After being pulled off course by a strong gravity well, The Doctor and companions find themselves on the moon. And obviously, there is a base on it. A moonbase.
“It’s the phantom piper!”
Moffat-Who has raised the horror element of Doctor Who, which would make many people assume that Steven Moffat has been inspired by the Hinchcliffe-Holmes era with it’s Hammer-horror style. I can’t remember where I read this, but Moffat disputes this, citing The Moonbase as the inspiration for the frightening elements of his era of Doctor Who. I have not known The Troughton Era to be regarded for its horror, but when you think about it, it is there. The basic conceit of the “base under siege” is that a group of disparate people are attempting to survive at all costs. Likewise, season five has been dubbed “the monster season”. The first time I experienced The Moonbase, it was through audio. But this time around, I watched the two surviving episodes, and I think I can see Moffat’s point. The first time I saw a Cyberman walk into the medical bay and wrestle an ill, struggling man off his bed, then carry him out of the room, I felt chills. For whatever reason, I grew up with childhood fears of being kidnapped and this image resonated with me. The image of someone larger and stronger physically subduing and taking a weaker person away is horrifying.
We have the return of The Cybermen, a bit more metallic and much more robotic in voice. In truth, I miss the voices from The Tenth Planet because I found them genuinely inhuman and creepy. That, and you could understand what they said, which is more of a struggle with the vocal distortions used here. This complaint aside, The Cybermen are still being used well. I can see why they were so striking in the early days, and I think I am still waiting for an amazing Cyberman story in Cymru-Who. The return of these villains in The Moonbase is never adequately explained (how did Cybermen survive the destruction of Mondas), but it hardly matters. The Moonbase takes place a couple of centuries after The Tenth Planet. Sure, people remember The Cybermen, but they have almost faded into a type of verifiable mythology. There is something mythic in the return, much like the return of Sauron in The Lord of the Rings, The Others in A Song of Ice and Fire, The Sith in Star Wars, or some ancient, inhuman Lovecraftian evil. Even The Doctor invokes this mythic idea when he tells his companions that evil is bred in the dark corners of the universe and these evils must be stopped. And I guess The Cybermen are evil, they want to destroy all life on Earth after all, but they don’t seem quite as evil and unnatural as the examples above. In comparison, they seem quite petty and driven toward revenge. Still evil, just a bit less evil. Uninspired evil. Regardless, they are still creepy and their plan isn’t on the same level of absurd that later plots would achieve.
The Cybermen reveal their secondary objective: The destruction of Earth.
“This old body of mine is wearing a bit thin.”
This episode is rather fast-paced. Ben’s sabotage of the rocket was successful and Cutler is furious. No, furious is not the correct word. He starts to go blind with rage. The Doctor makes a glorious re-appearance and the battle of words commences. Unfortunately, Cutler grabs a gun and makes to kill The Doctor, Ben, and Polly, which is when The Cybermen show up. Cutler is quickly shot.
Mondas is starting to be overwhelmed by the energy it is absorbing. The Cybermen are preparing their secondary objective, which is to destroy the Earth with the very z-bomb Cutler would have used to destroy Mondas. Polly is taken back to the Cybership as a hostage while Ben, Barclay, and Dyson are put to work dismantling the z-bomb to The Cybermen’s specifications. This is when Ben happens upon a useful theory. The Cybermen have a fatal reaction to radiation. This seems to work better than gold dust, in my opinion. Having a new weapon to use against The Cybermen, Ben and Barclay make short work of them.
When Mondas finally breaks up we get a bit of a deus ex machina. Without the energy of the planet to sustain them, The Cybermen disintegrate. Granted, there was a quick line of dialogue about the Cybership drawing its energy from Mondas. I suppose there are enough pieces to make this particular solution work, but I’m not entirely thrilled with it. Regardless, it quickly resolves the world-wide Cybermen invasion. Well, the first one, anyway.
“It’s all over. Is that what you said?”
How much did audiences at the time know? These days, if the actor who plays The Doctor even thinks about leaving, it makes the news, either in print or on the internet. But back in the 1960s when William Hartnell fell to the floor of The TARDIS and while light engulfed his face, did anyone at home know what was happening? I’m sure there were rumblings, I’m sure there were stories about some guy named Troughton, but how much of a surprise was it?
