The moonbase (1967)
About this serial
This was a four-part serial, first broadcast between 11th February - 4th March 1967. The serial was written by Kit Pedler, produced by Innes Lloyd and directed by Morris Barry. The script editor was Gerry Davis.
What I've seen:
Episodes two and four, and animated versions of episodes one and three.
The Doctor and companions Polly, Ben and Jamie find themselves near a weather station on the moon. When the station personnel contract a mysterious disease and start disappearing, the stage is set for the Doctor to meet some old enemies.
when I first reviewed this serial, I only had soundtracks of the first and third episode. My comments then:
- The soundtracks of episodes one and three are surprisingly enjoyable. There's enough dialogue to give you at least a rough idea of what's going on, and when there's no dialogue there are a good incidental score and interesting sound effects to listen to. The music even gives you some clues about what's going on, since the Cybermen, the 'converted' crew members and the exterior shots of the moon base all have their own themes.
Having access to the animated versions of the missing episodes means that I find myself more focussed on following the story, but the incidental score (consisting of well-chosen stock music) is still one of the things that I enjoy most about this serial.
Some more good things about this story:
- With the animated versions of the missing episodes in place, it's easier to appreciate the story as a whole. It moves along at a steady pace, with rarely a dull moment.
- This is a good story for Ben and especially for Polly, who has a central role in finding a means of defeating the Cybermen.
The less good bit:
- As in more serials from the same period, we see companions Ben and Jamie both trying to fill the 'young action man' slot in the story. (I understand that Jamie was a late addition to the cast, and the script had to be adapted to give him something to do.) 'The moonbase' solves this problem by having Jamie incapacitated for much of the serial
The really not good bits:
- The scenes in part two where the Doctor tries to figure out what's wrong with the sick station personnel aren't great. Though the Doctor eventually succeeds it takes quite a long time, and his methods don't seem to make much sense. (Among other things, we see him stealing people's boots here. I understand that the Doctor had been stealing random objects from people in earlier serials as well, apparently in an effort to make Patrick Troughton's Doctor more whimsical and more different from William Hartnell's.)
- The people operating the graviton, the device used on the weather station to avert hurricanes by influencing earth's gravity, wear some of the most ridiculous headgear ever seen in Doctor Who. (Having one of the possessed crew members accidentally putting it on back-to-front doesn't help.)
This story comes hot on the heels of 'The tenth planet', in which the Cybermen made their first appearance, and which I hadn't seen when I wrote the previous version of this review. Though both stories are extremely similar, the Cybermen that we meet here are markedly different from those in the earlier serial:
- In 'The tenth planet' the Cybermen were more obvious cyborgs, with their cloth masks a constant reminder of the mummified or decaying human face that you'd expect to be hidden behind it. In the newer serial, we get redesigned all metal-and-plastic Cybermen that might as well be robots.
- The characterisation has also changed. In the earlier story, the Cybermen considered themselves the next step in human evolution. They seemed to have given considerable thought to the future of the human race, reaching the conclusion that 'converting' everyone within reach would be best for all concerned. What we encounter in 'The moonbase' is much closer to the Cybermen that we've come to know and (maybe not) love: they just want to eliminate anyone who might possibly become a threat.
- Not that it has anything to do with this serial or 'The tenth planet', exactly, but the resemblance between Star Trek's Borg and the Cybermen in this serial is remarkable, with the Cybermen's catch-phrases being "Resistance is useless" and "You will be converted".
On the whole, this is a simpler and more straight-forward story than 'The tenth planet'. The Cybermen are evil robots who have little motivation for their actions other than being evil robots. The moonbase leader is a good guy who, after some not unreasonable initial distrust, fully co-operates with the Doctor in order to combat the Cybermen. The rank-and-file crew members are all well-meaning and competent and apart from their nationality, where 'The moonbase' thankfully avoids the 'funny foreigner' clichés of the earlier serial, there's little to set them apart as individuals. (Having the most prominent French crew member played by a native French speaker is a nice touch, though.) There is also no real resolution to this story - two Cybermen attacks are repelled, but it only seems a matter of time before the next one will arive. Although this serial is by no means boring, compared to 'The tenth planet' it is a bit bland.
The bottom line
This is basically a companion piece to 'The tenth planet', stronger in some aspects and weaker in others, and which of the two you prefer is a matter of taste. My vote goes to 'The tenth planet', since I enjoyed the innovative plot elements and the great scenery in the earlier serial more than I do the smoother storytelling in this one.