Re-watching... Doctor Who: The Moonbase – Part 1

My continuing mission: to watch classic television fifty years after first broadcast...

Saturday 11 February 1967

The fish-based shenanigans in the Atlantis-set The Underwater Menace were fun but not really my idea of Doctor Who. Now this is more like it. After the cliffhanger last week the out-of-control TARDIS is buffeted around before hovering above a familiar rocky, crater filled surface before landing. Polly’s all set to congratulate the Doctor for an accurate landing on Mars, except it’s not Mars. They’ve landed on the moon. The moon is a bit of a hot topic here in 1967. NASA has been sending out probes recently, searching for a suitable landing site for the first manned expedition. And just two weeks ago a launch rehearsal ended in tragedy when a cabin fire killed the three crew members of Apollo 1. Tonight though, the moon is positively bustling with activity, with no less than (spoiler alert) three parties at the same landing spot.

The TARDIS team tries out zero gravity for the first time, leaping around and enjoying every minute of it. Until an over exuberant Jamie misjudges his landing and injures himself. It’s odd to think that just a month ago the 18th century piper was stepping into the unknown, and now after encountering a civilisation deep beneath the ocean, here he is at the other extreme, in a space suit leaping about on the moon. These TARDIS space suits look a bit more lightweight and streamlined than the NASA ones. That’s progress I guess. I imagine in the far future NASA will have something similar.

The Doctor, Ben and Polly spot Jamie unconscious by a domed base, and watch as a hatch opens and two people emerge and carry him inside. What they didn’t spot was a saucer shaped craft in the near distance. In the base, people are succumbing to some sort of virus. The dark veins spreading across their faces are very effective. The other three travellers have obviously made their presence known off-screen and are escorted into the base. For once they’re not immediately pounced upon, locked up or accused of spying or whatever. This seems like a civilised bunch of men (no, not a woman in sight I’m afraid), a multi-national workforce who is in charge of operating a sort of weather control device called a graviton. This mix of nationalities living and working together reminds me a little of Star Trek, although that series hasn’t been seen in the UK yet so it’s probably a coincidence.

Polly tends to the seemingly delirious Jamie, while the Doctor gives us all the chills by pondering this ‘virus’ and muttering that “something’s not right here”. The fear factor is heightened even more when one of the Moonbase crew (Nils) informs his boss (Hobson) that their communications have been intercepted and monitored. After an establishing shot of the mysterious saucer we then see the POV of its unseen occupants listening in to the moonbase chatter. This is brilliantly sinister. There’s a glimpse of silver hands operating controls…

The Doctor joins Polly in the sickbay and learns that Jamie has been muttering about a “phantom piper” coming for him. The Grim Reaper, but with bagpipes and a kilt I presume. I find his delirium a little far fetched after a bit of a tumble on a rock. I’m not sure how he could have hit his head badly enough to knock himself out, without any damage to his space suit. If his helmet did break then a bruised head would have been the least of his worries in the freezing vacuum of space. So how did he injure himself? OK let’s ignore that and move on!

The trusting Moonbase crew allows Ben to get involved, helping by fetching and carrying. In a storeroom Ralph (who’s black…gosh, multiracial too) is attacked by an unseen assailant while Ben is looking the other way. We see a shadow of a tall figure with what looks like handles on its head…

The Doctor has found a scrap of metallic cloth, and as he ponders that the base’s medic (who is one of the virus victims) wakes up screaming and muttering about a silver hand, before suddenly dying. I love how this all builds up, all these ‘silver’ clues…

Ben informs Hobson about the doctor’s death, and meanwhile Polly and Jamie are menaced by that shadow again. This time, after Polly has gone to fetch water, we see it’s legs approach, and then the full reveal: it’s a Cyberman! And it looks different!

What really impressed me with this episode was the sound design. From the creepy music during the moonscape scenes, the travellers’ voices over their spacesuit communicators, to the eery ‘respirator’ style sound effect of the base interior. It really adds to the tension. This is Doctor Who back on form, doing what it does best: sending children scurrying behind the sofa. I nearly always enjoy opening episodes, and this one does a wonderful job of building mystery, and claustrophobic terror. Superb.

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Re-watching... Doctor Who: The Moonbase – Part 1
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