Doctor Who – The Moonbase Review (or ‘This Just Can’t Have Been Written By Scientists’)

Some would argue that the next story – The Moonbase – is ‘Dr Who By The Numbers’, since it’s…

  • Set on the moon
  • Base Under Siege
  • Has the Cybermen in it
  • Involves an authority figure initially distrusting the Doctor and thinking he’s responsible for everything going on

On the one hand you can see why people might think that. Base Under Siege is something that gets done a lot in Doctor Who, and in many ways this is just a sequel to the Tenth Planet.

Looking at this picture you wouldn’t think the Doctor has just saved Hobson’s life. If anything, you’d think he was about to kill him.

But looking at it a little more deeply, this is the only Doctor Who story in history that is actually set on the moon. Yes, there’s a one episode sideline in Frontier in Space where the Doctor is sent to a lunar prison, and Smith & Jones is set in a hospital that is taken to the moon, but those are just minor things.

That’s actually quite an interesting point – you’d think in the hundreds of stories since 1963 there would be more stories set there.

The other thing to take note of is that with the possible exception of The Ark (and in that instance the authority figures were right to believe the Doctor was to blame) this is the first time that the fourth bulletpoint has  happened in Doctor Who history.

Let’s play a game called ‘Spot the Extra who is about to be killed’

So I suppose it’s a bit unfair to criticise this for being a ‘By the Numbers’ story. In some ways it’s almost unique and in other ways its massively influential for what is to come.

Doctor Who – The Moonbase Review: What’s This One About?

The TARDIS lands in the late 21st Century at a time when Earth’s weather is controlled by a gravity altering device (known fantastically as ‘The Gravitron’) on the Moon.

As it happens, they land just beside the Moonbase at a time when the crew are being randomly struck down with a virus that attacks their nervous system.

Well wouldn’t you know it, it’s the Cybermen who are to blame. Initially the base manager – Hobson – doesn’t believe it because the Cybermen were wiped out years ago, but sure enough, it’s them. They’ve been contaminating the sugar and entering the base by a hole in a wall which they covered up with some sacks containing the sugar (don’t worry, I’ll get to that).

Initially the Cybermen make their move and two of them explain their plans to the base scientists before Ben, Polly and Jamie manage to kill them with a cocktail of plastic dissolving chemicals.

But the Cybermen on the outside aren’t finished. First of all they use mind control to use some of the contaminated scientists to try to take over the Gravitron, then they plan an all out assault on the base, before the Doctor has the idea to remove them from the Moon by pointing the Gravitron directly onto the Lunar Surface.

And once that’s done and the Cybermen have all been killed, everyone cheers as they announce ‘Hooray!! Well, that’s the end of the Cybermen’. A real feel good ending.

ThoughtsRopey Science and Dodgy Scientists

This story is fun, and while it’s a lot better than the Tenth Planet, there are plenty of moments that make you think ‘Eh?’.

Some fantastic ‘Scared’ background acting by Anneke Wills there

For example, let’s just take it for granted that they’ve managed to overcome the issues of gravity and oxygen supply on the moon to be able to actually build a Moonbase they can walk around in without any problems. That’s fine – that’s all part of the package you expect with Science Fiction.

But in what circumstances is it feasible that the Cybermen could enter and leave the Moonbase at will through a hole in the wall that they cover up loosely with a sack of sugar? The scientists discuss how there have been unexplained pressure drops, but come on.

Similarly, in Episode 4 the Cybermen shoot a hole into the glass dome of the base which they successfully cover up with a tea tray.

Then there’s the sugar itself. How come none of the scientists noticed that people kept collapsing ill within seconds of drinking a tea/coffee with sugar in it. And more to the point, how come the Doctor – who was testing things like shoes – never bothered to test the sugar before he witnessed the guy collapse?

From a scientific point of view, there’s just so much wrong with this story, which would be more acceptable were it not written by two scientists. One thing I don’t want to do is plagiarise, so if you’re interested in reading a lot more about the ridiculous nonsensical science (including the way they treat Jamie’s concussion), then I urge you to read the fantastic book ‘About Time: Volume 2’.

The Companions

A mere 2 years earlier, the writers of Doctor Who successfully managed to write for the Doctor and three different companions. In the Underwater Menace and especially in the Moonbase, they really struggle.

Almost immediately, Jamie gets knocked out cold because the script wasn’t written with him in mind, and by the time he makes a startlingly quick and full recovery he just takes half of Ben’s lines.

It’s not really until the Faceless Ones that Jamie gets going as a companion in his own right. At the moment the Faceless Ones is the story I’m watching and it’s pretty much the first time he has any interaction with the Doctor. In the Moonbase, he’s just ‘there’, occasionally agreeing with something someone else says.

But as I say, by being there he has a negative effect on Ben, who not only loses some of his purpose, but comes across as a wee bit of a dick. In Episode 3 he appears to be jealous of Jamie & Polly’s relationship for what it is almost gets into a fight with him, and then in Episode 4 again seems unnecessarily short with

I’d love to know what he’s looking at.

Jamie. By this point he’s a long way from the character who first appeared in the War Machines.

As the sole female companion, Polly gets plenty of screen-time though, and proves to be the most worthy of the companions in this story by coming up with the idea for the solvent cocktail which kills off the Cybermen. Also, in one of the two surviving episode – Episode 2 – she gets the most screentime.

The Doctor

By this point the Doctor has turned more into what we know he becomes. The slapstick has been toned down to a minimum, the hat is gone, the crap catchphrase is away and he no longer dresses up other people for laughs.

As a character, the Second Doctor is defined by a scene in Episode 3, where – amongst the chaos of the Cybermen invading the base – he silently ponders the situation in a different part of the room. Since Episode 3 no longer exists, I’m not absolutely sure of this, but I *think* what we hear is the Doctor thinking, rather than talking to himself. It was a nice touch.

There’s a more significant moment for the Doctor as a whole, not just his second incarnation. When he’s asked by Ben why they can’t just leave the base considering nobody wants them there, the Doctor defiantly says that they must stay because ‘Evil must be Fought’. This is one of – if not the – first time that the Doctor has made such a statement, which is strange when you think about the character he is now.

Patrick Barr

What I enjoy about this story most is the performance of Patrick Barr as the head scientist of the Moonbase, Hobson.

To be absolutely fair, sometimes the actors who appear in Doctor Who can be a little bit over the top or perhaps don’t take their role that seriously. Look back to the First Doctor’s reign. Some of the best characters were the likes of Yaartek – Leader of the Alien Voord, Koquillian, Tlotoxl, Mavic Chen etc.

These characters were well acted (well…mostly), but over the top. They were played with accentuated personalities and with the aim of being ‘Doctor Who characters’. Chen is the best example there. He steals the show in Master Plan but he’s played well over the top, relatively

“Hooray. Numerous members of our team are dead and we’ve just murdered some Cybermen into the bargain”

speaking. Often times, the guys who didn’t play their characters over the top weren’t noticed.

Patrick Barr is different. Nothing he does is over the top, but he plays the part of Hobson with absolute conviction. I feel that he becomes the character, rather than obviously ‘acting’.

There’s nothing massively spectacular about anything he does, but I think that’s the point.

He’s enthusiastic, believable and takes the job at hand seriously. That’s what you want from an actor as far as I’m concerned.

Random Observations

  • It’s multiculturalism in action again as the second-in-command at the base, Benoit, wears a neckerchief…because he’s French. In fairness, this was to cover up a misspelling on his name badge, but still…
  • The Cybermen are once again played as being emotionless, but in doing so they sound like they are in actual fact full of the sarcasm when they bust out the immortal line “Clever. Clever. Clever” to the humans. If someone said that to me in that tone, I’d assume they were taking the piss.
  • Despite the fact its not remotely believable, I love the ending of Episode 2. The idea that one Cyberman has been hiding under a bedsheet on a bed in the sickbay the whole time is ridiculous, but it did make for a great and eerie cliffhanger.
  • Speaking of the Cybermen, why after all this time trying to be discreet and stay in hiding, did they not mind walking around in the presence of Polly? Maybe they are sexist? And also, even though he was making too much noise or perhaps because of that, why did they not take Jamie rather than leave him to tell everyone what he’d seen?
  • There’s a fantastic mish-mash of stock music in this story. The Unofficial Cybermen Theme  – ‘Space Adventure’ is used again, along with The Sting from Daleks Master Plan and the confused bit of music from Edge of Destruction where they look at the melted clock face. Sometimes the Stock Music – considered a cheap option – was a lot better than the stuff they paid to have made.
  • Once again there’s no sign of any of the TARDIS crew having a bath between stories, although at least this time they have a change of clothes.
  • Speaking of which, how did Jamie get a kilt on under a space suit?
  • There’s a bit in episode 4 where the voice modulator slips a bit from the Cyberman voice when its talking to the Moonbase over the radio. One can only assume that having to talk like that wasn’t fun.

Doctor Who – The Moonbase Review: Final Thoughts

For all its scientific faults, the Moonbase is a good Dr Who story. Yes, you could argue that it’s a bit formulaic, but that would be like watching a Laurel & Hardy film and complaining that you’ve seen that sort of comedy before. This was the story that set the formula, and though the Cybermen are already slowly falling into the ‘Boo Hiss’ category, they are still quite good.

Generally the acting is top notch and the Doctor is a far more rounded character.

It’s also the most complete story since the War Machines, so it’s worth watching for that alone, but I would absolutely recommend you give this one a chance.


4 Responses to Doctor Who – The Moonbase Review (or ‘This Just Can’t Have Been Written By Scientists’)

  1. Having recently rewatched Revenge of the Cybermen, I was pleased to see the neurotoxin mistaken for disease here for the first time. It would have been a lot easier to believe the contamination of the sugar if it had been handled by some rat-like cybermats!

  2. […] Power Of The Daleks The Highlanders The Underwater Menace The Moonbase The Macra Terror The Faceless Ones The Evil Of The Daleks The Tomb Of The Cybermen The Abominable […]

  3. Evan says:

    “It’s also the most complete story since the War Machines..”
    What about The Tenth Planet?

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