Hartnell has had many great moments, many that move me to tears. And while his final moments as The Doctor didn’t make me cry, there was a catch in my throat. It is hard for me to approach the death of The First Doctor without knowledge of William Hartnell and his absolute love of Doctor Who. He was a man who had played countless roles, and felt none of them really showcased his expertise. He felt as if he had not achieved the level of fame, or at the very least, respect, that was deserved of him. Doctor Who was a role for which he was extremely passionate, and it delivered in spades. He was beloved by children. He got to play drama and humor. And now, depending on the story you hear, he was forced out due to health considerations, due to antagonism with the new behind-the-scenes crew, or just because some felt the show should be taken in a new direction with a younger lead. Regardless of the reason, regardless of how Hartnell felt, the show was changing. And I, for one, am going to miss him. He may not be my first Doctor. He may not be my favorite. But for me, he defined the role. The would be no Doctor Who without William Hartnell. He set the standard for every actor who followed. He was The Doctor.
Next: Closing thoughts on the Hartnell Era and “Where do we go from here?”
As the Cyberfleet closes in, Cutler decides upon a controversial course of action.
“I could make some coffee or something.”
The episode opens with The Doctor collapsing. These are the first few moments that give indication that something is not quite right. However, this wouldn’t be unheard of in The Hartnell Era. It isn’t the first time The Doctor became ill and spent a bit of time off camera. It makes me wonder what the original audience made of this. Both Ben and Polly spend some time commenting on how odd it is that The Doctor would fall ill at this time. And since he was the main force to stand against Cutler, everyone suffers just a bit because of it. Given the lack of footage of Hartnell in this episode, I think it is safe to say that he wasn’t even present during filming of this episode. If that is the case, then technically Part 2 was the last appearance of William Hartnell during his era that we still have on film. A bit of a shame, really. It is also a shame that the next episode is lost, but we’ll get to that tomorrow.
With The Doctor out of commission, it seems time for Ben to shine! He is the main force to stand up to Cutler in this episode. Sadly, however, Ben is a soldier, and while he is not rushing to blind obedience, Cutler doesn’t recognize any attempts by Ben to stop the z-bomb. Cutler, now that his son is in distinct danger, feels that this doomsday bomb is the only weapon left to use against The Cybermen. The plan is to fire the bomb at Mondas. It should be a powerful enough blast to destroyed the weakened planet. The primary flaw in the plan (to everyone but Cutler) is that the resulting radiation blast will turn Mondas into a mini-sun, which would then roast whatever side of Earth was facing Mondas. Cutler feels it is an adequate price to pay to stop The Cybermen and save Earth. Ben cites another plan, one The Doctor mentioned. It is possible that, based on the rate of absorption, Mondas will absorb too much energy and destroy itself. Cutler dismisses this plan and has Ben imprisoned. This leaves Polly to make the coffee and try to convince Barclay to side with them.
Basically, this episode takes a break from the threat of The Cybermen and focuses on the z-bomb. The only appearance of The Cybermen is a brief one where they are ambushed by Cutler’s men. The majority of the antagonism is from Cutler. But you feel for the man. His son is in danger and may soon be killed. To go with The Doctor’s plan may ensure his son’s death. Cutler is in a horrible position, and he loses either way. He chooses his own self-interest, as many people probably would. However, he continues to make the situation personal. When Ben and Barclay attempt to sabotage the z-bomb, Cutler threatens to take justice into his own hands if the bomb fails. Ben and Barclay are following their consciences and obligation towards the millions who would die for Cutler’s son. Cutler takes this as a personal attack, which it obviously isn’t. Regardless, the situation is dire, the missile is ready to launch and a second wave of Cybermen is most-likely immanent and I don’t believe they will be fought off as easily this third time.
Cybermen invade the SPISC while Cutler and Barclay attempt to get the Zeus 4 shuttle back into Earth’s orbit.
“There are people dying all over your world yet you do not care about them.”
