The Tenth Planet
The Tomb of the Cybermen
|Dates||Feb. 11, 1967 -
Mar. 4, 1967
With Patrick Troughton, Michael Craze, Anneke Wills, Frazier Hines.
Written by Kit Pedler. Script-edited by Gerry Davis.
Directed by Morris Barry. Produced by Innes Lloyd.
Synopsis: The Doctor, Jamie, Polly, and Ben arrive at a Moon Weather Control
Station amidst the outbreak of a deadly plague. Accused of being the cause,
the Doctor must quickly discover the identity of the real saboteurs. But
his adversaries are the Cybermen, and their designs may be too far gone for
the Doctor to halt.
|Note: Episodes 2 and 4 are available on Cybermen: The Early Years. Audio recordings and telesnap reconstructions of episodes 1 and 3 are available at Missing Doctor Who Reconstructions & Audios.|
A Review by Jeff Sims 26/4/97
This is a very good Cyberman story, the first of four Troughton tales dealing with the schemes of those evil metal men. It has Cybermen crawling through holes in walls, enslaving others through hypnosis, and marching around to memorable music (the same used in The Tomb of the Cybermen). The climax is a bit weak, but the overall plot is sound. Also, here are heard those immortal words of the Doctor which provide the rationale for much of the series:
"There are some corners of the universe which have bred the most terrible things, things which act against everything that we believe in. They must be fought". Patrick Troughton is especially convincing at such quietly serious moments.
The Moonbase does not exist in complete form; episodes 2 and 4 are intact, while 1 and 3 have been reconstructed with telesnaps. Taken together they create a worthwhile viewing experience.
How Many Times Can You Tell the Same Story? by Michael Hickerson 12/1/98
When the only two existing episodes of The Moonbase were released on BBC Video a few years ago as part of the Cybermen: The Early Years collection, I rushed to the video store. It had been a tough choice for me of which to purchase first, the Dalek tape or the Cyber tape. I eventually decided on the Cybermen since it had four Troughton episodes and I have come to love the Troughton years. Also, having recently acquired Tomb of the Cybermen, I was anxious to see more of the metal monsters.
I rushed home and watched these two episodes. And wasn't that disappointed. At least not until a year or so later when I got a bootleg copy of The Tenth Planet and realized that The Moonbase is pretty much the same story. Yes, there are some interesting quirks to it (such as the sugar being used to poison the Moonbase inhabitants) but overall, it's the same thing. The Cybermen want to invade Earth and plan to turn Earth's own technology against them (in this case the Gravitron). It's only intervention by the Doctor and his companions that stops this.
There are some nice moments though. My favorite is Jamie's reaction to the Cyberman, thinking it's the Phantom Piper come to take him to the afterlife. However, beyond that Jamie gets very little to do (this may be due to the fact that this an early appearance and he may not have written into the script until late!) Troughton's performance is excellent, as always. He's not as manipulative as he in Evil of the Daleks or Tomb of the Cybermen, but we see elements of it here, such as when the Doctor announces that he's found a cure to buy time.
My other major problem with the story is that on my commerically released copy: the sound quality is rather poor. It fades in and out, and while I understand that this was a missing story, it feels as though the BBC rushed the remaining episodes to video without cleaning up the sound quality (as was done on such releases as Tomb of the Cybermen, for example.) And that's a shame since it takes away from the story a bit.
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 6/12/00
To say The Moonbase isn`t a retread of The Tenth Planet, would be a lie as it is basically the formulaic base under siege scenario. In this respect because of its lack of originality it doesn`t really appeal. It does have some redeeming features notably the Cybermen themselves who are certainly harsher and more calculating, complete with an enhanced appearance and a touch of sarcasm ("Clever, Clever, Clever").
Its also a good story for Anneke Wills` Polly, although Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines play less significant roles than usual. As episode 3, the most dramatic, is missing, you might expect high hopes of the audio release; as it is the sound quality of episode 4 particularly is variable at best.
Fearsome by Tim Roll-Pickering 4/12/01
Based on the Change of Identity reconstruction of Episodes 1 and 3.
The Moonbase presents a strong threat in a carefully constructed environment and does so quite well. Although there are several elements of the story that are repeated directly from The Tenth Planet, this is by no means an inferior story. The Doctor and his companions play a large role in the story, especially at the resolution, and they are supported by a small cast of believable characters facing an ever present threat.
