The Moonbase: Episode Two
If Enid Blyton tried her hand at science fiction, it would probably turn out something like a Kit Pedler script. But with fewer foreigners. Episode Two is now the third-earliest surviving Troughton instalment, and visually it’s as shoddy as the script. The best you can say about this story is that it’s fairly pacey. Even though this is crap of the first order it zips along. But pretty much every scene features a groan-inducing moment(s) of disbelief at a character beat, a line of dialogue or a ridiculous plot point.
The bizarre antics of the roaming Cyberman bear less and less scrutiny. Having broken cover recklessly, he rears up to Jamie then decides to grab another invalid. And then Polly walks in, screams, and drops a cup, bringing the others running. What a silly sodding Cyberman. The comment of the missing crew, “They can’t just disappear in a place this size” is the tip of the iceberg in failings of logic. There’s an attempt at Cyber continuity.
Hobson: There were Cybermen. Every child knows that. But they were all destroyed ages ago.
Not having had the benefit of seeing the original broadcasts, it feels like there’s a greater length of time than fifteen weeks until the Cyber revamp. Not dissimilar to the way they treat the Yeti in the following season. Credit to Polly, since they don’t really look at all alike, she recognizes the Cyberman from her previous encounter.
I’m becoming confused by the timeline for the disease now, since Hobson refers to it having appeared in the past two weeks, but it seemed like no more than 48 hours the previous episode. Hobson, whose matter-of-factness seemed a good fit at first, now seems ridiculous in his old school comments (“You can get off the Moon now”). Ben, as usual, is happy to leave those he encounters to suck it up.
The Doctor: No, Ben. We can’t go yet.
Ben: Why not? They don’t want us here.
The Doctor: Because there is something evil here and we must stay.
Hobson: Evil? Don’t be daft.
The Doctor: Evil is what I meant. There are some corners of the Universe which have bred the most terrible things. Things which act against everything that we believe in. They must be fought.
It’s a rousing, iconic speech. The Doctor’s rhetoric espouses simplistic values of the sort that appeal to a kind of wartime solidarity. Hobson rightly scoffs at notions of “evil” (a term at its most-used and providing for correspondingly shallow motivation during this era), but it fits with a post-Hammer schematising of protagonist and antagonist. In this story Jamie is our link to this approach, with his Phantom Piper delirium and (in the following episode) explicitly suggesting that Holy Water might be a tool to fight off these space vampires. The speech is also striking because it’s well composed, unlike much of what we see and hear surrounding it. Trouhton has slim pickings in this story, a couple of moments in each episode, but he makes the most of them.
This is also where we hear of the Doctor’s degree (Glasgow, 1888, studying under Joseph Lister). Polly will call it into question later, and while the Doctor is presented as being on a deductive course (“No. Not an idea. But we’ll find it out”), he’s remarkably cloth-eared in his reasoning. It’s actually Polly, despite being much more of a “silly woman” in this story than hitherto, who is instrumental in the most significant developments in defeating the Cybermen.
As with the general air of cheapness, the pathology unit is just a raised platform in the middle of the sickbay.
The protective swimming hats worn by the Gravitron operators are a design triumph on the level of the Fish People. Unsurprisingly, the model of the Moonbase doesn’t bear much resemblance the studio set. I should probably give some credit to the attempt at rendering a lunar landscape outside the set, but if anything, that just adds to the feeling that this is all rather flimsy. It shouldn’t be a surprise to learn that there is a nuclear reactor in operation, but I shudder to think of the logistics required for it to work. The occasional glimmer of wit (“I bet he gets a knighthood”, opines Hobson of Rinberg’s instruction from Earth that the Gravitron continues to operate no matter what) fails to stem the tide of effluent elsewhere, unfortunately.
Troughton’s comic business of taking samples is entertaining, but it draws attention to the seven-year-old’s definition of science that this story seems to expound. And then there’s the attention drawn to the silver space boots that everyone wears.
Andre Maranne, who plays Benoit, was a regular in the ’70s Pink Panther films, by which point he had honed his stereotypical Frenchie routine.
While it’s quite effective to have the Cyberman suddenly reappear in the sickbay, zapping Polly, then Jamie (and deciding not to make off with him a second time!), he then nicks off. Only for the Doctor to re-enter, suggesting that Pedler drew inspiration from bedroom farce plotting rather than science fiction literature.
The cause of the drop in air pressure is finally revealed. Yes, the Cyberman has been piling sandbags against a gaping hole in the wall. I can’t think of a better method for dealing with the lunar environment. Hobson decides that the time travellers are responsible, which at least allows the Doctor a scene to improvise some business and put Hobson off balance.
The Doctor: All the tests are negative. As far as I can see this whole ridiculous place is completely sterile.
Polly: Doctor, it couldn’t possibly have anything to do with Lister, could it?
The Doctor: Lister?
Polly: Well, I mean, you did say that you took your degree in Glasgow in 1888. It does seem an awfully long time from now, 2070 or whatever it is.
The Doctor: Polly, are you suggesting I’m not competent to carry out these tests?
Polly: Oh no no no. I just wondered if there was anything that Joseph Lister didn’t know in 1888 that might possibly help you now.
The abduction of the crewmen on the Moon surface might be more effective if their suits didn’t look like cast-offs from a meatpacking factory. The way the Cybermen bash them too, you wonder that they don’t take a bit more care not to damage their goods.
The Doctor suggests that Polly makes some coffee “to keep them all happy while I think of something”. This marks out further evidence of the Pedler/Davis coffee obsession we first saw in The Tenth Planet. We learn that the Doctor has looked at the base’s food as a possible source of infection. So he must have decided that sugar is not a foodstuff, as moments later a crewman glugs down Polly’s delicious coffee (with sweetener) and succumbs to the illness in moments. Not only is it unbelievable that it happens so quickly (it relates to constitution?), it’s unbelievably badly acted. And presumably everyone who takes sugar in their coffee has at least a couple of cups a day. How has Hobson not fallen victim yet?
The Doctor: Don’t drink that! It’s the sugar! Don’t you see? That’s why the disease doesn’t affect everyone. It’s the sugar. Not everyone takes it.
The Doctor informs us that it’s a “large neurotropic virus” (not like the space plague – isn’t that copyrighted to Terry Nation?) and that the Cybermen are responsible. Which leads us to one of the daftest cliffhangers ever, possibly until Dragonfire Episode One.
The Doctor: You say you searched all the base. Every nook and cranny?
The Doctor: No chance of anyone hiding anywhere?
Hobson: None whatsoever. Why?
The Doctor: Did your men search in here?
The Doctor: Did they?
Hobson: There are always people in here.
Polly: There’s nowhere in here they could hide.
Yes, there is. If you’re a cunning Cyberman, you’ll hide under a bedsheet in plain sight. Obviously, no one doing the rounds checking on patients will notice. Good grief.
A train wreck of illogical, inept plotting. It manages to be watchable in spite of itself, but this is so stupid you’re almost inclined to believe it’s being done on purpose.