Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Story 33 - The Moonbase

In which the TARDIS is caught up in a gravitational disturbance and forced to land on the Moon. The travellers don spacesuits and venture outside to explore. Cavorting in the near weightless atmosphere, they fail to see the arrival of a saucer-shaped spacecraft. Jamie leaps too far and crashes into the plastic dome of a Moonbase. Crewmembers emerge and carry the unconscious young man inside, and the others follow. From the base commander, Hobson, they learn of a number of problems which have been plaguing the base. Crewmen have been struck down by a mystery illness which leaves black lines on their skin. The medical officer, Evans, was one of the first afflicted, so they have so far been unable to track down the cause of the sickness. It is the year 2070, and the base contains the Gravitron, which manipulates weather systems on the Earth. It was this which had caused the disturbance felt earlier in the TARDIS.

Whilst Polly tends to the concussed Jamie and the other stricken men in the sickbay, the Doctor offers to help find the cause of the illness - and a cure. Crewmen collapsing at the controls of the Gravitron have been causing widespread weather chaos on Earth. Several brief pressure drops in the dome have also been reported. Polly sees a Cyberman in the sickbay. It knocks her out with an electrical discharge and abducts one of the comatose men. Other disappearances follow. The Doctor identifies the illness as an artificial virus which attacks the nerves. It has been introduced into the base sugar supply by the Cybermen. They have been breaking in via a concealed hole in one of the storerooms. Their presence discovered, they take over the base. The abducted men return - now under the mental control of the Cybermen. They will operate the Gravitron and use it to wreak havoc on Earth using the weather. The planet will then be easy to conquer. Imprisoned in the sickbay with Ben and a recovered Jamie, Polly devises a means of attacking the Cybermen.

Inspired by her nail varnish remover, she concocts a solution that will dissolve the plastic components of the Cybermen's chest units. Fire extinguishers are filled and the Cybermen are soon destroyed. The controlled crewmen are returned to the sickbay - to be watched by Jamie and Ben. However, the controlled Evans is able to infiltrate the Gravitron chamber and uses the device to deflect a rescue ship towards the Sun. The Cybermen launch another attack across the lunar surface. They use a laser cannon to breach the dome. The temporary loss of oxygen causes Evans to collapse. The Gravitron deflects further attacks - and this gives the Doctor an idea how to counter-attack the Cybermen. He has the Gravitron directed down onto the Moon's surface. The Cybermen and their spaceships are sent hurtling into space. As Hobson gets the base back to normal, the Doctor and his companions slip back to the TARDIS.

This four part adventure was written by Kit Pedler, and was broadcast between 11th February and 4th March, 1967. The first and third episodes are missing from the archives, though their soundtracks are available - as are off-screen telesnaps.
The story is significant for the return of the Cybermen. Many previous monsters had been billed as the "next big thing" to follow the Daleks - and all had ended up as one-hit wonders. After their first appearance in The Tenth Planet, the production team felt that the Cybermen really did have the potential to be brought back for numerous rematches with the Doctor. The basic formula of that first story - the isolated base under siege - was used as the template for their return. The rather crude and cumbersome costumes were given a complete redesign by Sandra Reid, working in conjunction with Mary Woods on the first two episodes, and Daphne Dare on the third and fourth. They're given a sleeker, more robotic look, and the voice is also changed, with Peter Hawkins utilising a throat mike like those used by people with voicebox problems.

Frazer Hines is pretty much sidelined for the first two episodes, confined to bed. The other regulars are well served with Troughton really starting to get to grips with his characterisation of the Doctor. There is a lot of humour in his performance, and this is coupled with some fine serious moments. His speech about "corners of the Universe" is rightfully cited as a classic moment. Polly is usually sent to make the tea (and / or coffee) but in this she gets to demonstrate some intelligence and devise the attack on the Cybermen.
Principal guest artist is Patrick Barr as Hobson. He generally played police and army types, and appears in a huge number of 50's and 60's war films and thrillers.
His number two, Benoit, is played by Andre Maranne (most famous from the Pink Panther films, and an appearance in the classic 'Gourmet Night' episode of Fawlty Towers).
Alan Rowe makes his first appearance in Doctor Who as Evans. Though the part is silent, Rowe also lent his voice to Space Control, who addresses the base by radio. Rowe will return as Edward of Wessex in The Time Warrior, Lord Skinsale in The Horror of Fang Rock, and Decider Garif in Full Circle.
Episode endings are:

  1. Polly goes to fetch some water for Jamie. After she has gone, a Cyberman enters the sickbay. The delirious young Scot thinks it is the "Phantom Piper" come to claim him.
  2. The base has been searched for Cybermen. The Doctor suddenly realises that the sickbay hasn't been checked. One of the covered bodies turns out to be a concealed Cyberman.
  3. Cybermen march across the lunar surface towards the Moonbase.
  4. The Doctor decides to take a look at the little used time scanner, which should give a glimpse of the future. They see a huge claw appear on the screen.

Overall, a very good story which makes full use of its claustrophobic setting. A lot of people hate base under siege stories - but I'm not one of them. Future Cyber-plots will be quite convoluted, but this one is quite straightforward and logical. Our "stupid Earth brains" have led to us having our weather controlled from a virtually defenceless base on the Moon - so why not exploit that for an invasion attempt?
Things you might like to know:
  • One of the controlled crewmen is played by the writer of lost classic Fury From The Deep - Victor Pemberton. He was also story editor for the next Cyberman story to go into production.
  • When Debbie Chazen was cast in The Voyage of the Damned, she announced that her father, Arnold,  had once been in the programme back in the 1960's. He was a crewman in this.
  • The final scene - featuring a glimpse of Macra claw, was actually filmed as part of the next story, due to the size of the Macra prop.
  • The Moonbase marks the first appearance in Doctor Who of future series regular John Levene (UNIT's Sergeant Benton). He's a Cyberman in the episodes 3 and 4.

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