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A Brief History of the Moon in Doctor Who

With this year being the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, there’s no better time to look back over the many times the Doctor and his many friends have visited the glowing orb in their adventures.

Join us as we journey beyond the sky and feel free to chant “We love Doctor Who to the moon and back”. No? Suit yourself.

The Moonbase

Man first walked on the moon in 1969 but the Doctor, Ben, Polly, and Jamie actually got there first in 1967 when they had to thwart an attempt to destroy the Earth by the Cybermen. The Cybermen were making their second appearance in the show and it was probably here that solidified them as the massive villains they have now become.

The moon is the site of a powerful machine called the Gravitron. It controls all the weather on Earth and the Cybermen plan to cause a number of ecological disasters to destroy all life on our planet. Of course, the Doctor and his companions and their friends on the Moonbase stop them, using the Gravitron against the Cybermen to send them floating off into space.

The opening sequences of this story are brilliant and the moonscape is incredibly well realised from the production team. It’s great to see Patrick Troughton, Anneke Wills, Frazer Hines, and Michael Craze heading across the desolate landscape in a great zero-gravity scene. Doctor Who got there first!

The Seeds of Death

The second time the moon really features in the series is another Patrick Troughton story, this time with the Ice Warriors proving a threat. The moon is the base for the T-Mat system, a transportation device, much akin to the transporters in Star Trek, instantly moving you from one place to another.

With its headquarters based on the moon, the Ice Warriors decide to attack the base, intending to use the T-Mat to invade Earth. With the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe as well as allies Gia Kelly and Professor Eldred, the Ice Warrior invasion is stopped. But once again the moon is used as the first step of an invasion of our planet. It isn’t the first time that science-fiction has done this and it won’t be the last time that the moon that we depend on would prove to be a dangerous place…

Frontier in Space

Frontier in Space, recently released in the glorious HD set for Season 10, saw the Moon as the site of a Lunar Penal-Colony. The Doctor finds himself sent there after Earth authorities believe him to be a Draconian agent.

Certainly the moon proves to be a suitable location for something like a prison. Of course, the Doctor is wrapped into an escape plan and things go drastically wrong. They are given tanks without oxygen and he finds himself rescued by the Master who is taking Jo and the Doctor to the Ogron home-world, where he has a deadly reunion in mind.

The moon is only featured in one episode but it still forms a good idea of what the Earth might look like in the far-flung future, with the worst criminals and political prisoners sent somewhere we can forget about them. It’s an interesting look into what function the moon might play in the future, as indeed do all three of these classic adventures.

Tooth and Claw

David Tennant’s first season gave us one of my favourite stories from the show, Tooth and Claw which saw the moon playing more of a traditional role in a horrifying werewolf story that has haunted my nightmares since its original broadcast in 2006.

The moon is often used in horror, and there has always been something horrifying about seeing a wolf, howling at a glowing full moon. The way the moon shines through the windows and the roof of the library here is used excellently as well, giving the Torchwood House a very eerie glow down its many corridors.

Perhaps the most terrifying image from this episode is when the prisoner transforms into the creature. Something about the way he presses himself against the bars and bathes in the glow terrified me as a child and his creepy delivery of the word, “Moonlight…” has stayed with me all these years! While the Classic era of the show tried to create new ways of using the moon, it is pleasing that it can still be used in a more traditional sense and give a generation of children nightmares again.

Smith and Jones

The opening episode of David Tennant’s third season saw an entire hospital being transported to the surface of the moon thanks to a H2O Scoop which caused rain to fall upwards. While everyone began to panic at being stuck, rapidly using up all the oxygen, it was only the Doctor and a trainee doctor, Martha Jones that didn’t freak out and instead managed to solve the problem of an escaped Plasmavore. A problem made worse when the Judoon turned up.

Again, the moon is brilliantly realised, glimpsed through windows for the most part but the Doctor and Martha do step out onto a balcony and take in the view.

Of course, the dangers of the airless environment finally get into the hospital and the air begins to run out; with the Doctor seemingly sacrificing himself, it is up to Martha to sort the problem and prove to the Judoon who is really the Plasmavore before the oxygen can run out. She then manages to save the Doctor’s life before passing out thanks to oxygen deprivation. Naturally, the Judoon send the hospital back to Earth at the last minute and everyone makes it out okay. But this would prove to be only the first of many dangerous adventures for the Tenth Doctor and Martha…


While Blink doesn’t really feature the Doctor or Martha, because they were filming the final three stories of Series 3 at the time, through a short number of scenes, they explain to a displaced Billy that they used to travel before the Weeping Angels zapped them both back in time. Martha explains how brilliant the moon landing was and how the pair went back and saw it a number of times. Of course, the paradoxes that could cause would be catastrophic, but we presume they kept their distance from each other!

