The Moonbase

Written by:
Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis
Directed by: Morris Barry
Starring: Patrick Troughton
Year: 1967
Video Availability (Episodes 2/4 only): Try Amazon

The first of the incomplete or missing stories that I've done in this format, The Moonbase has first and third episodes that were burnt to a crisp by the BBC back in the 70s. As a result it's hard to give an accurate assessment of just how good or bad each "missing" instalment would have been, and we can only hope to give it a reasonable estimate. At date of writing then virtually all these incomplete stories are now on audio CD, though I prefer to watch them on not-for-profit fan "reconstructions", where they place the soundtrack with a video of the photographs.

Anyway, while I can only imagine that the shameful padding of the "moon leaps" was done on obvious wires, it's still possible to hear the awful cartoon sound effect that accompanies said sequence. Pretty soon Jamie is unconscious because the story wasn't originally written to include Frazer, and we're stuck with a Ben and Polly line-up. This is certainly no bad thing, as I like the duo a lot, and think they're amazingly underrated.

For me the Cybermen have always been pretty hit and miss, with the emphasis more on the miss. Their debut in The Tenth Planet was superb, and Tomb gave them an iconic high, even if the story itself doesn't quite hold up beyond the superficial. The Invasion was fabulous, and Revenge ("Revenge? What is that?") and Earthshock offer shallow entertainment, albeit in completely different ways. The silly Five Doctors saw them reduced to cannon fodder, while Attack was weak and Silver Nemesis was their - and almost the series' - nadir. But the range of weak Cybertales didn't just relate to the colour era. The Wheel In Space saw an uncharacteristically poor showing from David Whitaker, while this unsophisticated bit of nonsense here is mediocre at best. Featuring B movie flying saucers and the aforementioned "flying" sound effects, this fails to raise its game little above kid's show.

However, it's not without its dialogue plusses. The Doctor remarking about not believing in the phantom piper ("No, but he does. It's important to him.") is a nice touch, and we get an in-jokey "carry on, nurse" from Ben. Pat's Doctor is a lot more subdued than he would be in his final season (certainly a completely different character to the bumbling pratt he played in The Three and Five Doctors) and it's almost tempting to think that he was bored considering how latterly energetic he would become. The myth is that Pat created a bonkers Doctor that was gradually toned down, but this is proved to be not the case.
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An existing episode here, probably the most famous bit of which is the "corners of the universe have bred the most terrible things" speech. It's okay, but does it make me a Who philistine if I say it's overrated? What galls about it is that, after three uncertain Troughton stories, it now redefines the lead character and his role as a reactionary force who sees all opposition in black and white terms. No longer is he an unwilling traveller, getting himself into scrapes, now he's an intergalactic George Bush, wanting to blow the mothers away. Reason? Bargaining? You'll get no mercy from the most right wing and ruthless of Doctors. What's more, he's wrapped up in a meek and thoroughly likeable persona, and Pat pulls it off with magnificence.

The Cybermarch music (most famously used in the thawing of the Tomb sequence in The Tomb of the Cybermen) is used here. A stock music piece, it sits uneasily with the visuals, its bombast conflicting with the somewhat understated images. Costumes are variable - apparently the year 2070 will see a manned moon HQ with T-shirts and shower caps. However, the use of a multinational crew is a decent touch, and the Doctor is given Hobson's choice (sorry) - to discover what is effecting the crew in 24 hours or get off the base. When Pat is on screen his performance and characterisation elevates all around him, though it's odd how the base just happens to have the same (ridiculous) spacesuits as those stocked in the Tardis. It's also unfortunate how dumb and stereotypically "female" the coffee-making Polly is in this one, too.

Even though this isn't a great Cyberstory (and is basically The Tenth Planet revisited) the Cybermen themselves are portrayed quite well. They're still near-silent robotic movers, rather than the all-too-human David Banks shouters. The fact that they can get into the base at will and yet don't harm everyone - because they don't see them as a threat - makes them all the scarier.
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It's back to still photographs, fuzzily reproduced, but put together with love. A feature on the reconstruction, common to many but not to all, are subtitles explaining the movements and dialogue. It sounds distracting but actually works much better.

The Cybermen get to speak here, and, even though they're serviceable voices, I always think they worked better in their first appearance, or The Invasion. Certainly they were problematical in the colour stories, and the fact that this is a monster with no fixed voice shows how this was one of the weaker parts of their make-up. Here the gay Cybermen play on Pedler's homophobia, threatening to convert everyone. "I don't like that word 'converted,'" says Ben. Elsewhere, Jamie tells Polly that "I feel myself". Good God.

All the "what is this feeling?" guff is spelling it out too clearly, but I love the sarky Cybe who taunts "Clever… clever… clever". These are Cybes that don't care about human life, and threaten to dispose of it and care not if they drive the personnel insane. Quite a long way from the chatty versions of the 80s, and the lack of a clearly defined leader helps to make them more of a credible force.

Do you reckon that Alfie from EastEnders was based on Ben Jackson? A cheeky chappie Cockney who goes around calling Polly/Peggy "Duchess"? There's a curious alpha male macho crap relationship between him and Jamie in this one, though I can't work out why Ben suddenly becomes a scientist.
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What really lets this story down is how simplistic the whole plot is. Really the Doctor could have solved it all in a fortnight, but we get a month's worth of episodes where he tries to calculate the obvious. The scene in the previous episode where he talks with himself is superb, but having the means to defeat the Cybermen right under their noses the whole time is narratively unsatisfying.

"Resistance is useless!" I do like to half-seriously read into Doctor Who and imagine all kinds of subtexts that probably weren't even there in the first place. However, that pleasure is denied me here by a story that operates almost entirely on a surface level. Pedler's (and an uncredited Gerry Davis's) dialogue is some stages above the "what is it, Doctor?" Terry Nation school of scriptwriting, but in plot and ambition this fails to fulfil. It's like a Milky Way chocolate bar - fine to keep you going between meals, but not enough to fill you up.

This is the dumbest episode actually, the resolution (which was presaged an episode ago) is drawn out till the end, while Moonbase personnel with massive veins on their faces walk around unimpeded. There are some silly special effects, and even sillier sound ones, as well as some ropey science. Any story that sees the Cybermen flying off into space with a "Hurrah! Well, that's taken care of the Cybermen!" cannot be a perfect thing. Note also how The Mighty Trout still seems to be getting lines written for Hartnell, particularly his "oh, what a lot of fuss!"

It ends with a coda whereby the Doctor introduces the never referred to before or since Time Scanner. Polly screams as she sees a giant crustacean on the screen... I would say "Polly's got crabs" but that's a joke so feeble and crass that I'm saving it for later.
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A stronger story than I remembered, with Troughton giving a subtle and commanding performance. However, there's little else to say about a tale that is watchable enough, but thin in both plot and ambition.
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