The Doctor Who Companion

Get your daily fix of news, reviews, and features with the Doctor Who Companion!

A Day In The Moobase: Doctor Who Appreciation Society’s Riverside III — The Moonbase Event

I was lucky enough to attend the last DWAS Riverside event for The Crusades so when it was announced that a follow-up event for The Moonbase was to be held there too, I had to grab a ticket. It was a good job I did it early too because the event sold out — and I can confirm it was packed! It’s fantastic to see that Doctor Who in the cinema can still pull in the crowds: take note BBC; please do more cinema releases!

Travel from where I live isn’t easy, though a few people I know who live in Portsmouth seem to make it look so, and thanks to strikes and a football game, there were fewer trains than normal. I’d originally booked to travel to London Victoria but had to change to Waterloo; this meant getting a new ticket, and paying the difference, so things didn’t really get off to a great start! Then thanks to the football match, the train was packed with fans going to watch Portsmouth versus someone-or-other, so I ended up stood on the train from Havant all the way to Guilford. Then people moved and I grabbed a seat and sat down for the rest of it, but it did make me wish for a TARDIS to get me there instead.

Then it was onto the underground which I’m gradually getting used to. There were no Yetis in or around the Underground this time, though it might have made things more interesting. Luckily, I know where I’m heading with Hammersmith, even if Google Maps decided to take me round in a circle first, rather than just telling me I needed to cross the road!

When I covered The Crusades event, I wrote about how it felt like a pilgrimage to Riverside, somewhere which until the last event I wasn’t aware was even a building that was still standing! That feeling didn’t go away either: as Hammersmith Bridge came into view, where once upon a time a Dalek left the Thames, I felt the history of Doctor Who filling the air. It’s incredible to wander around the building with a number of blue plaques commemorating some historical moments not only for Doctor Who but television in general — there were a number of excellent programmes also filmed there… though Who is the best of them all!

Meeting up with my friend Maria, a fellow writer over on The Doctor Who Big Blue Box Podcast, we caught up quickly before the event began. Heading downstairs and into the cinema screen that was once home for Moonbases, cavemen, crusaders, and even WOTAN. Going into the screen, we were greeted by a screen accurate Cyberman from this Second Doctor story, which was brilliant; apparently, the suit was original with all their pipes added on because they had long since disintegrated. Well done to the two gents who have restored it because they did a fantastic job. I would have a much closer encounter with it later!

After an introduction to Episode Two of The Moonbase, it was well underway (upstaged by a little malfunction which saw the episode begin while someone was talking about it), with Jamie soon being menaced by the phantom piper and Polly screaming at the Cybermen. Like The Crusades, the episodes were displayed in their rawest form, that which they were discovered in, so there were crinkles and pops on the screen. People had moaned about this for the previous two events, but I really liked it: as I said with the surviving episodes of The Crusades, it made it feel different, not like someone had just popped the DVD in but instead a version of the story that we hadn’t seen before.

Perhaps the biggest problem with The Moonbase is its treatment of Polly, who does very little but stand around and make tea. The Doctor and the crew asking her to make some coffee to keep everyone happy did raise a few laughs, as did the Doctor on his mission to get his hands on anything he possibly can to try and find where the disease has come from. It’s been years since I’d last seen The Moonbase so I was pleased to be reminded that Polly doesn’t let the Doctor get away with asking her to make the tea and decides to criticise his medical qualifications and knowledge as payback!

Once Episode Two had finished, interviewer Robert Dick took to the floor and introduced the first couple of guests for the event, Floor Manager Margot Hayhoe and camera man, Dudley Darby. I’d felt very sorry for Robert at the last Riverside event; he’d interviewed actresses Cleo Sylveste and Maureen Lane and neither had much to say, so it felt like Robert was having to pull answers out of them — luckily though this time, Hayhoe and Darby were much more cooperative, often talking without being prompted.

Margot spoke about her time on the show, saying that the studio space in Riverside meant that sometimes they had to be quite creative with how they used the space. We also learned that she had once been a child actress, had worked at Riverside in a programme called Women of Troy, and had known Anneke Wills from having worked alongside her in another production. And it wasn’t solely “floor manager” that Margot gets to put on her Doctor Who CV — she also basically played WOTAN in The War Machines! Thanks to her height, she was the right size to stand behind the set and twirl the tapes that indicated when WOTAN was talking.

And later, to much more acclaim, she would defeat the Weed Creature in 1968’s Fury From The Deep. For years, it’s been believed that it was Deborah Watling’s screams that eventually killed the creature — however, we now know that Watling had lost her voice (ironically from too much screaming) and so couldn’t hit the right level. Luckily though, Margot was there to step in and defeat the monster. She seemed very happy to look back on her time on a show that to her was just another job at the BBC, and while she knew it was something special, the fact that it is coming up for its 60th anniversary and still on air was something she couldn’t have predicted.

Dudley Darby also spoke fondly of his time on Doctor Who, working initially as a tracker on The Moonbase before later being promoted to Camera Man. He spoke about how massive and unwieldy the cameras were and that some of the sounds we’d heard in the episode we’d watched, was when a camera man had to change the lenses and it made it a loud clicking sound if not done properly. He also commented on how we can hear one of the people in the gallery talking in the background of the Cybermen’s ships because of how primitive the technology used was.

