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Coffee breaks, national stereotypes and some classic 60s sexism are the cornerstones of this classic Cybermen serial

Kablammo, we’ve got another Cyberman adventure on our hands! This time, The Second Doctor and his companions Polly, Ben and Jamie (aka PB&J) arrive on the moon, just outside an international space base. The base, it transpires, houses the Gravitron, a device used to alter the weather on Earth – and in the wrong hands, the Gravitron could cause severe damage to our planet.

Shazam! Not one but two terrifying things suddenly happen:

  1. A dreadful disease is causing the moonbase-dudes manoeuvring the precarious machinery to collapse at their workstations
  2. Dum-dum-duuuuuum. Cybermen show up

In case any of this rings any bells, it may be because this serial was written by Kit Pedler, who also wrote The Tenth Planet, and in terms of their narrative structure, these serials have a fair bit in common.

Anyway, it’s now up to Doc and PB&J to wield coffee, random chemicals and good old-fashioned 60s chauvinism to save the day.

Here's what we think of C033 The Moonbase

We rate Doctor Who stories on a scale from 0.0 to 5.0. For context, very few are excellent enough to merit a 5.0 in our minds, and we'd take a 0.0 Doctor Who story over a lot of other, non-Whovian stuff out there.

Leon | @ponken


Nik | @nikulele


Here's what we think of C033 The Moonbase

We rate Doctor Who stories on a scale from 0.0 to 5.0. For context, very few are excellent enough to merit a 5.0 in our minds, and we'd take a 0.0 Doctor Who story over a lot of other, non-Whovian stuff out there.

Leon | @ponken


Nik | @nikulele


Here's what you think 5 Responses to “C033 The Moonbase”
  1. Steven | @sgamer82

    “The Moonbase” is Patrick Troughton’s first run in with the Cybermen, and it has a few more low-points than usual for me. But before that:

    What first comes to mind with the pros is something that does not often come up with classic Who: the music. The music that plays when the Cybermen are taking action is easily my favorite track in Classic Doctor Who. It hits just the right note of creepy and fits the Cybermen well. We’ll hear it again at least one more time in Tomb of the Cybermen. There was also a version of it when they first appeared in the Tenth Planet.

    What first comes to mind with the cons is Jamie pulling a William Hartnell and being rendered un- or semi-conscious for about two and a half episodes. A side-effect of Frazer Hines’ being an unplanned addition to the cast, though one handled much much better in “The Underwater Menace.” A sci-fi environment like a base on the moon is exactly the place I’d have loved to see Jamie exploring in wonder. By the time he’s conscious again he’s watching the radar while drinking coffee as casually as Dark Helmet in Spaceballs.

    The special effects felt noticeably weak this time around. I don’t typically knock the visual effects of the early stories, but at the same time the intimidation factor of the Cybermens’ moon march drops significantly when you can see their silver bootlaces. Also on the subject of costumes, was there any particular reason for the Moonbase’s crew to have flag decals along with nametags? You would think the accents would’ve been enough. But, no. they even gave French guy an ascot. All that said, I did like the way the veins/nerves of the infected spread outward and the animation in the animated recons was very well done.

    The Cybermen were good as the villains of the piece. One odd detail I caught is that, for all their talk of having no need, or even concept, of feelings. They seemed awfully petty, the way they referred to “stupid Earth brains” and kept repeating “clever” as if they were laughing at the humans’ expense. Almost makes you think they really were after revenge, but had to rationalize it to justify it for their emotionless logic.

    Visual effects aside, the Moonbase wasn’t a bad story in and of itself. A good showing by the Cybermen for sure and the TARDIS gang was in good form, too. The highlight for me was the fourth episode, a full on siege between the Moonbase and Cybermen. A battle of move and countermove until the Cybermen are literally thrown off the moon. My final score for “The Moonbase” falls at a 3.3.

    Finally, the Doctor’s hope that it’s the last they’ll see of the Cybermen is unfortunately inaccurate. In fact, Troughton has four stories with Cybermen as the primary antagonists. The most of any other Doctor; though Matt Smith has the highest number of stories with the Cybermen simply making an appearance. I remember reading, but don’t know how accurate it is, that part of that was because they were trying to phase out the Daleks and made the Cybermen the Second Doctor’s primary enemy, as Troughton has only two Dalek stories.

  2. Trenton | @TrentonBless

    Hello, podcast land! I am Trenton, yes I am, (sorry, I had to). You may be wondering who the heck I am. Well, I’m the guy who informed Ponken in the last review that “The Underwater Menace” Episode 2 was recovered and can be seen in full. Today I’m taking a quick look at “The Moonbase.”

    “The Moonbase” was my first Patrick Troughton serial that I purchased on DVD, and it remains one of my favorite stories from Troughton’s Era. Before we begin, I want to get some facts for your brains:

    This story’s working title was “The Return of the Cybermen”

    One of the scientists in the story was played by Victor Pemberton, who went on to write “Fury from the Deep” which introduced the Sonic Screwdriver

    According to Anneke Wills, during his initial exploration of the control room set, Patrick Troughton was almost crushed when the Gravitron prop fell from its rigging and landed only inches away from him. Troughton has said that Morris Barry used this as an excuse to “get the whole set moved around so he could get better camera angles”

    This was the final time the original version of the title sequence was used. It was replaced by the standard Troughton titles in the following story, but the theme tune wasn’t updated until Episode 2 of “The Faceless Ones”

    This is the earliest Troughton serial to be released on DVD. That will remain the case until “The Underwater Menace” is released on DVD

    Now that you have been visited by the Knowledge Whale, let’s get on with this review. Also, just a heads up, I will use the word “fantastic” quite a bit.

    As my first Troughton DVD, I watched it constantly. Unlike his previous stories, where he played the clown, the Doctor was more serious than in other serials. That has to do with Morris Barry, who was maybe the only person who was able to control Pat’s clownishness. That’s why this serial succeeds. We’ve seen the Doctor’s clowny side, We’ve seen nothing but that for his first three serials. But in this serial we see his more dark side. I loved his line “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”. That is one of this Doctor’s most iconic lines.

    With the Cybermen in this story, they were redesigned. I liked the redesign, but I liked the Tenth Planet Cybermen more. The Cybermen here were very well done. It was interesting to see them back again so soon. But this time, it’s better than their last appearance. Though I would say the Cybermen from “The Tenth Planet” are the better Cybermen design on the creepy scale. The only serial that outdoes this one is “The Tomb of the Cybermen.”

    Jamie was severely underused in this story. Though, who wouldn’t want to be in bed tended to by Anneke Wills? With Ben, he really doesn’t do much, does he? I mean, I don’t really think he had a major part to play in this story except help Polly make the “Polly Cocktail”. That was left to Polly, who first notices the Cybermen going in and out of the medical bay. Thankfully, “The Macra Terror” finally allowed Jamie to shine as a companion and the following serial gave Ben more to do.

    I absolutely adored Hobson, as played by Patrick Barr in this story. He just wanted to get the job done, that being controlling Earth’s weather via the Graviton, but his men kept falling left and right due to the Cybermen’s poisoning of the sugar supply. When the Doctor and Co. shows up, Hobson just doesn’t want to have them in the way until the Cybermen show up. Then he agrees to let the Doctor help.

    The sets were fantastic! The Moon set is very convincing, but occasionally the 60’s aspect shines through with the model shots, which in no way detracts from the story. The spacesuits the Doctor and Co. wear are quite fantastic. They wouldn’t look out of place. The interior of the base was fantastic. The Gravitron was amazing (even though it almost killed Patrick Troughton, as mentioned above) and massive for a show like 60’s Who, that doesn’t have a massive budget. The rest of the set was basic, but interesting.

    Since this serial has two missing episodes, the episodes in question were animated. I think this was the best animations done for any serial that has animated missing episodes. Let’s take a later Cybermen serial, “The Invasion” for example. That serial’s animated episodes aren’t the best. Compared to this serial’s animated episodes, they look pretty bad. So, recap. “The Moonbase” animations good, “The Invasion” animations… well, not so good. I don’t want to say bad, but compared to these, they’re pretty bad.

    So, overall, what do I think of this serial? Well, I think it’s fantastic! If I have watched it over and over again, then it has something special. It’s a masterpiece for its time, and I wish the serial still had all four episodes intact. Sadly, we may never see P,B and J (Polly, Ben and Jamie) hopping about on the Moon or the march of the Cybermen from Episode 3. At least the missing episodes are animated, which makes this serial so easy to watch. I just hope that the episodes are able to be recovered. That would be fantastic. So, I’m giving this story a 3.8/5. I may love this serial, but it isn’t perfect. Jamie hadn’t been written for proper quite yet, so he really is under used. But, in this case, the good highly outweighs the bad, making this serial almost perfect.

