BBC Video // 1967 // 98 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // February 20th, 2014
I don't know who you are and I don't know where you come from, but you can get off the moon right now.
When the original Doctor (William Hartnell, This Sporting Life) first met the Cybermen on the frozen wasteland of Antarctica back in 1986, things didn't go so well. Sure, he saved the day; that's what the Doctor does. But his old body just couldn't handle the stress and it killed him. Fortunately, Time Lords do this thing called regeneration and the Doctor was reborn, this time in a younger, stranger shell played by Patrick Troughton (The Omen), and his travels through time and space with his trusty companions would continue.
While he and everybody else thought the Cybermen were killed when their planet of Mondas collapsed, their popularity in the second story of the fourth season of Doctor Who guaranteed they would eventually return, and only four stories later they would return in The Moonbase. What happens when a lither body and a new face meets an old enemy? Now we get the complete story from BBC Video.
While a trip to Mars was in the wings, the Doctor hits a rough spot and he winds up landing on Earth's Moon with his companions Ben (Michael Craze, Evil Heritage), Polly (Anneke Wills, Strange Report), and Jamie (Frazer Hines, Emmerdale). There, they discover a base containing the Gravitron, a device used to control the weather on Earth. A virus has broken out on the base and, as soon as they get settled, Jamie is afflicted by it. This is no ordinary cold, though; this is a virus laid by the Cybermen and it's a precursor for the unchanged ultimate goal: to turn all of mankind into emotionless metal freaks.
Patrick Troughton was a strong Doctor, one of the best of the original Doctor Who run. With the benefit of replacing only Hartnell, as opposed to ten others, he could play around with the character without the baggage of later incarnations. Often, he played the character comically, and that became something of a trademark for him, but as we see in The Moonbase, he was easily versatile enough to play up a dire situation when it presented itself.
This isn't the best of the Troughton years, but it's a strong four-parter that nicely reintroduces a newer, tougher Cyberman, even though their presence isn't really explained very well. Today, the internet would be abuzz with complaints that they were brought back to soon, but they're a pretty menacing group of villains, nonetheless, especially in the tightly contained base environment. Like many stories of the era, this is an under siege tale, but Troughton shines under the circumstances, being aloof when it suits him and turning into a real jerk when he needs it.
The story plays well into the body horror at the core of the Cyberman story. Kit Pedler, the show's scientific advisor and the co-creator of the Cyberen, wrote the arc, doesn't play up the gruesome realities of the procedure as the current incarnation might, but it's scary enough for 1967. The Cybermen still look kind of cheap, though not so bad as in The Tenth Planet, but the weird infection and kidnapping delivers the tension and gets the job done.
As for the companions, Jamie has almost literally nothing to do during the story, as he gets the infection and lays on the gurney nearly the entire time. This gives Polly and Ben some time to work some of the old magic from before Jamie's arrival, and they're fun, if far from premiere companions. Their solution to the problem, while clever, is a really poor looking effect that undermines the impact a little, but that's par for the course in the early years of Doctor Who.
Which brings me to the part that might wind up sounding blasphemous to old-school Whovians. Episodes 2 and 4 have been released to DVD before on various collections over the years, but the video for episodes 1 and 3 have always been lost. For this release, they have been restored in animated form, with the audio taken from sourced home recordings, apparently. The animation, while not anything incredible, serves the story really well. The biggest problem with these years of the show -- the low production values -- is solved. No wires and no awful looking sets to be found in those two episodes and, with the vocal performances, music, and sound effects intact, I kind of like this better.
BBC's DVD for Doctor Who: The Moonbase is pretty strong as an overall release. The animated episodes are in black and white, as well, and look perfectly sharp. The live action episodes are understandably damaged and faded, though not nearly as much as some other stories I've seen. There isn't much detail and the contrast isn't very good, but the damage is pretty minimal. The mono sound is average, with little background noise and perfectly audible dialog.
Extras start with commentary tracks on each episode. Two and Four feature various members of the cast and crew, including Frazer Hines and Anneke Wills. One and three are given archival audio, some with producer Innes Lloyd, various Cyberman actors, and Kit Pedler's daughters. It's all good fun and worth the listen. A twenty minute making-of featurette is full of interviews with many of the same people, but is worth watching, as well. A photo gallery, production notes subtitles, and the Radio Times Listings (available as a PDF on your computer) close out the disc.
Doctor Who: The Moonbase may not be the strongest story of the Patrick Troughton years, but it's historically interesting as the return of the Cybermen, a little bit harder of a Doctor, and a moonscape that predates the actual moon landing by two years and gets it pretty accurate. And even if it's not technically the best, it's a very fun arc that satisfies the time travel itch.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 1967
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Text Features
* Official Site