He seemed to find a job at the BBC by accident, having originally tried to sign up for the Air Force but being rejected because he wore glasses. He would find a leaflet about technicians and how when they completed the course they would be working four days a week more often than not, and often on locations. He had contributed to many episodes of Who but most notably, The Moonbase, The Green Death, and The Seeds of Doom, explaining that he thought it was unfair that senior cameramen were never really allowed to go out on location and never got a credit until the Eighties. He also looked back at working at Riverside, mainly being under the main flight path for Heathrow and how sometimes the planes would be so low, they would make the whole building shake and the floors and equipment would be covered in dust from the ceilings!

We then continued on with Episode Four which sees the Doctor, Ben, Polly, and Jamie defeating the Cybermen, using the Gravitron to fling the metal meanies out into space. Never before had I realised how amusing Hobson’s line to the Cyberleader, We’ve found your passage and blocked it,” was. The cinema rolled about laughing, probably not the original intention but now the line has to become as famous as the Rani’s “Leave the girl; it’s the man I want.”

After Episode Four, it was the turn of Derek Chafer, Martin Cort, and Frazer Hines to take to the stage. Derek had played a number of monsters and creatures through the ’60s and ’70s in Who, most notably as Cybermen thanks to his height. He also played a Saxon in The Time Meddler and a cowboy in The Gunfighters. His main memories were how inflexible the costumes had been, and having to be bolted into the Cyberman mask, something that was sometimes so tight for space, people would end up with blisters on their nose because the mask would rub so badly. So anyone with claustrophobia or who doesn’t like to be too hot probably shouldn’t become a monster actor!

Martin Cort had similar memories; he was a last minute replacement for John Levene who had to pull out because of a family emergency. He had most notably played a Voord in The Keys of Marinus, but remembered just how uncomfortable those rubber suits were. He described how people would have to be almost showered in talcum powder to be able to squeeze into them and then the eye slits were at the wrong position so all they could see where the flippers they wore. There were a number of times too that actors in those suits would go off in the wrong direction when moving or miss their cues entirely because they couldn’t hear the actors underneath the rubber. Not only does it sound like a miracle that anything got made for us to enjoy but it also makes you wonder why they continued to use such heavy materials when crafting the monsters of the Sixties and Seventies!

Frazer Hines had a lot of fond memories to share, from originally auditioning as Ben — the role went instead to Michael Craze, because of Hines’ less than convincing Cockney accent — to him and Deborah Watling being chased through Snowdonia by a Yeti and the Yeti actor tripping and rolling down the hillside overtaking them both! Hines did reveal though that he’d know Craze from drama school and they would very often meet at auditions because they would often be put up for similar roles. We know that both Anneke Wills and Michael Craze hadn’t been too impressed that Jamie McCrimmon came along because it meant that a number of their lines had to go to to Frazer. Luckily, The Moonbase had been given enough time to have the script altered to include Jamie properly, even if he spends most of it unconscious.

He went on to describe how the cast would very often end up working on their days off too, due to the length and speed of the 48 episodes that would need to be recorded, often doing location work on their days off. They would break for their dinner, go up to the BBC canteen, watch an episode they had recorded only a couple of weeks ago, and then go and record a brand new one.

He also recalled how he thought he was going to be beaten up as he was walking home one night in London, but eventually found out the man following him was on his way to work as a night security guard and so had to miss an episode of Who and desperately wanted to know what was going to happen in the episode he was going to miss!

Once the interviews were done, all the guests did an autograph session, so of course I grabbed one from each as well as getting one of the specially commissioned postcards, with artwork from Alistair Pearson which he also very kindly signed for me. This also allows you to have a bit of a chat with the guests too; I asked Margaret Hayhoe how it felt knowing she defeated a Doctor Who monster. She told me it felt pretty great and not something that everyone could say they’ve done in their life!

Derek Chafer spoke about just how uncomfortable it was in the Cybermen costumes especially since they always seemed to be filming in the warmest weather possible and Martin Cort and I spoke about names — someone else with the same name as me had been in the queue in front of me; I said I used to think that my name was pretty unique, having only ever known one other Jordan in my life! He told me that he hated his real name: I’m sorry but he swore me to secrecy about what his real name is…

Finally, speaking to Frazer, I noticed he had a picture of his character from Outlander and told him about how the main character Jamie Frazer from that show and the novels were named after him and Jamie McCrimmon because he was the companion the original author grew up watching. I also said he must have a thing about the Battle of Culloden, having played a few characters over the years; he said he’s always thought it was strange too and how maybe there is something “spooky” going on — like maybe he had an ancestor that took part in the battle who keeps bringing him back to that time period!?

The final thing I did was have a good look at the fantastic Cyberman suit that had been restored by some very talented people. By this point, quite a few folk had gone so it was nice that my friend Maria and I could get a closer look. Now I’m 6’4″ and this suit must have been at least 6’6″, if not taller and I suddenly realised just how terrifying these creatures were. They were at least a handlebar’s taller than me. It’s not very often I have to look up to something and I realised just what it must have felt like to be menaced by one of these creatures. Pretty surreal!

The Moonbase was another fantastic event from the folks at The Doctor Who Appreciation Society and they always impress me with the guests they get as well as how fantastic the events are. It’s also fantastic to speak to other visitors in the queues and get chatting: everyone is always so friendly! There are two further upcoming Doctor Who events coming up at Riverside — a normal cinema viewing of The Tenth Planet on the 30th September and then on the 14th October there’s Sea and Space, a DWAS event which will be showing surviving episodes from The Underwater Menace and The Wheel Space. If you can, grab a ticket and take a lovely afternoon out at Riverside!

Jordan Shortman

A Day In The Moobase: Doctor Who Appreciation Society’s Riverside III — The Moonbase Event

by Jordan Shortman time to read: 10 min
%d bloggers like this: