Sunday, 27 February 2011

Attack on the Cybermen 02 - The Moonbase

Okaaaaaaaaaay, it's time for magic tea trays, sound on the moon's surface and a plan so loony that it could only mean it's time for the next cyber story. Whereas in Tenth Planet I could find things to recommend it (the appearance of the cybermen mostly), I might struggle a little on this one.

Episode one opens with one of those moments that will probably end up leading to a blog article all of its own, namely just how on earth does the TARDIS travel?  When I was younger (and didn't think so much about these trivial things) I just assumed that it vanished from point A, travelled in the vortex and only re-appeared at point B. However, this and many other stories, suggests that it must regularly stick its nose out of the vortex from time to time to see where it is.  This means that it can be caught by the animus, or the Intelligence or, in this one, the gravitron. We then get it seemingly hovering above the moon's surface before nipping back into the vortex and out again to do its materialisation trick on the surface.  Which, to me, seems rather a lot of effort but then again I'm sure the Time Lords had a reason for it other than "because it looks good".

My first major problem with this story is the Doctor's lack of knowledge.  I'm not talking about his 1888 medical knowledge, it's more his lack of knowledge of the gravitron.  Last time we found out that the cybermen were significant in Earth's history (and in this one we're told that every kid knows there were cybermen once) and the Doctor seems to have notes on them in his diary (which would suggest they're important enough for him to have read up on them or he's encountered them off screen as well).  The cybermen recognise him from off screen adventures and everything suggests that the Doctor's been in this sort of time period before... yet he doesn't know about the gravitron controlling the weather from the moon.  There's a part of me that desperately wants the TARDIS to have a sense of humour function in its telepathic circuits and have it wipe parts of the Doctor's memory every time it lands so that he doesn't know exactly what's going to happen outside and therefore change it deliberately.  Anyway, the gravitron controls the Earth's weather from the moon.  The story is set in 2070, it seems to be fully up and running (though some bits suggest that it's still relatively new and having teething troubles) but I'd guess that it was probably first mooted at least twenty years previously.

Oh yes, the gravitron itself makes no sense.  I'm not disputing the fact that gravity could, somehow be used to control the weather.  I'm not disputing the fact that it would be very useful to be able to control the weather.  I'm just thinking that putting it on the moon and thus only allowing it to control the weather on the parts of the Earth that are in the direct line of sight from the moon might not have been the best place for it.  Thankfully it'll be relocated to the earth in time for the Ice Warriors to play havoc with it in a season or two's time where we can then think about controlling the weather at night.

Back to the plot but keeping with the bad science aspect of the story, the cybermen gain access to the base by cutting a hole in it and walking in.  At a real push I can imagine some sort of airlock being set up on the outside of the base and them just about getting in without the base being drained of air... but for some reason I find it very difficult to believe that they managed it without anyone noticing.  You would have thought someone would have at least heard it happening or spotted a huge stack of sacks where there hadn't previously been one...  Ah well, we're talking about a base populated by people who think it's a good idea to control the earth's weather from the moon is a good idea.  They've got it coming to them.  They also have exceptionally flimsy looking space suits that look as though they'd tear if you even showed them a jagged boulder on the moon's surface.  THIS bit of the story I think is quite reasonable.  If man kind has been dumb enough to put the vital weather control centre on the moon and leave it without suitable security other than a dozen or so middle aged scientists then it's going to be an ideal way for the cybermen to take over the world with the minimum of effort.  I'm surprised they didn't have to get in line and queue for the right to do it.  Where I don't quite get the cyber plot is the seemingly random way they infect people with the sugar.  Don't they care who or how many they get?  I mean if everyone went on a diet and cut sugar out of their tea then the cyberplan would have been screwed. 

In a nice nod to Tenth Planet, Ben (in his temporary role as science boffin) remembers that the cybermen are vulnerable to radiation.  However, he (and the others) can't think of a suitable source locally to use against the cybermen.  It's a good job then that, say, the cybermen never have to walk across the moon's surface where they're going to be bombarded with radiation almost constantly.  Instead Polly suggests a cocktail of solvents which, if the telesnaps are to be believed, don't just dissolve their chest plates but also seems to completely dissolve the cybermen as well.  I really hope they're using them in a well ventilated area.  Not only do the cybermen not like the cocktails, the Doctor works out that they have a thing about gravity as well, which is why they need "living" humans to work the gravitron controls for them.  This is where my lack of understanding about the cybermen starts to kick in.  They're terrified of radiation, but can walk across the moon's surface without any problem.  They're worried by "gravity" in the gravitron control room yet humans can work in there for 12 hours before the sound levels drive them nuts.  They're REALLY easy to dissolve.  The list of their weaknesses is really starting to grow now.

Having given up on taking over from the inside, they puncture a hole in the side of the dome.  One wind machine in the studio later to artistically blow things around whilst the characters are chatting and trying to find the oxygen masks... the hole gets covered with the world's strongest tea tray.  Seriously, it has atmospheric pressure on one side and a total vacuum on the other.  That thing should have buckled its way through the hole in an instant rather than staying there (presumably till someone needs to deliver a round of drinks).  They're then defeated by being lifted off the moon's surface by the gravitron which strangely leaves the TARDIS in place along with all the rocks and dust...

So the story (once more) sucks.

So what of the cybermen? After all that's the reason I put myself through the four episodes.

No one seems to comment on their re-design.  The Doctor clearly expects it (and just which cybermen was careless enough to have a chunk of material ripped out of its trousers anyway?  Another sign that they're really pretty pathetic) and even Polly calls them cybermen in spite of them really not looking too much like they did last time we saw them.  Was there another cyber story between Power of the Daleks and the Highlanders?  It might explain a lot.  I have to say that I'm not too impressed with their new look and would have liked a little more comment about just how they survived the destruction of Mondas (other than "they just did").  They're sarcastic (the "Clever, clever, clever" line has baffled me for a long time) but don't know about feelings.  Except bemusement when their laser doesn't work.  They've started taking over humans with sonic control (controlled from the vacuum of the moon's surface) and yes they look pretty imposing when they march across the moon's surface (good thing they don't need to breathe or anything) but there's no real fear of being cybertised in this story. They're actually pretty generic thug villains this time around.

It's sexist, it's laughable and it's scientific nonsense.  In the past I've not found The Moonbase too much of a chore to get through but this time around, actually engaging my brain whilst I watch it... well my brain was hunting for the off switch.  How did this crud survive when other, much better episodes, were lost?  Oh well, at least the music's good.

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