ring of authenticity that draws you into the situation.

    The initial sequence on the moon's surface is fabulous, from the choice of music to the faux moonwalking. It also counterpoints the deliciously creepy movements of the Cybermen when they are given the same treatment later in the story.

    Ah, the Cybermen. Always my favourite baddies as a kid and I'm beginning to remember why. I droned on about this in my Tenth Planet dribblings but they combine the threat of the alien (though not sooo alien) with the body horror of mutilation and reanimation. "You will become like us," but they were once like us. The redesign is a work of art though I'm sad to lose the cloth faces. They are sturdier and more inhuman but the horror of the concept lies in our knowledge of what they are, not how they look. I wonder which one is John Levene.

    I love the simple but effective realisation of the plague. A pattern you could easily reproduce with a marker pen (how many kids did this?).

    There are some lovely comic moments from Troughton, particularly when collecting his samples. Ben gets a bit to do but I'm sorry to say Polly seems to be going the way of all female companions that aren't Barbara Wright. A shame and, as with Maureen O'Brien and Carole Anne Ford, a waste of the actor's talents. I hope this weakness around female companions is eventually overcome.


    All in all an enjoyable story with impressive design and set. All the more impressive when you consider that episodes were airing just a week after studio taping at this point.

    Let's hope the Earth's rulers learn their lesson and don't base any control centres for vitally important infrastructure on the Moon...

    Better than: The Ark
    Not as good as: The Tenth Planet