Review: Doctor Who – The Moonbase / Cert: PG / Director: Morris Barry / Screenplay: Kit Pedler / Starring: Patrick Troughton, Michael Craze, Anneke Wills, Frazer Hines / Release Date: January 20th
The ‘classic series’ Doctor Who DVD range edges ever closer to its end – barring any further missing episode recoveries – with this four-part 1967 serial from the early days of Patrick Troughton’s TARDIS incumbency. The two episodes which remain in the BBC Archives (already released in 2004’s ‘Lost in Time’ box set) are joined here by two instalments (episodes one and three) animated in the style of the recent ‘Ice Warriors’ release which also saw two of its missing episodes similarly recreated.
If you happened across the recent DVD of first Doctor William Hartnell’s swan song serial ‘The Tenth Planet’ you could be forgiven for thinking that, when scripting its ‘sequel’ just a few months later and bringing back the already-popular Cybermen, scriptwriter Pedlar just scribbled out a few names in the script and moved a few lines of dialogue around. ‘The Moonbase’ is pretty much the same story as ‘The Tenth Planet’, differing only to the extent that it’s not quite as good. ‘The Moonbase’ sees the series drifting towards its infamous ‘base-under-siege’ era, when it seemed that virtually every story saw the Doctor and his companions arrive at some isolated enclave of human scientists or explorers which is immediately besieged by a hostile, usually scaly, alien threat. So it is in ‘The Moonbase’. The TARDIS lands on the moon and, after a bit of horsing around in spacesuits on the lunar surface, the travellers find themselves inside an installation housing a machine called the Gravitron which is controlling the weather systems of the planet Earth. But something’s wrong: Moonbase operatives are falling ill and before long the complex is attacked by the Cybermen – sleekly redesigned from their clumpy first appearance – who have designs on the Gravitron which they plan to use to wipe out life on Earth.
The Cybermen, all silver body-suits, piping and the now-familiar handlebars, are as eerie as they were in their debut, with their unearthly, modulated, slightly singsong voices. But not much else really impresses in this routine, occasionally sloppy four-parter, least of all the laughable paper plate Cyberships which drop onto the table top lunar surface. The commendably multinational Moonbase personnel are a pretty faceless bunch and their Commander Hobson (Patrick Barr) is full of hot air and bluster but comes across more like a car mechanic than the boss of a high security lunar weather station with his constant complaints about the Gravitron being “up the spout” when its operation is interfered with. If the idea was to portray a futuristic working unit as a bunch of ordinary people doing a mundane job, rather than the buttoned-up, space-suited boffins and technicians of traditional science fiction, then it’s pretty much job done but the Moonbase crowd are a slapdash collection whose scientific knowledge stretches no further than, incredibly, using a drinks tray to plug up a hole in the Moonbase’s outer skin.
The TARDIS is pretty crowded by this point – Frazer Hines’ Highland piper Jamie having been a last minute addition to the crew a couple of serials earlier – so there isn’t a lot for most of them to do. Jamie is quickly knocked out, Polly (Wills) spends most her time putting the kettle on but Ben (Craze) not only does the strong-arm stuff but he also displays hitherto unsuspected scientific know-how when he helps Polly synthesise a plastic-destroying mixture as a weapon against the Cybermen. Even Troughton’s mercurial Doctor is more restrained here (courtesy of director Morris Barry who, as the disc’s ‘making of’ documentary reveals, reigned in the actor’s more outrageous tendencies), often hovering in the background looking anxious or, in one unusual scene in the animated third episode, heard arguing with himself via an internal monologue.
Animators Planet 55 had the difficult job of establishing the tone and style of the series by visualising its missing first episode as well as its third and, by and large, they’ve done a decent job. There’s the occasional over-long, dialogue-heavy static sequence but generally the animation is pacey, stream-lined and somehow entirely in keeping with the story’s clinical setting. Episode three, in which a Cyberman clambers from a medical table, even replicates the wobble of the table from the live-action footage at the end of episode two! The likenesses of the regulars and the guest cast are hugely impressive but the animation really shows its worth in episode three as the Cybermen stream out of their spaceship, swarm across the lunar surface and fan out to prepare for their attack on the Moonbase. The final scenes of episode three are so well-realised it’s easy to forget that they’re animation at all.
‘The Moonbase’ is hardly a stone-cold classic and there’s certainly nothing especially original or inventive in its storyline, but it’s cheerful, occasionally competent and, with its first-class animated episodes, it’s near-as-dammit complete again for the first time in over forty years. Not a bad way for the ‘classic series’ DVDs to (near enough) bow out.
Extras: Lunar Landing ‘making of’ / Commentaries / Trailer / Photo gallery