Reviews

Doctor Who: The Moonbase DVD Review (2014)

“Clever, clever, clever…”

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Before the fictitious Doctor became the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce’s scientific adviser in 1970, there was BBC’s real-life scientific adviser: Kit Pedler. He would go on to write three serials for Doctor Who – The Tenth Planet, The Moonbase and The Tomb of the Cybermen – and his creations, the Cybermen, would live on in Doctor Who’s legacy. Of the three stories for which he’s credited as writer, two of them have episodes missing from the BBC’s archives, and consequentially from the fans’ viewing repertoire, as a result of an unfortunate junking policy in the 1970s.

It seems to compensate for this blip in their history, the BBC have taken to animating these missing episodes, more or less two at a time, using the still-surviving audio tracks from each missing episode. While The Tomb of the Cybermen was found in 1991, The Tenth Planet’s sole missing episode was animated for release last year, and this year, we are graced with another successful animation: The Moonbase – animated by the same crowd who did The Tenth Planet.

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It’s not all about the animation, though. The story itself is a good one – though there’s nothing original to see – with good production values as with the rest of Season Four. The base-under-siege plot-type was used time and time again during Seasons Four and Five, and The Moonbase provides no relief from that structure. The story revolves around an invasion of a moonbase by the Cybermen – you needn’t worry about spoilers, it’s plastered all over the DVD cover.

And the DVD cover will show that the Cyberman have had a makeover since their last appearance on Who. They are even more cold and calculated than those of The Tenth Planet, thanks to the metal construction of their costumes, rather than the cloth seen last time. The Doctor too has had a makeover and, still settling into his role, Pat Troughton is looking younger than ever – in fact, this is the earliest Second Doctor story to date to be released in entirety on DVD.

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As such, it introduces the incidental music that, for me, defines the Second Doctor’s time on Doctor Who. This piece of music, which features heavy drum beats and a repeated riff, would eventually be used again in The Web of Fear, more or less, and it does both stories wonders. Even without the music, though, the remaining episodes, Episodes Two and Four, are perhaps the best of the serial, so it’s fortunate they’re still in the archives, and thanks to the gold, complex animation of Episodes One and Three, the story flies by at a Concorde’s pace.

The animation is amazing, and it’s obvious that a lot of work has gone into it despite the small number of people credited at the end of the episodes. Each shot is more stylistic than previous animated episodes, and is more detailed. The backgrounds especially are much more impressive than past ones.

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Some elements may be detailed in the extreme yet the trade-off is that they are largely static images, giving the animation a lifeless sort of look, which for the Cybermen works wonders, but for the humans, not so much. The mouth movements during speech stand out in particular as less impressive than the rest.

My guess is that the animation is no less flexible than the last seven episodes animated, but the extra detail on The Moonbase makes it stand out. It actually looks like something of a professional anime. There are even some 3D elements seamlessly incorporated that we haven’t seen before. In one of the early scenes the doctor turns his head 180 degrees, which looks simply marvelous. If you’ve ever tried to animate something in flash-style, you’ll know how difficult that is to achieve. The tone choice and shading alone are splendid with the greyscale effect matching the silver, monotonous semi-life of the Cybermen.

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The best part of the animation, however, is that it provides insight into elements of the script that are unavailable in the pure audio format, such as the voice-over when the Doctor thinks interspersed with him actually speaking to himself. The distinction enhances the characterisation but is totally lost in the audio alone.

I would only implore the BBC for the budget to be increased, perhaps at the cost of less regular animations, to animate a fuller story such as The Celestial Toymaker, The Macra Terror, or if we were really lucky, The Power of the Daleks. With the current budget being two episodes every turnover, I don’t see this happening any time soon. In fact, it’s almost a shame all of the missing Third Doctor serials were found. I would love to see Invasion of the Dinosaurs Part One animated in PUP/Planet-55 style.

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As for the disc, the special features are average if a little on the sparse side. The audio commentary is by Anneke Wills (Polly), Frazer Hines (Jamie), Edward Phillips (one of the scientists) and Brian Hodgson, who created the sound effects. It’s a pleasure to hear Anneke Wills commentate these episodes since almost all of her stories have missing episodes and thus haven’t been released on their own DVDs. However, her presence is sadly underappreciated by the BBC who, in all their wisdom, have decided to take a less conventional approach to their recent DVD commentaries by either stacking loads of people into the commentary to make it crowded or splitting up the commentary into stock interviews and current commentaries. Following this trend, The Moonbase features the aforementioned group of people commentating Episodes Two and Four, while Episodes One and Three have various other interviews lumped in. Call me old fashioned, but I’d prefer one or the other. The still interesting but rather disjointed commentary is rendered effectively convoluted and the commentators aren’t allowed their chance to shine.

Other special features include – or rather, are limited to – a short but informative documentary with current and archive interviews looking back at the making of the programme, plus the usual radio-times listing on DVD-ROM, production subtitles (although only on Episodes Two and Four, for some reason) and a lackluster photo gallery.

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Nevertheless the story shines as one of the greats from Season Four which is worth owning even for those who already possess the two surviving episodes in the Lost in Time box-set. The animation is simply sublime and enhances the story from its humble audio recording to something worthy of its near-iconic status.

Albeit with a modern touch, Kit Pedler’s ideas live on in all their original cold, sinister brilliance.

**** (4/5)

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