Doctor Who: The Moonbase
2070. A multinational crew on a base on the lunar surface, led by Hobson (Patrick Barr), are tasked with controlling the Earth's weather. But when the Doctor, Polly, Ben and Jamie arrive in the TARDIS they are accused of spreading a mysterious plague. But the real culprits are an old adversary of the Doctor...
Kit Pedler had been brought in to Doctor Who to add some scientific rigour to the show. His main invention were the Cybermen, in collaboration with the show's then script editor Gerry Davis, first introduced in The Tenth Planet, the second serial of the fourth season and William Hartnell's swansong as the Doctor. Soon after, producer Innes Lloyd commissioned a rematch with the Cybermen, and the result was The Moonbase, broadcast four stories later. The story was credited to Pedler solo, though in reality it was another collaboration between him and Davis, Pedler contributing the ideas and Davis the scripting-craft. Lloyd stipulated that the story be set on the Moon, capitalising in current interest in Earth's satellite and then-ongoing plans to land men there.
The Moonbase, broadcast in February and March 1967, is a tight four-parter that sits quite comfortably into the base-under-siege-from-monsters structure that many of Troughton's stories do. If fewer of those stories were missing, the theme might seem more of a formula: it runs through all of Season Five with the notable exception of the recently-found The Enemy of the World. But as we're not bound to watch these stories in the order they were made – if we could, of course – then The Moonbase stands very well on its own, if maybe resolved a little too easily.
By now Patrick Troughton had settled into his role as The Doctor, toning down some of the more comic overtones of his previous adventures. As for the companions, three is a bit of a crowd. Jamie in particular is sidelined, being semiconscious for nearly half the storyline, though he does get a cliffhanger to himself when he thinks that a Cyberman is the Clan McCrimmon's Phantom Piper coming to take him away to the afterlife. Innes Lloyd had only just decided to make Jamie a regular companion during his first adventure The Highlanders (now lost), after The Moonbase had started to be written and many of his lines were reallocated from Ben. This reputedly caused some rivalry between Michael Craze and Frazer Hines, the former wondering if he was due to be replaced...as indeed he was at the end of the season while Jamie continued to the end of Patrick Troughton's era as The Doctor. Two younger actors there to handle the action stuff is one too many, and you can see how more limited Ben was as a character, however well enough Craze played him. As for Polly, she's the only woman in the story, and is a little more resourceful than usual, though she does get her screams in when required. The Moonbase itself has a multinational, if all-male crew, populated by such familiar faces as André Maranne (by all accounts alive and well and in his later eighties, despite online sources saying he died in 1992), a genuine Frenchman much active playing his countrymen in British TV and cinema in the Seventies and Eighties. One of the scientists is played by Victor Pemberton, who is one of just three men (Glyn Jones and Mark Gatiss are the others) to have been credited for both acting in and writing Who, either new or old, and uniquely was also script editor briefly (for just one story, The Tomb of the Cybermen). Making his Who debut, as an uncredited Cyberman extra, was John Levene who was later a Yeti (credited) and went on to greater fame in the show by showing his face as Sergeant Benton.
As for the Cybermen, they have had some design refinements since we last saw them, in particular their cloth-mask heads now become much more durable plastic. Like the soon-to-be-introduced Ice Warriors, they are played by taller men (six foot or thereabouts upwards) they are suitably imposing, especially when combined by Peter Hawkins's vocals like malign speak-your-weight machines. They get a memorable cliffhanger when they march across the lunar surface at the end of Episode 3. Twenty-five minutes after that, we're back in the TARDIS at the end of the story and a giant crab claw appears on the monitor. Polly screams, and the viewing eight million anticipate the start of The Macra Terror...but as that story s completely lost it is there to tantalise those of us who weren't watching back in 1967. The Moonbase, by the way, was the last outing for the original title sequence.
The Equity agreements in force at the time allowed for the possibility of one repeat showing within two years of first broadcast. That did not happen, and the videotapes of The Moonbase were all wiped in July 1969. However, 16mm telerecordings were made for sale overseas. These were in time junked and by 1977 only episodes 2 and 4 survived in the BBC archive, which is the case to this day. There were fan-made off-air recordings of the soundtrack and a full set of telesnaps. The two surviving episodes and the recordings of the two missing ones were released as part of the Lost in Time DVD set, but here the gaps are filled with animation.
The Moonbase is released as a dual-layered DVD encoded for Region 2 only. As usual, there is an optional audio-descriptive menu. Given that the episodes alternate between animation and live-action, each one is a separate title, even when you Play All.
The serial was shot on 405-line black and white video, with film sequences (mostly the lunar exteriors) pre-shot at Ealing Studios. Episodes 2 and 4 are restored from the 16mm telerecordings and VidFIREd to restore a video look, and the results are as good as you would expect
Episodes 1 and 3 have been animated by Studio 55 and those episodes end with credits for this work after the reconstructed end credits of the episodes themselves.
The soundtracks are the original mono, from the off-air recordings in the case of the two animated episodes, with all cleaned-up and restored. English hard-of-hearing subtitles are available for the episodes and all the extras except for the commentary. Production subtitles, this time the work of Martin Wiggins, appear on Episodes 2 and 4 only and do an able job of providing story information and trivia, given that they have less space than usual to work in.
The commentary falls into two parts. For the two surviving episodes, moderator Toby Hadoke talks to Anneke Wills, Frazer Hines, sound designer Brian Hodgson and Edward Phillips who played one of the scientists – and has one line of dialogue which gets talked over. (He's the one in the National Health specs.) The long-practised raconteurs, Hines especially, tend to dominate things, but Hadoke has had plenty of moderation practice too and keeps the talk on track. For the two animated episodes, Hadoke acts as link man for a series of interviews, with producer Innes Lloyd (from the archive) and new interviews with Kit Pedler's daughters Carol Topolski (herself an Orange Prize-nominated novelist) and Lucy Pedler who between them give us a picture of a much-loved and much-missed (dead at age fifty-three from a heart attack) figure, inspirational for his belief in science...and in women in science. That covers Episode 1. Episode 3 features Hadoke talking to the Assistant Floor Manager Lovett Bickford and actors Barry Noble, Derek Chaffer and Reg Whitehead who were inside the Cyber-costumes. (No John Levene, but he's been much featured on other DVDs.)
“Lunar Landing” (21:29) is the making-of featurette and inevitably covers much of the same ground as it features Wills, Hines and Whitehead, along with production designer Desmond McCarthy. Wills credits director Morris Barry with toning down some of the comic excesses of Troughton's performance., something which Innes Lloyd had been trying to do over the previous three stories. Reg Whitehead remembers a Cyber photocall on Ealing Common before the film shoot, only for a dog to pee on one of their legs. There were also problems due to the fact that Riverside Studios were not available for the fourth episode, so they had to go back to Lime Grove Studio D for the first time since 1964, small, cramped (especially for the number of sets) and hot, not to mention lacking in facilities.
The extras on the disc conclude with the usual self-activating stills gallery (4:26) and a coming-soon trailer for The Underwater Menace (1:00, all together now - “Nothing in the world can stop me now!”) In PDF format are Radio Times cuttings for the serial, including a brief article to mark the first episode. Most of the scientists billed as “Scientists” on screen are listed as “Others in cast”. So are the actors playing Cybermen in the first episode, though that previously mentioned article blows any surprise on that score, if any were intended.
Last updated: 04/05/2018 07:33:04