After an absence during the holidays, the BBC returns to classic Doctor Who releases with The Moonbase. Set in 2070 on Earth’s moon, this four-part serial originally aired February and March 1967, the sixth serial in the fourth season, but has remained unreleased for so long because parts have been missing. Now, with half of the serial existing as recreated animation, it finally gets the DVD treatment.
As The Moonbase begins, The Doctor (Patrick Troughton), Polly (Anneke Wills), Ben (Michael Craze), and Jamie (Frazer Hines) land on the rock above the Earth to enjoy the low-gravity fun available. It isn’t long, though, before they are pulled into a plot at the human-run base, which controls the weather back on our globe. A virus is sweeping through the base’s residents, and soon infects Jamie. Thus, The Doctor must remain until he can sort out what’s happening and fix it.
Of course, a disease is only part of the problem. Doctor Who thrives on monsters, not microscopic bugs, and The Moonbase is no different from the rest of the series in that regard. The Cyberman, redesigned in their second appearance in the show, are behind much of what is going wrong at the base. They pose a serious threat, and if The Doctor can’t stop them, our planet will be in immense danger.
The Moonbase is a pretty good adventure. It does drag in sections, and there are times when the action gets a little hokey, such as a simple drink tray being able to seal a hole in an atmosphere-controlled space. But there are also some very adrenaline-inducing moments, such as the cliffhanger in the penultimate episode, and the Cyberman are quite scary here, as they will continue to be for decades to come.
We don’t usually think of Doctor Who as bending to motivations other than good storytelling, but The Moonbase has a couple of examples of outside influence. The script was commissioned before the first Cyberman story finished airing, wanting to capitalize on the strong, positive reaction the public showed towards the characters. Also, Jamie was added as a main character between the start of the writing and when filming began, so he doesn’t really belong in The Moonbase, something relatively easy to tell when watching it, but is included anyway.
Fun fact: John Levene, later known for playing Sergeant Benton on Doctor Who, guest stars as a Cyberman in this serial. There are other minor players in The Moonbase that tackle different parts in other Doctor Who stories, but Levene is the most notable. This tradition of reusing performers continues to this day, as the newest Doctor, Peter Capaldi, already did a small role in a David Tennant-led episode, which, interestingly enough, is the same installment Karen Gillian appeared in pre-Amy Pond.
If you’re interested in geeky facts like that, you’ll love the extras included on The Moonbase. There’s a twenty-minute “Making of” special. The audio commentaries are divided, with different groups dong the track for the odd numbered episodes than the even numbered ones, though all four get the treatment. Plus, there’s a photo gallery and PDF materials.
This may seem like a lighter compliment than many recent Doctor Who DVD releases, and that is true. However, we’ve gotten used to a lot of Special Editions, second bouts of already-released titles, which seem to collect more materials to make them worth another look. The Moonbase is getting its very first DVD edition here, save a partial release as part of a collection ten years ago. So while it would be nice to have a few more bonuses, the amount present is not entirely unexpected nor off base, excuse the pun.
Doctor Who The Moonbase will be available beginning this Tuesday on DVD.