If you’ve seen The Tenth Planet (and if you haven’t, why not?? – stop reading and go watch!) then you might some similarities between this Patrick Troughton Cybermen story and the classic finale for Billy H. And by “some”, I mean loads.
The Moonbase came hot on the heels of the Cybermen’s first outing, airing less than four months since their debut story ended. Quite a remarkable turnaround and a testament to their popularity. The story also comes hot on the heels of its predecessor, The Underwater Menace, as it follows on directly from the events of that tumultuous tale.
The Doctor and his chums, Ben, Polly and Jamie, find themselves unexpectedly on the Moon and quickly come into contact with titular base where they find a station controlling the weather on good old planet Earth. [UKIP satire alert: Yes, they’re all married gays – Ed.] But something’s not quite right as the staff of the outpost fall ill and then a race previously thought dead return to wreak havoc on Earth.
Although I personally prefer the look of the Cybermen from their previous outing, all cloth faces and fleshy hands, it was an astute move to update the shiny metal-assed invaders. A trope that would continue through the years (fact fans may note, I’m also a huge fan of the Earthshock Cybermen). They are presented wonderfully and in impressive numbers too. Director Morris Barry performs a sterling job in creating a wonderful atmosphere (which, as lame-jokers will tell you, is ironic as the moon has none) and frames the silver bad boys beautifully.
The sense of menace and, indeed, horror, is portrayed stoutly and none more so than in the infected crew of the weather station. Genuinely creepy and unnervingly displayed on the hands and faces of those touched by the Cybermen’s dastardly plan.
Matching the tone of the menace, Patrick Troughton’s performance is a sombre reflection of his normal twinkly and bouncy Second Doctor. The threat is made all the more tangible and veracious through his concern and austerity; most notable in the Time Lord’s rightly famous “corners of the universe” speech. As remarked upon in the accompanying documentary, Troughton really reigns in his eccentricities here – and it pays off immensely.
There’s also some lovely fun stuff in there, notably the gang jumping around in spacesuits in the first installment which is a joy to watch. Throw in a troupe of very fine performances all round and a scintillating soundtrack and you’ve got a classic that, thankfully, they kept in at a neat, and satisfying, four parts.
Planet 55, the people behind the animation, have done an absolutely tip top job here – producing the best animation I’ve seen on a Doctor Who DVD so far in the range. The likenesses are nothing short of sensational and there’s a real sense of immediacy, particularly with the Cybes themselves. Poor Ralph getting zapped in Episode One is incredibly dynamic as is the scene where they foam up in Episode Three (and the attack on the moon’s surface). Bizarrely, this leaves the real live action footage wanting. From the gorgeous sets to the mesmerising movement of all the characters, this is a triumph. And one wishes that many more missing tales could be completed in sich a beautiful and engaging fashion.
As the classic DVD range comes to an end (apparently), the extras here do feel slightly paltry in comparison to previous releases with just a “making of” and a commentary to deal with (though, it should be said, there are two animated episodes to contend with).
The behind-the-scenes feature, Lunar Landing, includes interviews with Anneke Wills (Polly), Frazer Hines (Jamie), Reg Whitehead (Cyberman) and production assistant Desmond McCarthy. Though informative and fun, it’s a little uneventful in comparison to some other making-ofs (no fault of the documentary makers or contributors); perhaps not one you’ll come back to much. Lunar Landing, however, does include some rather tasty visuals from Qurios. Warning for parents though, it does contain the words “condom”, “crotch”, “peed” and “bum”. The dirty devils.
The commentary takes the welcome turn of using archival materials and specially recorded interviews for the animated episodes (One and Three). A lovely touch which fully fleshes out the story of The Moonbase and the Cybermen; including a series of interviews featuring writer Kit Pedler’s daughters, producer Innes Lloyd, and various actors who played Cybermen. On the remaining eps (Two and Four), you can find a lively commentary from Anneke Wills and Frazer Hines who are joined by Edward Phillips (who played a scientist in the story) and Special Sounds creator Brian Hodgson (moderated by Toby Hadoke). Despite some almost word-for-word repeated anecdotes also featured in the making-of, it’s a delightful listen throughout – warm and genial.
Completing the set are: a quite beautiful Photo Gallery; a rather exciting “Coming Soon” for The Underwater Menace; Radio Times listings and the Subtitle Production Notes (from Martin Wiggins) which will raise a smile as well as inform (though only on Episodes Two and Four).
Though The Moonbase may seem like The Tenth Planet 2: This Time It’s The Moon, this Patrick Troughton four-parter is still a must-see and, with two beautifully animated episodes, there’s really no reason not to get your peepers on this classic slice of Cybermen action now.