We get a massive amount of information in this episode. Mondas appears to get around, having once been a twin planet to Earth, it went to the edge of the galaxy and has now returned to drain Earth’s energy. Perhaps the Cybermen mean Earth’s resources. Regardless, it will leave Earth a dead planet and all life will be destroyed. The Cybermen graciously offer to take the SPISC crew back to Mondas for conversion to Cybermen, an offer which the SPISC crew refuse. We also learn a lot about the Cybermen and how they were once human but constantly worked to improve their bodies until only the brain was left. And of course, they have no emotions, which will lead to every Doctor having some sort of rant about the benefits of emotions and, in one instance, the satisfaction of a well-prepared meal. I rather enjoy the self-confidence of the Cybermen in this story. Sometimes they are played for laughs, but in this story, The Cybermen are deadly serious and the characters take them as such. They are cold and eerie, even their voices are mechanized but they have inflection that makes them seem, not so much robotic, but inhuman. And I think that is the point Kit Pedler is trying to make. It isn’t that The Cybermen are robots or even cyborgs as we know them from later science fiction. They are inhuman, they are perversions. They are the end result of an attitude of constant improvement at any cost, even the chopping off of anything remotely human if it is perceived as a hindrance. The Cybermen, in their purest form, are a technological Frankenstien monster. Based on what I have seen of later Cybermen stories, I almost suspect Pedler was the only writer to portray them well on the television show. Regardless, these are The Cybermen at their most-frightening and most disconcerting.
I don’t have much more to say, but for those unfamiliar with the story or the plot, I’ll go over a bit of what happens in this episode. Zeus 4 is destroyed on re-entry, but not before the base in Geneva sends a shuttle to help get Zeus 4 down. Unfortunately for Cutler, his son volunteered to pilot the shuttle. If we thought he was hard before, he is worse now. Ben attempts to fight The Cybermen, but is locked in a storage closet. He is able to escape, reluctantly killing a Cyberman in the process. This allows him to gain one of the light-weapons that The Cybermen use. Cutler uses the device to kill the rest of The Cybermen in the base, so for the moment they are safe. But this only lasts for a short while as scanners pick up a fleet of hundreds of ship heading toward Earth from Mondas. Interplanetary war seems imminent.
Similar to The War Machines, we have news reports. These reports are about the new planet appearing in Earth’s sky. One of my continual complaints about the RTD era was that the threats always seemed too big, too dire, and taking place on present-day Earth. And if I voiced this, others did as well. But I’m starting to think this complaint is somewhat invalid if I truly believe the Classic Series was any different. The War Machines was, at the time, a contemporary story with a couple of rampaging machines. And in this story, we have an invasion fleet and a new planet appearing in the sky (makes me think, reluctantly, of The End of Time). In a few months time I will see another Cybermen invasion, this time on contemporary Earth (The Invasion), and it is one of my favorite Cybermen stories. So why, if Doctor Who did this from time to time, did it grate so much in the RTD era? Well, I think on one level, it was ignorance on my part, failing to make the connection with what came before. But on another level, Classic Who didn’t often show how ordinary people dealt with the invasion. Maybe you’d get a cop on a deserted street being shot by an Auton or an army of Cybermen marching down the empty steps from St. Paul’s Cathedral. There was a conspicuous lack of extras in the old days. Now, however, we can have Cybermen bursting into residences, Daleks destroying houses, and people on the street watching as the Sun is blocked out by the Atraxi. Bottom line, the stories seem bigger not because they are, but because they can now be filmed that way. If Innes Lloyd had the budget that RTD had, and the support of the BBC, I think it is safe to say we would have multiple shots of television announcer Glenn Beck reporting the new planet and getting perspectives of the people. However, I think such a move sacrifices the intimacy that this story and other Classic Series stories have. So, it would seem Doctor Who has always touched upon large-scale, world-wide events, but in the past it focused more on how our characters dealt with it in their corner, rather than showing how the world dealt with it.
The TARDIS materializes at the South Pole in 1986 and witness a space expedition that is about to go horribly wrong.
“All I can see is snow, snow, and more snow.”
I wish I could view this episode free from the knowledge of what is coming. Unfortunately, I cannot, which makes me wonder if the growing sense of dread is effective direction or anticipation. It feels like a season finale, like when I would watch The X-Files and know that this episode will have some sort of big cliffhanger. The Tenth Planet is a huge story, not because of anything that is particularly done in the primary plot, but because it introduces two firsts to Doctor Who: The Cybermen and regeneration. But unlike many regeneration stories, the story doesn’t seem to have a “funereal” tone or the weight of premonition. It seems like any other adventure and the audience should have every expectation that things will work out as normal.