The Cybermen have been wisely redesigned for this story and now look far more advanced and threatening. As with the earlier story they spend most of the story out of sight, coming as and when they need something. The very idea of monsters that can come and go as they please is truly frightening and extra tension is generated by the small size of the Moonbase itself. This is one of the best of all the isolated bases under siege stories because here the external environment itself is restrictive, making it even harder to tackle the enemy, such as in Episode 3 where Benoit encounters a Cyberman on the surface on the Moon and it takes time to get help to him.
By this story Patrick Troughton has firmly found his footing in his portrayal of the Doctor, with the comical scenes confined to odd moments such as the scene in Episode 2 where he scuttles around the control room taking samples. There's a strong sense of the Doctor's morality, especially in his brief speech:
"There are some corners of the universe which have bred the most terrible things. Things which act against everything we believe in. They must be fought."Here, more than anywhere else so far in the series, is the point where the Doctor has stopped being a mere wanderer and become a crusader for justice. The companions have mixed roles in the story and it is strange to see Ben suddenly so knowledgeable about both the inner workings of the Gravitron and the composition of the Cybermen. Of the guest cast, Patrick Barr (Hobson), Andre Maranne (Benoit) and Michael Wolf (Nils) all put in strong performances that show the three main crew members as distinctive from one another. There's a lot of good material in in the script and the Cybermen come across as the threat they are meant to be.
Production wise the story benefits from good design and direction, with the result that the story does truly feel as though it's set on the Moon and the camera work rarely lets the whole thing down. The Moonbase is fortunate in that most elements in the story are working together to complement one another and that many of these are already strong. Consequently this is one of the strongest stories of Season 4. 9/10
This reconstruction uses the telesnaps and the soundtrack and is a good way to view the story. Unfortunately the cliffhangers and reprises are static, but this is because on the existing episodes they have captions over them that are too complex to remove with the available facilities. However this does not detract from the reconstruction in any way. 8/10
A Review by Brian May 8/4/04
In a nutshell, The Moonbase is a story of two halves, and quite different ones at that. An interesting and intriguing first half, full of suspense and shadows; followed by a boring, unengaging, runaround of a second half that lacks any sort of tension or excitement.
From the soundtrack and telesnaps, the missing first episode has a great expository feel. There's the usual TARDIS arrival, the crew exploring their surroundings and becoming embroiled in the strange goings-on at the moonbase, as well as falling under suspicion themselves. This could be any Doctor Who story. But the feel of the episode has a nice sense of isolation, especially the eerie sounds as the Doctor and friends traverse across the lunar surface. The first signs of something afoot come with the presence of the (as yet unidentified) Cyber-ship nestled not far away, and the base crew's awareness that they're being monitored.
The first fleeting appearance of a Cyberman occurs when the crewmember Ralph is in the food store. The "something is in the room with him" scenario is built-up quickly (and enjoyably), the jug-headed figure silhouetted against the wall is suitably eerie and, to those familiar with the Cybermen from The Tenth Planet (four months ago, on initial screening), their curiosity is piqued. Although the design is slightly different, it's still distinctive. (If the story had been called by its working title, The Return of the Cybermen, such a scene would have been redundant!) The first full view of one comes at the cliffhanger, which is given an added edge due to Jamie's delirium. The updated "grinning skull" model is quite freakish as well and makes for a lasting image.
Although now revealed, episode two maintains the suspense by keeping the Cybermen to a minimum. Although why does one begin to abduct Jamie and suddenly change its mind and take another crewman? It happens twice, making it doubly irritating. (In part three they realise he has not been conditioned. Is this why? But it's not made clear and therefore just seems sloppy.) But the climax to episode two is another great moment; the slow realisation on everyone's faces that the Cyberman is in the room with them is terrific. Funnily enough, although the endings to parts one and two are similar, they're both very satisfying.
But, with the beginning of episode three, the rot sets in. The latter half of the story is unexciting, with no sense of drama at all. There are a few bold attempts - such as Polly leading the attack with her cocktail of solvents, Benoit on the lunar surface, and the hole blasted in the wall of the base - but really, they're not that exciting. The story is very slow, while other attempts to beef up the action, or to create a race against time feel, also fall flat. There's the situation of the relief ship and its deflection into the sun's orbit, but we have lines like "No good sir. The Doppler effect. It's going too fast." and "Nothing can save them now", delivered with such a bland air that douses any tension whatsoever. There's also the reminder that the weather is wreaking havoc on Earth and will worsen if the Gravitron isn't sorted out PDQ. But I was actually thinking, who cares? There is no sense of urgency projected outside of the main situation (the Cybermen getting in) - which is pretty unengaging in itself and turns into a fizzer of a climax. And I'm afraid the publicity stills of the Cyber march across the moon are much more memorable than the televised incident.
