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The Cybermen Return: The Moonbase

The Patrick Troughton era is also very much the era of the Cybermen; Troughton’s Doctor faced them more than any other Doctor.  Although their first appearance was in William Hartnell’s final story, “The Tenth Planet,” Troughton’s Doctor faced them four times (5 if you count “The Five Doctors”).  After making a memorable debut on the show, “The Moonbase” is the first of the Cybermen’s many returns to the show.  In Kit Peder’s sequel, it has been about 90 years since the destruction of the Cybermen’s home planet, Mondas, and it features a significant change in the goals of the Cybermen.  In “The Tenth Planet,” their ultimate goal was to convert humans to “be like us.” Their return sees them out to destroy humanity, now that they perceive humans as a threat.

The new Cybermen

The new Cybermen

The adventure begins because the Doctor attempts to prove to his companions that he does, in fact, have control of where the TARDIS lands.  He decides to go to Mars, but instead has a very bumpy landing on the moon.  At this point the second Doctor does not appear to have the curiosity of his predecessor, since he wants to leave immediately, but Ben and Polly want to take the opportunity to explore the surface of the moon.  While they are exploring, Jamie injures himself and is taken by unidentified men into a nearby base.  The Doctor, Polly, and Ben follow him into the base.

They soon learn that they are in the year 2070 and this base is run by an international group in charge of the gravitron (no, not the carnival ride), which controls the weather on the earth.  A mysterious illness has struck the base; men are collapsing and dark lines develop, almost like veins, across their body.  Hobson, the leader of the base, suspects the travelers of somehow being responsible for the disease, but he is soon forced to acknowledge that the Cybermen, who were all believed to have been killed when Mondas exploded, have infiltrated the base.

The mysterious disease with which the men have come down is, in fact, due to something the Cybermen have put in the sugar; it results in the affected men being under cyber control.  The Cybermen have decided that earth is a threat to them, so they wish to use the gravitron to destroy the earth.  It is up to the Doctor and his companions to stop the cybermen before it’s too late.

The story is an entertaining one.  The story moves along at a good pace, and the early Cybermen make an interesting villain.   However, it is not without its faults.  Although it does not reach the levels of absurdity that were found in the previous story, “The Underwater Menace,” there are some moments that require you to abandon logic or accept characters making incredibly idiotic decisions.  One such example of the former is when the Cybermen have shot a hole in the glass dome around the gravitron.  Hobson first plugs up the hole with his jacket and then with the coffee tray.  Somehow I doubt that either of these objects would actually prevent the oxygen from escaping!  An example of the latter comes after the people have disabled the men that the Cybermen took over.  They remove the headgear that the Cybermen are using to control them, but they place it right next to them in their sick bay.  It was very helpful of them to leave it within arms reach for when they get reactivated.  It’s also amusing that each member of the international (basically European with at least one Australian) group wears a shirt with their rank in the order of importance and the flag of their home country.  The Frenchman, Benoit, even wears a scarf tied jauntily around his neck, because that is clearly what all French people do.

Benoit (in his jaunty French scarf) looks to Hobson for advice about his fallen colleague.

Benoit (in his jaunty French scarf) looks to Hobson for advice about his fallen colleague.

There are also interesting developments with the Cybermen.  As I stated before, their mission has changed.  They are now out to simply destroy everyone on earth, rather than convert them.  Additionally, almost every time they appeared on the show their appearance changed (at least it makes sense that they would continue to “upgrade” themselves), and this is no exception.  Gone are their cloth faces, replaced by a far more metallic looking head.  These Cybermen look more robotic than their predecessors, and they have the ability to shoot energy from their hands.  It is also interesting that the Cybermen recognize the Doctor; the last time they saw him he was William Hartnell.  However, the timeline for the Cybermen has always been a bit confusing (something I’m hoping to work out as I watch these episodes), so this could be explained by “The Invasion” which was not yet made but takes place in an earlier time. In one final random note,  John Levene, who went on to play the popular Sargent Benton in the UNIT stories, makes his first appearance on the show playing one of the Cybermen.

As for the Doctor himself, this is, perhaps, the most clever we’ve seen the second Doctor.  He seems a bit more in control and more certain of what he is doing in this story.  Of course, Hobson doesn’t listen to him and even suspects him of sabotage, but ultimately he shows that he was correct.   Thankfully, he is also without the ridiculous hat he has sported in all of the other stories and he doesn’t play the recorder once.  After watching all of these early Troughton stories, you can really see his Doctor taking shape.  By this point, the playfulness, the impulsiveness, and the quick thinking that are the hallmarks of his Doctor have all been added to his characterization and gone is some of the early bizarre behavior.  He’s still eccentric, but it’s been toned down quite a bit.

The companions, as in “The Underwater Menace,” do not fare as well.  Polly, as usual, has moments in which she gets to show how clever she is, but she also screams a lot.  She also makes coffee twice, which is, apparently, her job when the Cybermen attack, since that was her job in “The Tenth Planet” as well.  She spends most of the first half of the story tending to the sick Jamie (since nursing is clearly women’s work), but she is the first to see the Cybermen.   Her best moment is when she is the one to figure out how to defeat the Cybermen inside the base.  She realizes that the plastic apparatuses on the Cybermen’s chests are their most vulnerable point because plastic can be dissolved.  Of course she is able to figure this out by thinking of nail polish remover (I guess Pedler wanted her scientific knowledge to be anchored in a traditionally feminine activity?), but the fact is that she is the only one to think of this.   I was a bit annoyed that when it came time to actually attack the Cybermen, Ben tells her to stay behind because, “this is men’s work.” Happily, though, Polly ignores him and joins the attack.

The moment before a Cyberman quite nimbly leaps out of the bed at which they're staring.  Who knew Cybermen could be so agile?

The moment before a Cyberman quite nimbly leaps out of the bed at which they’re staring. Who knew Cybermen could be so agile?

Ben and Jamie are still not really developed.  Ben demonstrates a great deal of scientific knowledge in this story, which is his main contribution to the story (those were the lines that they couldn’t give to Jamie, since he’s from the past) and is, again, a man of action, quick to fight back against the Cybermen.  Jamie is unconscious for most of the first half, muttering about the phantom piper, but joins in for the second half.  You still don’t get to know Jamie all that well, however, since he is basically just getting lines that would have been given to Ben.  There does seem to be a bit of a rivalry developing between Ben and Jamie, though, as Ben seems to worry about Jamie trying to impress Polly.  Something tells me that Ben’s feeling for Polly are a bit more than friendly at this point.

Overall, I quite enjoy “The Moonbase.”  It’s not the best Cyberman adventure, but it’s a story that holds your interest until the end.  Perhaps the most random element of the story is introduced in the final moments, when the Doctor suggests they turn on the time scanner.  The time scanner allows the Doctor a glimpse of what will happen in the future, which in this case shows an image of a claw, leading into the next story, “The Macra Terror.”  If he has the ability to peek into his own near future, why doesn’t he use it more often?  This seems like a useful tool that he has never used before and doesn’t use later.  Although I have to admit that knowing what’s coming next is never of particular importance to Patrick Troughton’s Doctor, so maybe I can see why he wouldn’t want to use it too often.  Where’s the fun in having a plan?


5 responses to “The Cybermen Return: The Moonbase

  1. I came to this story through the novelization first (“Doctor Who and the Cybermen”), reading that about 8 years before I had a chance to see the two surviving episodes when they were first released on VHS. Your point about Troughton’s development as the Doctor is interesting; in this story, he starts working around the margins, literally getting underfoot of the scientists and working things out for himself quietly… gone are the days of Hartnell gripping his lapels, staring just off-camera, and reading out the exposition from cue cards. It’s a pity Jamie didn’t get much to do here, but he was evidently shoehorned into the script late and most of his lines were, I think, originally Ben’s (shades of “Galaxy Four” where Steven’s lines had originally been assigned to Barbara Wright!).

    • I love Jamie as a companion, but his early stories don’t really do him justice. Even Frazer Hines has joked about this story, where his only lines for the first half are basically him muttering about the piper. The addition of Jamie really didn’t do Ben any favors either, since neither one of them gets a lot of development when they’re sharing lines.

  2. Pingback: Doctor Who: Closing Time Review | The Consulting Detective

  3. I just picked this up on DVD today. It is an interesting, enjoyable story, albeit one with a few faults, as you say. It can be regarded as a transition story, in that Troughton, after the overt clowning around of his first three serials, seems to at last feel comfortable in the role, as well as adopt a more serious tone. From this point on, the Second Doctor is still humorous, but it is more often with the goal of distracting people or making the villains underestimate him.

    • You’re right about it being a transitional story. It isn’t really until this story that we see how clever the second Doctor can be, and that his silliness often masks his intelligence. I haven’t picked up the DVD yet, but I’m hoping to soon. I have to admit that I just love the Cybermen in the 60’s. Even in a story like this one that has its flaws, the story is never dull.

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