Title: Doctor Who and the Cybermen
Televised as: The Moonbase
Written by: Gerry Davis
Teleplay by: Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis
Screen Credit to: Kit Pedler
Televised in: February/March 1967
Published in: February 1975
Chapters: One through Six
The original cover to Doctor Who the Cybermen is notable for two reasons. First, it’s the last novelization to use the original Target Doctor Who logo – nearly identical to the logo seen on screen with every story from An Unearthly Child up through The Moonbase itself. So this one story killed off the logo twice, once on TV, and then in the book line. The other interesting thing about the cover is that it uses the wrong Cyberman – it uses the 1968 model from The Invasion, the current Cyber-costume in Doctor Who circles at the time the book was published in early 1975 (and which would be seen again weeks later on-screen in Revenge of the Cybermen), but not the one used during the first three Troughton-era Cybermen adventures, including the adventure being novelized.
I’ve already written elsewhere just how much this novelization means to me; I mentioned it in my very first post, and then when I reviewed the TV serial itself. So no need to go into all that again. But, this is the first Gerry Davis novelization (and the first Cybermen novelization, which we’ll talk much more about next time). It took me years of reading the Target line to realize that Davis belongs right up there with Terrance Dicks and Mac Hulke as one of the best recurring Target contributors (excluding one-shot geniuses like Ben Aaronovitch and Barry Letts).
There’s much to admire about Davis’ writing style. For one thing, he was Doctor Who‘s story editor for the show’s defining transition from the William Hartnell era to the Patrick Troughton era; he helped oversee the first regeneration, brought in Dr. Kit Pedler as scientific advisor while phasing out the historical adventures, and introduced the Cybermen as new recurring villains. He wrote, without screen credit, many of the scripts single-handed, and knew how to tell a good story economically — a critical skill at a time when the show was being demoted back to its smaller-on-the-inside studio D at Lime Grove. So you’re reading the guy who redefined the show and made it much closer to the one that’s still airing today. Second, his prose style in his novelizations is both spare and evocative; he doesn’t overuse adjectives as we saw Brian Hayles do in the previous novelization, but he does paint a very effective word-picture, invoking a broad range of senses and emotions in his writing. The regulars, the guest human characters, and the Cybermen, all pop off the page quite convincingly.
This is also the first novelization to feature Ben and Polly; coming out eight years after its parent TV story, it may well have been greeted by an audience who had no idea who Ben and Polly even were. But Davis captures them very well, both in his introductions, and in getting into their heads via POV scenes.
“Please, Doctor,” Polly did another of her instant switches. This time it was from, as Ben put it, the “toffy-nosed Duchess” giving orders, to the coy “little girl lost” act. All big eyes and wheedling, she took [The Doctor’s] arm. “Just a little look around [the moon]… no more.”
Ben, his service instincts aroused at this rudeness of the captain of the ship (he was a naval rating, Able Seaman, with five years’ service, man and boy behind him), […] stepped forward, just resisting the temptation to salute.
Also, Ben calls the Doctor “sir”, and Davis admiringly talks about Polly’s “long legs” and “short skirt”; he describes her outfit, later on, as “a skimpy tee-shirt and her usual mini-skirt”. He also re-dates Ben and Polly to the 1970s, as he would later do in his novelization of The Tenth Planet, although on TV they were always stated to be from 1966, the year of their first televised adventure, The War Machines. This Ben, in fact, is even able to quote Neil Armstrong when first setting foot on the moon’s surface (“First giant step and all that”), even though the original scripts predate July 20, 1969. Davis also makes good use of the companions’ physical and mental attributes, with Ben using his trained sailor’s vision to make out the details of a march of Cybermen three kilometers away.
Ben shrugged and turned away, rolling his eyes as if to say that he was the only sane one around. He dug Polly in the ribs. “Carry on, nurse”.
Polly turned quickly round, her hand upraised, but Ben had dodged out of reach, grinning.
Davis also has a special sympathy for Jamie, the first companion introduced during his tenure:
An age before the invention of electric lights, trains, cars, aeroplanes, space ships or any of the modern marvels that [Ben and Polly] took for granted. Luckily, while Jamie had the courage of a lion, and all a Highland crofter’s resourcefulness and cunning, he was a little thick, even by 1745 standards. Otherwise, this sudden leap-frogging of two and a third centuries might have unhinged his reason. He accepted each new wonder philosophically, relating it to his primitive world when he could, accepting it without question when he couldn’t. Much as his father would have accepted the first sight of a stagecoach or a sailing ship as he journeyed from his mountain home.
Later on, when Frazer Hines started playing the role of Jamie as himself, this description would no longer be accurate, but it works here when Jamie hadn’t quite yet become a fully-formed character in his own right. Jamie is also still written heavily in dialect, as Terrance Dicks did in Jamie’s first novelization, Doctor Who and the Abominable Snowmen. Jamie, for example, protests a rough ride in the TARDIS: “Aye, if it’s always like this, ye can leave me back at Culloden field. I’d rather tak’ my chances wi’ the red-coats”. Jamie doesn’t know where Mars is, either. In a bit of dialogue thankfully omitted from the TV version, he asks: “What’s Mars? I dinna ken where yon place is. Is it near to Glasgow, maybe?”. Oh well. Can’t win ’em all.
