With the cancellation of DOCTOR WHO avoided mid-way through SEASON FOUR courtesy of television's most audacious conceit to date (regeneration), the series had entered into the most challenging period of its production. Would viewers accept the same character with a new face? With familiar companions (Polly and Ben) and the most iconic of alien enemies (Daleks), the transition was a triumph, and resulted in the lead actor's almost immediate ascension.
It may have only been his fourth story as the Second Doctor but Patrick Troughton's performance is preciously defined in DOCTOR WHO - THE MOONBASE (1967), establishing the characterisation for the remaining 17 stories of his tenure. He's ebullient, creative, and manipulative but always seeming to be undermined at every turn, and, strangely, human.
In re-viewing this four-parter, is it any wonder that former DOCTOR WHO lead actor, Matt Smith cited Troughton as his favourite and template (with additional characteristics commandeered from Michael Crawford's SOME MOTHER'S DO HAVE `EM's Frank Spencer) for his Eleventh incarnation.
Directed with precision and flare for both the horror and technical, Morris Barry's skill is evident throughout DOCTOR WHO - THE MOONBASE, guiding and, by all accounts, restraining Troughton's ambition to deliver a lighter and more whimsical character. This `tough love' approach by Barry ensures that across the four episodes the `base-under-siege' threat of the Cybermen is relentless, gripping you around the throat like the eponymous silver hand. Today, it may be regarded by viewers are pedestrian, dull or even predictable - effectively, television-by-numbers - but its capability for linear, substantial story-telling (without the gimmicks of "timey-wimey" novelty and inconsistence character flashbacks) cannot be challenged.
Firstly, the quality of the DVD's restored print is exemplary; bright, defined and accented with greater depth probably more than the original broadcast. Such is the extensive clean-up for the first time the clarity is such that the clear Perspex piping (read: `ears') across the Cyber helmets can be seen as being an intricate design detail.
With episodes one & three `missing', BBC WORLDWIDE engaged Planet 55, in association with Pup Ltd., to animate the content. And, when compared to the first attempts, in 2006, to animate the DOCTOR WHO CLASSIC SERIES for Troughton's DOCTOR WHO - THE INVASION (1968), it is meritorious.
Superbly atmospheric (the `deletion' of a Cyberman at the hands of Ben & Jamie with `Pollycocktail'), appreciative of Morris Barry's original camerawork & `period' styling, technically precise with an adroit level of weight, detail (even the underside of the Moonbase swivel chairs have working mechanisms) and clarity that warrants the animated episodes to be re-watched again.
Like the actor's own malleable & hawkish jowl and idiosyncratic `ticks' & gesticulations (the rhythmic playing with his fingers as he under goes contemplation like a time travelling Sherlock Holmes, the Second Doctor's "illustration" is equally expressive and diligently observed.
Furthermore, a number of the re-created scenes deliver a `depth of field' variation that gives a true suspicion of perspective that adds value to the animation content. It may be a minor contribution to the animation but, for me, it is expedient.
A remarkable piece of work, and along with a re-mastered audio track (courtesy of Mark Ayres) of which DOCTOR WHO fans should be both grateful and, ironically, animated about.
And with the COMING SOON trailer previewing Troughton's 1967 four-parter, DOCTOR WHO - THE UNDERWATER MENACE, I hope that the same animation techniques are used to complete the two episodes that remain `missing' from the BBC Archives too.
The additional DVD VAM (`Value Added Material') is, as you would expect for an animated release (i.e. financial resources focussed on recreation of the `missing' content), marginal and that is acceptable.
The `...making off...' documentary, LUNAR LANDING, is succinct but nonetheless informative. With contributions from Anneke (Polly) Wills ("...we were struck how quickly the Cybermen were back. They must have been popular. The time scale was immensely fast...I like the original Cybermen costumes...") ("...Patrick Troughton knew that he'd met his match with Morris Barry. He wasn't going to have any clowning around. His [Troughton's] costume and his performance were toned right down..." "Morris Barry was the only one who could do that. It was interesting..."), Reg (Cyberman) Whitehead ("...we never dreamt that it would come back so quickly..."), Frazer (Jamie) Hines ("...how do fancy joining the TARDIS crew for a year or so...") and production assistant Desmond McCarthy ("...when we saw the very graining pictures coming from the Moon [during the 1969 NASA Moon landing] our set was very similar even better...") the documentary rattled along entertainingly.
The PHOTO GALLERY demonstrates that even as the four-parter was unfortunate to having been transferred from Riverside Studios with its capacious studios to the limiting confines of Studio D's Lime Grove that quality of the set design (or recording) was not undermined, and with the `location' filming at Ealing Studio (representing the Moonscape) the behind-the-scene photographs demonstrates that for a story to be thrilling and gripping an over-bearing reliance on back-projection (or today's CGI) is not required.
Moderated by Toby Hadoke, the Studio Commentaries are truly special. Taking a break from the normal format, the animated episodes are accompanied with a combination of archive interview material (featuring the Series Producer, Innes Lloyd) and newly recorded recollections from the story's author's, Kit Pedler, relatives.
Commentary for episode one highlights:
On aiming to add a scientific depth to DOCTOR WHO, Innes Lloyd: A scientist to write it who could provide us with the real information, so I contacted Kit Pedler. A creative mind; a very wide view of science and came up with Cybernetics. But he needed a guiding hand as a writer and Gerry Davies helped.
On his vision for DOCTOR WHO monsters, Innes Lloyd: I was also looking for an alternative to the Daleks, and so that's how the Cybermen came up.
On her Father (Kit Pedler), Carol Topolski: He had a genuine concern especially about `social irresponsibility' in science but he had a fiendish imagination about how humanity was going. He actually built the World's first artificial Retina in Canada in the 1960's.
Toby Hadoke: A man `out of his time'?
Carol Topolski: Yes. He became an Ecologist. He was prepared to put his money where his worth was. He even built a Nuclear Bomb - without the Plutonium - in the garage.
On his gravestone reading "A Man Of Ideas", Carol Topolski: It summed him up. Constantly curious and challenging ideas. He looked outside the box.
Commentary for episode three highlights:
On the production, AFM (Assistant Floor Manager), Lovett Bickford: All very good fun but the pressure to get everything in the can! Morris Barry was a modest talent. Patrick Troughton was the best actor (of all the Doctors).
On the Cybermen costumes, actor Derek Chaffer: The worst costumes were the first ones (DOCTOR WHO - THE TENTH PLANET). So confining. Claustrophobic.
Reg Whitehead: Chaffing, smelly, and the most uncomfortable costumes that the BBC has ever made. Impractical.
Overall, DOCTOR WHO - THE MOONBASE is a remarkable release from BBC WORLDWIDE and, thankfully, over due in its release. Why `thankfully'? The development of animation techniques to capture the creative essence, palpably values and the inherent filming restraints of the period (to animate a 1960's programme with PIXER-styled animation would be inappropriate) have been considerable since its first DOCTOR WHO DVD outing (DOCTOR WHO - THE INVASION). Ironically, I would like an option to view the animation with applied `film scratches', `electronic drop-outs' and `film-judder' to experience the quintessential black-and-white era from which some of the most riveting adventures derive.
So, with the animation format being creatively honed, what's the next for the treatment (other than DOCTOR WHO - THE UNDERWATER MENACE)? With two of its four episodes missing and the `illustrations' of Troughton, Hines, Craze and Wills already `in the can', DOCTOR WHO - THE FACELESS ONES?