Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day 156: The Moonbase, Episode One
Ah, The Moonbase. Before starting on The 50 Year Diary, The Moonbase was one of the few missing stories that I’d watched in any form. Put simply. It’s because the soundtrack is available on the Lost in Time collection, so I think I went through them in the space of a day. It’s recently been confirmed for release with Episodes One and Three animated, but it’s not going to be available until long after I need to watch it, sadly. It’s been a few years since I last saw the story (I bought the Lost in Time DVDs on release, and that was about nine years ago, now), but I seem to recall liking it.
The thing I think I recall the most about this story is that Jamie doesn’t make much of an impact to the plot. I remember at the time thinking that this must be because he was added last-minute as a companion, but then watching The Underwater Menace, where he didn’t feel especially out of place (even if he did feel like he was simply filling a role), I wondered if I’d find myself pleasantly surprised.
Things start well enough, with a continuation of the TARDIS scene from yesterday’s episode, but it’s not long before Jamie has been knocked out and we’re left with him just waking up to mumble from time to time. It’s nice, at least, that what he’s mumbling seems to be tied in well with his Scottish heritage - with a family legend about the ‘Phantom Piper’.
With the members of the crew Who are left awake for the rest of the episode, there’s quite a lot to enjoy. Being another in the mold of the ‘Base Under Siege’ story, there’s a number of similarities to The Tenth Planet, quite apart from the presence of the Cybermen. We’ve got the international crew (this time, our ‘comedy European’ is from France), A leader Who’s not overly keen on the Doctor (though Hobson is friendlier than General Cutler was), and a number of confined areas that could create good drama. Outside our base of choice, there’s an open expanse that cuts us off from the rest of humanity, with only a radio to keep us in contact (I can’t remember, but I’d not be surprised if the radios get damaged at some point before the story is over).
It sounds like I’m complaining about all these similarities, when the truth is that they work just as well here as they did in The Tenth Planet. The ‘Base Under Siege’ is something Doctor Who can do very well, especially in this era of the programme.
If anything, I think I’m more drawn to this story’s ‘hook’ than I was to the one in Hartnell’s swan song. Mysterious power-drain from a spaceship and the approach of a tenth planet was all very well, but I’m really enjoying the idea of the crew falling ill, seemingly at random, and the idea that there’s someone - or something - listening in to all the base’s radio communications.
I think this episode, much like the last of The Underwater Menace, is helped simply by being missing from the archives. While the Doctor, Ben, Polly, and Jamie all exit the TARDIS and bounce around on the surface of the Moon, I’m free to imagine it looking as good as I want. Were the episode to exist for me to actually watch, I fear that the result may end up looking not all that different to the swimming scene from Episode Three of our previous story.
It may help here that it would be against the black background of space, perhaps hiding the kirby wires a little better than the rocks of Atlantis did, but there’s a danger of it looking not quite as good as I’d like. As things go, it’s a strong start, but we’re about to enter a week or so of episodes existing seemingly at random, as I alternate between soundtracks and the Lost in Time DVDs on pretty much a daily basis…