Doctor Who Project: The Moonbase

Will somebody please tell us what it all means?

Just when you thought it was safe for the Doctor and his companions to visit an isolated human outpost that coincidentally contains a device capable of destroying the Earth, the Cybermen show up yet again to spoil the day. In almost every regard, Kit Pedler’s “The Moonbase” (Story Production Code HH) reads as a remake of his “The Tenth Planet,” aired a scant four months earlier, only with a different Cyberman weakness and a different Doctor at the helm, plus a groggy Scotsman who thinks a Cyberman is an avenging angel. We have: a remote international base (on the Moon instead of the South Pole); a commanding officer who effectively shrugs his shoulders at strangers knocking on his door; a doomed Earth spaceship; a group of Cybermen knocked out by quick companion thinking; a whole bunch of technobabble that sets up the doomsday device on the base; and a Cyberman weakness that requires humans to act in their stead and lets the Doctor turn the tables on the silver suited cyborgs.

And yet, derivative as it is, “The Moonbase” winds up being very different from “The Tenth Planet” almost entirely because it’s the Second Doctor rather than the First doing the table-turning.

A bemused Second Doctor

If nothing else, “The Moonbase” represents the moment where Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor finally comes into his own as a fully developed character, out from William Hartnell’s shadow. To be sure, Pedler makes the connection between the two Doctors, with the Cybermen recognizing the Doctor (and vice versa):

Cyberman: You are known to us.

Doctor: And you to me.

The Daleks in “The Power of the Daleks” similarly recognized the Second Doctor, suggesting, again, that the Cybermen know of him from encounters between the original 1986 meeting, where the First Doctor regenerated, and their current 2070 engagement. But there, we didn’t recognize the Doctor even if the Daleks did; here, we feel like we know this Doctor: he’s crafty, cautious, and cunning, aware of his limitations and confident despite that knowledge. By the this story ends, we know how the Second Doctor thinks and acts. Pedler simply nails it. We almost feel badly for the Cybermen, because we know this is going to end poorly for them. You might say the Doctor blows them off their feet.

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Doctor Who Project: The Tenth Planet

Doctor Who Project: The Tenth Planet

I don’t understand it. He just seems to be worn out.

As Doctor Who stories go, quite a lot is asked of Kit Pedler’s “The Tenth Planet” (Story Production Code DD). In addition to delivering a ripping near-future yarn about cybernetic invaders from a twin-Earth, the story also needed to usher out William Hartnell’s First Doctor in a fitting and dignified manner. Pedler, with assistance from story editor Gerry Davis, manages both with some aplomb. Not only do we get the Cybermen, more frightening here in their debut story than in any future iteration, but also, Hartnell is given the chance for the virtuoso exit he richly deserved.

The TARDIS again finds its way to Earth, skipping from seventeenth century Cornwall to twentieth century Antarctica, though in 1986, twenty years in the future from Ben and Polly’s time, much to their dismay. With plenty of warm coats in the TARDIS wardrobe to choose from, our time travellers merrily pop out onto the ice cap for a visit, only to be apprehended by soldiers from the International Space Command, at whose polar base the TARDIS had landed. The commanding officer, General Cutler, has no time to interrogate his guests, however, as a space capsule on a routine mission has run into trouble. Some outside force is pulling the astronauts from their planned orbit. And the Doctor knows just what has happened.

Ben, Polly, the Doctor, and the South Pole

In order to prove his knowledge of events, and thus potentially to help, the Doctor gives a scientist at the base a piece of paper noting that the problem stems from the sudden appearance of another planet—the Tenth Planet—in Earth’s vicinity; and not just any planet, but Earth’s long-lost twin, Mondas, with the same continents (and continental drift), only upside down. What’s more, the Doctor knows that Earth is about to receive visitors.

Hello, I'm a Cyberman

The Cybermen are on their way. They don’t want much, really. Just to drain the Earth of all of its energy and then destroy it.

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