How excited would you be to find out that the minds behind Doctor Who were being given a second show to run, an original science fiction epic of their own design, with money coming not just from the BBC, but a major American studio, to be shown on a U.S. broadcast network?
If you were asked this in 2017, you’d probably be pretty excited. If, on the other hand, you were asked in 1973, you might also be excited, unaware that the result would be a short-lived show called Moonbase 3.
[Via] Collin Dubberley
Devised by Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks, who were, respectively, the producer and script editor of Jon Pertwee-era early ’70s Doctor Who, Moonbase 3 chronicles the dramatic goings-on at a British-run moon base, where research, politics, and the middle ground between the two – funding – are always points of contention. The pent-up confines of the base make it a pressure cooker between conflicting personalities; in this environment, personality quirks can become more pronounced, or even dangerous to others.
The BBC got 20th Century Fox to pitch in on the making of Moonbase 3, so its model work is fairly impressive – not just 1973 impressive, but nicely done and detailed. (Compare to a contemporary episode of Doctor Who, Frontier In Space, which featured a spacecraft whose spherical nose was literally a painted light bulb. Please don’t drop the model.) There was no obligation from the BBC to connect Moonbase 3 to Doctor Who, so it isn’t a spinoff; it actually aired in a late night slot on ABC in the States.
In fact, it’s that little known American broadcast that explains why we have the show at all now; as is often sadly the case, British-made shows shot on videotape tended to be shown once or twice, and then the tapes would be wiped and reused, as videotape was an expensive luxury in the 1970s. As far as anyone knew, until PAL-to-NTSC converted broadcast videotapes turned up in the vaults in America, Moonbase 3 was lost for good. (In fact, the show’s co-creator, Terrance Dicks, has offered the opinion that this might’ve been just as well, but when one considers the sadly incomplete state of such series as Doomwatch, Doctor Who, Ace Of Wands and Out Of The Unknown, the recovery of the entirety of Moonbase 3 has to count as a good thing.) Converted back to PAL, Moonbase 3 has since been released on DVD in the UK. (It’s so completely unknown in America that no Region 1 release has ever been scheduled; for whatever it’s worth, the show also exists in YouTubed form.)
[Via] Whovian69uk’s channel
What does Moonbase 3 have going for it? An always-interesting cast, ever-shifting alliances and agitations between characters, and some decent sets and special effects for an early ’70s BBC series. The acting style is, to be charitable, early ’70s UK TV – stagey and a bit shouty – but Moonbase 3 boasts some familiar guest stars if you’re a fan of British TV. The highlight of the six episodes is Castor & Pollux, an episode chronicling a mishap during an international space mission involving one of Moonbase 3’s crew – it’s a gripping and plausible story (from a show that predated the American/Soviet Apollo Soyuz Test Project mission by two years) with some dizzying effects work.
On the downside, Moonbase 3 is thick with human intrigue and interpersonal conflict, and perhaps a bit short on the awe and wonder of space. The heavy, oppressive atmosphere of the show isn’t a bundle of laughs, and depending on your frame of mind may not even be entertaining. A few keen observers of British TV have noted that there’s more than a slight similarity between Moonbase 3 and the moody first season of Space: 1999, which arrived two years later on rival network ITV.
Moonbase 3 is an acquired taste, and it’s easy to see why it ran six episodes and then simply didn’t get picked up. The spacey sets built for the show were easy enough to recycle – they turned up as a faux spaceship in the season of Doctor Who that came after Moonbase 3’s short run – and Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks elected to concentrate their energy on the relatively light-hearted travels of the TARDIS. Moonbase 3 survives as a bit of a TV cul-de-sac, a sci-fi curio that may be more effective as a mood piece than as a story.