The direction is patchy as well. Morris Barry's work in the first two episodes is great, really contributing to the atmosphere I've mentioned. For the second half he just seems to give up, making a decidedly insipid effort. One exception is the repulsion of the Cybermen from the lunar surface. It's not a brilliant scene, but concentrating on the lower halves of the silver giants as they rise into space thankfully avoids any "held up with string" embarrassments.
The acting is not that inspiring, either. Among the guest cast, only Patrick Barr as Hobson and Andre Maranne as Benoit show any traces of personality, and even this is inconsistent. The latter's accent is highly exaggerated (strange coming from a French actor, but he was probably instructed to stretch it, similar to Janet Fielding's Aussie twang). Patrick Troughton is excellent as always, but it's obvious the script has only catered for one assistant (Polly). It's understandable (given the late inclusion of the character) that Jamie is sidelined, but there's no excuse for writing Ben so poorly. He doesn't have much to do, is extremely out of character (his knowledge of thermonuclear power and acetones) and says embarrassing things like "Not you, Polly! This is men's work!" But Anneke Wills gets to shine as Polly. Quickly moving on from her coffee making skills, she's caring, resourceful and proactive, and gets to display a good rapport with the Doctor. She delivers a wonderful line about the electronic doctor administering to Jamie: "It can't be nice to him." The other great line is Troughton's unforgettable, and oft quoted "There are some corners of the universe that have bred the most terrible things..." speech.
Unfortunately the rest of the dialogue in the story is not as sparkling as this. Ironically, it's the Cybermen who get the clunkers, with "Only stupid Earth brains like yours..." and the unbelievably dire "Clever, clever, clever". (Christopher Robbie and David Banks weren't the first sarcastic silver guys!)
Production wise, The Moonbase is quite good. The designs of the interior of the base and the Gravitron are impressive for their day, although the flying saucers should have been left in The Dalek Invasion of Earth. I quite like the stock march/action music (despite its use in other Cyber stories). The special sounds are excellent, helping to make the moon an eerie, lonely place, and the hums and reverberations in the sick bay (especially in episode two as the Doctor and Polly work) add to the atmosphere. The uniforms of the crew actually look practical - the T-shirts and coveralls a better choice than the usual fashion nightmares we see in sci-fi Who settings. Needless to say, the tea cosy/shower cap combos worn inside the Gravitron are not included in the above commendation! As for Benoit's neckerchief - I realise it's worn to cover up an erroneous number on his shirt, but his exaggerated accent already pushes national stereotypes far enough!
The Moonbase is a mixed tale. My main regret is the lack of episode one, which would have been wonderful to watch, for all the mystery and build-up described previously. Episode three's loss doesn't really make a difference to me, except for the Doctor's mental conversation with himself (I would have loved to have seen Troughton's face during this!) What we have left to watch is one terrific episode (2) and one dreary one (4). Perhaps a fitting representation. But at least the story has its moments. 6/10
A Review by Finn Clark 23/2/06
I quite like The Moonbase, but it's a shameless remake of The Tenth Planet, broadcast less than four months previously, and the least original of all Troughton's base under siege stories. To think that we bash Terry Nation for self-plagiarism! Kit Pedler can hardly have spent fifteen minutes digging out his old scripts, changing a few names and resubmitting in the hope that no one would notice. He even recycles plot points like the Cybermen diverting a spaceship into the sun.
Everyone knows all that. The Tenth Planet always garners solemn respect, being a cornerstone of the mythos with the first regeneration and the original cloth-faced Cybermen invading Earth and losing Mondas. However it's also a horrible load of old cobblers. The Moonbase is better.
Firstly it makes better use of the Doctor. In The Tenth Planet, Hartnell mostly just sits about waiting to regenerate. His change isn't even triggered by a heroic last stand or some terrifying assault from the Cybermen! That would have been awesome. No, instead we bade farewell to Hartnell because... er, he was old. Instead of all that, The Moonbase has Patrick Troughton outwitting Hobson, snaffling comedy boots and generally being the star of the show. Not all his companions fare so well (Phantom Piper, anyone?) but it's a good outing for Polly and her scary eye make-up.
Secondly the plot's better. The Tenth Planet contains three milliseconds of plot and 1,000,000 hours of Cybermen standing around talking... or does it just seem that way? It even ends with a big deus ex machina as Mondas blows up all by itself. At least the remake's heroes do something!
The production values are good. The Gravitron set looks great and I like the new Cybermen, who may be less freaky than their Tenth Planet predecessors but still have something of a sixties pop-art aesthetic. The moonwalks are also infinitely better than they might have been, not least because of authentic details like base personnel doing safety checks on each other's suits before going through the airlock. Compare and contrast with the silly science we had to forgive almost throughout the whole series, or indeed in certain novels today. God bless Kit Pedler, that's what I say.
