Moonbase 3 is a BBC science fiction series broadcast in 1973. It has a link to Doctor Who, sharing producer Barry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks. This episode was also directed by veteran Who director Christopher Barry.
It almost feels like it’s in the same universe as the much later Star Cops, and in a weird coincidence, the head of Moonbase here, played by Donald Houston, is called David Caulder. You might recall that the head of the Star Cops, Nathan Spring, was played by the actor David Calder. I love that coincidence.
One thing I really like about this show is its efforts to portray a convincing portrait of what life might be like on a lunar base. The future setting and the existence of a moonbase is the only ‘science fiction’ element in the show. This isn’t Space 1999.
But this does mean that the stories they are telling are sometimes not much more than the kinds of stories they’d be telling in any other workplace drama. Like if The Brothers was set on the Moon.
When he needs to call up someone’s records, he has to stand up and hunch over his computer.
And the readout is on a teeny tiny screen. I imagine they wanted the actual readout, but weren’t able to build that working screen into a desk prop. It’s the peril of having to build absolutely everything futuristic.
Edward Brayshaw plays a man with a heart condition who’s therefore missed out on an expedition. Such a familiar face, but I could only place him as a bad guy in The Changes. I’m ashamed to say, his role as the War Chief in the Doctor Who serial The War Games didn’t occur to me, but an even greater memory lapse is that he played Mr Meaker in Rentaghost, a show I loved as a child.
Another familiar face is Ralph Bates as Michel LeBrun. I thought he was Russian from the accent, but I guess he’s French.
Nice to see News on the Moon is being disseminated in big, badly formatted blocks of upper case text. Even Pages from Ceefax would be better than this. But Ceefax wasn’t introduced until the year after this programme was made.
There’s some nice model work. Not a lot of it, but it has style.
There’s a bit of inappropriate proximity from Brayshaw, but nothing a slap in the face won’t sort. I’m liking the presence of plenty of women with responsibility, and in charge of science stuff in this show. But they still have men talking about ‘nice to see such pretty faces’ so some aspects are still a bit 70s.
There’s an amazing crash scene, where the moon buggy tips over the edge of (I presume) a crater, and falls down, a lot. They clearly pushed the boat out for this sequence and used every frame of footage.
The script consultant on the show was James Burke.
James Burke has been recently all over my Twitter feed with references to this, described as ‘the greatest piece to camera ever’. Apologies for the aspect ratio – it’s not my video.
The next episode is Outsiders, and the continuing plot of the Moonbase being pushed to produce financially useful results.
Two scientists have to show successful results, and they handle the pressure in different ways. One of them fakes a demonstration to buy time for his actual process to show results. He gets away with it, just.
Another researcher, Peter Conway (played by John Hallam, who played Light in the Doctor Who story Ghost Light) gets his process to work, but the pressure to perform leads him to walk out of the base, then take off his helmet. This show is fairly grim.
Before the next episode, there’s the end of an episode of Hazell, the detective series that was co-created by Terry Venables. Yes, that Terry Venables.
The next episode is Castor and Pollux. The Russians are visiting, being partners in the Moonbase project.
There’s a rather underwhelming rocket launch, only shown on a small monitor. There’s also sound from the launch heard in the control room. I guess that could be vibration from the ground, though.
Something goes wrong when docking with a faulty satellite, and the ship and satellite are pushed out of orbit.
It’s looking like a rescue would be impossible, given the range, and the inability to open the hatches on the damaged spaceship. The pilot is considering his future. Things are looking grim, as he considers his poison pill.
Luckily, there’s a famous Soviet Cosmonaut on the base, a good friend of the doomed pilot, and he offers to pilot the rescue ship. All this is done without the permission of the Earth authorities.
Base commander Caulder is removed from command, and second in command LeBrun, who was against the rescue in the first place, is given command. And at the crucial moment, when the head of the Russian space delegation is ordering him to halt the rescue, because if it fails, their best cosmonaut could be lost, he gives the order to continue.
