Doctor Who Reviews: The Moonbase

Remakes. Who needs ‘em? Seems not a day goes by that some classic film or TV programme is being lined up for a remake. Psycho. Cape Fear. Even a slew of classic comedies such as Are You Being Served or Porridge were inexplicably dusted down for a 21st century audience.

Even in Doctor Who, remakes are produced, albeit with a different name. Take The Christmas Invasion, a thinly-veiled retread of the Slitheen two-parter in the previous season. Both plots concern the apparent first contact with an alien race. Both plots include a sideshow alien (The augmented pig and the Robot Santas). And both boast enough political allegory to make Jeremy Paxman launch into one of his monotonous diatribes. For all that, though, The Christmas Invasion is one of those rare occasions when the remake surpasses the original. It’s tightly plotted. It’s exciting. It’s even scary in places.

But can the same be said about the 1967 remake of The Tenth Planet which is as blatant a retread as you can get? The Moonbase again concerns the Cybermen, who are wreaking havoc at an enclosed base. Again, there’s a tinny radio boss hassling the abrasive main man. Plus, there’s a problem spaceship that’s desperately in trouble. Luckily there’s not another regeneration, since that would be taking the remake a little too far for its own good.

A problem with The Moonbase is that it has nothing new to say, coming only a mere four stories after Hartnell's cyber swansong. Taking the script into account, all of the elements are there from The Tenth Planet - and yet, despite a couple of new tricks such as a mystery plague, controlled humans, and the threat of the “Phantom Piper”, the script is pretty much the same as before. The odd surprise moment such as when the Cybermen get gunged with Cocktail Polly works well, but it's a pity that a brand new scenario couldn't have been created for this Cyberman sequel.

Another issue is the direction from newcomer Morris Barry, which is flat and uninteresting. Whereas Derek Martinus added a genuine sense of doom to The Tenth Planet, Barry directs The Moonbase with all the urgency of a man boiling an egg. In his favour, the Ealing scenes of the moon work well, and the eerie stock music cuts are well chosen (culminating in the memorable Cybermen theme).

Similarly, the redesigned Cybermen are more successful. Their revamped appearance is considerably more effective than in The Tenth Planet, as are their voices, which are totally in tune with their concept of zero-emotion. Even if the monotonous buzzy drone sounds like a bee stuck in a biscuit tin.

Despite these glimmers of brilliance, there’s no real urgency to be found here, and Barry's comparatively flat helming of the story doesn't create the required impact. It doesn’t help that the guest characters are even more faceless than in The Tenth Planet. Instead of angry boss Cutler, we now get another angry boss called Hobson (although Patrick Barr turns in a strong performance). In addition to Hobson, the remainder of the crew are an unmemorable lot with maybe the exception of Benoit, played by Andre Marrane, who's best known as François, Chief Inspector Dreyfus’ hapless number two in the Pink Panther movies.

And then it hit me - there’s something rather Pink Pantherish about The Moonbase - not least the rather Clouseau-ish Second Doctor, who bumbles and goofs around. Still, in this case, at least The Doctor’s goofing is just an act, but more on that in a minute. The Gravitron even looks like the dreaded Doomsday Machine which appears in The Pink Panther Strikes Again. Although it luckily doesn’t wipe the United Nations Building (wheeeep!) from the face of the Earth.

If there’s one story that proves that the TARDIS had got too crowded, then it’s The Moonbase. Ben, Polly and Jamie don’t get a great deal to do. Polly produces a clichéd solution to the Cybermen with Cocktail Polly, but apart from that, stands around asking fool questions and shrieking. Poor old Ben has his lines stolen again by Jamie, although as compensation, the Scot gets to lie on a makeshift bed for the first two and a half episodes, moaning about The Phantom Piper. Which doesn’t mean that Rose had got her co-ordinates wrong when flitting in and out of parallel universes.

Luckily, Patrick Troughton makes up for this with his fantastic interpretation of The Doctor. Now a familiar mix of the clownish and the deadly serious, the new Doctor has definitely made his mark. The sequence in which he goes scavenging for clues is hilarious (“Enchante, Monsieur!”) but in the same episode he becomes deadly serious when discussing the “corners of the universe” that contain a deadly threat. Troughton’s performances had now reached a very high standard to follow, which he’d maintain in all of his other stories.

Troughton’s performance at least makes The Moonbase entertaining. The problem is, the idea of the remake makes the story too samey for its own good. Possibly it’s because I’ve been reviewing these stories in sequence, and it seems like yesterday that I was reviewing The Tenth Planet. The Moonbase’s climax, however, is dull by comparison. The Cybermen are dispatched too easily in a blatantly obvious solution. The effects for this sequence are laughable, as the Cybermen do an impression of Lee from Madness in the Baggy Trousers video. Even worse are the paper plates on strings which represent the Cybermen spaceships.

While it’s sturdy and enjoyable enough, The Moonbase is a carbon copy of The Tenth Planet that lacks the 'wow' factor of the Cybermen’s first appearance or The Doctor’s regeneration. It's a shame that The Moonbase didn’t offer anything radically new. A Cybermen rematch was a great idea, but it should have been in a brand new set of circumstances.

* My guides to the 3rd & 4th Doctors are available now at Amazon for very reasonable prices: