Doctor Who – The Moonbase Review

  • Series Title: Doctor Who
  • Story Title: The Moonbase
  • Story #: 33
  • Episodes: 4 half-hour parts
  • Discs: 1
  • Network: BBC
  • Original Air Dates: 2/11/1967 – 3/4/1967
  • 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. Jamie finds this hard to believe. Once walking on the moon, Ben, Polly, and Jamie 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 Jamie, Ben, and Polly join them.

The moonbase is an international station, with an international crew of men. Its 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. Jamie 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 a 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. Jamie 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 hole 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 Jamie 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. Jamie, 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, Jamie, 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 Jamie leave.

“The Moonbase” deserves its 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 its total male cast. (“The Underwater Menace” had Ara the handmaiden who helps Polly, an 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 moonbase.

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 – backward. 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 backward.

But even with the sexism of such an important Earth institution not including women and the little oops with the helmet, it’s a good story. I liked seeing Polly being so prominent in the story, though poor Jamie 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
  • Original Air Dates: 1/14/1967 – 2/4/1967
  • 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 Zaroff

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

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 – Jamie 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 Jamie 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 Jamie are treated to a meal that the Doctor claims is delicious, ambrosia. Then the Doctor is taken to Zaroff, while Ben and Jamie are sent to work in the mines. The Doctor does some minor sabotage to the lighting so Polly can escape. Meanwhile, Ben and Jamie meet two miners, Jacko and Sean, who are determined to escape the mines. They all become partners. The Doctor meets up with Zaroff 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 Jamie soon get the chance to escape the mines and follow a tunnel that leads to the temple, so they are reunited 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 Zaroff. 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 altar.

The Doctor, Ramo, and the TARDIS crew, with help from Jacko and Sean, then work to stop Zaroff. 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, Jamie, 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 Zaroff’s lab. The Doctor does try to rescue Zaroff, 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, Jamie, 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 Zaroff 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 Zaroff’s eyes. This causes Thous to realise himself that Zaroff is mad (though Zaroff 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 Zaroff – 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.

Doctor Who The Power of the Daleks Review

  • Series Title: Doctor Who
  • Story Title: The Power of the Daleks
  • Story #: 30
  • Episodes: 6 half-hour parts
  • Discs: 2
  • Network: BBC
  • Original Air Dates: 11/5/1966 – 12/10/1966
  • Cast: Patrick Troughton, Anneke Wills, Michael Craze
  • Format: Widescreen, Black and White, DVD, NTSC

“Life depends on change and renewal.” – The Doctor (Patrick Troughton)

“Why do human beings kill human beings?” – Dalek

The Power of the Daleks is one of several early Doctor Who stories that were lost or destroyed in an effort by the BBC to make more room in the archives. In the UK, the BBC did not repeat or syndicate old programs, and while Doctor Who was sold to other countries, a number of stories were simply lost and haven’t been seen since they originally aired in the 1960s. This DVD set recreates the story of “The Power of the Daleks” with animation and the original audio, using photo references, telesnaps, the original camera scripts, and other information to recreate the original story. I am reviewing the US release which includes one disc containing the story using black and white animation (to recreate the black and white filming) and one disc using color animation (a more modern look). The UK PAL release, which I also have, only has the black and white version. Having seen the PAL black and white version, the US color version, and the US black and white version – I actually prefer the black and white version. Monochrome animation successfully recreates the original experience. I was surprised when I realised that it is in widescreen proportions though, as the original series was in 3:4 (standard), though technically PAL which has more lines of resolution than NTSC from the same (pre-high definition) period.

The story opens with the Doctor regenerating in the TARDIS. The previous Doctor’s coat slips off his new and smaller frame, and the previous Doctor’s signet ring falls off his finger. The Doctor checks his reflection in a mirror held by Ben and first sees his old self (Hartnell’s Doctor) and then his new self (Troughton). For the first episode, the Doctor refers to himself in the third person as, “The Doctor”. Polly (Anneke Wills) accepts he is the Doctor, while Ben (Michael Craze) is more doubtful. The TARDIS lands and the three head outside to explore. The Doctor finds the body of an Examiner from Earth who has been murdered and takes his identification, and is then knocked out. Meanwhile, Ben and Polly are checking out some pools of mercury. Even though Ben warns Polly to be careful, she is overcome by fumes. The three are picked up and taken to the colony.