The Tenth Planet begins a formula that we are about to see again and again: The Base Under Siege. The elements are present here: a remote scientific outpost, an international crew, The Doctor and companions arriving just before or at the beginning of a mystery and getting caught up in the action and suspicion. It is a formula that continues to be used by the show, recent examples being Waters of Mars and The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People. Here we have The South Pole International Space Command, headed by General Cutler. Cutler is a well-realized character. He is a hard-nosed American general. He doesn’t have time for flippancy and he seems to spend most of his time angry. The head scientist seems to be Dr. Barclay, a man who is more open to The Doctor’s thoughts and theories. The SPISC is overseeing the return of a space expedition, The Zeus 4. But the return is complicated when a new planet appears and this planet seems to be moving toward the earth. The Zeus 4’s energy systems begin to drain and the new gravity disruption from this tenth planet affects re-entry to the Earth’s atmosphere. The astronauts of Zeus 4 are in serious danger.
The Doctor figures out pretty quick what the new planet is. It appears identical to Earth, and he tries to explain to Cutler and Barclay, the former stomping out of the room when The Doctor mentions a twin planet. This leads me to wonder, has The Doctor arrived at a time that he is familiar with, or is he working the situation out from the clues? Basically, is this a so-called “fixed point” in time? The Doctor mentions to Ben and Polly that the base is about to have visitors. And he turns out to be correct. Soldiers are ordered out into the snow to break in to the TARDIS and they are killed by what we will eventually learn are Cybermen. Here, they are creatures in form-fitting suits with mechanical equipment stuck on. Yes, I know they are wetsuits, but just go with the illusion in the episode. What is particularly striking about The Cybermen so far is the emotionless face. This is possibly the most chilling moment in Doctor Who since the cliffhanger for part one of The Sensorites.
So, The Doctor, Ben, and Polly are prisoners of The SPISC until Cutler can deal with their intrusion, The Cybermen are outside the base and ready to infiltrate, and the Zeus 4 is in serious danger of being destroyed. And there is a new planet in Solar System. Looks like a good beginning to me.
“I think a few million years of evil and bloodshed are well worth the ultimate salvation of sentient life, don’t you?”
Originally I hadn’t intended to review comics on this blog for one simple reason: There’s too many of them. Within the Doctor Who Media Empire we have television, audio drama, novels, comics and each month adds two or more new stories to the mix. One would need a small fortune to keep up with just one medium let alone all of them. And yet, the longevity of Doctor Who is quite fascinating. It is the only television show that I can think of that has the scope of a comic book. In his introduction to Saga of the Swamp Thing, Alan Moore makes this fascinating observation about horror comics that I believe also applies to Doctor Who: “Anyone picking up a comic book for the first time is almost certain to find themselves in the middle of a continuum that may have commenced before the reader’s birth, and will quite possibly continue long after his or her demise.” This is certainly true of Doctor Who, as the majority of viewers had not been born at the time of An Unearthly Child and as the show is rapidly approaching its 50th anniversary, there have been deaths of original cast members as well as original fans. To be able to collect all the stories is a mammoth task, one that I neither have the time or money to devote to it.
The second reason is that so many of the Doctor Who comics I’ve read haven’t been very interesting. I do understand that the comic tradition in Britain has evolved in a slightly different way to that of America, but in my defense, many of my favorite comic writers are British. Grant Morrison, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Paul Jenkins are all British and all great comic writers in their own unique ways. In fact, the first three on this list have actually done more to shape the modern American comic than many American writers. What would comics be like without Neil Gaiman’s Sandman or indeed anything by Alan Moore? But the Doctor Who comics I have read seem less interesting than some of its superhero counterparts. However, I fully admit that I am biased. Right now, I feel that DC Comics is going through what may be a mini-golden age with Geoff Johns and Grant Morrison doing amazing work on two major DC titles. Grant Morrison in particular is shaping and redefining Batman, and while it hasn’t been to everyone’s liking, it has been groundbreaking, original, and (in my opinion) brilliant. How could I resist tracking down IDW’s republication of Grant Morrison’s comics for Doctor Who. I say “tracking down”. What I really mean is that I came across the reprints in a comic shop I decided to drop in to on the spur of the moment while on vacation in California. There was no intentional pursuit, but I was more than happy to passively acquire them. The stories were originally published in the 1980s, and since one story involves the return to Marinus, and I have just finished reviewing The Keys of Marinus, I decided this would be a good intermission.
