Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day 157: The Moonbase, Episode Two
Because I listened to the soundtrack for yesterday’s episode, I didn’t get to see the cliffhanger in any way. It gets repeated at the start of this episode, and I couldn’t help but wonder… how obvious was it to kids watching at the time that these were Cybermen? I mean, there are similarities between this and The Tenth Planet’s design - the handlebar motif, mainly, and the eyes are similar enough, but was it a case of them being instantly recognisable?
I always used to think of the Cyber-designs from The Moonbase as being one of my favourites, but actually, I’m not so sure of that now. Having fallen so in love with the design on display a few weeks back, these just don’t pack the same punch. The moment that really convinced me of that was a shot of a Cyberman stood at the foot of Jamie’s bed.
The entire moment is played to shock you, as Polly turns around to see it, the camera pulling round to show us what she’s looking at. It works very well, but just imagine the shock of the reveal being one of the Tenth Planet models stood there, with a blank cotton-covered face! That would have a real impact.
I don’t think the design is helped by having them do things hat really aren’t flattering. There’s a great scene of the Cyberman breaking into the base via a hole in the store-room wall, as it pushes its way through, sending bags of food tumbling… and then we get to watch for a few seconds as the Cyberman stops and starts piling them back up again. It’s not exactly the most thrilling thing they’ve ever had to do. Or there’s the cliffhanger, which revolves around the Doctor finding another of the Cybermen taking a little nap under a blanket in the medical wing. That’s not their greatest moment, either.
It’s a shame, in some ways, because when they are being used well, they’re being used really well. The shot of them killing two of the crew on the surface of the Moon (and the subsequent shot of the two empty suits laying on the ground) is fantastic, and they do look quite imposing when they take the crew members from the medical ward. Hopefully, now that they’re on display to Hobson, we’ll be getting more Cyber-action that shows them in the best light.
All that said… I love their plan. Poisoning the sugar supply. I really wish that I didn’t know that was coming, since it’s a great reveal and a very clever idea. After all these years, that’s the one plot point that I’ve always remembered from The Moonbase. It helped by a fantastic special effect of the infection taking hold, spreading black lines across a hand. It’s an example of the programme trying a special effect and getting it so, so, right.
This is where, lately, I’ve been telling you that I’m not going to bother praising Troughton. Today, though, I think I need to make an exception. His ‘some corners of the universe’ speech is one of the best known moments of his entire era (it’s Troughton’s equivalent of the ‘one day, I shall come back’ moment), and it really is brilliant. It’s possibly the bit of Troughton that I find myself quoting the most (with the right initiation of ‘they must be fought!’), but even I’d forgotten just how great it was.
It also marks another key point in that journey that I was tracing for the First Doctor, in regards to becoming the man that we know and love today. With occasional backtracks, the Hartnell incarnation was pretty much at this point by the time we reached the end of Season Two. This is a great example of the Doctor really laying out the way that he views the universe. Ben suggests that they take Hobson’s orders and simply retreat to the TARDIS, but the Doctor argues that, no, they have to stay because there is evil to be fought in the base.
It’s a real high point for Troughton, and he seems to really relish playing the moment. He’s equally as fantastic during the cliffhanger, when he has to question Hobson about his men searching the medical bay. The camera pulls in really tight to Troughton, who switches to ‘serious’ for one of the very first times. We saw a bit of the serious side to this Doctor in The Power of the Daleks, but this is our first proper exposure to it.
And it really helps to sell the threat. When the Doctor is worried, we should be worried. I’ve grown so used to this incarnation playing everything as a game, it feels genuinely unusual for him to be in this kind of mood. That’s not to say that there aren’t plenty of chances for Troughton’s clowning around to creep into the story, too, though. The entire scene of him sneaking around in the main control room taking samples from the crew members is brilliant, as he stretches himself up and crouches down in the pursuit of data. Brilliant stuff.
And lets have a hand, please, for Space Adventure, the default Cyberman theme in this era. We heard bits of it yesterday as a cue that something was about to happen, but this is the first time that we’ve had it for any kind of sustained period, during the cliffhanger. I love Space Adventure. It’s quite possibly my favourite of all the music ever used in the series. I hum it when Ellie and me watch any Cyberman episode (It really got on her nerves during Nightmare in Silver a few weeks ago). For a while, it was even my ringtone. These days, I can’t even figure out how to change my ringtone, so it couldn’t be even if I wanted it to.
And now, I’m going to have it spinning in my head until tomorrow’s episode. Sing along with me, now…