The story even manages a little atmosphere at times. The Cyber-possessed men resemble zombies, coincidentally in a story broadcast the year before Romero made Night of the Living Dead. There's also part two's delicious cliffhanger, in which the Doctor realises there's a Cyberman in the medical bay and GOES LOOKING FOR IT.
Unfortunately the story invents two (two!) Cyber-allergies: gravity (huh?) and nail-varnish remover. The former could have been clever if someone had pointed out that a man-shaped object made mostly of metal that's about two metres tall could weigh about half a ton, but they didn't. There's also some unfortunate Cyber-dialogue in part three that's easily the silliest to date, eclipsing even Revenge of the Cybermen's Christopher Robbie. It may have only survived on audio, but you'll still cringe at "Only stupid Earth brains like yours" or the infamous "clever clever clever".
The Hartnell era would have died rather than become this formulaic. The Moonbase isn't a deep story. It's possible to read subtext into it, e.g. do all those self-consciously international flags on people's chests perhaps suggest a less harmonious 21st century than the 1960s production team clearly expected? It's not far from the era of Warriors of the Deep. However, overall these are surprisingly efficient episodes of base under siege Cyber-suspense with Patrick Troughton and a funky Cyber-theme. Apart from anything else, I've got a feeling that watching The Moonbase gives you historical context that helps you better enjoy Tomb of the Cybermen. You wouldn't believe the difference it made for me...
Moonbase Under Siege by Matthew Kresal 25/9/12
They say that nothing dates a story more than ideas of the future. That is certainly true of the fourth Patrick Troughton Doctor Who adventure The Moonbase. Yet, once we move past the 1960's notions of what a 21st century Moonbase would look like, there is a good adventure story to be enjoyed.
By the point this story had originally aired, way back in 1966, the four regular stars of the series had become established for the most part. Patrick Troughton's Doctor is firmly entrenched and he has some of his best Doctor Who moments in this story including the "There are corners of the universe" speech in episode two. As always, Troughton is the centerpiece of the story and a sheer joy to watch. His companions are just as good, though Frazer Hines spends much of the story in bed due to having to be inserted into the story at the last moment. The upside of this is that it gives Michael Craaze and Annekke Willis a chance to shine as Ben and Polly for the first time since The Power of the Daleks. If nothing else, The Moonbase gives the series regulars a chance to shine.
Then there is the supporting cast. Patrick Baar makes a nice (and thankfully not cliched) base leader in his role of Hobson, making a nice change from a very similar character in The Tenth Planet. Andre Maranne makes an interesting appearance as the French physicist and has some good chemistry with the series regulars. Much like The Tenth Planet before it, the supporting cast really rests on the silver monsters known as Cybermen.
After their debut in The Tenth Planet, the Cybermen make their second appearance in the series. The decision to replace the rather cheap-looking Cybermen with the more robotic-looking suits help to bring not only menace but realism to these monsters. The voices used in this story also mark an improvement over the sing-song voice that appeared in The Tenth Planet. Despite some questionable dialog (such as the "stupid Earthling brains" line in episode three for example), these Cybermen are a definite improvement over their predecessors.
Then of course there's always the production values. As I said at the beginning of this review, nothing dates more then ideas of the future. The sets of the Moonbase and the spacesuits used in this story are proof of that saying if there ever was any. The sets and costumes are a definite 1960's vision of the future, right down to the bubble-headed space suits and large the reel-to-reel computers seen in the base itself. While these views may seem unfair from some four decades later, they are nonetheless jarring to look at.
On the upside, there's the script by Kit Pedler (and an uncredited Gerry Davis) which follows the "base under siege" formula of many 1960's Doctor Who stories including The Tenth Planet. Despite the fact that it is essentially formulaic, the script plays with the formula to help make the story less than predictable. Even if the designs aren't up to task, the script still makes it enjoyable.
While the set design and costumes might make the story seem dated, there is still a good story to enjoy. From the performances of the regulars and the supporting cast to the Cybermen and the story itself, there is plenty to enjoy. While it might not be a Doctor Who classic, its two surviving episodes (and at least the Loose Cannon recon of the missing two episodes) remains a watchable Doctor Who story.
"Things Which Act Against Everything We Believe In" by Hugh Sturgess 13/12/14
Damn, this is a bad story. I know it's iconic for a generation of fans (including Neil Gaiman) who saw it as kids, but it's bad. Maybe the visuals in Episodes 1 and 3 were so good that they make up for everything else (though going from 2 and 4 I doubt it), but I can only review what I've got.
It barely qualifies as written. Over four episodes, the Cybermen infiltrate the Moonbase, get kicked out and then try (and fail) to get back in. It ends on the slightest pretext, leaving this reviewer asking "can't the Cybership just land on the Moon again?". The Doctor has no reason to believe that the Cybermen won't just try to take the Moonbase again, and yet he clears off before it's even clear that his plan has worked. The series has had its four weeks of runaround with the Cybermen and it is time to move on. The "story" is four episodes of dead air to give justification to the appearance of the Cybermen, who were brought back, Gerry Davis says, because the ratings on The Tenth Planet were good. We're used to saying that the Cybermen lost their raison d'etre after The Tenth Planet, going from cyborg valium-zombies to tin soldiers, but this story made it happen. And it happened because the authors (well, not Pedler, but Davis) couldn't be bothered to write a proper story.
This is a story so uncaring in its plotting that it remembers that the Cybermen are meant to be emotionless ("We know of this weakness of yours."), and yet gives them lines like "only stupid Earth brains like yours would be fooled" and the famously sarcastic taunt: "Clever, clever, clever." From a metaphor for prosthetic limbs and mood-altering drugs to silver robots, the Cybermen are turned into nondescript baddies who can be brought back to much fanfare instead of the Daleks. The Doctor's famous speech about the "terrible things" that "must be fought" is very appropriate, since from this point on the Cybermen are just that, "terrible things", villains who need no excuse for their villainy. Yes, that's exactly what the Daleks are, but a) the Daleks' distinctive visual look predisposes them towards an inhuman role and b) the Daleks dream in grander terms than the Cybermen. At the end of this season, the Daleks will trawl through all time and space to find the Doctor, as part of a scheme to infect the universe with their own evil essence, securing a Faustian pact with a foolish human seeking the philosopher's stone. In this story, the Cybermen infiltrate (sneaky-sneaky) the Moonbase to poison its sugar, as part of a straightforward plot to destroy/conquer Earth. Their schemes never get grander, and the series's attitude towards them has gradually turned to contempt. ("Pathetic bunch of tin soldiers.")
To be blunt, what is the point of the Cybermen? They've become such a presence in the series (almost entirely due to the cultural memory of this story and Tomb of the Cybermen) that we've stopped thinking about it. That's a mistake, since I can't think of an answer. Are they just baddies who can't be reasoned with and who seek the destruction of humanity? Are they arse-kicking killing machines who want to take over the universe? The only story from the original series in which they do more than simply meet those descriptions is The Tenth Planet, which depicts them so wildly differently that they might as well be different creations. Yes, there's the promise of "conversion" rather than extermination, but in the original series we only ever see that twice.
To every description of the Cybermen as militarists, as invaders, as destroyers, I say: but that's what the Daleks are. The Daleks are the archetypal monsters in that they have no function beyond killing. Their first real scheme - The Dalek Invasion of Earth - is so barmy that it's basically an excuse to showcase the carnage they inflict. Yet it's the Cybermen's loony schemes (The Wheel in Space, The Next Doctor) that get ridiculed, because the Daleks can do what they like. They don't need a reason to do what they do, any more than a swarm of white ants needs a reason to devour a house. They are anti-life, they hate other creatures and want to exterminate them. Over their many, many years, they have accessorised with the other basic roles of monsters that don't initially fit them: they dehumanise with robomen and duplicates; they inflict body horror with flesh-eating gases and mutating humans into Dalek creatures and Varga plants; when they want to, they scheme and mastermind and manipulate, or simply roll over their opponents like tanks. This is the great difficulty in creating the "new Daleks". Pretty much anything a generic baddie could do can be - and probably has been - done by the Daleks.
The original Cybermen were intended to be "space monks", apparently, and their final depiction is of beings that seem more than a little spaced out. The Doctor tries to reason with them, and they try to reason with him. Their arguments make sense. ("There are people dying all over your world, yet you do not care about them.") They think that the offer they make to the people of the Earth - conversion into Cybermen - is one that humanity might plausibly accept voluntarily. Their appearance - mummified, swathed in plastic and gauze, eerie cloth masks - looks ludicrous now, but it's genuinely a moment when the series produces a design so eye-catchingly otherworldly that it looks like nothing else on TV. This is how they were depicted in their first story, on the strength of which they were brought back. Any attempt at a return appearance would be fraught with the difficulty of turning spaced-out plastic-surgery patients into a recurring menace, but Davis has avoided that challenge by stripping them of all that until nothing is left but gloating robots who look nothing like Cybermen. Over the next fifty years, their portrayal as robotic stormtroopers has been good and bad, but no story has been improved by putting Cybermen in it; it's always been "a good story with Cybermen in it".
