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4x06. The Moonbase
Writer: Kit Pedler
Director: Morris Barry
Script Editor: Gerry Davis
Producer: Innes Lloyd

Synopsis: The TARDIS materializes on the Moon in the year 2070, where an international facility that controls Earth's weather with the Gravitron is beleaguered by an unexplained disease outbreak. The Doctor and his companions must deal first with the suspicion of Hobson, the man in charge of the base, and then with the threat posed by the Cybermen, who are responsible for the disease (actually a mechanism of mind control) and plan to use the Gravitron to wipe out Earth's population.

Review: For reasons that are somewhat complicated and not terribly interesting, I won't have access to my recording of "The Monster of Peladon" for a little while, so this seemed like a good time to step out of viewing order and review "The Moonbase," a partial restoration of which is available on the recent Lost in Time DVD release. As with "The Crusade," we have two episodes available in their entirety and the soundtracks for the other two.

"The Moonbase" has accurately been described as recycling many elements from the Cybermen's first appearance in "The Tenth Planet": once again, we have an international facility under attack, the possibility of a worldwide cataclysm if the Cybermen's interference cannot be stopped, Polly ingratiating herself by making coffee (snicker), and scientific jargon that I assume is due to the participation of writer and scientist Kit Pedler. In their début appearance, the Cybermen were unconventional and even slightly sympathetic villains, having been scripted as a portrait of pure indifference: it wasn't their intent to be dangerous and threatening per se, but at the same time they truly didn't care if they ended up harming or killing humans to secure their own survival. "The Moonbase" finds them adopting a more aggressive posture, in that they're intent on wiping out the human race from the very beginning, and there is no indication that anyone or anything could dissuade them. I suppose this makes sense, given that their "peace offer" to keep the humans alive and turn them into Cybermen was rejected last time around, but something of what made them different at first is lost in the process. Along similar lines, the more metallic sound of their voices (which would become the standard approach for their future appearances) renders them more overtly menacing, but less uniquely mysterious.

"The Moonbase" does still keep its focus on the Cybermen as a dehumanizing force of pure logic. When they finally confront the humans directly, they are accused of seeking revenge in their attack, but they insist that they are interested in no such thing and are acting only "to eliminate all dangers." The idea of the disease being a form of mind control is also an interesting one. It's unfortunate that Episode 3, in which we first see the "altered" humans in action, is available only in soundtrack form, but there's definitely something unsettling about the way these people are forced to work to assist the Cybermen's attempt at genocide, and their indifference to their former colleagues' protests is reminiscent of the Cybermen themselves. (I had expected to see them actually transformed into Cybermen; why the script didn't take this route isn't clear, though it's certainly conceivable that certain equipment that they didn't bring with them to the moon.) And even though they're more overtly malicious than in "The Tenth Planet," the calm manner in which they inform everyone that all humans are to be wiped out does retain a certain unconventional, disturbing edge that I can appreciate.

On the other hand, I'm not sure the Cybermen's "logic" completely holds up in this one. I'm not sure why they would find it necessary to pick a fight with humans, given that (a) the humans in this story believe the Cybermen all perished in 1986 (i.e. in "The Tenth Planet"); and (b) they were defeated last time the two races came into conflict. Why not just leave Earth alone for the time being? Their plan to spread the disease by poisoning the sugar also seems destined to fail, as indeed it eventually does since only some are subjected to the mind control and the others are able to resist. Besides, what if none of the people took sugar in their coffee? I suppose the Cybermen could have afforded to wait the situation out for a while if this didn't work, but it still seems kind of boneheaded given that they were able to move around the base unobserved and probably could have poisoned other food supplies as well. Sugar isn't the only ordinary substance to prove strangely crucial, either: later, they use some of Polly's nail-polish remover to damage the Cybermen's outer casing. I'm not exactly sure why, but giving something so banal such an important role always comes off kind of silly -- it's kind of like the "Get the cheese to sickbay!" scene in the first season of Star Trek: Voyager.

This isn't a standout serial for any of the TARDIS crew, though they have their moments. The Second Doctor gets to show off his skill at bluffing and play-acting in Episode 2, when Hobson is about ready to throw them all out of the base and he claims to have a cure and angrily orders everyone out of the medical bay. Ben and Jamie make for an interesting pair at times, in that we haven't typically had two young, assertive male companions on the show at once, and in fact the two of them almost get in a fight at one point. It's also interesting to see Jamie shortly after he joined the TARDIS crew, still not quite believing they can travel to the moon and later mistaking a Cyberman for the manifestation of a family superstition. Polly is a character who can be somewhat difficult to appreciate when viewing this serial out of sequence -- after Liz Shaw and Sarah Jane Smith (or even Zoe Heriot and Jo Grant), her stereotypical traits can't help but grate a little, particularly the bit with the coffee. On the other hand, her compassion for the sick people in the medical bay comes off as genuine and not just a reflection of dated gender roles. As for the guest characters, none of them really stand out except Hobson, who is a reasonable portrait of an authority figure who can be tough and adversarial without being unlikeable.

I'm not going to assign a rating to "The Moonbase" given that I saw it in incomplete form. I did assign a rating to "The Crusade," but that was a serial driven primarily by character and dialogue. "The Moonbase" is more of an action/adventure story, meaning that more is lost by the absence of the visuals for Episodes 1 and 3. My gut feeling, however, is that it's somewhere in the **1/2 to *** range. Though the characterization is not exceptional and the portrayal of the Cybermen has its good and bad points, Pedler's script keeps up the suspense until the very last minute, albeit with a little too much reliance on technobabble. It's not the best of the Second Doctor partial restorations -- that honor still goes to "The Invasion" -- but it's still the closest you'll find to a full Season 4 Troughton serial, and that alone makes it a highlight of the Lost in Time set.

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