First, what do I like about Grant Morrison? Morrison has this amazing ability to deconstruct characters in established universes to their core characteristics, then redefine the world around them. In New X-Men, Magneto was always about the superiority of mutants over homo-sapiens. Morrison introduced the idea of Magneto losing his powers as he grew older. How would he react when everything he felt made him superior was gone? Morrison introduced the idea of narcotics that gave the user mutant powers or heightened already existing powers. Thus, Magneto would start taking these drugs and even become addicted to them.
In addition to the deconstruction of characters, Morrison doesn’t like to maintain the status quo. In New X-Men he introduced the idea of another race evolving that would take the place of mutants. He created the social phenomenon of people wanting to be like mutants as a “scene”, not unlike a goth, emo, or vampire scene. In his work on Batman, Morrison has introduced a new Robin who is actually Bruce Wayne’s son. Dick Grayson, the original Robin, is now the Batman of Gotham City, and the concept of Batman is now being franchised under the guidance of Bruce Wayne. Essentially, Batman is going global and is now a crime-fighting corporation. The cultural and political ramifications of this new paradigm for The Dark Knight are staggering and I’m sure Morrison will explore these in due time. But while Morrison moves the material into new and unpredictable directions, he never fully abandons the past. Bruce’s son Damien is the result of a night shared by Bruce and Talia al Ghul in a comic from the ‘80s. In this issue, Bruce Wayne was drugged and manipulated by Ra’s al Ghul who saw Bruce Wayne as his natural heir. Batman also feared a master criminal who was manipulating Bruce Wayne’s life from behind the scenes and this actually traced back to a comic where Batman underwent a psychological experiment where he attempted to understand The Joker. The doctor who ran the experiment used his findings to attack Batman all these years later. Morrison even found a way to work in appearances by Bat-Mite and The Batman of Zur-En-Arrh, characters who go as far back as the 1950s. He weaves these unlikely characters into a mythology where they shouldn’t exist, and he does so in a very believable way, largely positing that The Batman of Zur-En-Arrh isn’t a Batman from another planet but a second personality for Batman should his original personality be compromised due to psychological manipulation or breakdown. It is a back-up personality.
These are the things I love about Grant Morrison’s writing, the grasp of character while still deconstructing said character to the core, the redefinition of the mythology of the work he is writing, and the complete love of the continuity of the story and finding ways to reincorporate it from different perspectives. Even though the stories cited above were written in 2000 or later, my question is would these elements be present in Doctor Who: The World Shapers, a story written early in Grant Morrison’s career. The answer is yes. While the above elements aren’t as refined, they are still present in some minor ways.
The World Shapers stars The Sixth Doctor, Peri, and Frobisher. They answer a distress call on the planet Marinus, which The Doctor claims to be a water planet. While this claim is never made in The Keys of Marinus, one can certainly see why Morrison would go this route: The first episode takes place on an island surrounded by an acid ocean, the Voord wear wet-suits, adhering to the Terry Nation Naming Convention, Marinus would be a
perfectly logical name for a water world. The Doctor finds a Time Lord who is dying. He has exhausted all his regenerations and his body decomposes. The Doctor is shocked at the speed of this procedure, saying that it usually takes much longer. The travelers find the dead Time Lord’s TARDIS and discover that he was investigating violent temporal disturbances. Indeed, Frobisher has begun molting very badly and Peri’s hair and fingernails are rapidly growing. Time has been sped up. The only clue The Doctor has is the dying words of The Time Lord, “Planet 14.” The last time The Doctor had heard reference to Planet 14 was in his second incarnation but The Doctor can‘t remember anything about the place. So, The Doctor and his companions leave Marinus, which is dangerous anyway due to the temporal disturbances, and go in search of Jamie McCrimmon who traveled with The Second Doctor.
