Doctor Who – The Moonbase Review

  • Series Title: Doctor Who
  • Story Title: The Moonbase
  • Story #: 33
  • Episodes: 4 half-hour parts
  • Discs: 1
  • Network: BBC
  • Cast: Patrick Troughton, Frazer Hines, Anneke Wills, Michael Craze
  • Format: Standard, Black and White, DVD, NTSC

“No, Ben, we can’t go yet!” – The Doctor
“But why not? They don’t want us here!” – Ben
“Because there is something evil here and we must stay.” – the Doctor
“Evil? Don’t be daft.” – Scientist
“Evil is what I meant. There are some corners of the universe which have bred the most terrible things. Things which stand against everything we believe in. They must be fought!” – The Doctor

“Resistance is useless!” – Cyberman

Episodes 1 and 3 of “The Moonbase” are black and white animation with the original audio. Episodes 2 and 4 are the original film/video. I like this approach for stories where some episodes are lost, rather than telesnap reconstructions. “The Moonbase” also picks up directly from where “The Underwater Menace” left off – with the TARDIS having a bumpy flight. When the camera pulls back a bit, we can see that Polly is still in her seaweed dress from the previous story and Ben’s still in his wetsuit. the TARDIS lands and the Doctor has his companions change in to more appropriate clothing. They also put on bubble-headed spacesuits to head outside. Once outside they realise they aren’t on Mars as the Doctor promised but on the Moon. Jaime finds this hard to believe. Once walking on the moon, Ben, Polly, and Jaime all discover they can do “super jumps” due to the low gravity. Unfortunately, Jaime gets a bit too enthusiastic and knocks himself out. A pair of scientists from the moonbase bring him inside and Jaime, Ben and Polly join them.

The moonbase is an international station, with an international crew of men. It’s purpose is to monitor and control the gravitron which in turn controls the Earth’s weather. It is of note that while there are scientists from many countries working side-by-side on the moonbase – there aren’t any women. Polly is the only woman in the entire story! A number of the men have suddenly taken sick, with black lines on their faces and hands. Jaime is taken to the medical unit where he is feverish, and keeps muttering that the “Phantom Piper” is going to take him. Polly, acting as nurse, explains to the Doctor it’s a legend of his clan – the Piper appears to those soon to die. Polly continues to act as nurse.

The Doctor finds out what is going on – and offers his services as a scientist and doctor. But, as he admits to Polly, even after examining everything he is stumped – he can’t find anything. But when one of the people from the base enters he asks Polly to look busy, and rushes about, blustering that he needs more time. Jaime sees the Piper – a Cyberman. Polly also sees the Cyberman and to her credit remembers it (having met them in the last Hartnell story, “The Tenth Planet”). The scientists poo-poo Polly, saying there once were Cybermen, but it was eons ago. Even the Doctor isn’t quite convinced.

Meanwhile the base is getting signals from Earth, since the not-quite-controlled gravitron is allowing a hurricane to build that is threatening Hawaii. Later it will turn out these signals are being faked by the Cybermen in both directions. A relief rocket is sent to find out what’s going on – because as far as Earth knows the base has been radio silent for days. The commander’s reports of a mysterious illness are simply never received. The commander also briefly suspects the Doctor, but fortunately that doesn’t last. The Cybermen reveal themselves and even let the commander know how they got in – a hold through the bottom of the store room. This explains the sudden but momentary lost of pressure the base is experiencing.

Meanwhile, the Polly is helping Ben in between playing nurse to Jaime and the others and making the coffee. She asks Ben what the Cybermen are made of, he says metal, she asks about the chest unit, and he tells her it’s some kind of plastic. Polly realises that they can melt the plastic with nail varnish remover (aka nail polish remover). She does have to ask Ben what nail varnish remover is chemically, and he tells her acetone. Polly then does an experiment and melts some plastic in a petri dish using acetone. Ben figures that if one chemical is good – several will be better, and they mix up a cocktail of acetone, benzene, etc. Jaime, now awake and wanting to be helpful, offers to help Ben go after the Cybermen. Ben tells Polly it’s “men’s work” and leaves her in the lab. Polly though doesn’t stay behind, she grabs one of the spray bottles and heads to the control center. Ben, Jaime, and Polly successfully attack and destroy several Cybermen with Polly’s “nail varnish” cocktail.

The Cybermen have become more bold, however, and threaten the control center – taking control of some of the men with units attached to their heads, shooting a hole in the outside wall (letting out the air), threatening to turn off the air entirely, etc. The Commander keeps refusing the Cybermen – even after they reflect the relief rocket into the sun. One of the controlled men gets into the Control center and messes-up the gravitron – but the Doctor notices and stops him.