In short, I think that the Cybermen need to be about something. Simply saying "dehumanisation" doesn't really cut it. Whether their purpose is to be, to quote Philip Sandifer, "the dark mirror of humanity, who went on a quest for spiritual enlightenment and succeeded at terrible cost", or to be the Moffat-era conception as rogue technology consuming flesh (both dead and alive) to sustain itself, or something else, I don't much care, but I do care when the series just uses them as an easy shorthand for evil. The model the series has settled on - a nearly non-sentient race of grave-robbing insects - is interesting, as far as it goes, but renders the "second-best monsters after the Daleks" permanent secondary villains in their own stories. The only new-series Cyber-story, without other monsters (ruling out Doomsday), that does not give them a human controller is Closing Time.
The Cybermen are assumed to be villainous, so they do villainous things, even when they don't make sense. When Polly comes upon the Cyberman in the infirmary, it stuns her and Jamie. Why not kill them (they will blab to the rest of the crew, for one thing)? The story clearly never considers for a moment that the Cyberman has no reason to let them live, since we are not kept in suspense on whether they are alive or not. The Doctor and the others find Polly prone upon the floor; in the next scene, she's awake again. Jamie doesn't even get that. Why does Dr. Evans wail about "the silver hand"? How can he know the Cybermen are behind his poisoning? Unless he saw a Cyberman actually reach out and poor poison into his tea, but in which case, why the hell did he drink it?
We all (or most of us) know that Ben is such a know-it-all in this story because he has been given lines intended for the Doctor, after it was rewritten for Troughton rather than Hartnell. (The rewrite also introduced Jamie, and ensured that the writers didn't have to do anything difficult like include him by knocking him out until the plot had space for him.) I don't know why the rewrite obliged the mysterious transfer of knowledge from the Doctor to Ben, but it results in some bizarre moments. Does the Ben Jackson we see in every other story seem like the sort of person who would know how hot a thermonuclear reactor is or how fluids behave in a vacuum? He volunteers weirdly sophisticated explanations when there's no reason to give him the Doctor's lines. Witness his theory that Polly is hallucinating the glow of the Moonbase because her eyes are "adjusting to the lunar light". The Doctor's response ("Possibly") is half-annoyed and half-telegraphing that he thinks it's total bullshit.
Ben's sudden acquisition of knowledge and Jamie's long absence means that it is Polly who needs everything explained to her, and often by Ben to boot. Polly is treated disgracefully in this story. Doctor Who has never been a very feminist show, but nor has it generally been horribly sexist. The stereotype of the shrieking, leggy assistant is mainly a figment of tabloids' imaginations, but the reality that is informing that stereotype is characters like Polly. Polly's only functions in this story are to look after sick people and make tea. That's what everyone, including the Doctor, expects of her. The notorious "go and make some coffee" scene is not what I'm talking about here; we know that the writers would never give that instruction to Ben (though I can imagine Jamie getting it for laughs), but the Doctor isn't making a statement about women's roles in a crisis. It is everything else that is bad. She makes Peri look feisty and phlegmatic. She screams at a door closing. She flies into a panic when the lights dim and the Doctor explains it to her in just as condescending a tone as the one labelled racist when he uses it with Toberman in Tomb of the Cybermen.
The notion that a woman might have any intelligence at all is obviously so foreign to Gerry Davis that it is Ben who knows what nail-varnish remover is made of. Does Ben seem like the sort of person who would know such a thing? Polly (note that, unlike Ben, she is never given a surname onscreen, and the one used in production materials is simply reused from Barbara) was a secretary to a brilliant scientist who invented a sentient computer, yet she acts like someone who needs their name sewn into their clothes in case they get lost. The true nadir comes in a moment of inadvertently hilarious comedy if one is listening to the audio-tape version. When the Moonbase's scanner picks up the relief rocket, Polly asks, "Is that a space ship?". (We cannot see what she is looking at.) Ben deadpans: "No, that's the scanner." That's the moment that Polly's intelligence is zero.
This is the first true base-under-siege story, in that the only precedent, The Tenth Planet, is awkwardly trying out a new kind of story while The Moonbase jumps straight into the set-up with remarkable swiftness. It even has "base" in the title, and Hobson mentions at one point that they are under-siege. This kind of story, along with the "monster season" that follows it, is remembered a lot more fondly by "first generation" fandom (the fans who watched this as kids and so retained nostalgic half-memories of it) than it is now or ever will be again. Season Five's offerings are generally a lot better at being bases-under-siege, providing actual characters rather than the bland plot-functions that predominate here. Despite its infamous ethnic caricatures, Tomb of the Cybermen provides a much more lively atmosphere than the less bigoted but somehow more embarrassing token ethnics here. However, The Moonbase is archetypal. In 1967, this would have been new, but looking (and listening) back on it now, it's striking just how much of the formula is there already. In a wonderful piece of coincidence, the leader of the Moonbase is called Hobson, while the leader of the oil rig in the last real base-under-siege Troughton (Fury from the Deep) is called Robson.
I can't help but think that The Moonbase represents a fateful turning-point in the course of the second Doctor's televisual life. The most interesting aspect of the second Doctor's character, his anarchism, is never given a chance to address anything that might be called the real world. Innes Lloyd made the decision to make Doctor Who a formulaic monster-of-the-week show in a single (and thus affordable) location because that made it easier to market to Americans (not necessarily easier for Americans to like, given that the two eras of greatest American popularity - Tom Baker and Matt Smith - are embraced for things other than their monsters). That decision traps the anarchic potential of the second Doctor and renders him an impish avenger of humanity.
The social justice implications of an anarchist Doctor, who brings down social hierarchies and dictatorships because he cannot abide injustice, flicker dimly in his treatment of the Macra, in the story immediately following this. In one interpretation, it is horrific: he commitments genocide against the native inhabitants of a planet fighting back against human colonists. In another, it is the reasoning that leads to his similarly savage treatment of the Silence: the Doctor is, fundamentally, a man who champions the dignity of the individual, and depriving humanity (or whoever) of its free will infringes that dignity more terribly than physical enslavement can. That is perfectly defensive. I firmly believe that the Doctor should do things that make us morally uncomfortable, because he should problematise our morality as often as he confirms it. However, the default assumption is that the first interpretation (the genocide of the indigenes) is the correct one, since we're so used to Troughton as a monster-slayer.
It was The Moonbase that set the tone for the second Doctor's era. The Doctor who told Polly that bad laws are meant to be broken goes through a run of stories blasting hideous aliens at every turn. We are left scrabbling through the calx of his era for expressions of his lost radicalism - his virtual destruction of the Vulcan colony, his "bad rules" axiom in The Macra Terror, the cheeky implications of helping students mix up acid and overthrow the establishment in The Krotons... We can find that "think free or die" subtext I mentioned in the last paragraph in the Great Intelligence's possession tricks, but we all know that alien-infiltration stories are really about our fear of the unknown. Doctor Who, as we think of it today, embraces the unknown and the strange. In the Troughton era, we are right to fear it, as the unknown is always dangerous and the Doctor's job is always to blow it up.
Wouldn't the Doctor of Power of the Daleks, The Macra Terror and Evil of the Daleks be a better subject for our series? Obviously Innes Lloyd was never in a million years going to put a "social message" in Doctor Who while he was trying to flog it to the United States, but imagine a Troughton era sans besieged bases. That leaves his era almost a blank slate; all but The Enemy of the World has been erased from Season Five. What might have taken its place? What Orwellian, Kaftaesque and Huxley-ish worlds might he have explored? Imagine the Troughton-era cast with the politics of the Cartmel era: a trickster god, a Jacobite veteran and a Victorian orphan, all without a home, travelling the universe bringing down governments. This is the late '60s, the era of the Vietnam War, race riots wracking the United States and student protests everywhere. The Moonbase was broadcast in the year of the Summer of Love and the Populorum Progressio, and the "monster season" was broadcast in 1968, the second year of revolutions. And Doctor Who's response to all this is to put on a season that is, with one exception, a series of cheerfully formulaic retreads of Man vs. the Monster. Doctor Who becomes more dissociated from the world around it than ever.
This begins with The Moonbase, a story that so successfully managed to grab viewers while doing and saying nothing. Whatever its individual merits - and I don't think there are nearly as many as is usually thought - it and the tendency it inspired were a regressive step, indeed a reactionary one, for Doctor Who.
A Review by Donna Bratley 24/12/19
It's hardly original. It's an early example of three being one companion too many. I've only seen two parts on film, and it's far from the tightest script. Yet I love The Moonbase.
Partly because... well, it's a Troughton story, and an early template for his finest performances, with the clowning tempered and the ferociously intelligent improvisational genius centre stage.
