Friday, August 23, 2013

"The Moonbase"

Aired Feb 11 – Mar 4, 1967

4 Episodes

Story 33

Written by Kit Pedler

Directed by Morris Barry


The Doctor and his friends arrive on the Moon in 2070 AD, where a vitally important weather control station is being affected by a mysterious epidemic that is incapacitating the staff. However, the plague is really a poison planted in the sugar supply as part of an invasion plan by the Cybermen.

The Doctor uncovers the plague's true nature and reveals the involvement of  the Cybermen, while Polly realizes that as the Cybermen's chest units are made of plastic they are vulnerable to corrosive solvents. She, Ben and Jamie manage to destroy all the Cybermen hidden on the base after they create weapons that fire a mixture of powerful solvents that they create.

A second wave of Cybermen lands on the moon and begin to advance on the base, but the Doctor uses the weather station's powerful gravity device, the Gravitron, to send the Cybermen and their fleet spinning off into space. The crisis having passed, the Doctor, Ben, Polly and Jamie quietly slip away back to the TARDIS.


The Moonbase is a virtual remake of The Tenth Planet, the debut Cybermen story, which is an odd choice considering both stories aired in the same season! What's even more odd is that while The Moonbase improves on many flaws in The Tenth Planet, the elements of the previous story that were well-done are done less well here.

The story looks great, by and large. The design of the control room is among the best the series did up to that time, and that set holds up against any other science fiction television that was being produced at the time. The moonscape stuff holds up very well too, although all the model work is blindingly obvious and the shots of the space ships landing are pretty bad. But, when the Cybermen are sent spinning off the planet in the climax, that looks great.

The threat posed by the Cybermen also makes way more sense than the one in The Tenth Planet, and the science is less of a problem, with some actual honest-to god real life educational stuff in there. The Cybermen are certainly an imposing threat here, and the cliffhanger to episode three, which shows them marching across the lunar surface, is a classic.

The cast is uniformly excellent here, with the international team being handled far better here than in The Tenth Planet. Polly has a very odd outing where she has some great moments (such as coming up with the chemical solution) and some terrible ones (such as spending a lot of time making coffee for all the men, and even being told by Ben about "men's work", ugh). Overall, I find myself really liking Polly far more than I thought. Anneke Wills plays her very well, adding nice touches such as what appears to be a sweet interest in Jamie. Michael Craze as Ben is starting to wear on me, however. While he plays the part well, the writers lost some of the spark that made his early appearances so refreshing and now he's basically a generic action companion. It's probably down to the addition of Jamie, who was shoehorned in as a companion and had to steal a lot of Ben's dialogue. That's the main reason Frazer Hines spends half this story unconscious. As a result, they're both a little wasted here.

Troughton has a few amazing moments here, the best being a remarkable look into the Doctor's thought process in Episode Three. Troughton plays this internal monologue so well, it's really a magical moment. He also gets a great speech where he basically sums up the Doctor's mission statement, a moment that is justifiably considered a classic. But the Doctor does shockingly little here. There are many scenes where he is in the background, waiting around. There are moments in the final episode where the supporting guest cast do more to resolve the situation than the Doctor. He does identify the food stuff that's been contaminated, and he comes up with the idea of using the Gravitron, but those are only two moments, and he could have participated much more.

The story lags a bit, and Episode Two and Three could have been condensed into one episode easily to the story's benefit. The Cybermen themselves, while imposing and scary, have lost a lot of the "body horror" roots they had in their debut. I'm more convinced now that the more robotic their appearance, the less creepy they got.

I'd never call The Moonbase a classic, but it has its moments.

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