Skip to main content

There are some corners of the Universe which have bred the most terrible things.


Doctor Who
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 installment, 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 Cybercontinuity.


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 15 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.

Wearing them stops you from going mad, you know.

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.

Rigorous scientific enquiry.

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 Pantherfilms, 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.

Vacuum-resistant sandbags.

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.

That’s one fast-acting neurotropic virus.

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?
Hobson: Yes.
The Doctor: No chance of anyone hiding anywhere?
Hobson: None whatsoever. Why?
The Doctor: Did your men search in here?
Hobson: Well…
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 trainwreck 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. 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

As in the hokey kids’ show guy?

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (2019) (SPOILERS) I don’t think Mr Rogers could have been any creepier had Kevin Spacey played him. It isn’t just the baggage Tom Hanks brings, and whether or not he’s the adrenochrome lord to the stars and/or in Guantanamo and/or dead and/or going to make a perfectly dreadful Colonel Tom Parker and an equally awful Geppetto; it’s that his performance is so constipated and mannered an imitation of Mr Rogers’ genuineness that this “biopic” takes on a fundamentally sinister turn. His every scene with a youngster isn’t so much exuding benevolent empathy as suggestive of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ’s Child Catcher let loose in a TV studio (and again, this bodes well for Geppetto). Extend that to A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood ’s conceit, that Mr Rogers’ life is one of a sociopathic shrink milking angst from his victims/patients in order to get some kind of satiating high – a bit like a rejuvenating drug, on that score – and you have a deeply unsettli

Who’s got the Figgy Port?

Loki (2021) (SPOILERS) Can something be of redeemable value and shot through with woke (the answer is: Mad Max: Fury Road )? The two attributes certainly sound essentially irreconcilable, and Loki ’s tendencies – obviously, with new improved super-progressive Kevin Feige touting Disney’s uber-agenda – undeniably get in the way of what might have been a top-tier MCU entry from realising its full potential. But there are nevertheless solid bursts of highly engaging storytelling in the mix here, for all its less cherishable motivations. It also boasts an effortlessly commanding lead performance from Tom Hiddleston; that alone puts Loki head and shoulders above the other limited series thus far.

It’ll be like living in the top drawer of a glass box.

Someone’s Watching Me! (1978) (SPOILERS) The first of a pair of TV movies John Carpenter directed in the 1970s, but Someone’s Watching Me! is more affiliated, in genre terms, to his breakout hit ( Halloween ) and reasonably successful writing job ( The Eyes of Laura Mars ) of the same year than the also-small-screen Elvis . Carpenter wrote a slew of gun-for-hire scripts during this period – some of which went on to see the twilight of day during the 1990s – so directing Someone’s Watching Me! was not a given. It’s well-enough made and has its moments of suspense, but you sorely miss a signature Carpenter theme – it was by Harry Sukman, his penultimate work, the final being Salem’s Lot – and it really does feel very TV movie-ish.

I'm offering you a half-share in the universe.

Doctor Who Season 8 – Worst to Best I’m not sure I’d watched Season Eight chronologically before. While I have no hesitation in placing it as the second-best Pertwee season, based on its stories, I’m not sure it pays the same dividends watched as a unit. Simply, there’s too much Master, even as Roger Delgado never gets boring to watch and the stories themselves offer sufficient variety. His presence, turning up like clockwork, is inevitably repetitive. There were no particular revelatory reassessments resulting from this visit, then, except that, taken together – and as The Directing Route extra on the Blu-ray set highlights – it’s often much more visually inventive than what would follow. And that Michael Ferguson should probably have been on permanent attachment throughout this era.

What's a movie star need a rocket for anyway?

The Rocketeer (1991) (SPOILERS) The Rocketeer has a fantastic poster. One of the best of the last thirty years (and while that may seem like faint praise, what with poster design being a dying art – I’m looking at you Marvel, or Amazon and the recent The Tomorrow War – it isn’t meant to be). The movie itself, however, tends towards stodge. Unremarkable pictures with a wide/cult fanbase, conditioned by childhood nostalgia, are ten-a-penny – Willow for example – and in this case, there was also a reasonably warm critical reception. But such an embrace can’t alter that Joe Johnston makes an inveterately bland, tepid movie director. His “feel” for period here got him The First Avenger: Captain America gig, a bland, tepid movie tending towards stodge. So at least he’s consistent.

Here’s Bloody Justice for you.

Laughter in Paradise (1951) (SPOILERS) The beginning of a comedic run for director-producer Mario Zampa that spanned much of the 1950s, invariably aided by writers Michael Pertwee and Jack Davies (the latter went on to pen a spate of Norman Wisdom pictures including The Early Bird , and also comedy rally classic Monte Carlo or Bust! ) As usual with these Pertwee jaunts, Laughter in Paradise boasts a sparky premise – renowned practical joker bequeaths a fortune to four relatives, on condition they complete selected tasks that tickle him – and more than enough resultant situational humour.

You nicknamed my daughter after the Loch Ness Monster?

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 (2012) The final finale of the Twilight saga, in which pig-boy Jacob tells Bella that, “No, it's not like that at all!” after she accuses him of being a paedo. But then she comes around to his viewpoint, doubtless displaying the kind of denial many parents did who let their kids spend time with Jimmy Savile or Gary Glitter during the ‘70s. It's lucky little Renesmee will be an adult by the age of seven, right? Right... Jacob even jokes that he should start calling Edward, “Dad”. And all the while they smile and smile.

By whom will this be rectified? Your ridiculously ineffectual assassins?

The X-Files 3.2: Paperclip Paperclip recovers ground after The Blessing Way stumbled slightly in its detour, and does so with some of the series’ most compelling dramatics so far. As well as more of Albert performing prayer rituals for the sick (perhaps we could spend some time with the poor guy over breakfast, or going to the movies? No, all he’s allowed is stock Native American mysticism).

When I barked, I was enormous.

Dean Spanley (2008) (SPOILERS) There is such a profusion of average, respectable – but immaculately made – British period drama held up for instant adulation, it’s hardly surprising that, when something truly worthy of acclaim comes along, it should be singularly ignored. To be fair, Dean Spanley was well liked by critics upon its release, but its subsequent impact has proved disappointingly slight. Based on Lord Dunsany’s 1939 novella, My Talks with Dean Spanley , our narrator relates how the titular Dean’s imbibification of a moderate quantity of Imperial Tokay (“ too syrupy ”, is the conclusion reached by both members of the Fisk family regarding this Hungarian wine) precludes his recollection of a past life as a dog.  Inevitably, reviews pounced on the chance to reference Dean Spanley as a literal shaggy dog story, so I shall get that out of the way now. While the phrase is more than fitting, it serves to underrepresent how affecting the picture is when it has c

Somewhere out there is a lady who I think will never be a nun.

The Sound of Music (1965) (SPOILERS) One of the most successful movies ever made – and the most successful musical – The Sound of Music has earned probably quite enough unfiltered adulation over the years to drown out the dissenting voices, those that denounce it as an inveterately saccharine, hollow confection warranting no truck. It’s certainly true that there are impossibly nice and wholesome elements here, from Julie Andrews’ career-dooming stereotype governess to the seven sonorous children more than willing to dress up in old curtains and join her gallivanting troupe. Whether the consequence is something insidious in its infectious spirit is debatable, but I’ll admit that it manages to ensnare me. I don’t think I’d seen the movie in its entirety since I was a kid, and maybe that formativeness is a key brainwashing facet of its appeal, but it retains its essential lustre just the same.