Saturday, 25 November 2017
Inspirations - The Moonbase
It's 1967, and producer Innes Lloyd is keen to find a replacement for the Daleks. There are a number of reasons for this. One is that the public have been getting a little fed up with them. Another is that Terry Nation has to be paid every time the BBC wants to use them, whether he writes the story or not. It's unlikely he will be the writer anyway, as he is too busy on more lucrative work elsewhere. The last time they were seen it was David Whitaker who wrote the story, and the time before that Donald Tosh, Dennis Spooner and Douglas Camfield did all the writing, as Nation merely submitted some sketchy episode outlines. It is known that Nation also wants to take the Daleks away from Doctor Who to feature in their own series. He's prepared to put his own money into this, but is looking for a production partner. He's sounding out the Americans and will even go knocking at the door of BBC 2.
The Tenth Planet had been deemed a success, and its format was one that Lloyd and Script Editor Gerry Davis were happy with. What we now call the "base under siege" stories allow for tense, claustrophobic action and rely on just a few sets - one large main area plus a few side rooms. Putting the base in some inhospitable location adds to the drama. Rescuers can't get to it, and those within can't easily escape.
The Tenth Planet had been an alien invasion tale, so the base had to be terrestrial. It could have been under the sea, but they went with the South Pole. They rather messed things up by having the action take place in December, as that is the middle of summer in Antarctica.
The Cybermen were regarded as a successful new alien and potential successor to the Daleks, and so a return was commissioned quite quickly. They had worked well in their debut story, and so something similar was sought for the follow-up. We've already talked about the Space Race in these posts. A manned mission to the Moon was the target, and everyone assumed that a permanent presence there would be the next thing to aim for. It would have been inconceivable in the mid 1960's that we would have gone to the Moon only a handful of times, then simply abandoned it. We finally got a space station (disappointingly not toroidal in shape), but in 2017 there is still no Moonbase - even one that isn't permanently staffed. It's just being talked about again, however, as interest in the Moon has been rekindled. However, it is China and India who seem most interested, rather than the USA or Russia.
The Moonbase is set in 2070 and the base in question appears to be a European affair. Americans are conspicuous by their absence. In a few year's time, Barry Letts and Terence Dicks will devise a series set in a Moonbase - one of three which have been constructed along nationality lines. If that is the case here, it is never mentioned. Everything points to the Gravitron base being the only one on the Moon. At least it is an international set up, although - coming from the BBC - naturally the boss is an Englishman. We even have a black crew member. You'll recall that one of the astronauts in The Tenth Planet was West Indian. No female crew, however.
The notion that the weather can be controlled centrally is a neat one, but of course one that will never come to pass. It is never explained how the Gravitron can affect those parts of the Earth which are facing away from the Moon. Later on we will see each country having its own weather control systems (in The Seeds of Death) - an even dafter idea. The problem with the weather that it is a series of interconnecting barometric / thermal systems. You affect one thing, and it has a knock-on effect somewhere else. To give a quick analogy. Many parts of the North Sea coast of England are suffering extreme coastal erosion. Some places have been strengthening their sea defences - the popular places where tourists visit or where there is a larger urban settlement. These have simply channeled the destructive powers of the sea to hit other areas along the coastline more severely, hastening the erosion. People who bought a house half a mile from the shore 30 years ago are now seeing their back gardens fall into the sea. Weather control is one of those futuristic Science Fiction ideas that just would never work in practice. Were you to make rain fall in one area, you prevent it from falling somewhere else.
2017 saw the return of the Mondasian Cybermen. Back in 1966, they were deemed to be a bit crude in their realisation, so Innes Lloyd decided that some money should be spent on redesigning them. They were going to become a recurring enemy, and so something more streamlined was decided upon. The accordion-like chest unit is retained, though it's made smaller and more compact. The light fitting on the top of the head is now built into the helmet, but the handle bars are also kept, even though they are no longer necessary. They have silver body suits with no human hands showing, and the surgical stocking faces are now blank, skull-like masks. The voices are also more robotic.
