Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Moonbase - "There are some corners of the universe which have bred the most terrible things ..."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - The Moonbase - Details

Season 4, Story 5 (Overall Series Story #33) | Previous - Next | Index

Only episodes 2 and 4 of this story have survived intact, but we've got the audio, the script, the novelization, and some degree of reconstruction we can lean on for episodes 1 and 3.  I elected to watch my DVD version, which just shows a single snapshot while the audio plays for the ones with no video, and to follow along with the script for the brief descriptions of what's happening around the dialogue. It's less than ideal, of course, but considering how much of the Troughton era is lost, and still lacking animated reconstruction, it's better than nothing.

Perhaps the most striking thing about "The Moonbase" that we can see, is how effectively it uses the black-and-white broadcast medium. Sure, the hats look dopey, you can see the strings lowering the model ships (going to guess paper plate-based construction), but the starkness suits the moonbase setting so well and the design of the control room, with its big dome window showing the barren moonscape outside looks great. The Cybermen are striking in contrast to the empty black of space as they set up their laser cannon to take shots at the base. Very effective.

As has been keyed in upon by Sandifer, we can look to this story as turning point in the series, not the least of which is for the iconic quote (a portion of which is GIFed at the top of the post), but also for being the template for a number of Base Under Siege stories to come.

It's also the return of the Cybermen, only the second baddie (after the Daleks, natch) to make a return. I've not seen "The Tenth Planet" yet, but you can tell from the photos they've changed a bit since their first appearance, looking much more like robots than guys with ski masks on.

The Doctor has Polly, Ben, and Jamie traveling with him in this one, but Jamie gets knocked out early in the first episode and spends much of the time in a bed in sick bay mistaking a Cyberman for the Phantom Piper that appears to MacCrimmons before they die in his family lore. You can tell this mix of companions isn't going to work though; Jamie's going to be a bit of a third wheel if Ben sticks around. Ben and Polly served an important role, bridging first and second Doctors and providing continuity for the viewers, but they feel more like Hartnell companions somehow, a more natural fit (as mod, young Londoners) for the more grandfatherly Hartnell Doctor to play against than this younger, more active Doctor*. Troughton was only twelve years younger than Hartnell, but I'd say he looked like he was twenty years younger.

The science in this one is dodgy, as it is in most Doctor Who stories, but perhaps slightly less than typically dodgy for this era of the show. The international crew of the moonbase is, unsurprisingly, all white, all male ... but at least they have accents and wear t-shirts with their national flags emblazoned across their chests. And, the French crewmen conveniently wears a jaunty little scarf/neckerchief so it's obvious he's très French even when he's not speaking.

There's a little too much of the 'Jamie sees the Piper, moans about not wanting the Piper to take him, it's a Cyberman, it leaves with a body other than Jamie's after feinting as if it would grab his, Polly walks in just in time to see the Cyberman leaving and screams so everyone comes running' going on here. Maybe it only happens two or three times, but once was enough.

If the full video is truly lost forever, I hope this one gets a decent animated remake at some point. Well, I hope they all do, but this is one I'd watch again sooner if it did.

* Whoops. In my write-up of "The War Machines," I said Ben and Polly were more like Troughton companions than Hartnell's. So, apparently, whichever Doctor I see them with, I think they *must* have been a better fit with the other guy. Because they're rubbish with the one I'm watching at the moment. Which is to say, they're rubbish.

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