Introducing: The Moonbase

If it weren’t for The Moonbase, we might not have definitive tales like Tomb of the Cybermen, Earthshock, and The Invasion. We almost certainly wouldn’t have Nightmare in Silver (but don’t hold that against it). And we might not even have the Cybermen still roaming the universe. It’s time The Moonbase stepped out from the shadow of these tales and finally takes its rightful in the Earthlight.

The first story of Doctor Who to be set on the moon, it’s the basis for adventure; the basis of our journey into the stars; and our basis for the Monster Era, ushered in by producer, Innes Lloyd. Oh, and Episode Two has a brilliant cliffhanger that simply has to be seen. (Good thing that episode exists in the archives, then!)

Upgrade in Progress

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For the Cybermen, The Moonbase is the difficult second album, and indeed there are many naysayers, claiming that their second ever appearance in the series is just a re-jig of 1966’s The Tenth Planet. Admittedly, there are some substantial parallels, most notably the base-under-siege setting and obviously the emotionless enemies, but perhaps writers, Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis figured “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The Moonbase, preliminarily titled The Return of the Cybermen, was commissioned before the final episode of The Tenth Planet was even broadcast. As Davis told Jan Vincent-Rudzki, Stephen Payne, and Ian Levine:

“When [The Tenth Planet] came on, the viewing figures shot up from only three million to around ten million. It was obvious the Cybermen were very popular and had to come back soon, so I commissioned Kit to write Moonbase. Unfortunately he went into hospital and so I had to take over a lot of the writing.”

These figures aren’t quite correct, but nonetheless, audience ratings increased by about two million over the course of The Tenth Planet, reaching a high of 7.5 million. The Moonbase maintained an even higher figure, ranging from 8.1 million to Episode Two’s peak of 8.9 million viewers.

It was clear that the Cybermen would be back once more, and The Moonbase established a base-under-siege template utilised in many other Troughton-era Who stories. It set the bar for following Cybermen tales like The Wheel in Space, The Invasion (both 1968), and the highly-regarded Tomb of the Cybermen (1967). The idea of invading forces approaching from all sides while the TARDIS team is trapped, hopelessly against all odds, is a well-worn trope of Doctor Who, to be both utilised and subverted and late 1960s Who especially focused on this aspect, as Gerry Davis went on to say:

“I tried to get the writers to write economically ie. for sets, and then make sure the set was really used having all sorts of ramifications to it. An example is an underground city/workshop like Moonbase where the Gravitron control room was mostly used. So we get 4 episodes with one magnificent set, instead of having a dozen inferior sets. The same goes for characters. Instead of having too many people popping in and out, and too much running around, there should be much more concentration on characters, putting the money on five top actors.”

He cites The Celestial Toymaker as a good example of this, but it’s certainly true of The Moonbase too. The story boasts a strong cast and, whilst reflecting the attitudes of the time, doesn’t overindulge in that aspect of the crew…

Multicultural Moonbase

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Among the crew of the moonbase are Jack Hobson, played by Patrick Barr (The Dam Busters; House of Whipcord); Nils, played by Michael Wolf (War and Remembrance; A Bridge Too Far); and John Rolfe as Sam Becket. Many will recognise Rolfe as Ralph Fell, under the control of BOSS in 1973’s The Green Death, although he also appeared in 1966’s The War Machines.

The Moonbase was also the first Doctor Who appearance of Alan Rowe, who played Dr. Evans and provided the voice of Space Control. He went on to play Edward of Wessex in 1973-74’s The Time Warrior, and Decider Garif in Full Circle (1980), but he’s perhaps most notable for playing James Skinsale in 1977’s Horror of Fang Rock. Yes, the one with those sideburns.

Go-to French man, André Maranne (The Return of the Pink Panther; Me and the Girls) stars as Roger Benoit, a sign that the moonbase is supposed to be controlled by a conglomerate of countries, an idea also used in The Tenth Planet. Multiculturalism was a notion starting to come into fruition in the 1950s and 1960s, thanks to ‘assimilation’; designed to use the immigrants of the New Commonwealth as labour in order to rebuild the nation after war, but other ethnicities were expected to leave behind their culture for the ways of Great Britain. But the Institute of Race Relations’ (IRR) Jenny Bourne notes:

“By the mid-1960s the policy of enforced assimilation was rejected in favour of a more egalitarian policy of integration. This was defined by the then-Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins, as ‘not a flattening process of assimilation but equal opportunity accompanied by cultural diversity in an atmosphere of mutual tolerance’. Integration held out the promise that people had a right to their particular cultural expression. It was the basis for a multicultural society.”