    So, there you have it. I hope I can contribute more to this awesome show in the future.

  3. Peter Zunitch

    From a production standpoint, I understand why it happened, but Jamie could have been handled better. He gets really sick off camera between one scene and another (in the former he is jumping around happily and full of energy). Then he’s essentially out of the story for multiple eps. Then he’s magically at full strength again. Could have been done better.
    At one point they lock down the base and think they are safe because they sealed up the hole in the storeroom, and the cybermen are stumped by this….um if they cut a hole once, they can cut another.
    Most missed footage of the week award goes to frolicking on the lunar surface in episode 1. Biggest rewrite of the week award goes to the final solution that rescues them all. So they kick the cybermen ships off the moon, big deal…they’re made to exist in space, they can just land again. That and the statement of occasional losses in pressure and not two sentences later someone saying “how are they getting in”, and not one person puts 2 and 14 together. Oh and how about when everyone else is saved, someone somewhere says, “hey shouldn’t we try to help those poor schleps on the rescue ship where everyone is sure to die slowly on their ages long agonizing trip into the sun”? but I forget, the doctor can’t accurately control his tardis yet. Oh and there’s all that devastation on Earth that happened, and yet everyone cheers and parties at the end. It should be a phyrric victory and yet everyone is celebrating a total win. Score one for the intended child audience who won’t notice such things, for that is indeed whom this happy celebration at the end is for.
    Despite all the dumb logic flaws and some rather cheap, ugly, and bumpy shower caps that protect operator’s brains without even being lined with tin foil, I do enjoy this story and don’t mean it to sound otherwise. It’s fun, it’s imaginative, the cybermen are truly scary and intimidating. There are interesting characters, fantastic tech, high stakes and very comedic moments. It’s a great episode. I just wish someone sat on the script for a month and then took one final look at it. 4.1

  4. Paul Fauber @wordsmithpaul

    Out of control on their way to Mars, the Doctor, Ben, Jamie, and Polly endured a rough landing on the Moon. Donning space suits to explore their low gravity environment, Polly saw a pulsing light and Jamie hit his head jumping around. The time travelers found him brought him to a dome from which two figures emerged. Inside, Hobson led an international team of scientists and mathematicians who operated the Gravitron, a machine controlling Earth’s weather. Three members of this men, including its doctor, were already infected with a disease and a technician in the insulated control room collapsed as Ben and the Doctor were introduced. The Doctor offered to look after him in the medical unit where Polly looked after Jamie, who was concerned the Phantom Piper, who visited his clansmen before death would come for him. Hobson decided to rest after the call from Earth about the hurricane the collapsed tech inadvertently shifted, during which he argued about the ordered quarantine and the command to send blood samples to Earth in response to the plague. He decided to defer worrying about communications being monitored and said he logged two unexplained pressure drops. On the Doctor’s advice, Ben went to help fetch stores with another crewman. Damaged bags puzzled him before the pair separated and Ben’s partner vanished. Ben reported the disappearance and the Doctor told Hobson another crewman was infected and the base doctor had died. As Hobson arrived at the medical unit, Polly saw something leave and the dead doctor’s body was gone. He was called away because another tech collapsed and the Doctor and Polly stepped out. So, Jamie mistook the Cyberman who entered sick bay for the Phantom Piper.

    Jamie frantically refused to accompany the Piper, before the Cyberman carried off another sick man. Polly saw him go and screamed. Hobson dismissed her explanation about Cybermen, telling the Doctor and his companions to leave. The Doctor told his companions they had to stay and promised Hobson they would clear up the sickness. Hobson gave them a day. As the base crew worked to keep the Gravitron operating while Earth complained, the Doctor, Ben, and Polly gathered and examined samples of everything on the moonbase and found not answers. The Doctor bluffed Hobson into letting him keep working when the head man arrived to pull the plug and the Doctor suggested Polly console everyone with coffee. Meanwhile, Cybermen attacked two men looking at equipment outside the dome before entering via a hole in the storage area and causing a pressure drop. Over coffee, Hobson was about to throw the Doctor and his companions off the base when one of the men came down with the infection before their eyes. The Doctor reasoned the source was the sugar and found a virus in it. When Hobson ordered the entire base searched, nothing was found because there was nowhere to hide, and he didn’t believe the Doctor’s claim Cybermen were responsible for his problems. The Doctor asked if the sick bay had been searched and learned it had not when a Cyberman lying in one of the beds uncovered himself.

