I’m quite excited this week because I’ve watched my favorite Kit Pedler story. I know lots of people aren’t too crazy about him, but I really like his stories. Or at least his ideas. There is something terribly frightening about science advancing so much that we lose our humanity as a result, and that fear is what gave birth to the Cybermen. The concept of a cyborg wasn’t really anything new at the time, but I’ve always felt that the Cybermen were on a different level above whatever the average cyborg might be. As a huge fan of the Troughton era in general, these stories are some of my favorites in all of Doctor Who, and certainly in the entire arc of my favorite big metal men.
I think they’re also some of the creepiest, which I appreciate. I always enjoy it when Doctor Who can still scare me, even as an adult. And this new version of the Cybermen that are introduced in The Moonbase are, I think, the scariest.
First, though, let’s talk about the story.
Now, I really like a good ‘base under siege’ plot. They get my adrenaline going. I’ll own that. Seriously, you can tell me that it’s overdone (especially in the Troughton years) until you’re blue in the face, but I’m not ever going to listen to you. The Moonbase is a fantastic example of this particular trope–
as are most of the other Cybermen stories of this era, but that’s beside the point.
It’s got everything in it. A fantastic looking science station on the moon set far (but not too far) into the future. They’re operating a ginormous machine that controls the Earth’s weather by using gravity to move it where it’s needed or where it can’t do any damage. We sort of even get to know and even care about the group of scientists working in the station before the story is over. There’s mysterious disease causing crew members to drop like flies totally at random. There are moments where the rather excellently named Gravitron malfunctions. And, of course, several teases about who the villain of the piece is before we actually see them. All super cool wonderful things. Oh! Also the scenes with no gravity are absolutely hilarious. Especially the end. If you haven’t seen it yet, go watch it and then come back. You’ll see what I mean.
It’s inevitable that the Doctor and his companions will be suspects in whatever mystery they find themselves stumbling into*. The pressure that this ends up putting on them to find the cause of the mysterious disease is what drives the frankly plodding middle bit of the story. Especially since no one really believes Polly when she insists she’s seen a Cyberman–though they look almost nothing like the Cybermen from only five stories ago–which would’ve saved everyone (including the audience) some time.
Mind you, the crew of the base all think that the Cybermen were wiped out nearly a century earlier** during the events of The Tenth Planet. Which, of course, for the Doctor, Polly, and Ben had just happened very recently.
“There were Cybermen. Every child knows that. But they were all destroyed ages ago.”
Polly has some great moments in this, though. She’s the one who accidentally helps the Doctor find the cause of the disease when she makes the coffee
again. And then later she has the awesome realization that solvents (nail polish remover) could be used as a weapon against the Cybermen. Watching them “melt” is both disgusting and creepy and a little bit hilarious and I love it. The boys are far less interesting considering Jamie spends half the story unconscious and moaning about a Phantom Piper. Ben is marginally better and vaguely heroic when he feels like it, but his constant need to insist he is more useful than Polly irritates me. The whole “this is men’s work” thing gets old.
I know it was the time, and usually I’m not too bothered by it, but the constant repetition just gives me a headache. And calling Polly “Duchess” is funny, but way overdone. I actually do like Ben as a character, but I think some of the lines they gave him (on a semi-regular basis, really) are shit. If I could, I’d go back and throw something at Gerry Davis nearly every time he let one of those stay. And really almost every time Polly says or does anything because damn it, she’s better than that! It drives me crazy when she has these amazing moments where she’s so clever, and then ruins it by asking Ben a question that it seems likely she would know the answer to, but they wanted to give Ben another line instead. Grrr.
Another thing about The Moonbase is that it’s such a quintessential Second Doctor serial in more ways than just the siege trope which heavily characterized the Troughton years. We’ve started to really get to know this new Doctor, but this is a good showcase for his still-new personality. We see him be that impish little space hobo we love in his methods of collecting specimens to study. Patrick Troughton’s gift for subtle physical comedy is a beautiful thing. We also get to see that classic Doctor-ish method of storytelling when he mentions that he thinks he took a medical degree in Glasgow under Joseph Lister–a point that is returned to multiple times later on in both the Classic and New series. His affronted reaction to Polly asking if there were things he maybe didn’t learn from studying 19th Century medicine is wonderful.
