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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Doctor Who: The Moonbase

Serial Title: The Moonbase
Series: 4
Episodes: 4
Doctor: Patrick Troughton
Companions: Ben Jackson (Michael Craze), Polly Wright (Anneke Wills), Jamie McCrimmon (Frazer Hines)

It’s one small step for the Doctor as he lands on Earth’s moon in 2070. The group fools about in spacesuits for a bit- and Jamie gets hurt. Fortuitously, there’s a nearby moonbase, a weather-control station beaming gravity rays, the Graviton, to climate control and condition Earth. However, Jamie is not the only under-the-weather man on the moon… the moonbase crew have been collapsing by a spreading virus- several members are already quarantined in the sickbay.

Suspicion falls on the Doctor as the first victims succumb to death, but it turns out that it is poison in the food supply- a location where a hole has been cut into the wall for something to get in… and that something is-


(But…! BUT…!!!! This story isn’t called “Moonbase of the Cybermen!” They can’t use them unless they do that. …Can they? Are they allowed to do this? I don’t think they’re allowed to do this!)

After several “Oh, you’re only a woman, Polly- anything you saw must be a hysterical hallucination” ignored sightings, the Cybermen invade in force- their fleet on the way, and the dead-of-virus crewmen resurrected as cyber-slaves. The Cybermen- thought by the people of Earth as an extinct menace after the failed Mondas invasion of 1986 ("The Tenth Planet"), are back to take Earth- beginning by seizing the moonbase and sabotaging Earth’s weather.

Polly comes up with a chemical cocktail of acidic agents to dissolve the plastic breathing apparatus mounted on the Cybermen’s chest plates- using it, she, Ben, and the now-recovered Jamie are able to begin fighting back. (Note From Sarah: Not so bad for a HALLUCINATING WOMAN EH!?!?!) Meanwhile, the Cyberfleet lands, and an army of Cybermen begins an inexorable march across the moon…

The Cybermen destroy an Earth ship headed to rescue the moonbase crew- but are eliminated by Polly’s acid-spray. The Cybermen outside retaliate by firing on the base- but the gravitron is used to deflect the shots. The Doctor then brings the gravitron to bear on the surface, creating a repelling field that casts the Cybermen and their ships helplessly off into space.

As the TARDIS leaves, the Doctor consults his ‘unreliable’ future viewer and gets an image of a great and terrible claw…

Kinda cool, really! A base with a mysterious illness (and yes, that it was the coffee/sugar was telegraphed so far away, it could probably have been seen from Earth with the naked eye- and yes, it was both starkly similar and as clumsily obvious- so much so that you wonder how stupid the morons falling prey to it had to be to not have figured it out already- as the poisoned water in The Sensorites), the moon, moon-walks on wires with goofy sounds (cursed reconstructions- we can’t see it! Another 2-of-4-are-video story), mounting paranoia among the cast, and-


Wow, I was NOT expecting that! It’s kind of hilarious, actually, the mindset that Doctor Who has put us in- that the appearance of a major villain is kept a shocking and unexpected surprise… merely by leaving their name out of the title. If it isn’t called “X of the Daleks” or “Y of the Cybermen,” we will be utterly and completely shocked if the Daleks or Cybermen appear. (Star Trek: The Next Generation clearly borrowed this concept and ran with it for its super-being Q.)

So, yeah- lots of cool stuff… Cybermen reveals (whipping aside that blanket- how scary/cool was that?!), (NFS: That was one of my most favorite moments! It was pretty amazing!) armies of Cybermen marching across the airless moon to lay siege, Polly coming up with an ingenious solution (albeit one requiring the Cybermen to have been constructed with radically inferior parts- no space-age super plastic? Then again, it apparently becomes traditional for the Cybermen to have an absurd Achilles-heel weakness in future…), the chilling scene in which the Cybermen hurl an approaching rescue ship into the sun… and an utterly absurd and hilarious ending in which the Cybermen are forcibly floated off of the surface of the moon. Talk about camp!

Okay, so… the Doctor. Some nice amusing physical comedy with his trying to unobtrusively obtain ‘samples’ from the crew. Some nice moments in the lab, from his ‘stalling’ to his realization that the Cyberman is present.

Polly is especially and unusually strong here. Yes, the femenists will note, she’s making coffee for the men again (shouldn’t the feminists be too busy with the jobs they’re always on about having instead of being at home, tied to a man, to be constantly on the internet harping about the portrayal of women in 1960s media?) (NFS: Not to sound 'harpy' have to admit they did kind of make them look rather silly in the sixties.)- but that really seems to be her specialty, as, again, she volunteered to in the Tenth Planet, and again since. Having been a secretary, that’s probably a role she’s used to. And likewise, it’s a particularly ‘girly’- yet extremely scientifically-savvy- method that she devises to defeat the Cybermen. But even so, this fits with the character we knew- a secretary and a club-goer with a fancy for dressing up and looking good, so it is consistent (if not terribly feministic). And she does take a fairly center-stage; this is only fair- she was relatively passive and unhelpful in the Cybermen’s first appearance, so here she gets a chance to shine.

And, in fair trade-off, Ben, the action-hero of the previous Cyber-story, pretty much sits around in the background for this one.

Still, Ben fairs better than Jamie, out sick and raving in a fevered delirium for most of the serial- though surprisingly, his rantings are apparently enough to get the Cyberman to reconsider taking him… multiple times! …For some reason. In any event, his newcomer status and script-shoe-horning are still painfully evident. Thankfully, this won’t be in effect much longer, and soon we’ll hit stories written with Jamie in mind so that they don't have to find a gimmick to shunt him out of the way.

The special effects are good- miniatures, lightning bolts (that occasionally miss due to poor placement, but still…) wire-work, matte paintings- this one has it all, practically an extravaganza… with a pretty convincing moon environment!

This one is not as tight a thriller as Who has ever produced, for some reason- though all the elements- claustrophobic, isolated location, implacably marching enemies, mysterious disease- are there. Still, it’s fun, exciting, and has a few nice twists. I enjoyed it. (NFS: I liked this one a lot too, I thought it was definitely transporting and really fun.)

The reconstruction is… well, pretty same-old, same-old. We have far too many non-Loose-Cannons mixed into the 2nd Doctor era, to the point that I’ve lost track… but too many of them are merely mediocre.

Great moments:
The Cybermen reveal and the march across the moon. Plus, you know- landing on the moon for the first time in Doctor Who.

The Moonbase orbits high with 3.5 out of 5 Deadman’s Keys. It’s missing a little something that I can’t put my finger on, which prevents it from quite achieving the rank of the 4-of-5 classics… but it’s very solid and lots of fun! Reconstruction gets the usual (at this point) 2.5 out of 5.

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