Being a parent of small children has a number of unexpected challenges. One of which is having to explain big events in history. Like the moon landings.
Now, you’d think it would be relatively easy…
‘Hey, kid, just imagine 50 years ago humans took their first steps on the moon.’
‘In a film?’
‘No, really. Five decades ago, actual people went in an actual spacecraft to your actual moon.’
‘Wow! Where did they go after?’
‘Nowhere. Some other people went back to the moon. Er. Then stopped. Two years later. In 1971.’
‘Why did they stop?’
Not having a universal database of facts at my disposal, say a hand-held device connected to a world-wide source of all human knowledge, I only have my suspicions to go on…
I think that the whole of humankind became a bit like an unadventurous auntie and uncle who usually head to Cromer for their holidays. But who were reluctantly convinced to try somewhere further afield. The moon wasn’t quite what they expected of a planetoid:
AUNTIE: It was very grey.
UNCLE: Too grey.
AUNTIE: You had to bring your own food.
UNCLE: Not like Mary Jane’s Fish Bar on the seafront.
AUNTIE: It wasn’t really set up for visitors…
UNCLE: Hotel wasn’t built yet, it was just piles of rocks.
AUNTIE: I mean, there was no atmosphere…
UNCLE: That’s not entirely true, dearest. There were some unusual gases, including sodium and potassium.
AUNTIE: Ooh, Hark at Professor Rubeish…
Let’s leave these fascinating characters for now. And get to the point. This is a history of The (Doctor Who) Mooniverse. In 10 objects (and other things). I wonder where we should start…
10. The Moon (Kill The Moon)
Yes, our own planet’s only permanent natural satellite, an astronomical rock orbiting the earth. Or is it? No, it’s really an egg. Which makes quite a lot of sense if you think about it. Actually, don’t think about it. Look, a Zarbi! Run Jamie…
(I should at this point reveal my personal quantum physical approach to this controversial episode. I call it Shawdinger’s Moon. I genuinely found the episode quite exciting when I first watched it. Capaldi’s magnificent. It builds to a fascinating moral conundrum. But the egg thing? And the lights? And the hatching? So I have somehow managed to hold two irreconcilable views: It is both stupid, silly, and unbelieveable, while being profound, wise, and convincing at the same time. A bit like, I dunno, the TV programme Doctor Who or summit. See? Clever and stupid.)
9. Moonbase tray (The Moonbase)
In the year 2070 – some 21 years after humanity discovered the moon was an egg and set off to the stars to find a really big omelette pan – the people of the earth have devised a machine on the moon to sustain life back home. All the hyper-intelligent scientists in the whole world have put their wits together to create a Gravitron – a device that controls the tides and the weather on our planet. Thanks, science folks! Sorry we messed up the earth’s climate progressively over the previous century, ignoring your warnings, but good on you chaps for sorting it out!
But in a supremely ironic move, maybe to teach us all a lesson about the fragility of our atmosphere, they encased the Gravitron’s control centre inside a flimsy, easily puncturable dome. D’oh(ome)! Then the inevitable puncturing happens (thanks, Cyberpests) and the climate changes from lots of lovely air to – oh, save us dear Logar! – hardly any air at all. So you’d think the same clever chaps would have created an auto repair system. Not these boffins…
After the desperate crew try using a coat to cover the gap (suckers), French crew member Benoît happens upon the perfect plug. A tray! Très bon, Benoît! So next time you are at a bar and the bar steward asks you if you need a tray, don’t get all butch and claim you can carry six pints, four proseccos, a J20, and 14 assorted packets of Kettle Chips in your massive Silence-like digits. Take the tray, and guard it with your life. You never know when you might need one.
8. Moon Boots and Dinner Suits (Frontier in Space)
But that’s at least two objects, I hear you cry. No, ‘tis but one. For it be the name of a book, Jon Pertwee’s ‘infamous’ (according to Fantom Publishing) biography. The original edition came replete with a photo of our Jon in a dinner suit wearing – you are way ahead here – moon boots on his feet! Such juxtaposition, pride in every contrasting placement!
But, hang on an Ogron-picking minute! He didn’t wear a dinner suit as TV’s Doctor Who, did he? It was a smoking jacket, slacks, and a frilly shirt, right?
And moon boots? The Third Doctor wore what looked like surgical scrubs when he was imprisoned on the moon in Frontier in Space. So maybe he wore those rubber medical clog things? Sort of Crocs? Smoking Jacket and Crocs would be a more apposite (if anachronistic and slightly off-putting) title for his biography. Which doesn’t mention Doctor Who. Or Worzel Gummidge. No, it stops short of his two most famous and celebrated performances.
