Doctor Who (Classic): S04E06 “The Moonbase”

Season 4
Directed by Morris Barry
Written by Kit Pedler

It wasn’t long ago that we were first introduced to the Cybermen, but it is already time for their return. “The Tenth Planet” was hardly an auspicious debut and was far more overshadowed by the departure of William Hartnell at the end of the episode but as I mentioned then, the Cybermen would only be the third recurring villain (after the Daleks and the Monk) and only the second who would make it to three appearances. So, if they were going to make it to that three appearances, there would need to be some changes made and this serial saw the first of their redesigns and the redesign is unequivocally for the better, streamlining their overcomplicated visual design. Their voices just sound like the voice boxes old smokers have, but you can hardly call it unrealistic regardless of how stupid it sounds. This was also the first of six occasions (on TV) which featured the Second Doctor meeting up with them, more than any other Doctor and making each other arguably their definitive antagonists.

Picking up from the cliffhanger last episode where the Doctor was attempting to navigate the TARDIS to Mars, the TARDIS lands on the Moon (which Polly hilariously mistakes for Mars since she apparently sees in black and white along with the show) in in the year 2070. The titular moonbase is being used to control the tides and consequentially the weather is in the throes of an unknown viral outbreak of sorts which incapacitates and turns the nerves black and visible (a rather neat effect to see in action for the show) starting with the doctor (not our Doctor) and moving on to the two people who just happen to be controlling the weather at the time.

What first seems like a case of lazy writing actually becomes a plot point as it is the first sign (besides you know this being Doctor Who) that there is something sinister behind it. A sinister force, Polly correctly identifies as the Cybermen early on but which the leader of the base blames The Doctor despite recognizing that Cybermen were a thing and reports that the communications are being monitored by some unknown entity. The Doctor is frequently very suspicious but for once, there seems to be some willful ignorance required to jump to him being the villain in anyone’s eyes. He’s pretty dense for a physicist with his trust level changing randomly from scene to scene.

This is a Doctor heavy serial as he picks up much of the focus and intelligence, solving the mystery of the illness (it’s the sugar), where the Cyberman was hiding (he’s in the room with them the whole time!), and how to defeat them in the end. Ben gets some moments of unrealistic intelligence especially for a sailor while Polly gets relegated to a far more feminized role than she is usually given (though her acetone solution is pretty great) and Jamie sits out a significant portion of the serial since he wasn’t set to be a part of the cast when the episode was written.

You have to give the Cybermen credit for their plan. Destroying the entirety of human civilization with a weather machine, one that the humans built no less, is both an efficient way to defeat your enemy but an ironic one at that. Heck, they even use converted humans in their plan, converted humans that look cooler than they do. I like the shots in the first episode of only the arms of the Cybermen as they carry out various tasks and the serial does a great job of slowly building up their presence and level of threat. This (especially combined with their following one) is the kind of serial that actually sells me on them being turned into a recurring villain.

Grade: B+

Stray Observations
– “Resistance is useless”
– Say goodbye to the original title sequence since this is the last serial to use it until “The Day of the Doctor”.
– The serial was released two years before man actually landed on the moon so
– “The Moonbase” is missing the first and third episodes, but thankfully, we have animated reconstructions for them this time out.
– The animation is hardly great as always, but in motion it perhaps holds up better than “The Power of the Daleks” with a smoother sense of movement.
– Like that serial, there are a couple creepy pans in the animation and I’m willing to credit them for that work especially since they manage to make the Cybermen look better than their live action counterparts including the iconic shot of them on the moon’s surface.
– While not the first appearance of an actual black actor showing up on Doctor Who (with at the very least the incredibly important Earl Cameron showing up in “The Tenth Planet”), this is still one of the few early roles on the show for one and of course he is the first to bite the dust. I don’t think he even has a minute of screentime before he is.
– I’m not sure if the fact that he is actually turned into a mindless slave is better or worse than a complete kill.
– Jamie’s overdramatic sick acting and Polly’s scream combine to undercut a scene that should have been much more effective than it was.
– The Doctor’s terrible bedside manner and memories that maybe he had been a medical doctor before are good fun.
– Also quite nifty, the Doctor carrying on a conversation with his internal monologue.
– I mentioned in a comment to my last Star Trek review about my disappointment that said show wasn’t especially serialized so I guess I should look at the other side briefly here (though I have discussed it plenty in the past). By modern sci-fi standards, the serials are rather self-contained from each other with only Season 1 thus far containing much in the way of a narrative arc (the developing relationship between the Doctor and his kidnapped companions) and the end of serial cliffhangers connecting them since. Still, the very nature of a serial itself joining together various episodes allows for greater character development at their best. It’s also telling that Jamie was similar to how Ben was at first, disbelieving and constantly assuming a modern (to him) context for everything, but Ben has slowly and subtly grown to be more of a true time traveler while Polly has slowly embraced an almost Doctor like mentality (a trait the new series has taken and run with even more so with Rose and Clara).
– This Week in Cliffhangers: The Doctor takes a look into the future and sees… a really fake looking giant crab’s claw accompanied by a scare chord.

Next Up: More Star Trek: TOS with “The Enemy Within” and the first aired episode “The Man Trap” on Friday with Doctor Who returning on Monday with the introduction of the Macra in the completely missing “The Macra Terror”.