It wouldn’t be until Steven Moffat’s second series as showrunner that the moon landing would prove a vital part of the overall plot.

The Impossible Astronaut/ Day of the Moon

The Impossible Astronaut and Day of the Moon, the opening two-parter of Series 6, saw the Doctor reunited with Amy, Rory, and River Song at Lake Silencio where the group enjoyed one last picnic before the Doctor was shot down by an impossible astronaut.

As the story went on, it turned out that this was the Doctor from 200 years in the future. But the Silence had also infiltrated Earth and implied that they had influenced humanities development from its earliest days and guided us to discover and utilise fire and the wheel.

But the reason the moon plays such a big part in this story is because the Doctor uses the live transmission from the surface of the moon to mix-in footage of a recorded Silence telling humanity to kill them on sight. It is certainly a brutal way for the Doctor to deal with his enemies – although, really, he’s just scaring the race off the planet – but it gives another element to the Apollo 11 landing: something that the Silence had made possible became their downfall. It might also explain why it never happened again…

Kill the Moon

Perhaps the most controversial use of the moon came in Peter Capaldi’s first season story, Kill the Moon. One day the moon expanded and caused ecological disasters. A small crew were sent to the Moon to see what was wrong; if it continued to affect the Earth, they were to destroy it and deal with the consequences.

The Doctor and Clara (and the Coal Hill Student, Courtney Woods) arrive on the surface of the moon to find dead crewmembers and spiders. As the story progresses, they discover that there is something living in the core of the moon and that the moon is, in fact, an egg.

This is when the story falls apart for many people as its message about heavy topics like abortion isn’t handled particularly well. Mankind is faced with a problem: do they let the moon hatch and the creature free, or do they kill the creature?

The repercussions of this are continued in the next season’s Before the Flood when the crew of an underwater base explain that the tides rose up and destroyed entire landmasses.

Kill the Moon isn’t one of Doctor Who‘s finest hours, mainly because of the heavy-handed messages, but it did at least give us an original use for the moon.

The Lie of the Land

Much like Blink, the moon doesn’t really feature in The Lie of the Land but coming at the end of the curious Monk-Trilogy in Peter Capaldi’s final series as the Twelfth Doctor, it’s explained that the Monks were waiting on the moon to greet Neil Armstrong on the surface.

Or at least, that’s what the Monks’ propaganda machine assures us.

In Other Media

The moon hasn’t just featured on television in Doctor Who; it has been the location and backbone for many adventures in comic books, novels, and audio adventures. The Doctor also sometimes makes comments about what functions the moon will play in the future.

There are two stories which seem to offer something similar with a moonbase, including Eternity Weeps, a Virgin New Adventure and The Sarah Jane Adventures episode, Death of the Doctor, both of which see Liz Shaw as a prominent scientist working there.

The Tenth Doctor wanted to take Rose there so she could be the first woman to walk on the moon after the landing in 1969 in the book, I Am A Dalek but things went a little bit wrong! Adelaide Brooke, who we met in The Waters of Mars, would go on to become the first British Woman to stand on the moon sometime between 2050 and 2058.

Sarah Jane’s trusted computer, Mr Smith, went bad in the concluding adventure of her first season and tried to make the moon collide with Earth, with a little help from the Slitheen. In the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip, The Love Invasion, the Ninth Doctor stops a plan to destroy the moon too; without it, mankind wouldn’t have an easy foothold in space.

Perhaps one of the strangest inclusions was in Journey’s End, where the TARDIS returns the Earth to its usual spatial co-ordinates and the moon continues to orbit, even though it should have either been destroyed or drifted away.

The dark side of the moon has been a base of operations for a few evil entities over the millennia: in The Quantum Archangel, a book from Craig Hinton, the dark side was used by the Constructors of Destiny and in stories like The Invasion and Silver Nemesis, the Cybermen used the dark side to hide their invasion forces, as did the Daleks in Victory of the Daleks.

Perhaps the most important use of the moon in Doctor Who was the role it played in the forced hibernation of the Silurians. When their scientists saw an asteroid headed for prehistoric Earth, they all understood the cataclysm that might have happened so they and their aquatic cousins, the Sea Devils, went into hibernation until the surface of their world was habitable again.

But the asteroid never hit the planet’s surface and it was caught instead in the Earth’s gravitational field and became the moon. As the cataclysm never happened, the Silurian machines didn’t wake them up after the designated time. Instead, they slept and man evolved and took over…

The moon has played a big part in Doctor Who since the show’s creation in 1963. Whether it is in more imaginative instances like Frontier in Space or Kill the Moon or in a more traditional way like Tooth and Claw. Without the moon landing in 1969, we would still understand very little about the lunar body, but Doctor Who reaffirms its importance to mankind.

Jordan Shortman

A Brief History of the Moon in Doctor Who

by Jordan Shortman time to read: 8 min
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