What kind of publisher agreed to that? “Ah, Mr Armstrong. Let me get this straight. You want us to publish your autobiography that tells the story of your life up to the point just before you were the first human being to walk on the moon? Please talk us through that decision… and maybe if we could just chat about an extra chapter or 20 covering the whole ‘one giant leap for mankind’ thing…”
7. Keith the Moon!
Wrap your moon goggles around this mind-blowing image which we’re not including here in case Getty Images tries to take out our collective kneecaps. Yes, not only is it Jon Pertwee on stage alongside legendary drummer from The Who, Keith Moon… that’s – no, it can’t be… also pictured is Bill ‘The (grumpy) Goodie’ Oddie. The pair are singing together as Jon, in his full Third Doctor guise, entertains the crowd. The occasion is a performance of The Who’s famous ‘rock opera’ Tommy at London’s Rainbow Theatre in December 1973. The full cast included David Essex, Elkie Brooks, Roy Wood, Vivian Stanshall, and Marsha Hunt. What a lineup of legends (and Marsha Hunt)!
I’m beginning to believe anything is possible! The moon’s an egg! Pfff. Obviously. Mind you, maybe I should get some confirmation about Pertwee guesting in Tommy. Those clever chaps who run the internet can do surprising things in a photo shop, apparently. I’ll just check whether the occasion is recorded in Moon Boots and Dinner Suits… What do you mean it only goes up to… gah!
6. Moonbase 3
No, this isn’t an autocorrected version of No 9. It’s a British science fiction TV programme from 1973 created by the then Doctor Who crack team of producer Barry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks. Over six interminable episodes, it depicts as close as scientifically possible what life would be like on a moonbase. Which, it seems, is yawn-inducingly dull.
Broadcast between Doctor Who Seasons 10 and 11, while Pertwee was in between exciting battles with giant maggots and Sontarans in merrie olde England, the crew of Moonbase 3 were battling the will to stay awake, along with their steadily diminishing viewers. Even Terrance Dicks believes they, ‘…overdid the grimness and forgot about the sense of wonder that science fiction is all about.’ Plus, they should have thrown a lifesaving tray in the mix to liven things up.
For many years the series was believed to be lost forever, until a complete set of all six episodes were found in the vaults of the co-producers, 20th Century Fox. Subsequently released on VHS and DVD, the episodes can now be viewed in all their boring glory. So to all of you who would have preferred Kill The Moon to be properly scientifically accurate, I give you Moonbase 3. And you can keep it, frankly.
5. Judoon platoon upon the moon (Smith and Jones)
It was one of those heart-stopping moments. Everyone remembers where there were when the news hit. Message boards and Facebook groups shut down with the weight of traffic at 9pm on 21 May 2019.
“The Judoon are back. I love typing those words,” writes Chris Chibnall in DWM. Gosh, what other words do you love typing? “Thanks for getting back to me about the curtains.” “Could you come over and feed the cat on Wednesday?” “Dear Olga, while I am flattered at your proposal, I think this email was sent to me in error.”
Am I missing something? The Judoon are back. The Judoon are back. The Judoon are back? Oh, I get it! The Judoon are back! No. Still struggling…
Meanwhile Chris and Nikki are having the time of their lives… “From the moment I broke the news to people within the production (producer Nikki Wilson whooped with delight when I told her), through the tone meeting, readthrough, and now watching the glorious rushes coming in, we’ve all had Judoon-based grins on our faces.”
They’re back? Did they ever go away? I mean they were introduced in Smith and Jones in 2007 (on the moon! See, it is relevant!) then they came back (often in smaller roles, true) in The Stolen Earth (2008), Prisoner of the Judoon (The Sarah Jane Adventures, 2009), The End of Time (2009), The Pandorica Opens (2010), A Good Man Goes to War (2011), The Magician’s Apprentice (2015) and Face the Raven (2015). Not to mention appearances in Big Finish audios…
Does Nikki also whoop every time she sees a new advert for MoneySuperMarket with the meerkats in it? Or just when Chibnall announces he’s bringing back a monster – any monster, in fact – that is by definition better than all his lame creations. The Bandrils are back! Stop the clocks! You’ve found the Taran Wood Beast costume! Let jubilations ensue! The Karkus lives again! Ze best news in ze universe! Just not that tooth-face hulk with the one-joke name, please.
4. Jupiter Moon
Doctor Who was taken off the air in 1989. Not cancelled, no. That was the clever trick, it was coming back, bigger and better than ever… no one said it would take 16 years and a generation to pass before a full series happened.
Meanwhile, what did British science fiction have to offer us…? Very little. Apart from the abundance of Jupiter Moon. What do you mean you’ve never heard of it? What do you mean it’s the wrong moon? That’s moonist.
Jupiter Moon is a science fiction soap opera TV series first broadcast by British Satellite Broadcasting’s (BSB) Galaxy channel in 1990. And they made 150 episodes. In just over a year. Before it was cancelled. In total there have been 851 episodes of Doctor Who in 54 years – an average of 15 a year. If Jupiter Moon had lasted the 16 wilderness years it would have soundly beaten that record.
