“The Moonbase”

“The Moonbase”

Second Doctor, Season Four, Serial Six

reviewed by Tom-Tom

One of the great tragedies of television history is the 1970’s BBC junking of 97 episodes of Doctor Who not to mention other fine shows. The First and Second Doctors’ serials were hit the hardest. Having read the corresponding novels for the missing Second Doctor serials, I can attest that the loss is momentous. Mercifully, the full soundtrack for all the missing episodes was retained. Many labors of love have resulted in animated episodes using the original soundtrack. At the very least, there are some episodes in which a sort of vague slide show of on set screen shots float through the soundtrack.

The Moonbase is the first serial, chronologically speaking, within the order of the Second Doctor’s broadcast serials to be restored. The 1st and 3rd episodes, previously missing, have been animated to great effect. The animation is almost black and white and is minimalist, focusing on facial expressions more than bodily movement. It’s a joy to behold. The Second Doctor’s first two serials, The Power of the Daleks, and The Highlanders, both so important as the first introduced the landmark regeneration of the Doctor from William Hartnell to Patrick Troughton, my personal favorite and his odd behavior and the disbelief and mistrust of his companions, and the second introduced the companion with whom the Second Doctor would share the rest of his entire adventures, including the crossover with the Sixth Doctor The Two Doctors.

Enough prologue, let’s get on with the serial. The Doctor and his three companions, Ben, Polly, and the highlander Jamie arrive on Mars, or so the Time Lord has led them to believe. They’ve actually landed on the Moon in the year 2070. The eponymous base is in control of the Earth’s weather utilizing an interesting gravity device to steer storms away from populated areas and make sure farmland is suitably rainy when necessary and dry when not. A mysterious virus has broken out which has the creepy symptoms of vein-like protuberances sprouting on the outsides of the infected person’s arms and face causing them to go into a coma. Enter the Doctor and companions in rather stylish space suits, very minimalist: an oxygen bag, a clear dome of a helmet and fetching sunglasses and something like the get up the folks in CSI wear at a crime scene.  After some fun in zero gravity, the adventurers enter the base. The base is run by the competent and stern “Hobby” Hobson. The members are international, (well as international as a 1960’s BBC TV budget can allow) from Germany, the UK, France, Denmark, Australia, etc.

Jamie experiences a concussion early on which renders him out of action for most of the serial. Polly tends to the sick and makes coffee. Ben, sort of just hangs around. The Doctor, after an typically awkward introduction (who expects guests on the Moon for crying out loud?), gets to work finding out the origin of the virus and how to battle it. The only problem is, the comatose patients keep disappearing, being carried out one by one by a mysterious metallic figure.

Well, the Cybermen are behind it. The Doctor’s first encounter with them in The Tenth Planet wore him out so much, he regenerated for the first time ever. Now, they’re back, more threatening and scarier too. Everything terrifying about the Star Trek villains The Borg, (not to appear for another 25 years or so) is present here. The Cybermen speak with a voice of a person using a mechanical larynx. When asked what will become of the missing crewmen, the CyberLeader replies in the dry metal voice. They will be altered, converted to our needs. Creepy now and probably even creepier in 1966. The CyberLeader’s merciless albeit calm voice is really unsettling as it seeks to use the gravity device to malignant purpose. There’s an amusing scene in which the Doctor talks with himself trying to figure out the weakness of the robotic menace.

The companions come up with an interesting method to combat their enemies which I will leave you to anticipate. The Moonbase is a fun serial which is well written with claustrophobic suspense. The Cybermen are competent fiends with a delightfully sinister plan. The sight of a cadre of the robotic fiends marching their way on the naked moon surface to the all too vulnerable base is a damn scary spectacle. The Doctor’s ingenious plan is a wonder to behold leading to one of the most satisfying (and hilarious) climaxes in the series.

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