I recently watched some classic Dr. Who (pre 2005 re-boot, for the sake of clarity) and watched two very different episodes. The Moonbase (1967) and Earthshock (1982). Oddly enough, they both feature the same villains, the same general plot and the same first part of each episode feature a brief glimpse at our villains. However, for those of you who aren’t familiar with Dr. Who, let me give a brief overview what I like in Dr. Who and who the Villains are. (TL;DR at the bottom)
Dr. Who is a series that features many adventures and companions of The Doctor as he travels through time and space in various locations and to varying degrees of quality and budget (those last two are mutually exclusive as I hope to show you soon). The Doctor can be a little bit wacky, usually a bit cheeky, sometimes serious, sometimes fearful and can occasionally produce the odd heart wrencher/tear jerker if the writers try hard enough.
My Ideal kind of Doctor, for I don’t agree that there is no definitive actor who portrayed The Doctor that outshines them all, is a smart, but not all-knowing Doctor. A Doctor that doesn’t rely on one-liners or “Magic button that fixes everything” and “I know exactly everything that my enemy is going to do, but I don’t tell people” kind that is so prominent in the re-boot of the series. The Doctor that tries to do the right thing and gives his enemies a chance to back down. At the same time, he’s not an idiot who allows himself to be taken in by emotional trickery.
Our Villains are the Cybermen. Cybermen came from Earth’s twin planet, but started suffering when the two planets split and went further apart because they were dependent on Earth’s energy. Gradually, they overcame all their planet’s problems by cybernetic augmentation themselves with replacement parts until they were nothing more than a brain in a metal suit with all emotions removed. Usually outnumbered and obsessed with survival, their episodes revolve around them doing underhand methods to try and destroy their enemies and take any means possible as their survival, including hiding in the sewers, covertly infiltrating a base and taking over systems or people and wanting to destroy Earth as a means to survive and gain resources for their planet and bases. They are slow, methodical, ruthless and each episode of them is them veeeeeeeery slowly trying to accomplish their objective. The only other information you need to know is that for whatever reason, gold clogs their circuits and destroys their ability to function and The Doctor was technically responsible for destroying their home planet with their first encounter.
So with that in mind, let’s discuss The Moonbase
Here’s a brief overview of The Moonbase’s parts, then I can talk about what I liked about it.
First part: The Doctor and his 3 companions travel from the 60s to 2070 where mankind has now established a small station on the moon. The Doctor lands on the moon and has fun with his companions, but one of them is injured when jumping so the gang consider taking him back to the Tardis. Suddenly, they see the in one of the craters on the moon and decide to investigate and to see if they can help their friend. The station master greets the gang and assumes they are an investigation team sent to see what the problems of the station are. The Doctor, curious, pretends that he is and discovers they have landed on a weather control station that is used to neutralise storms and floods on Earth. The science team members and engineers have come down with a disease that puts its members in a coma like state with black lines appearing on their veins. As they put their injured friend in the same ward as those suffering this illness, The Doctor starts his investigation. One of The Doctor’s companions is helping move the patients when she screams and sights a large metallic man moving down the corridor.
Second part: Everyone rushes in and asks her what’s wrong and she describes what she saw. The Doctor believes that the only thing matching the description of what she saw was a Cyberman, with the rest of the station staff dismissing her. They all believe the Cybermen were destroyed when their home planet was destroyed. The Doctor claims that only the ones on Earth and on their home planet were seen visibly dying, there were many unaccounted for. The weather station staff tell The Doctor that they don’t believe either him or his companions story and start thinking The Doctor suspicious. They give him 24 hours to find the cause of the disease infecting the station otherwise they must leave. The Doctor’s research comes up fruitless and he’s about to give up when his companions suggest that, if nothing else, they should all sit have a coffee break to try to take their minds off it. As the station master is about to kick the gang out, one of his members is suddenly struck down by the virus . They rush him into the medicine bay when The Doctor suddenly realises that it’s the sugar in the drinks which has been infected, which would explain why not everyone in the base is infected: not everyone takes sugar in their coffee. The Station master, still skeptical, tells The Doctor that he has searched the entire base and never found anyone else. The Doctor, suddenly nervous, asks if they searched the medical bay. Suddenly, everyone is nervous and begins looking at the beds where they eventually find a Cyberman hiding. The Cyberman comes to life and begins to attack the crew.