But it was cancelled! Horrah! Except boo! Because, although the characters and scenarios were almost unbearably soaptastic, it is unbelievably addictive viewing. It was the Vraxoin of the very small viewing public, me included. And one of the writers was Who scribe, Ben Aaronovitch (Remembrance of the Daleks, Battlefield). So there, it counts. It’s on my Who moon list and it’s staying there.
2. Moon loonies (Seeds of Death)
There’s a lot of unscientific anecdotal ‘evidence’ that the moon makes you a little bit bonkers. That’s where we get the word lunatic from, as every school kid knows. So don’t be surprised if you find yourself on the night of a full buck moon, pointing at the great orb in the sky and ranting, “It’s an egg. An egg I tells ya!”
The moon seems to have had a particularly strange effect on Commander Julian Radnor supervisor at T-Mat Earth Control sometime in the 21st Century.
The story so far: T-Mat is a revolutionary new instantaneous transport system that everyone on earth uses to ship food supplies about (relayed via, you guessed it, the moon). T-Mat has broken down and people are running out of food (it’s those pesky Ice Warriors but they don’t know that yet, shussshsssss).
The only way to fix T-Mat and prevent people starving is to send up a rocket to fix it. But there’s only one left and it’s owned by an eccentric scientist called Professor Daniel Eldred. Commander Radnor and T-Mat manager Gia Kelly head to Prof Eldred’s museum (he’s an old pal of Radnor) to convince him to send up a rocket.
Meanwhile, the Second Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe bumble into Eldred’s museum – he takes them for intruders, and pulls a gun on them. When Radnor and Kelly arrive, Eldred thinks Radnor has sent a man who looks like a tramp, a highlander, and a young girl in plastic coat to spy on him. Radnor insists he’s never seen the TARDIS crew before, and hasn’t sent anyone to spy on Eldred.
So, the world is in peril and Radnor is very clear that the motley trio don’t know Eldred as he thinks they are spies. So when the Doctor pipes up and offers to pilot the rocket with Zoe and Jamie, it’s surprising that everyone agrees. But this is Doctor Who and, before the advent of the psychic paper, these things happened all the time.
But what follows is one of the most startling lines in all Who:
KELLY: Do you think it’s wise letting these people crew the rocket?
RADNOR: Wise? No, of course it’s not wise, but what’s the alternative? We gave up training astronauts years ago.
KELLY: But who are they?
RADNOR: Some of Eldred’s crazy friends, I imagine…
Eh? How on the moon did he come to that conclusion? A few minutes before, Eldred clearly stated that he thought they were spies. ‘Crazy friends?’ People are hungry. The world’s food supply system is at stake (mmm, steak) and Radnor thinks sending crazy people is fine. But who can trust his judgement when he’s been told explicitly that Eldred doesn’t know them. What’s even stranger is that the level-headed Miss Kelly, who was there for the spy conversation, accepts the ‘crazy friends’ line.
What happened? The only explanation is the moon. It makes you a little odd. You might join The Who on stage. Decent producers and writers might make the dullest series ever. It might turn a cheap sci-fi soap opera into an unmissable guilty pleasure. It might make you think that bringing back the Judoon is somehow a newsworthy event.
But moon madness cannot explain…
1. The Barrowmoon
Now there are a lot of arses in Doctor Who. Plenty more write about Doctor Who (wink). But no one wants to see the Doctor’s derrière (even if trusty Benoît was on-hand to quickly cover it up with a tray). So, my best advice is to never watch The Life and Loves of a She Devil. It has Tom Baker in it. A lot of him. From behind. But one thing you can’t do is unwatch a clip show called Celebrity Naked Ambition which had an extract from The Life and Loves of a She Devil. With Tom Baker in it. A lot of him. From behind.
Similarly, my wife finds it hard to watch the Seventh Doctor’s era. That’s because she once saw Sylvester McCoy naked at the Thorndike Theatre in Leatherhead. I presume he was in a play. Yes, he must have been. Surely?
But one thing we can pretty much guarantee is that if you’ve spent more than a few days on planet earth in the 21st century you will have caught a glimpse of Captain Jack Harkness’s rear guard. The Barrowmoon is such a regular occurrence, you could set your calendar by it.
But in case you have only just arrived on this planet, come and meet one of my crazy friends. Benoît! The tray! Rapidement!
That was my ‘A Doctor Who History of the Mooniverse in 10 Objects’. And you though the moon being an egg was a pretty stupid idea.
UNCLE: Was that it?
AUNTIE: Suppose so.
UNCLE: But that was only nine objects. The moon. The tray. Moon boots. Keith Moon. Moonbase 3. Judoon. Jupiter moon. Moon loonies. And John Barrowmoon. That’s nine.
AUNTIE: There was ten. I’m sure there was ten?
UNCLE: I thought there was ten. I was counting with my fingers.
AUNTIE: We can’t have forgotten one?
UNCLE: Oh well, don’t suppose it’s important. Is it?
[THE LIGHTS START FLICKERING AND A LARGE ALIEN SHADOW LOOMS OVER UNCLE AND AUNTIE]