I am genuinely surprised that the rescue actually works. Given the tone of this series, I expected another depressing, bleak ending.
The next episode is the last in the series. It’s called View of a Dead Planet. I like that their videophone technology is able to do a pull out and reveal to show the man is playing chess. All video chat services should have dramatic camera moves.
A VIP arrives, played by Michael Gough. He’s influential, but his opposition to a high profile joint US/USSR project, the Arctic Sun Project, has made him a bit of an outsider. “What is your main objection?” “It will destroy all life on the Earth.”
Arctic Sun was originally his idea. An orbital nuclear fusion device, melting the polar ice caps and making the Arctic Circle usable for agriculture or habitation. The loss of ‘some land’ in places like Britain was ‘a small price to pay’ for all the land reclaimed at the poles.
So the mass flooding and total destruction of many islands was not a problem for him. But he’s now calculated that the fusion device will explode, and will set off a chain reaction with ‘the hydrogen in the atmosphere’ which will burn up the entire atmosphere.
This grave pronouncement is delivered while the people of Moonbase were celebrating Bastille Day.
So when Moonbase loses contact with Earth, they suspect the worst. Earth is looking bad, it has to be said.
It’s all really bad. Caulder discusses whether there’s a humane way to kill everyone on the base. LeBrun, the hot-headed Frenchman, wants to take his share of what’s left, particularly the drink, so he can get totally drunk then kill himself.
Bruno Ponti, played by Garrick Hagon (Biggs Darklighter in Star Wars) tries to assault Dr Helen Smith, a textbook entitled whiny manbaby.
A rocket is sent back to Earth, manned by LeBrun, to discover if there’s anything left there. Meanwhile, the Moonbase residents appear to be recording podcasts about Earth history.
Caulder decides that, after dinner the next day, he’ll kill all the crew with Carbon Monoxide poisoning without telling them, letting them go to sleep and never wake up.
Lucky, then, that someone had left the big screen TV on in the dining room, as all of a sudden it springs back into life, with an appalling looking quiz show.
LeBrun reports that everything is OK back on Earth, and Gough surmises that the atmosphere didn’t blow up, but it became opaque to sunlight and radio waves for a time, and everything will get back to normal. Another almost hopeful ending, to my great surprise.
I like this series,. mostly because it’s so emblematic of a particular time in TV. A vaguely depressing workplace drama, some special effects that clearly were made for next to no money, and a 1973 colour palette that’s so brown it could a level in the original Quake. But it really felt like they were doing proper science fiction, really speculating on what life might be like, and not taking the easy route with fantastical plots or fantasy devices.
It really is the spiritual ancestor of Star Cops, which had the added bonus of being allowed to be light and funny occasionally.
After this, recording stops, and underneath there’s an old episode of Neighbours. Jason Donovan, Kylie and Alan Dale are all in the cast. The tape ends during this programme.
- Peugeot 306
- Prospero Direct
- Ambrosia Devon Custard
- Colman’s Sauces
- Fairy Dishwasher – Joanna Lumley
- VW Golf
- Natrel Plus
- Royal Insurance
- McDonalds – Amanda Abbington?
- Kit Kat
- Lo Salt
- Oral B
- trail: Picket Fences
- Honey Nut Cheerios
- Kleenex Ultra
- Walker’s Crisps
- Clorets – Julie Walters
- Fairy Liquid
- trail: The Ipcress File
- Crunchy Nut Cornflakes
- Hamilton Direct Bank
- Clorets – Julie Walters
- Energy Efficiency
- Halls Soothers
- Sun Life
- trail: Walker Texas Ranger
- St Ivel Shape
- Pedigree Chum Complete
- Rimmel Silks
- Batchelors Super Noodles
- Crisp ‘n Dry
- Uncle Ben’s
- Persil Washing Up Liquid – Penn & Teller
- Mars Miniatures
- trail: Blake’s 7/Thunderbirds
- Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum
- Vileda Magic Mop
- Janet Frazer