Third Part: The Cyberman orders the humans to not alert anyone else on the station otherwise they would be killed. One member tries to run, but he is killed by two more emerging Cybermen. A Cybermen informs his space ship that they are beginning their next operation. The Cybermen takes the station master and The Doctor into the main control room, locking the Doctor’s companions in the medical bay, threatening infection if they leave. The Cybermen then attached devices to the infected and activate them, restoring their brain, but under control. The station master criticises the Cybermen for taking revenge on Earth because of the destruction it caused their home planet, but the Cybermen don’t recognise the word revenge and state that they are merely removing any future dangers Earth could cause them by destroying the planet’s surface. The Cybermen reveal that they tunnelled into the food store room where there were no surveillance or records kept of air loss and infected the sugar supply. They then bring the controlled members into the operations room and send them into the power and control parts of the room, which emits powerful sonic waves, which is why the Cybermen did not directly take over the base. It would interfere with their circuitry and render them useless. As back up, the Cybermen have taken a few more infected crew members back to their ship and started controlling them. Meanwhile, The Doctor’s companions have theorised that the equipment in the medical lab could be used to help destroy a Cybermen’s main control circuits, which are located on its chest. A radio call from Earth informs the base that the gravitron is causing problems and asks if they need help. The Cybermen ask the station master what will happen if they hear no signal and he informs them that they would send a full relief force. Suddenly, the companions emerge and spray the solution into the Cybermen, instantly disabling them and killing them. The Doctor and crew then remove the converted crew back into the medical bay and lock them in. The Cybmermen outside the base realise they have no more contact inside the moonbase and call for reinforcements.
Fourth Part: The Cybermen reinforcements arrive and begin to slowly make their way to the moonbase. They disable the radio so the moonbase is unable to contact earth. The Cybermen pick up a rocket approaching to the moonbase from Earth because they did not receive any transmission or beacon since the Cybermen started to take over. The Cybermen then activate the transmission to take over the gravitron. The crew all gather to watch the approaching rocket. As it is coming into land, a converted member uses the gravitron to force the rocket ship away, whilst locking himself in. The base is on full lock down and the Cybermen begin to unpack weapons to annihilate the remaining crew. The crew consider killing the infected member altering the gravitron, the Cybermen overhear it. After the Cybermen burst of a laser penetrates the dome and the crew start to suffocate, they block the breach and realise the lack of air has temporarily disabled the infected crew member. They quickly remove him and lock him in with the rest of the infected. The Cybermen begin to start firing their weapon again, but The Doctor has come over with calm. Whilst everyone braces for impact, The Doctor calmly stands and watches the beam get off shot into space. The gravitron has deflected the shot. Suddenly, The Doctor realises he has a chance before the Cybermen storm the base. They then force the gravitron to point directly at the surface of the moon, sending the remaining Cybermen into space and essentially defeating them.
Overall, I find this episode is a really good example of what good writing and good direction can accomplish. I haven’t really mentioned either the acting or budget, but they are passable to good, in my opinion. The Doctor seems restrained and sombre (almost like there’s a serious threat he needs to deal with otherwise he could have all his friends killed), the characters are all acting logically and nobody feels out of place. The Station master is skeptical, somewhat compliant when threatened, but rediscovers his nerve when the initial Cybermen are defeated. The Doctor’s companions are all useful and don’t just get in situations they need rescuing from.
The Cybermen, for cold, rational and calculating robots, don’t do something stupid and out of character. You could possibly argue that there was no reason for them to fire and try to suffocate the crew, but they also have replacement infected crew stored on their main ship. It was probable that they were just trying to kill everyone on the base, then move in, take the infected crew with them and then start using the gravitron on Earth. You might also argue “well, why didn’t they just kill everyone on board at the third part?” Well, I would say there wasn’t really any need to: Essentially they had completed their plan and were about to enact the last part of it. They didn’t see any of the crew as a threat and knew standard guns wouldn’t work on them, so they were probably going to instantly kill everyone else once they had accomplished their objective or were keeping them for spare members to control. Not included in this story, but as part of the Cybermen lore, Cybermen never try to stop destroying Earth and humanity, but also start to take people and convert them into Cybermen as their brains are similar enough. No plot holes, no worries!
What’s more, the Cybermen have a clear goal and motivation. Take over the base, destroy the Earth. This might not seem like a lot, but establishing who the enemy is, what he wants, why it’s bad and why he’s wrong is one of those screenwriting classes you shouldn’t skip. Almost every scene has a purpose, there is very little fluff in an episode that is essentially 100 minutes long. Also, it’s maybe a bit quaint and a bit slow for most people, but I like that the threat is not immediate. Take it slow, establish the setting, the tone, the characters, then introduce the threat. Then watch as the Cybmermen veeeeeeeeerry slowly put their plan into motion.
Very effective use of music in situational clips, too. It’s hard to describe how effective it is without seeing the whole thing, but here’s two examples:
#1 Cybermen calling forth reinforcements on the moon. Of note here is this is the 2nd re-design of the Cybermen. You can still see how cheap their suits were made due to the budget, but the slit for the mouth, the cold, dead eyes give them enough of a uncanny valley feel. Somewhere between human features and robotic features. Also, the clip is animated because the Beeb lost TONS of original Dr Who footage during the 70s and 80s, not thinking of keeping copies.
#2: Mostly just music and stills, but it demonstrates how it’s mostly situational. Parts of this would later become the unofficial music to what the Cybermen theme would be in episodes.
I’ll review Earthshock next, where I have many, many complaints to make.
TL;DR: Lawrence wants to be stuffed into a metal life suit and doesn’t want any of the hack fraud writers to tell him what he should be like. Dr Who sucks ass now when showing the Cybermen, old episodes ranged from bad to really good. Cybermen are an underused and undervalued villain that the series could benefit from, not the Gaiman catastrophe of Nightmare in silver.