Rewatching... Doctor Who: The Moonbase – Part 2

My continuing mission: to watch classic television exactly fifty years after original broadcast date...

Saturday 18 February 1967

Polly seems to be setting the template of the screaming companion. There hasn’t been an awful lot of screaming up till now, but since the new Doctor took over the horror content seems to be on the increase.

The Cybermen have had a makeover, and they look great. More solid, but perhaps losing their more human features has sacrificed the creepiness, distancing them from their organic origin. The one that appeared at the end of the last episode grabs one of the unconscious ‘virus’ victims and is gone as quickly as he appeared, but not before Polly gets a look at it.

I like the way she's not completely sure if it’s a Cyberman she saw, a believable reaction and an acknowledgement of their new design within the fiction, rather than us being expected to pretend they look the same. Hobson doesn’t believe it’s Cybermen as “every child knows” they disappeared years ago.

My comment last week about the Moonbase crew’s tolerance and acceptance of the Doctor and friends was a bit premature. This week Hobson has had enough of his crew dropping one-by-one and is putting two-and-two together. In other words it’s the usual “it all started when you arrived” situation. The Doctor buys them more time by announcing that he’s going to solve the mystery of the dying crew.

The Doctor tells Polly he thinks he remembers getting a degree in medicine, studying with Joseph Lister in Glasgow in 1888. I may be wrong but I believe this might be the first instance of the Doctor name dropping! So we are to believe the Doctor spent several years in Scotland sitting through lectures, completing coursework, attending exams… I’m trying to imagine the Hartnell Doctor swotting away in the TARDIS while Susan’s playing her radio too loudly (“Turn that thing down child, can’t you see I’m trying to revise?!”) Or perhaps he took his degree before he left his home planet, his tutors sending him on a sort of intergalactic work experience.

“Some corners of the universe have bred the most terrible things…”, the Doctor says, increasing the fear factor by 72% and sending half the country’s children scurrying for the back of the sofa no doubt. “They must be fought” he tells us, a mission statement changing the course of Doctor Who forever.

A dark moment followed by some silliness as he proceeds to get in everyone’s way and on their nerves, taking samples, picking at people’s clothes, untying shoes… This too is classic Doctor Who as you know it: dark and scary, then light and funny. It seems Polly’s not the only one who “speaks foreign” (see The Underwater Menace) as after getting in Benoit’s way the Doctor gets verbally abused by the angry Frenchman and apologizes to the man in French.

Later when the Doctor despondently admits he’s had no luck working out what the virus is, there’s a funny moment where Polly cautiously suggests that it might be a bit beyond the Doctor’s knowledge because 1888 was an awfully long time ago and medical science might have advanced a bit since then..!

Elsewhere the crew are having problems with the gravitron, and get reports from Earth of a massive hurricane building. In the sick bay Polly and a crewman are confronted by another Cyberman and Polly is knocked unconscious by it’s electrical gun. The Doctor comes to her rescue too late before the Cyberman leaves again. There’s a recording break here, and no mention of it when we see Polly on her feet again in the next scene.

Two technicians leave the base to make repairs outside, but are attacked by two Cybermen. The music when the Cybermen appear is very good, heightening the tension brilliantly.

We’re seeing another new side to the Doctor tonight: he bluffs to Hobson that he’s found something significant and exerts an authority around the base that I don’t remember seeing before. The Doctor is very much centre stage here, unlike the first Doctor who was often standing in the sidelines, or commanding from the back, offering advice. He suddenly realizes the ‘virus’ is actually poisoned sugar and from then on completely takes control. The Doctor’s explanation for nature of the infection, and the black veins spreading across skin seems very scientifically plausible to me. No doubt having a scientist as writer has something to do with this. The shot of the veins appearing along a man’s hand is very well done.

There’s another dark moment as the Doctor realizes that it is indeed the Cybermen behind the infection and that one of them might hiding in the sickbay, the very room in which they stand. They carefully check the sickbay couches one by one, and then freeze as they spot a pair of silver boots sticking out from under a sheet…suddenly the Cyberman leaps to his feet and advances on them…

Nick Brown
Nick Brown

I've embarked upon an open ended mission, pretending to travel back in time and watch classic television on (or close to) the fiftieth anniversary of original broadcast date; getting a sense of the context, the magic of that first viewing.

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Rewatching... Doctor Who: The Moonbase – Part 2