Davis also shines in his introduction to the Second Doctor. Throughout the book, Davis captures what it means to be “Troughton-esque”. We have almost a direct transfer of Troughton’s careful, measured TV performance (which we’ll get to in a little bit) into print. We’re first introduced to him in the TV story’s opening seconds, as the TARDIS is dragged off course by the moonbase’s Gravitron:
Throughout the crisis, the Doctor had seemed to withdraw into some remote world of his own, apparently unaffected by the plight of his young companions. He had found a way of wedging himself into the control position on the console and had begun by making lightning-quick adjustments to the complex array of switches, levers and buttons before him […] intently studying the ever-changing lines of data on the read-out screen before him. […] Still in an intense concentration like a chess player, he gently flicked over a row of switches.
The Doctor spends much of the early chapters of the book, as Davis describes him, in a silent and mysterious world of his own, frequently failing to answer his companions’ questions, or consulting his 500-year diary, or flicking switches or engaging in other bits of physical behavior, while masking the deep thought processes going on inside his head. Davis tells us that he senses danger, before the crew even set foot outside the TARDIS. In several passages, Davis stresses the detached and alien nature of this Doctor, reminding us that he, “as usual, did not reveal this thoughts to the others”. Worry is something he “normally never allowed to show on his face”.
The Doctor, as usual, had been pursuing his own vein of thought and didn’t seem quite aware of [Ben and Polly’s] conversation.
As usual, he seemed quite unperturbed by the way events were shaping. Almost without fear , in the conventional sense.
But there’s also a healthy bit of Troughton-esque clowning. Check out this description of his outfit, for one thing:
The Doctor was clad in a too-long down-at-heels black frock coat that had seen much better days, baggy striped trousers and a large, very floppy red cravat.
Best of all, Davis rapidly cuts back and forth between Troughton as both the ancient man of mystery and the youthful prankster. The Doctor tries to remove a boot from a scientist who’s still wearing it (“The small boy inside the Doctor broke through for a moment”), but also has “surprising agility” and can be “irritatingly mysterious,” when he’s not the “bumbling, absent-minded professor.” His eyes “glisten” with the excitement of using the base’s advanced, 21st-century technological equipment. There’s a “small boy” inside the Doctor when he’s defending the inconclusive results of his early investigations (into the Cybermen’s neurotropic virus) to a skeptical Hobson. And as he delivers his famous line about some corners of the Universe breeding the most terrible things, Davis has Polly note his facial expression as a “far-horizons look”, and, when the Doctor’s voice drops, “suddenly low, urgent”:
Polly felt a sudden prickling of fear at the base of her neck. The Doctor rarely spoke like this, and when he did it was usually with good cause.
On TV at this point, Troughton had dropped most of his affectations and props – those were a necessary means of getting him through his first three serials, when he used the recorder and 500-year diary and funny hats and improbable disguises and wide-ranging accents as a prop to figure out who his Doctor really was, but by The Moonbase Troughton’s Doctor achieves a new evolutionary phase. But Davis still writes those props into the book, where the Doctor often consults with his diary, or “drew the stethoscope out of his pocket and put it round his neck, the bumbling, absent-minded professor again”. On TV, Troughton was from this story onward able to convey this new-found enigmatic side of his character without props, but I’d argue that the book’s characterization, which is based on a draft written several months earlier, works just as well by using the props as a key to this Doctor’s thought processes.
The New Series appears to have paid at least indirect homage to the Moonbase and Gravitron. In this story, we learn that the Gravitron was installed in about 2050. That was the same time frame as Kill the Moon, in which the moon (which is, in case you missed it, an egg) comes to threaten gravity on Earth; presumably at the end of that story, Earth has to put a new base on the new moon (after the original moon hatches) in order to keep the weather from going kaplooey again. And that would be this base.
But The Moonbase is a hard-science story, with no eggs. Check out Davis’ big-budget opening pan of the moon’s surface:
The TARDIS had landed on a long slope inside a huge crater. Behind them rose the high rim of the crater, like a series of small broken hills. Ahead of them a long, white plain stretched out to a black horizon.
Had they landed on top of the crater rim, they would have seen an even more extraordinary sight: a fleet of Cybermen space ships. Long sleek and black, like marine torpedoes with small swept-back wings, they lay in a protective circle, their Cyber-weapons mounted like sharp snouts in the bows of the craft.
When I first read this book at age 11, I knew nothing about weather control, physics, or even the word “toroidal” (which is odd, considering how many donuts I’d eaten by then). Reading today, it’s evident that Pedler and Davis designed the Moonbase carefully, to the extent that they devised out a specific function for each crewmember, and described the purpose of every console and telescope, and explained the “biological clock” and how it relates to living on the moon. Less cool, however, is when the Doctor “patronizingly” (Davis’ word, not mine) calls Polly “clever” for saying “I suppose so”, when the Doctor asks her if she understands the science.
I’m still in no position to know if the science behind the Gravitron is remotely plausible, but for a TV show that would later routinely replace hard science with wishful thinking, the Moonbase actually has the ring of authenticity (plus, the quaint notion of scientists living together for the betterment of mankind).
Davis even goes so far as to describe the moonbase operators’ diet, and acknowledges that people from the 1970s would not find the contents (duck concentrate, algae block, general hydroponic concentrate, and vegetable pellets) very appealing. That’s all changed by 2016: Algae Block, I believe, is now a very trendy restaurant on Smith Street in Brooklyn’s Boerum Hill neighborhood, although Vegetable Pellets didn’t last once they opened the Whole Foods on Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg.