Over the Moon

Review of The Moonbase (#33)
DVD Release Date: 11 Feb 14
Original Air Date: 11 Feb - 04 Mar 1967
Doctor/Companion: Two, Ben Jackson, Polly Wright, Jamie McCrimmon
Stars: Patrick Troughton, Michael Craze, Anneke Wills, Frazer Hines
Preceding Story: The Underwater Menace (Two, Ben, Polly, Jamie)
Succeeding Story: The Macra Terror (Two, Ben, Polly, Jamie)

I'm rather behind the curve on this one. Not only was the Region 1 release three weeks later than the Region 2 release (as has often been the case), but it also fell on the day before I left for this year's Gally. So I'm afraid I'm not exactly at the cutting edge here, but perhaps not all of my readers were in a rush anyway.

For completionist fans like me, this isn't precisely a new release. Though two of the four episodes are still missing, the existing ones have been available for quite some time as part of the Lost in Time box set, so I've actually seen half of the serial before. However, the addition of the animated reconstructions makes a big difference.

There's a great deal to be said for the black and white era when it comes to tone. Something about it transcends the dated effects and lends an extra sense of tension to all the scary bits. To say such episodes are "atmospheric" might be cliché, but it doesn't make it less true.

To my mind, the Cybermen are primarily responsible for that creepy, nerves-on-edge sensation one gets so often during The Moonbase. In only their second-ever appearance, they've already been upgraded, if you will, to look even less human. While that change might remove the audience a step from the body horror, I contend the modification to the voices—a more buzzing, mechanical sound—more than makes up for it.

Two other aspects of the story also stood out for me. The first of these was Polly's contributions. On the surface, it's business as usual. She's the only female in the whole damn place, and she gets the typical "fairer sex" treatment (this was the 1960s, after all). But she uses her secret girlie powers to devise a key defensive plan. Even when she gets shoveled off to make coffee, it turns into a plot point. So points to writer Kit Pedler for at least making an attempt at subverting the dominant paradigm.

The other notable thing about The Moonbase is Troughton's performance (as always, top notch—though here not as clownish as sometimes), especially as he delivers particular lines. Leading into the second episode's cliffhanger, one feels chilled to the bone when he asks about the efficacy of the base's efforts to uncover the Cybermen's hiding place, "Did they search in here?"

And, of course, this is also where the Doctor's overall philosophy toward his travels is irrefutably, irrevocably changed from that of the man we first met in a junkyard on Totter's Lane. No more will he merely run from trouble; now he has a purpose. "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." Here finally is the basis of all the adventures to follow.

DVD Extras (highlights)
Commentary Tracks
I'll admit that I have trouble watching stories with the commentary running unless it's an old, familiar tale. It's hard for me to concentrate on two sets of dialog (the story's and the commentary) and the images all at the same time. Therefore, though the available tracks looked like fun, I didn't spend my mental energy on them this time around. Maybe in a few months, I'll indulge. For the record, the complete episodes have commentary from Anneke Wills, Frazer Hines, Edward Phillips (who played one of the scientists), and sound guy Brian Hodgson, moderated by Toby Hadoke. The reconstructed (animated) episodes apparently have "commentary" that includes interviews with writer Kit Pedler's daughters Lucy Pedler and Carol Topolski, producer Innes Lloyd (from the archives), assistant floor manager Lovett Bickford, and three Cybermen actors (Barry Noble, Derek Chaffer, and Reg Whitehead).

Lunar Landing
The primary source for this making-of was Anneke Wills, with healthy doses of Frazer Hines and Reg Whitehead thrown in for good measure. Main points of discussion included the pleasant surprise at the Cybermen's rapid return, difficulties with the Cybermen (and spacesuit) costumes, the origins of the unique Cyber-voices, Troughton's restrained performance, and Polly's role in the story. Plenty of interesting anecdotes make it worth a watch.

Science fiction in the 1960s had some pretty wild ideas that don't mesh well with the way science describes the workings of the universe fifty years down the pike. Such is the case here, where the premises are hit-or-miss in their quasi-accuracy. But the general sense of it all, and the—dare I say it again—atmosphere of the story make up for any anachronistic speculations. The Moonbase, therefore, holds up remarkably well, and with the addition of the reconstructions is well worth adding to your list, whether you plan to buy or simply watch at the first opportunity. It's yet another "win" for the Troughton era.

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