“The Moonbase” was the first Target novel I remember reading back in the day. The book was actually titled “Doctor Who and the Cybermen”, which led me to believe at the time that it was the first story to feature them. I was delighted when I obtained the Cybermen Early Years VHS and was able to actually watch the two existing episodes, poor quality though they were. Now of course I have them on the Lost in Time DVD set, and I have the BBC narrated cd release, along with the Loose Cannon recon. All of this leads to some overfamiliarity with this story, so watching it in the context of the series as a whole helps put a different perspective on it. Apart from “The Tenth Planet”, “The Moonbase” is the closest thing we have in season 4 to a complete story even with only 50% of it in existence, which is sad.
The setting is very interesting: a weather control station on the surface of the Moon. We rarely get to see the TARDIS land on a planet that isn’t easily inhabitable by humans, so it’s a real treat to see them wearing space suits and bouncing around in the low gravity. The modelwork and sets do a good job of conveying the lunar surface. For once the year in which the story is set is firmly established within the script as 2070. One presumes that at some point after this story the weather control was moved to the Earth and T-Mat was installed on the moon so that the Ice Warriors could attack it. All in all, the moon doesn’t seem to be a safe place for a scientific base!
Jamie is adapting quickly to life in the TARDIS, and despite not quite understanding where he is with regards to the moon, he seems to grasp the idea of spacesuits rather quickly. He’s still playing the part as an 18th century traveler out of his depth at this point, though his character will change considerably in season 5. He’s written out of the story this time by injuring him, which actually works well in context by giving Polly and Ben a reason to hang around the sickbay prior to helping the Doctor investigate the infection of the base.
Like Snowcap Base in “The Tenth Planet”, the crew compliment of the moonbase is obviously meant to include scientists from all over the world. One of my arguments against the idea that “Tomb of the Cybermen” contains racism is to point to this story and “The Wheel in Space” or “Enemy of the World” as examples of Doctor Who going down much the same road as 60s Star Trek and showing us a future of cooperation among different races and nationalities. They’re shooting for the politically correct stereotype of “diversity” in several stories, which makes it hard to accept a reversion to racism in “Tomb”, though it’s possible. Regardless, the international scientists in question have some rather uncomfortable looking tunics with their national flag emblazoned on the front. Benoit is a great character, but his handkerchief around his neck just looks out of place. And are the scientists wearing the same boots that they Cybermen wear? Odd.
I’m poking a little fun at some of the design, but it really does work well in painting a picture of a stark, regimented scientific installation on the moon. The windowed dome that houses the Gravitron is the best part of the design in my opinion, and does more than all the dialogue in the world could do to convince us that the action is taking place in a building on the moon’s surface. The terrain is constantly on view in the background, and occasional cuts to the model of the base with the dome prominently displayed help reinforce the illusion. I’d have a hard time working in a place like that. I’d be fogging the window with my breath as I stared out at the lunar surface, then I’d be getting in trouble for taking a spacesuit and going outside for some fun in the low gravity.
“The Moonbase” begins the never-ending trend of updating the Cybermen from their previous appearance. The Cybermen of “The Moonbase” no longer look like zombie cyborgs, but appear far more robotic. The fact that they are obviously men in silver suits works in favor of the design, since they are not meant to be entirely stiff and precise machines. The more fluid and organic movement of the Cybermen betrays their organic heritage. Or else I’m just being kind.
Regardless, these supposedly cold and logical beings generally act that way, apart from a few instances. They have a plan to take control of the moonbase, and they methodically follow it, remaining out of sight until they are ready to take over. Strangely though, we have Cybermen taunting their victims in this story, which is really odd. Part three has the rather infamous “Clever, clever, clever” and “Only stupid earth brains like your would have been fooled”. Part four also has a Cyberman referring to the human actions as “stupid”. But for these out of place moments there are some impressive moments to counter them. The march across the moon’s surface at the beginning of part four is very good, with about ten Cybermen (a rather large investment in costumes for just a couple of scenes, yes?) which pays off beautifully in suggesting a massive threat. Then the Cybermen dither around rather than just breaking in, and manage to shoot a hole in the dome while being unable to penetrate it a few minutes later with their large laser cannon.
I can nitpick this story to death, but truth to tell I still rather like it. It’s a reasonable story with some details that could have been ironed out, but the story holds up overall. And sadly, with two episodes in existence, it’s fared better than most of the other season four stories. Not a classic, but still worth watching.