The Moonbase has cemented itself as one of my favourite classic Who stories for a number of reasons. Firstly, it has been said many times that it is basically a re-telling of the Tenth Planet, which introduces the Cybermen, but now the story is more grand and the threat more immediate. Secondly, the actors, directing, lighting and pacing are all excellent. Generally speaking, the dialogue is brilliant too. Here’s just a few things I want to point out on why this story is so good:
- There’s hardly any fluff/filler. When you have epic stories as Doctor Who had, some lasting 12 episodes each to get through a single story, you can run into a lot of scenes and even episodes where nothing really happens. Very generally speaking, in film and TV, each scene must have a purpose and a point. Good script writing and good directing will have a scene where it’s not just a character saying a line to get exposition across. I find there’s a lot of this in some of the worst Nu Who episodes- “I need to device to stop the bomb going off. We must recover the device or the base blows up”.
- There’s a mystery, there’s a bad guy(s) who has a clear motive/objective and there’s a way to stop them and save the day. Again, The Moonbase does this very well- First episode: people are getting sick on a base and nobody is sure why, the Doctor investigates. Episode two: The doctor inspects the base, the Cybermen move to put their final plan into motion. Episode three: The Cybermen overpower the Doctor and start to use the Gravitron to destroy the Earth, they are overconfident/careless and are set back. Episode four: They are going to storm the base and kill everyone unless they can be stopped. It’s simple, it’s clear and you’re not asking “why are they doing this, why don’t they do that”. Relating back to part one, there’s a scene where you get to learn of the Cybermen’s plan to destroy Earth and they are told they are acting out of revenge, in which they respond confused because the concept of revenge (hence feeling) is almost completely alien to them. Not only are you learning about their plan, you are also learning more about their character. Compare this to Nightmare in Silver where there are stakes, but nothing to care about. We don’t know what the Cybermen want, the entire scene with the chessboard is pointless, the ending is resolved in 2 minutes which the magical button that fixes everything.
- Side character/companions that do something. Companions are important in a show about a weird space alien who visits all sorts of planets- they are the audience’s link to how a human would/should react to seeing weird alien life, they are also a fish out of water so they question things that make sense in universe to the aliens, but not to us. So when they learn, we learn. This is writing 101, but it’s amazing how badly some modern writers still don’t understand. Anyway, not only do the companions have things to do (with the possible exception of one of them, but he was written in last minute on an executive decision, so you can’t hold it against them), they are useful in the story. They are the ones who save the day in part three by defeating the Cybermen. When you have so many companions who are basically dead weight, contribution nothing at all in value, the show suffers as a result.
This largely seems to get overlooked on with the new series. This post isn’t intended to praise The Moonbase any more, I just wanted to point out a few basic things it does right that makes it so effective and good. You see, I don’t personally think every story told needs to be out there and ground breaking, but I do think a good fundamental base and a clever script will produce excellent pieces of work. These are some classic Tropes; boy meets girl, the hero down on his luck saves the day, the young child’s journey of discovery etc., but they work as some of the best films and shows we’ve ever watched.