Eventually the Doctor realises they can use the gravitron itself to reflect the Cybermen off the moon’s surface, just as the Cybermen used it to reflect the rocket. They turn the gravitron manually towards the surface of the moon, and the Cybermen and their ships float off into space, including the reinforcements. The Doctor, Ben, Polly, and Jaime leave.

“The Moonbase” deserves it’s reputation  as a classic. It moves at a fast pace, and the Cybermen are a bit more finished looking than in “The Tenth Planet”, yet still have the really spooky, grating, mechanical-sounding voice. Polly finds a way to defeat the Cybermen using nail varnish (polish) remover (acetone) and she’s also the one who figures out that the poison the Cybermen are using against the men on the base is in the sugar. I guess all that pouring of coffee was worth it! But it’s frustrating that in such an advanced, international station – there isn’t a single woman to be found. Polly is literally the only woman in the entire story. Most of the Doctor Who stories, even in the 1960s had female guest stars, so this one really stands out for it’s total male cast. (“The Underwater Menace” had Ara the handmaiden who helps Polly, a old woman in the market who also helps, several unnamed handmaidens in the market, and all the Fish People are women. Power of the Daleks has the scientist/rebel Janey, and a few unnamed background characters for example.) One really wonders what they were thinking to not have any women working on the moon base.

There is also one on-screen blooper. The cyber-controlled man goes into the gravitron control center, knocks out the operator (during the ruckus with the laser shot that puts a hole in the window) and takes the operator’s place, including putting on his helmet – backwords. The poor guy makes quite a show of trying to force the helmet on his head too – when the reason it doesn’t fit is it’s on backwards.

But even with the sexism of such an important Earth institution not including women, and the little opps with the helmet, it’s a good story. I liked seeing Polly being so prominent in the story, though poor Jaime spends two episodes knocked out in the med center. Recommended.

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Doctor Who – The Underwater Menace Review

  • Series Title: Doctor Who
  • Story Title: The Underwater Menace
  • Story #: 32
  • Episodes: 4 half-hour parts
  • Discs: 1
  • Network: BBC
  • Cast: Patrick Troughton, Frazer Hines, Anneke Wills, Michael Craze
  • Format: Standard, Black and White, DVD, NTSC

“Just one small question, Why do you want to blow-up the world?” – The Doctor to Professor Zarkoff

“Nothing in the world can stop me now!” – Zarkoff

Part 1 and 4 of  The Underwater Menace are presented as telesnaps with the original audio. Parts 2 and 3 are the original black and white film/video episodes. Telesnaps are what they sound like – pictures taken off a television screen. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work nearly as well as actually re-creating the episodes with animation. Part 1 is especially confusing – Jaime is a new companion in the TARDIS, and they land on an ocean shore. Even Polly remarks that they’ve landed “in Cornwall”. It’s actually Dorset according to the making of featurette included on the DVD, but it’s a sign of things to come in this somewhat off-center Doctor Who story. The Doctor (Troughton), Ben, Polly, and Jaime explore and Polly wanders off – she finds some artifacts and is taken hostage or something. The TARDIS crew find themselves in Atlantis.

In Atlantis the Doctor and Ben are nearly sacrificed to the god, Amdo, while Polly is taken to Professor Zaroff to be turned into a Fish Person. Polly screams and proclaims she’ll “not be turned into a fish!” But the Doctor knows of Zaroff, a famous researcher in getting food from the sea. The Doctor, Ben, and Jaime are treated to a meal that the Doctor claims is delicious, ambrosia. Then the Doctor is taken to Zaroff, while Ben and Jaime are sent to work in the mines. The Doctor does some minor sabotage to the lighting so Polly can escape. Meanwhile, Ben and Jaime meet two miners, Jacko and Sean, who are determined to escape the mines. They all become partners. The Doctor meets up with Zarkoff and realizes he’s completely mad. Moreover, his plan to raise Atlantis by lowering the level of water in the Ocean (by allowing it to drain through a drilled hole into the center of the planet) will destroy the Earth.

Polly makes friends with a handmaiden in Atlantis who helps her out – aiding her escape from the scientists trying to turn her into a Fish Person, getting her clothes and a place to hide in the temple, passing messages along. Jacko, Sean, Ben, and Jaime soon get the chance to escape the mines and follow a tunnel that leads to the temple, so they are re-united with Polly quickly. The Doctor, learning that Polly is hidden in the temple, goes to meet with the priest, Ramo. Despite a rocky start (Ramo had tried to sacrifice the Doctor after all) the Doctor ends-up allied with Ramo, as both want to over-throw Zarkoff. Ramo gets the Doctor a disguise and brings him to the head of state, Thous, to try to get him to stop Zaroff. Thous only wants to raise Atlantis from the sea, though, so he orders the Doctor to be sacrificed again. Ben stops this by pretending to be Amdo, and directing all the religious observers to avert their eyes – while the Doctor and Ramo escape behind the alter.

