The Moonbase ****

The Cybermen return with a plan to attack Earth from the Moon

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Doctor Who story guide
Patrick Mulkern
Patrick Mulkern
The Moonbase ****

Season 4 – Story 33

"There are some corners of the universe which have bred the most terrible things - things which act against everything that we believe in. They must be fought" - the Doctor

Storyline

In 2070, Earth's weather systems are kept in balance by the Gravitron - a powerful device controlled by a scientific corps based on the Moon. Some of these 19 men have succumbed to a paralysing virus that turns their veins black. Arriving in the Tardis with Polly, Ben and Jamie, the Doctor realises this isn't a disease at all but that the Moonbase is under attack. The Cybermen have infiltrated and are scheming to use the Gravitron to "eliminate all dangers" - that is, destroy all life on Earth…

First transmissions
Episode 1 - Saturday 11 February 1967
Episode 2 - Saturday 18 February 1967
Episode 3 - Saturday 25 February 1967
Episode 4 - Saturday 4 March 1967

Production
Filming: January 1967 at Ealing Studios 
Studio recording: February 1967 at Riverside 1 (eps 1-3), Lime Grove D (ep 4)

Cast
Doctor Who - Patrick Troughton
Polly - Anneke Wills
Ben Jackson - Michael Craze
Jamie McCrimmon - Frazer Hines
Hobson - Patrick Barr
Benoit - André Maranne
Nils - Michael Wolf
Ralph - Mark Heath
Sam - John Rolfe
Dr Evans - Alan Rowe
Cybermen - John Wills, Sonnie Willis, Peter Greene, Keith Goodman, Reg Whitehead
Cyberman voices - Peter Hawkins
Voice from Space Control - Alan Rowe
Voice of Controller Rinberg - Denis McCarthy

Crew
Writer - Kit Pedler
Incidental music - various library tracks
Special sounds - Brian Hodgson
Designer - Colin Shaw
Story editor - Gerry Davis
Producer - Innes Lloyd
Director - Morris Barry

RT review by Patrick Mulkern
"Gravity," the Doctor mutters to himself. "Now there's a thought. Gravity!" He's weighing up what force he might be able to use against the Cybermen, but out of context - and at a stretch - it could be Patrick Troughton psyching himself into his subtly modified part. By now the production team have taken the Doctor by the scruff of the neck and ironed out his mercurial excesses. He's still an impish vagabond but gone are the disguises, very baggy trousers and, sadly, the iconic Pied Piper hat. The recorder also disappears (flatly vetoed by director Morris Barry).

This script calls for deadly seriousness - and of course Troughton does "serious" quite brilliantly. "There is something evil here," the Doctor warns in episode two, before delivering a gripping mission statement (quoted at the top of this column). There's also the spine-tingling "Did they search in here?" moment when he realises a Cyberman has been hiding in their midst all along. Throughout, Morris Barry captures the star's striking facial expressions in an array of extreme close-ups. And what a face! Here, at last, Troughton nails the second Doctor.

The Cybermen have been largely reinvented, too, since The Tenth Planet. Their twangy voices, provided by Peter Hawkins, are a vast improvement. Sandra Reid's second stab at the design retains the essential features and is arguably the most impressive Cyber-costume until the Russell T Davies era. Innes Lloyd and Gerry Davis have also realised the base-under-attack format, tried and tested in that earlier story, is ideal for the series: it concentrates the drama, plus the budget can be splashed on one main set. In fact, it's a shameless remount, with Moonbase instead of Snowcap, and another multinational, all-male staff, this time with a more amiable leader, "Hobby" Hobson.

Kit Pedler's scripts impart dollops of science without jarring and allow for a good deal of incident and suspense. He gives Doctor Who its first gradual reveal of a monster - metallic arms come into shot, then looming silhouettes - delaying the money-shot of a new-look Cyberman until the first cliffhanger. (Spoilt in 1967, of course, if you'd seen any advance publicity, including RT's introductory article.)

None of this build-up can be seen today: episode one is now lost. Nor can we enjoy watching the Tardis crew in spacesuits doing low-gravity aerobatics on the Moon surface - beating Neil Armstrong there by two years. Episode three (also junked) features the principal face-to-face encounter between the humans and the silver invaders, where intriguingly one Cyberman recognises the new Doctor: "You are known to us." How? We want to know.

Oddly, the Doctor has almost no dialogue in this instalment, bar one short section where we hear him in conversation with his own thoughts. So Ben and Polly come to the fore - and slightly out of character - preparing a solvent to destroy the invaders' chest units. Jamie has little to do. A late addition to the plot, he's bed-bound with concussion for half the story, raving about the Phantom Piper (a Cyberman spookily marauding the sickbay).

Morris Barry enhances the atmosphere with an unrelentingly eerie soundscape: notably, an echoing whine for the vacuum of space and electronic "breathing" in the automated sickbay. The Space Adventures music, which underscores the stirring shots of the 11 silver giants marching across the Moon, would become synonymous with the Cybermen.

Barry makes maximum use of Ealing Film Studios for the lunar surface sequences, but he fell foul of antiquated facilities at Lime Grove when Who returned to its original home for episode four. Audio feedback from the production gallery ("Cue!") can be heard throughout the transmitted soundtrack - largely expunged from the CD and DVD releases.

The Moonbase provides a solid template that much of the Troughton era would follow. How fitting that in an adventure hinging on gravity, Doctor Who should once again firmly find its feet.

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Radio Times archive material

An introductory feature showing the new-look Cybermen. 

RT billings
Episode 1
Episode 2
Episode 3
Episode 4

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Annekedotes 
“The excitement of Doctor Who was that we were exploring ahead of time. We did space exploration. Doctor Who was there first before man went to the Moon. I was at this convention a few years ago where they had all the astronauts and I wanted to say to them, ‘I went there first!’ We were proud of that. We broke ground.”

Filming flying about on the Moon surface: “Kirby wires are very uncomfortable. They come through the legs like a horrible jockstrap and then buckle over the shoulders. You have to bend over then straighten up and it was painful. It wasn’t the blissful experience I was looking forward to.” (Talking to RT, March 2012)

[Episodes 2 & 4 available on the BBC DVD boxed set Doctor Who: Lost in Time. Complete soundtrack available on BBC Audio CD]