    More Cybermen were revealed and killed a man who attacked them, They determined Hobson was in charge; recognized the Doctor; explained they were altering and controlling base personnel; and had Hobson, the Doctor, and the patients they controlled accompany them to the observation dome. Controlled technicians replaced the men on duty, but were not given headgear to protect them against eventual insanity. The machine would wipe out the threat humanity posed to Cybermen before they went insane. Through surreptitious experimentation, the Doctor determined Cybercontrol was sonic. He also reasoned gravity prevented Cybermen from operating the Gravitron themselves. In the sick bay, Polly determined the Cybermen plastic chest units were vulnerable to chemicals like acetone in nail varnish remover and whipped up a cocktail of solvents. Ben put “Polly Cocktail” in fire extinguishers so he, Polly, and the recovered Jamie could attack the Cybermen as the Doctor disrupted the control room. Before the humans regained control of the dome, communication with Earth was cut off and the base was instructed to launch a distress rocket. Instead, the second in command, Benoit, found the spacesuits Cybermen left when they took the men they attacked. A Cyberman chased Benoit to the airlock where Ben destroyed it with a jar of Polly Cocktail. Hobson and his team located the Cybership on the Moon, where the Cybermen changed tactic, marching toward the Moonbase.

    Hobson refused the Cybermen’s demand for admittance to the Moonbase. The imminent arrival of an armed relief ship from Earth interrupted their plans. They regained control of a technician who took control of the Gravitron and deflected the relief ship into the Sun. The Doctor realized that calamity was caused by Gravity and, after the Cybermen demand surrender, Hobson decides to take back the Gravitron by force. Before they could, the dome was punctured, depleting their oxygen supply. Once the breach was sealed and the oxygen reserves deployed, the Doctor noticed the controlled technician had collapsed. Ben and Jamie clear the control room, letting Benoit take over. The Doctor told his male companions to barricade the medical unit to keep the controlled crew imprisoned. Outside, the Cybermen prepared a weapon and brought in reinforcements. The Cyberweapon attack was deflected by Gravity and the Doctor suggested lowering the Gravitron to the lunar surface. When they succeeded in lowring the device, the Cybermen and their ships floated away into space, perhaps never to be seen again. As Hobson’s team called Earth and began restoring the planet’s weather patterns. The Doctor and his companions returned to the TARDIS, which had remained on the lunar surface and took off. In flight, they employed the seldom used time scanner and saw a Macra claw.

    Patrick Troughton’s performance in this serial was more subdued than his previous three, involving neither the selection of a new hat nor affecting an alternate persona to hilarious effect. At the same time he was determined to defeat the Cybermen when he realized they were active and thinking constantly, realizing both how the machine creatures had hidden in plain sight and how their plague which was infecting base personnel was delivered. His performance was a contrast Frazier Hines as Jamie. The newest TARDIS traveler was sidelined to the medical unit to worry about the phantom piper while pretty Polly took care of him. Good days at work for the actor. Some would argue Polly suffered from 60’s sexism in this story, serving coffee and acting as a nurse or the Doctor’s assistant, but she also got a moment to shine as she devised the critical weapon which drove the Cybermen from the Moonbase and insisted on coming along to help. Ben objected, and served as muscle, but had a great moment when he was smart enough to realize the “Polly Cocktail” in the fire extinguishers could not be used against Cybermen on the lunar surface because it would evaporate immediately and transferred the chemical weapon to a jar he smashed against the Cyberman to destroy it. Cybermen were redesigned and upgraded for their second story. The singsong quality of their voices was gone, replaced with a lower, mechanical resonance that reinforced the menace emotionless creatures who had replaced everything about them that had ever been organic represented. They also looked better than they did in “The Tenth Planet”. The nylon covering their faces had been replaced with helmets enclosing actors’ heads. The tubes originally inserted into their chest units ran along their limbs, which appeared less corrugated. The chest units not only lacked the tubes, they no longer had a circular device descending from the bottom in front of the pelvis.

    The BBC Archives hold only the second and final episodes of this story which have been released on DVD twice. The audio for the missing episodes is included in the “Lost in Time “ collection and the missing episodes were animated for the serial’s individual release. For the BBC audio collection actor Frazier Hines provided narration around the dialogue, which was included on CD. Writer Gerry Davis novelized the serial for Target Books.

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