The Doctor, Ramo, and the TARDIS crew, with help from Jacko and Sean then work to stop Zarkoff. Sean baits the Fish People into going on strike – which stops the food supply for Atlantis. The food that the Fish People raise for the city may be delicious – but it spoils quickly and cannot be stored. This food shortage causes the miners to stop working, and Ben, Jaime, and Jacko help them escape through the tunnels to the higher levels of the city. The Doctor, with help from Polly, breaks the sea wall, flooding Atlantis, including Zarkoff’s lab. The Doctor does try to rescue Zarkoff, but his own arrogance dooms the insane scientist.

Some of the people of Atlantis are drowned, but the rest survive, including Ramo and Thous. When Ramo suggests building a shrine to the Doctor and company, Thous insists they will have no more shrines and no more slaves (the Fish People) they will re-build Atlantis together. The Doctor meets up with Polly, Jaime, and Ben at the TARDIS and they leave – but the TARDIS seems to encounter a problem in flight.

Overall, “The Underwater Menace” is a bit, odd, as a Classic Doctor Who episode. It’s a very fantasy-oriented episode – with Fish People, ancient gods, Atlantis, and the classic battle between scientists, politicians, and religion. But, surprisingly, here – it’s the religious priest who is actually the calmest, most logical, and most sane man of the three. Even when he tries to sacrifice the Doctor it’s more of because he’s been ordered to do so by his king, rather than because he wants to. And Zarkoff is just simply insane. When the Doctor asks him why he wants to blow-up the world, his answer is basically “because it’s there” and as a demonstration of ultimate power. Although with every living thing dead on the planet one wonders who he thinks will observe this demonstration? The Doctor also cleverly manipulates Thous, asking him if he’s ever observed Zarkoff’s eyes. This causes Thous to realise himself that Zarkoff is mad (though Zarkoff then shoots him, but not fatally). Unfortunately, with parts 1 and 4 missing – it’s very hard to figure out what is going on, especially in part 1. I’d really like to see a special edition release of this story with the missing episodes re-created with animation. I don’t understand why BBC Worldwide choose to use telesnaps for the missing stories rather than animation as they have for other stories where individual parts of the whole story are missing. Overall, this is one of the more “campy” episodes of Classic Who (especially Zarkoff – he’s way over the top in every scene he’s in). But it has some good points as well: the inverse of the science vs. religion debate, some great costumes and sets, etc. Yes, I thought the Fish People costumes, and the sea-shell and seaweed dresses were inventive and impressive.

Overall, I’d give it a 3 out of 5, and I’d pay money for a fully restored/animated Special Edition, even though I seldom re-buy something I already own.

 

Book Review – Doctor Who: Helicon Prime

  • Title: Helicon Prime
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Author: Jake Elliot
  • Director: Nigel Fairs
  • Characters: Jaime, Second Doctor, Mindy Voir
  • Cast: Frazier Hines, Suzanne Proctor
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 01/04/2014

Helicon Prime is the second of Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles I’ve listened to. The format is somewhat between a true audiobook and one of Big Finish’s audio plays. Frazier Hines reads the story and plays the parts of Jaime, and, surprisingly well, the Second Doctor (I didn’t realise it was Frazier at all at first). Suzanne Proctor plays the part of Mindy Voir, and then Frazier reads the descriptions. It helps that in this story, Jaime is actually telling his story to someone else. Also, the story is split into two parts – with a cliffhanger and theme music at the break.

The story is about Jaime, who suddenly remembers an adventure he had with the Doctor on Helicon Prime, a resort in the Golden Section of the galaxy, where there is no violence due to the pacifying effect of the Golden Section. However, suddenly people are getting murdered. It turns out the deaths are because a small group of people is looking for a long-lost treasure.

I enjoyed the story – I listened to Part I in December and Part II today. It’s a good tale, though at times it was a bit confusing. I was a bit nervous about this format – often I find it difficult to concentrate when listening to audio books – it starts to fade into background noise and I fail to pay attention. But this format, with two actors performing their characters, then one reading the rest of the story, works surprisingly well. I have two more of these Companion Chronicles that I’ve purchased, and if they are as good, I’ll have to look into purchasing more of them from Big Finish. Also, these stories are like having the Missing Adventures or Past Doctor Adventures book series back again, but in a much faster format (it’s a single CD, so less than an hour to listen to the entire thing). There are two trailers, an interview with Fraser Hines, and a very strange music-only track included on the CD as bonus tracks.

I highly recommend Helicon Prime. The format also worked really well. And I enjoyed listening to a new and original Patrick Troughton (Second Doctor) story.

Find out more about Big Finish at their website.

Purchase Doctor Who Helicon Prime on CD or Download.

Note: No promotional consideration was paid for this review. I review because I enjoy it!