Perhaps the most important though, is that we see the Doctor being manipulative. This is a darker characteristic that we see come up a lot with this Doctor, though it’s often overshadowed by his more panicky and childlike sides. The Second Doctor is a very manipulative man, sometimes even with his own companions, and in this story he lies to and manipulates Hobson and Benoit in order to basically force their trust. This is how he manages to finagle his 24-hour window to find the cause of the virus, which then led to him being able to take charge of the situation and fight the Cybermen. I like Dark!Doctor a lot (in most cases). I like the depth it adds to his character and the fact that it sometimes led us to question whether or not he is a good man long before the Capaldi era began. We know that this Doctor’s moral compass is firmly on the side of good, but his methods of achieving that good are sometimes more skewed than we tend to really remember. Happily though, it’s also led to some of his greatest quotes. Including this one which basically sums up the Doctor’s entire philosophy in three sentences:
“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.”
Isn’t that basically the entire show? Even when he’s blundering into these situations entirely by accident, that’s what he does. And that’s why we love him.
Anyway, now to the best part. The Cybermen. Though I said before that the originals are probably my favorite, these are a very close second. Maybe even tied, because these guys are the ones that really scare me. These are the Cybermen that I
have had nightmares about. The costume is fabulously different, with only the shape of the facial features (or lack thereof), the handles on the head, and the chest unit basically remaining the same. These guys are bigger, silver-er, and armed with ridiculously creepy new voices. Not to mention their new silver hands with the three pointy digits. They’re more robotic looking; the last bits of humanity disappearing from their original design. If The Wizard of Oz had been a horror movie, this would be the Tin Man from Hell.
Logically, after the events of The Tenth Planet, they’ve upgraded and decided that the next logical step is to destroy the Earth. This is in no way any sort of revenge fueled by bitterness against the Doctor or the Earth for Mondas’s destruction. Because Cybermen have no emotions. And are never ever written in any way that would make us feel otherwise.
So their brilliant scheme is to hide on the moon and infect the base’s population with a virus that puts them in control. Then they’ll take the Gravitron and destroy the Earth with it. Easy peasy, Cyber-squeezy. It doesn’t work out that way, of course, but it might have if Jamie hadn’t decided to knock himself out. They’re quite ruthless this time as well. They spend ages breaking in and out of the base to contaminate the sugar supply, and then one of them finally hides himself in the sick bay to steal infected crew members from their beds when nobody’s looking. That’s pretty sneaky operating compared to the big stomping Cybermen*** we’re used to in the New series.
When that all goes wrong and then even their attempt at remote control fails, they break out the big guns. Literally. Their little cannon or whatever it is that they’re firing at the dome has to be operated by multiple Cybermen, with one giving the order to fire. It honestly looks like nearly every UNIT. battle we’ll see later on, but funnier.
Their defeat, however, is something that will stand alone in the history of Doctor Who as being probably the most comical victory the Doctor will ever have. I know I’ve spoiled a lot of things here, but I’m not spoiling this. Just go watch the ending or find a GIF of it. It’s worth it, I promise.
In case you couldn’t tell, I enjoyed this serial very very much. I love the set design because it’s beautifully done, both on the surface of the moon and inside the moonbase. I think Hobson and Benoit become at least mildly interesting characters because we can really see the pressure they are under to get the situation back under control and the drive to make that happen. I love the Doctor’s contribution to the situation in that he does help, but has to play them a bit to make them trust him first. Jamie and Ben fighting each other is amusing, but Polly is the real star of the companions this time, I think. And these Cybermen are by far the creepiest of the lot, I think. I’m sad that this design was only kept for two serials, but it was effective while it lasted. This absolutely goes as one of my top Cybermen stories and I don’t care who fights me on it.
Actually, maybe these are my favorite Cybermen.
Next Up: Tomb of the Cybermen (1967)
* Never mind the fact that they sort of obviously came to the base for Jamie after he banged his head jumping around in his spacesuit.
** Also, let’s not forget that if we follow a normal timeline and not the Doctor’s, this takes place 21 years AFTER the events of 2014’s Kill the Moon. I admit, this messed with my head a little bit when I re-watched it. The knowledge that the moon is actually an egg doesn’t change the story, but it does make it that much weirder.
*** Granted, they’ve gotten better as a result of Neil Gaiman making them scarier again–for which I will be eternally grateful.