He's Chaplinesque, getting under the feet of a fraught base crew to collect samples. Implacable in acknowledging the evils of the universe that "must be fought" (and how refreshing, given the character's more modern messianic tendencies, that he's neither bombastic nor vainglorious about it). Never in control of events, problem-solving on the fly, ever ready with a quip ("Well they haven't got a Gravitron, or they wouldn't be after yours" is a favourite), he holds the attention without ever having to demand it.
First to identify the enemy hiding in plain sight (disbelief suspended that nobody had noticed the giant patient in silver boots), and the method of spreading their nasty neurotropic virus. Alone in recognising the defensive potential of the Gravitron. Outwitting Hobson's attempted eviction with a virtuoso display of sound and fury. It's a masterclass, even in those parts where his features are limited by the animator's hand.
No Doctor has ever been more adept at the quickfire switches: not even the first Baker or the majestic Capaldi. But while The Highlanders is a hoot and his shenanigans the best thing about The Underwater Menace, it's the ability displayed here to turn serious mid-line that makes Troughton's Doctor so magnetic. Even in the guise of a scruffy joker with a very 1960s' haircut, people can't help but do his bidding.
Sci-fi rarely ages well: in another 50 years, people will be laughing at 2020's idea of "the future" too, but The Moonbase works brilliantly as a reflection of its time: of the excitement surrounding lunar exploration in an age less cynical, more forgiving than our own. They shot in black and white. They don't match our social mores. Primitives! To the flames! Our turn will come. Context and a little tolerance are essentials for surveying the past, whether in historical record or a daft sci-fi show.
As to leaving the little woman in charge of the medical unit: if I were a patient I'd sooner have her doling out medication, leaving Ben as variously lookout, bouncer and dogsbody. That's when he's not being the perpetrator of a moment's truly egregious sexism: "This is men's work!" Fortunately, Polly shows exactly how such careless chauvinism should be answered. She ignores it. Attagirl, Duchess.
Frazer Hines' presence was an unwelcome addition for the writer, who expresses his displeasure by strapping Jamie to a bed for half the serial, reduced to mistaking a Cyberman for the McCrimmons' phantom piper. It's at least a plausible character note, like his superstitious warning against "the second sight" in the final scene. Otherwise, he's limited to encouraging the appalling modern tendency to "ship" fictional characters, with his obstinate determination to be useful provoking an unconvincing bout of Jackson jealousy.
It's a shame, because even an underused Jamie is likeable, loyal and (crucially) open-minded. The 21st century, obsessed with "viewer identification", could use its own Culloden piper.
The Moonbase does boast one of the sixties' finest backdrops. The barren moonscape is atmospheric, although I loathe the silly sound effects, and the Gravitron is a gorgeous, impractical beast. I have to laugh at the sight of Hobson and Benoit (standout performances from Patrick Barr and Andre Marrane) patching the dome with a jacket and a plastic tray, mind. Wasn't Kit Pedler supposed to bring some scientific grit to proceedings? Those are the moments that shake me from any story.
I prefer these early Cybermen, their true horror enhanced by being recognisably more "like uzzz". However, the attempt to provide them with personality backfires more spectacularly than their useless weapon.
Cyber-sarcasm is infinitely more embarrassing than the wires dropping in their reinforcements, while "stupid Earth brains" is a line Troughton himself would struggle to pull off. I love the buzzing singsong voice and the shabby plastic onsie, topped with the blandest of flowerpot heads, but there's no getting around it. When they try to be "Clever. Clever. Clever!", the Cybermen sound plain dumb.
They're brilliantly rendered in the animated episodes. Unusually, so are all the humans. Unlike the Doctor, the companions can be completely characterless in cartoon form, but for once they're all done justice. In general, the juxtaposition between episodes feels smoother too.
It's still pleasing that the march of the Cyber-force, imposingly drawn at the end of part 3, is followed by the real thing in the finale's reprise. Nothing beats the original film. That's how they work best: a phalanx on an epic backdrop. Meanwhile, the officer's frustrated arm-waving "cease fire" is a moment of unintended comedy I look forward to on every watch.
There's a genuine sense of camaraderie among the base crew, and not a weak link among them in performance (except for the controlled Evans putting on his headgear back to front), and their exchanges are enjoyably naturalistic, with Hobson's cynical "knighthood" aside and Benoit's exasperated lapse into his native tongue. It makes the payoff, as the crew celebrates and the Doctor's posse slips away, all the more uplifting.
"Enough madmen already," Hobson observes on discovering their departure. Perhaps that's true, and it's a large part of The Moonbase's charm. Credible characters under incredible circumstances, guided to safety by a brilliant, unpredictable and inventive Doctor, can't fail to make me smile.
Should the missing portions ever reappear, I'll be first in line to buy the whole damned thing again.