It appears the TARDIS crew are on the planet Vulcan, an Earth colony. We’re told there is some minor problems on the colony, a group of rebels. The Doctor uses his Examiner’s badge to gain every access to the colony and to ask questions. Also, a scientist, Lesterson, has uncovered a spaceship capsule in the mercury swamp that has been there for hundreds of years. He claims he can’t get inside it. The Doctor and others in the colony quickly figure out how to get through the first door using a laser. Later that night, however, the Doctor discovers that Lesterson has already gone inside and discovered three unactivated Daleks. The Doctor precedes to warn everyone in the colony against the Daleks. But of course, no one takes him seriously – and no one appears to know anything about the Daleks at all.

Lesterson starts to experiment with the Daleks – using electric power from the colony to reactivate one. The newly activated Dalek fires it’s weapon on another colony scientist – the scientist collapses and Janley, a scientist in league with the rebels, reports the scientist is only stunned. Later, it is revealed the scientist is dead. The rebels will try to hold the death over Lesterson to bribe him to help their rebellion. But in the meantime, Lesterson and Janley remove the gun from the Dalek. Lesterson is convinced the Daleks will make great servants and help the colony.

The Doctor, after the first episode or two, acts much like himself – using his position as Examiner to ask questions, and trying to stop Lesterson from activating the Daleks. At first it appears there were only three Daleks in the capsule. But one of the Daleks, now castrated (it’s gun removed), convinces Lesterson to provide them with materials. As we find out later, the Daleks also get Valmar, one of the rebels, to lead a power cable into the capsule. In a chilling scene, the Doctor, Ben, and Polly witness a Dalek assembly line with Dalek creatures being taken and put into Dalek machines. The sucker arm and gun are attached and the top put on, one by one the Daleks become active as they roll off the assembly line. The Doctor becomes more determined to stop the Daleks and save the colony.

In the second half (last three episodes), the Governor of the colony is off checking on the perimeter stations, so the rebels take their chance. The assistant governor takes over, Janley re-arms three Daleks, Lesterson finally realises that the Daleks are dangerous and that there are many of them. He briefly agrees to help the Doctor, then gives up and offers to serve the Daleks – he’s killed for his trouble. The now armed Daleks kill everyone – rebels, guards, and colonists alike. They even kill the assistant governor who was using the rebellion to take over (he also personally kills the governor). The Daleks use an electrical cable loop to generate static electricity, which they use as a power source. This is how the Doctor defeats them, overloading the static power loop and blowing up the Daleks. This harms the colony’s power system. Although many are now dead, some colonists survive. Some of the survivors aren’t too happy about the damage to the colony’s power plant and systems. However, they will rebuild and improve the colony. The Doctor, Ben, and Polly make their way through the mercury swamp and leave in the TARDIS.

“The Power of the Daleks” is a good story. Surprisingly, it’s about exactly what the title says: how to power the Daleks. First, Lesterson uses the colony’s power to re-animate the three Daleks. Then the Daleks plot to get power (and supplies) to their ship to power their assembly-line and to bring to life the Dalek creatures in the vat. Finally, as the Daleks use static electricity for power, they plot out how to lay cable to generate the static electricity they need. The assembly line scene is very chilling and perfectly done in the animation.

Overall, the animation for “The Power of the Daleks” is very good. There is one scene where Polly and others are leaving a scene to unseen stage left and instead of turning and walking off stage, they face front and sort of hop and disappear to the side – like puppets, but that was one odd scene. The facial expressions and detail is very well realized and I just enjoyed it a lot. I would love to see more of the Doctor Who missing stories re-created with animation. Unlike “Power of the Daleks”, many of the stories have some of the half-hour original episodes left on film/video so the entire story would not need to be animated. That is, a story might have two out of four parts remaining as actual original black and white film/video so only two parts would need to be animated. Furthermore, several of the William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton stories have already been released in this hybrid fashion – as many of the original film/video episodes as possible and the missing episode filled in with animation and the original audio. This seems like the only way to bring these original early stories back so Doctor Who fans can see them.

Again, “The Power of the Daleks” is an excellent Doctor Who story. I really enjoyed it, animation and all. I’d love to see more missing stories released this way. Highly recommended.