At the end of The Second Doctor’s era, The Time Lords erased Jamie’s memory of traveling with The Doctor. It seems this mind wipe wasn’t nearly as successful as The Time Lords hoped. Jamie remembers everything, but when questioned by The Doctor he has no memory of a Planet 14. The only thing Jamie can recall is hearing a Cyberman mention Planet 14 when they attempted to invade Earth. The Doctor reasons that if The Cybermen are involved then the situation must be dire. The Doctor determines to return to Marinus. Jamie begs to accompany him. Ever since he had returned to Scotland he has been an outcast. His life has been miserable. The Doctor graciously accepts his friend’s return. They arrive on Marinus one week after they had left it and find a planet devoid of water and populated by half-Voord/half-Cyber men.
In the end, The Doctor discovers that the temporal disturbances are being caused by a machine called a World Shaper. These machines were designed to cause rapid environmental change to uninhabited planets to make them more hospitable. The one on Marinus had malfunctioned and since Marinus wasn’t uninhabited, The Voord began to
evolve rapidly. They became The Cybermen. The Doctor and Jamie confront The Cybermen and Jamie sacrifices his life to destroy The World Shaper and thus inhibit the rapid evolution of The Cybermen. The Doctor sees his chance to alter the progression of The Cybermen, to prevent them from causing the violence and bloodshed they will be responsible for in the future. Two Time Lords then appear to stop him. The Doctor, enraged leaves Marinus, which is now the planet Mondas, homeworld of The Cybermen. The Time Lords watch The Doctor leave, lamenting his youth and naiveté. The timeline must be preserved because one day in the far future The Cybermen will complete their evolutionary cycle and become beings of pure thought. With this final evolution comes a complete embrace of peace, which they use to guide the universe into a new era. The End.
I’m sure you can already begin to see a few of Grant Morrison’s hallmarks. Doctor Who continuity is everywhere in this comic, from the return to Marinus and the return of Jamie, to the development of a throwaway line referring to Planet 14. Morrison provides an origin for The Cybermen, something that hadn’t been done at the time this comic was written. (An origin of the Cybermen was written many years later, and it bears no resemblance to this story. That doesn’t mean the new story is bad, just different.) Morrison even does something interesting with The Time Lords, making them more powerful and god-like than the characters we typically see on Doctor Who. This really pushes the concept of Time Lords, quite possibly bringing more in line with how the original writers of Doctor Who saw them. In the early years of the show, The Time Lords were a mysterious force and hardly ever seen. Then, in the 1970s, Robert Holmes wrote a story in which we finally see Time Lord Society and they took on more of an appearance and characterization of bureaucrats. In The World Changers, Morrison almost presents The Time Lords as a type of galactic Men in Black who protect the Time Line because they can see the ultimate end of many races. They know where time is going and the present (or past) of any race is irrelevant to the ultimate good. They are a bit Machiavellian in that the end truly does justify the means. Who cares if The Cybermen have killed millions when one day they will lead trillions in an era of peace? This isn’t too far out of line with how The Time Lords are portrayed in Genesis of The Daleks when The Doctor is sent on a mission to prevent the creation of The Daleks because The Time Lords discover there will be no good to ever come from their existence. In fact the epilogue of The World Changers is almost a mirror of that prologue. It wouldn’t surprise me if Morrison had that firmly in mind.
The story isn’t without its flaws. The art is a bit rougher than some styles I’ve seen. Peri and Frobisher are sidelined most of the time after Jamie joins the crew. The connection between The Voord and The Cybermen is a bit weak and may be a bit of a joke: the Voord costume was a wet suit, the original Cybermen costume was also a wet suit. While the connection is amusing and even creative, I’m not sure this really makes for an epic origin story. The Doctor isn’t quite the same in this story as how he was portrayed on screen (this may actually be an improvement). But even with these quibbles, the story is very creative and I love the portrayal of The Time Lords. The story is imaginative and certainly expresses a love for the history of the show. Really, who would deliberately make a reference back to The Keys of Marinus but someone who had a great passion for the show. Well, perhaps someone who hadn’t seen it. Regardless, I thought it was a fascinating story and certainly a fun way to see how one of my favorite writers intersected with one of my favorite series. I would welcome a return of Grant Morrison to Doctor Who in whichever medium he wished.