Rewatching... Doctor Who: The Moonbase – Part 4

My continuing mission: to watch classic television exactly fifty years after original broadcast date...

Rewatching... Doctor Who: The Moonbase – Part 4

“…we’ve got enough madmen here already.”


Saturday 4 March 1967

There are really impressive numbers of Cybermen in this. They march across the lunar landscape and begin to assemble a weapon. I count eleven onscreen at the same time. With others inside their ship you really believe they are a credible threat.

Meanwhile, as we all know there's nothing more important than coffee. Polly obligingly puts the kettle on (sorry, bit obvious I know), and someone asks her to “get some for the Doctor, he’s in the dome.” He is standing just a few feet away! I’m being mean, in these cramped sixties studios no-one is more than a few feet away!

This story holds up really well actually, despite the occasional ropey model shot. The dome which houses the graviton is clearly devoid of life in the model shots despite bustling with activity for the interior ones. The Cybermen’s saucer might have benefitted from slow motion; it pops up and down as if on the end of a fishing line, and with the wires clearly visible I suspect that’s exactly the case! The army of Cybermen on the other hand do get the slowmo treatment and this sells the zero gravity really well.

Also very effective are the virus infected cyber-slaves who are as creepy as their masters, if not more so. I imagine their dead-eyed blank faces and creepy black veins would have given many young children nightmares.

The Cybermen try their weapon and blast a hole in the dome, so the air inside begins to be sucked out. The physics here is a bit suspect. I assume the air would be gone and the people sucked into space within seconds, but I applaud the attempt at realism at least. The hole in the dome does expose a hole in the plot though: the one in the dome is soon plugged with a coffee tray, so air pressure and normality is restored. So why not blast dozens of holes? More holes than they could possibly cover with trays! Holes beyond their reach at the top of the dome. Must…suspend…disbelief…

So rather than try a bit harder with their gun, the Cybermen merely delve inside their box for an alternate weapon. They fire on the dome and we get what I think is Doctor Who‘s first ‘ray gun’ effect. I love the way the Doctor confidently stands in the path of the blast while the others take cover. One step ahead of the humans, he realises the graviton will deflect the beam.

The Doctor is back in hero mode, taking charge again this week. He works out the solution; having hinted previously that gravity might be the Cybermen’s weakness he has the graviton aimed downwards and the metal men from Mondas get to whoosh up into space. Destroyed by physics. Although I’d question whether they are destroyed, as they can breathe in space and merely float away, so there’s every chance of rescue I would think.

This is the first time we see the Doctor and friends slip away without a goodbye, something which became quite a trademark later on. And with Hobson’s “we’ve got enough madmen in here already”, it’s the first time the Doctor’s been referred to as a madman! Back in the TARDIS a new gadget is unveiled for the first and last time: the time scanner. Or is that the Time Space Visualiser from The Chase with a makeover? It shows them their future and allows Jamie a line, as he advises caution on predicting the future! Polly’s the only one actually looking at the screen. Next week: crabs!

So, my thoughts on The Moonbase. Having watched or rewatched every episode in sequence over the three-and-a-bit years it’s been on air so far (and temporarily casting aside my ‘pretend time-travelling’ gimmick), this story feels like the point where all the elements of the classic Doctor Who formula come together for the first time. The Doctor, the TARDIS, the companions…versus a universe full of monsters. It’s the first story where we see the Doctor we know today. Director Morris Barry was reportedly quite firm in reigning in Troughton’s inclination towards “clowning around”, and in doing so he brought a darker tone to the programme, unwittingly setting a template for decades to follow. It also sees the Cybermen firmly established as a top rank monster. “Let’s hope it’s the last we see of them.” the Doctor mutters. Gosh, I do hope not!

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Rewatching... Doctor Who: The Moonbase – Part 4
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