Basically, the redesign is to make them sturdier for future re-use. The ironic thing is that, unlike the Daleks, the Cybermen will undergo a constant redesign process - this particular version only really being seen on one further occasion (and even then they changed the footwear and some of the cabling). The Cybermen are mostly confined to the third episode (sadly one of the ones we no longer have), though there is some action on the lunar surface in Part Four. We never hear of how there can still be Cybermen, as the last time we saw them their entire planet was destroyed. Some material about their new home on Telos was ditched from the finished production.
These Cybermen are sneaky, and one of them even appears to have a sense of sarcasm. The previous ones were a bit sneaky as well, donning the parka jackets of the soldiers they had killed to get themselves into Snowcap Base. Here they begin a fine tradition of elaborate scheming, which will hit ludicrous heights when we get to The Wheel in Space. They land on the Moon and dig a tunnel into the base storeroom. Here, they infect the sugar supply with a neurotropic virus. The base doctor is among the first to succumb to this "space plague". Did they know that their tunnel would hit the store where the sugar was kept? How did they manage to incapacitate the doctor on their first attempt? They don't want to kill these humans. They want the infected people for another purpose. They sneak into the sickbay and abduct the patients so that they can place them under their mental control and use them as slave workers. Why? So they can be used to operate the Gravitron on their behalf. The last lot of Cybermen had a weakness when it came to radiation, but here we are led to believe that gravity is bad for them. Only humans can operate the Gravitron. Again - why? The only problem with the Gravitron control room is the noise - hence the tea-cosy head sets people have to wear. There is nothing in the script about gravitational forces being any different in this area than anywhere else on the base. The only gravitational forces being generated are those being zapped off into space to control the weather on Earth. As with just about every future Cyberman story, there is simply little or no justification for their over-elaborate plans. The Cybermen should simply blast a few holes in the base dome (well above tea tray blocking height) and kill the humans, then operate the Gravitron themselves.
As mentioned last time, Jamie has only recently been written into the series as a regular companion, and the scripts haven't quite caught up with him. Here, he gets concussed in the first few minutes and remains in the sickbay until Part Three. The Doctor was actually aiming for Mars at the start of this story - as we seen in the closing moments of the previous story. It is Ben who spots that they have landed on the Moon, which is very perspicacious of him as decent images of the lunar surface weren't all that common in 1966. The Moon-based movies of the 1950's (such as Destination Moon) tended to go for craggy vistas, but at least here they go for a flatter moonscape. Interestingly, the TARDIS' magic chest not only has four spacesuits in it, but they just happen to be of the identical design which the Moonbase crew use, down to the built-in design flaw of the misting up helmets.
Lastly, a word about the Doctor's doctorate. Throughout the Hartnell era, the Doctor stated quite categorically that he was not a doctor of medicine. Here, the Doctor mentions having studied medicine though he is vague on the details - and he never states that he qualified. He claims to have studied under Lister at Glasgow in 1888. Joseph Lister worked at Glasgow's Royal Infirmary where he developed his thoughts about sterile conditions in surgery. He tutored at Glasgow University but left in 1869 to move to Edinburgh, and by 1881 he had gone to London - so the Doctor's memories don't match the facts of Lister's career. Either the Doctor has got his dates wrong, or his Scottish universities, as he does definitely think that it was Lister he studied under.
Even more lastly, a word about the new TARDIS scanner function. At the close of this story, the Doctor reveals the hitherto unknown fact that he has a device that can give him a glimpse of the future - at least the near future of their next landing site. The question is, of course, why haven't we seen this before - or since? Well, the Doctor does state that it isn't terribly reliable - though it gets an encounter with the Macra spot on here. Some fans have postulated that the Doctor has built the Time-Space Visualiser into the TARDIS (last seen in The Chase). That could only ever show things that had already happened, however, whereas this is clearly supposed to be showing their future.
At this stage in the programme, the Doctor is a happy wanderer, and he can't really control the TARDIS, so presumably he never uses it again just because it would take the fun out of working out where he arrives next.
Next time: I could crack some crude joke about everyone coming down with an attack of the crabs, but I won't. We're off to Space Butlins and Jamie does the Highland Fling whilst Ben is turned to the dark side.