In case you were to forget that the moonbase was a symbol of multiculturalism, Benoit was equipped with an onion seller’s neck tie. They’re all the rage in France. Still, it’s an important step: as the Cybermen ‘upgrade’ everyone to be just like everyone else, it’s good to see the crew as individuals, representing the world and its varied cultures. The IRR explains:

“It is important to realise that Britain was once, especially because of the struggles waged by black communities in the 1960s and 1970s, the most progressive country in Europe in terms of its multiculturalism. It was the country to which other countries looked for inspiration to formulate their own polices. The UK had rejected assimilation and adopted integration, it had passed acts against racial discrimination, it did not have a strong extreme-right, anti-immigrant political party.”

The Moonbase, in this way, is a forerunner of 2009’s The Waters of Mars. However, it doesn’t present equality, uh, equally, let’s say…

“This is Men’s Work”

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Yes, poor Polly (the ever lovely Anneke Wills) is sidelined somewhat because an important part of any fully-functioning moonbase is, of course, a good cup of tea. Despite being presented to us as a ‘Swinging Sixties’ gal in Club Inferno in The War Machines, Polly doesn’t seem affected by feminism too much.

Second-wave feminism began in the United States and spread throughout Europe, tackling issues like sexuality, reproduction, and inequality in the workplace. Betty Friedan ushered in this secondary stage of the movement with her 1963 book, The Feminine Mystique, and whose beliefs were that women “should not expect special privileges because of her sex but neither should she adjust to prejudice and discrimination.” She inspired the Consciousness-Raising groups in America, protests and even lawsuits to fight for women’s rights, as well as co-founding the National Organisation for Women in 1966.

Polly isn’t an entirely ignored character, however; while eyes tend to roll when she mentions Cybermen (because the Cybermen have been extinct for years and women are vulnerable to manic hallucinations, of course), she still has a strong presence in the story – and not just as the Pretty Face For The Dads. In fact, she helps Ben create a mixture of acetic chemicals to attack the Cybermen with, so proving to be far from brainless, and is probably the most progressive 1960s companion until Zoe, a computer genius (even smarter than the Doctor) appears.

Strong female companions naturally became more regular in the 1970s and 1980s, including Liz Shaw, Sarah Jane Smith, Leela, Romana, Tegan Jovanka, and Ace.

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It’s Jamie McCrimmon (Frazer Hines) who’s sidelined perhaps more than Polly during The Moonbase, residing in the sick bay after a fall from grace. Jamie was a last-minute addition to the TARDIS team, having made his debut just two serials before, and in subsequent stories stole lines from Ben (Michael Craze). Still, he shares the final fights with the menaces from Mondas, and the Doctor and his companions have great chemistry. I’d go so far as to say that this is one of the best TARDIS crews ever.

And it’s a good thing they’re there to protect us because there are some corners of the universe which have bred the most terrible things. Things that act against everything we believe in. They must be fought.

(Adapted from an article originally published on Kasterborous in May 2013.)

  • Ranger

    The Moonbase was one of my favourite Target novelisations as a child and when I finally “saw” it, I was not disappointed. It has its faults, especially when being viewed from the future, as were – the treatment of Polly is irritating, the science down-right dodgy and the casual stereotyping of different nationalities dreadful. But it has proper Cybermen in it, not the emotion-filled wrecks of later years.

    • FrancoPabloDiablo

      I’m sure that Polly just made a really great cuppa and that it was appreciated by all the men folk!

    • TheLazyWomblingMerryChristmas

      Unless you count sarcasm as an emotional response. “Clever. Clever. Clever” and a couple of others.

      • Ranger

        Love the new Xmas names going on here – Bar’s is great and I remember singing along with the Wombles. Huh. Good memories, I even bought their album.

  • Dr. Moo at christmas

    The Moonbase is an underrated gem. It takes everything that The Tenth Planet did right and does it better. It certainly has its flaws but overall it’s a great story and the sort that they simply don’t make today. Just don’t mention that the entire thing takes place on top of an egg.

    • FrancoPabloDiablo

      That f***ing egg!!!

      • Dr. Moo at christmas

        I sᴀɪᴅ ɴᴏᴛ ᴛᴏ ᴍᴇɴᴛɪᴏɴ ɪᴛ, Fʀᴀɴᴄᴏ!!!

        • FrancoPabloDiablo

          Sorry, but seriously – THAT F***ING EGG! I bet Neil Armstrong is turning in his grave!

          • Dr. Moo at christmas

            When man landed on the moon he was walking on eggshells.

          • FrancoPabloDiablo

            That is an egg-celant pun Dr. Moo!

          • Dr. Moo at christmas

            Well the yolk’s on you, try not to get egg on your face lest you be left feeling blue.

          • FrancoPabloDiablo

            I was going to make the ‘egg on your face joke’! You obviously poached my idea! My head is scrambled and my brain is fried now!

          • Dr. Moo at christmas

            So many good puns there, I’m cracking up.

          • FrancoPabloDiablo

            What is the 5th Doctor’s, Tegan’s and Adric’s favourite type of egg?

          • Dr. Moo at christmas

            EGGcellent!

          • FrancoPabloDiablo

            Nope. a KINDA SURPRISE!!!

          • Dr. Moo at christmas

            Of course. So obvious.

            I’ve got egg on my face now.

          • FrancoPabloDiablo

            Are you sure you aren’t also suffering from shell shock?

          • Dr. Moo at christmas

            I’m beginning to run out of puns but you just keep egging me on.

          • FrancoPabloDiablo

            Well, I think you have the last laugh this time as I’m all out of puns. Has been a brief bit of light-hearted fun though! Struggling to even remember what the article was originally about 🙂
            Oh yeah, The Moonbase! Agree totally that it is a great but underrated story. The space helmets though – what the hell are they all about?! And using a dinner tray to plug a gap with the void of space?!

          • bar humbug

            Thanks you two – that made me laugh.
            It was a magic tea-tray Franco, precursor of all the times the sonic becomes the Doctor’s magic fix it mcguffin.
            and in showing the importance of a teatray, it proves that Pollyputthekeetleon saves the day TWICE:
            whether it’s inventing an anti-cyber cocktail, and making the men do the work, or making a great cuppa and leaving a tray where it will be vital later, Polly rocks!

          • FrancoPabloDiablo

            Lets start a petition for the Doctor to start carrying around a sonic tea-tray! Can you imagine merchandising potential?

          • Ranger

            lol! Can I poach some of your egg puns for my own use?

          • FrancoPabloDiablo

            Feel free (range)! Especially as I have just had a little political rant at you in another post! (apologies in advance) 🙂

    • Rick714

      Thank goodness enough time has passed where everyone now appreciates the greatness of the egg like I do. Cheers! Any adventure I see from now on from nu or classic Who that takes place on the moon now has extras meaning. 🙂 A testament to the far flung fun imagination of Doctor Who.

      • Dr. Moo at christmas

        ᴵ ᶜᵃⁿ’ᵗ ᵗᵉˡˡ ᶦᶠ ʸᵒᵘ’ʳᵉ ᵇᵉᶦⁿᵍ ˢᵃʳᶜᵃˢᵗᶦᶜ ᵒʳ ⁿᵒᵗ

        • Rick714

          I’m probably the one guy who thought that it was an excellently crazy idea that was the epitome of Doctor Who on several levels, even with the flawed science, yet I know that many others despise it. 🙂

          • Dr. Moo at christmas

            It never happened in my headcanon.

          • bar humbug

            I liked the first half. But just like Sleep No More, it isn’t afraid to try something different, weird, controvercial. To mess with people’s headcanon and tell stories in which the Doctor isn’t the total hero who always gets everything right.
            So although I don’t particularly like either, I am glad they are there, and hope this Mirror ‘please give us formulaic Doctor Who’ plea is totally ignored. btw ‘formulaic Doctor Who is an oxymoron like military intelligence or organised religion.

          • Rick714

            I really loved that in this particular instance, the Doctor stepped back and left the decision up to Clara and the other two. Gave them the difficult decision. It was the right move and yet it made the audience uncomfortable. I think that played into some of the negative reaction it got. In the end, I think a lot of people got more than they bargained for with the intensity of emotion as the ep went on.

          • bar humbug

            Yes the Doctor was right to leave it to the girls; not because it was a difficult decision, but because they could represent the earth and perhaps reproductive issues better than him. I just don’t buy Clara’s emotional reaction. I don’t think she was right to get all outraged, any more than the audience who you rightly suggest were made uncomfortable by his move. His emotional response to her rejection, and his stunning stuff on the beach is great. Maybe my dislike is partly because Clara’s issues and Danny just bored me. It was too much about her and not enough about the Doctor.

          • Rick714

            Oh, I agree–Clara had her comuppence there, and I liked that. She had no right to be angry with the Doctor. I like Clara but at the same time, she was one of the most complex and real companions ever on the show. And she was high maintenance as well. She had some mighty faults. Matt’s Doctor tended to treat her like a precious China doll, fawning all over her but Capaldi, god bless him, didn’t coddle her. She wanted the lifestyle, she wanted to be the Doctor, well there it is. I think she needed to be treated this way by the Doctor, as it made her a better person.

            The whole Danny thing—yeah,mthat’s a different discussion. Almost like another series running side by side with DW.