Moonbase 3 (1973)

Hi, guys, it’s Pam. Nate and I are really getting hooked on watching bad short-lived science fiction TV series, and we’re going to be reviewing another one today. This time we’re doing a British, not an American TV series: the six-episode Moonbase 3, from 1973. It has a somewhat better provenance than the series we’ve been reviewing, since it was created by Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks of Doctor Who. So let’s get started!

Episode 1: Departure and Arrival

First, a little bit of background information. According to Wikipedia, the series is set in the “future” year of 2003. There are five moonbases on the moon. Moonbase 1 was founded by the United States, Moonbase 2 by Russia, Moonbase 3 by Europe, Moonbase 4 by China, and Moonbase 5 by Brazil. You may (or may not) be saying right now, “But what about the Secret Nazi Moonbase? They forgot to mention that one!” Hey, that one’s a secret. Duh. From the brief summary of each episode on Wikipedia, it appears that relations between the various moonbases are reasonably cordial, or at least nobody’s shooting at anybody else. The moonbases seem to have been established so the various nations can conduct research. As the series progresses, we’ll see if the moonbases have any other purpose.

Thanks for the card, that's helpful.

As the episode opens, we learn right away that the European Moonbase 3 is Spartan compared to the luxuries of the American and the Russian moonbases. Or so says the Director of Moonbase 3, who is whining about having to put on a spacesuit and walk to the shuttle that’s going to take him back to Earth. It seems the American and the Russian moonbases have pressurized domes that allow access to the shuttle without the need for space suits. The Director whines some more about too little money and how overworked he is, but all his trials, Lord, will soon be over. The shuttle pilot, it seems, is having issues, and he decides a little time alone in the vacuum of space making a few repairs to the shuttle will help him. However, his safety line breaks, and off he drifts, leaving the Director alone in the shuttle. He contacts Moonbase 3, but a solar flare makes it impossible for him to hear flight instructions from them, and he makes a mistake that causes the shuttle to explode.

The shuttle model is pretty shoddy.

A certain Dr. David Caulder is appointed the new Director. We’ve been told Dr. Caulder is the most super-amazing person there ever was, sure to be able to get gobs of funding for the dumpy Moonbase 3, and everybody’s pleased with the appointment, except for Dr. Michel Lebrun, the Deputy Director who was the other contender for the position. There’s a good deal of arguing about Dr. Caulder’s merits among members of the moonbase crew, with Michel taking the negative side, but just as the argument’s getting heated, who should walk in but the great man himself. As it turns out, he’s tall, handsome, has a manly beard, and just oozes energy and charisma. In less time than it takes to tell, and much less time than it takes to watch, he’s charmed everybody. In the course of his tour of the base, we get to see more of two characters who are shaping up to be major players in the action: Tom Hill, who is the director of operations at Moonbase 3 and who seems to be considered a little lower socially than the scientists, and Dr. Helen Smith, the moonbase psychologist. Helen is a fairly pretty brunette, younger than you’d expect for the position she holds. If this series had been made in America, I’m sure a really beautiful actress would have been cast for the most prominent female role. But then, foreign actresses are usually not as drop-dead gorgeous as American actresses cast in similar parts. It’s as if in other countries, actresses are selected more for their acting abilities than for their looks. How weird is that?

Eh, she's alright, I guess.

As the episode progresses, it appears that “Europe” is actually “England.” Every single staff person we see on Moonbase 3 has an English accent, with the sort-of exception of Michel. He’s supposed to be French but is played by an English actor who fakes a French accent when he happens to think about it. Occasionally there are actors in minor parts who attempt a vaguely foreign accent. During one of these attempts, we get the impression that not all the non-English scientists are willing to share their research. And Dr. Caulder has a slight Scottish accent, so maybe I should say “Great Britain,” not “England.”

Caulder begins his inspection.

A good portion of rest of the episode is taken up with Dr. Caulder interrogating Michel, Tom, and Helen to try to place the blame for the death of the previous Director on one of them. His early charm has evaporated, and in fact he’s being rather abusive. Then again, each one of the three unhesitatingly places the blame on the other two, and none of the three seems to feel at all bad about the Director’s death. Dr. Caulder’s decision is to haul them all back to Earth to face a tribunal.

Helen throws them under the moon bus.

However, none of them may make it. They’re all on the shuttle, when all of a sudden it makes a loud noise, and everybody starts squirming slowly to indicate the artificial gravity is no longer operating. The pilot announces their fuel tank has been holed, and the communications between the shuttle and Moonbase 3 are out again. The pilot manages to land the shuttle on the Moon, but it’s nowhere near any of the moonbases. Just to make things a little worse, all their spacesuits, except for the pilot’s, have enough air for only half an hour. It doesn’t appear anybody thought to put extra air tanks aboard. Luckily they’re near a small outpost that was recently set up to do seismological research, so the pilot stays behind to try to repair the radio and summon help, while the other four trudge off, hoping their air will hold out. I’m not too optimistic about that, because it took them over a minute just to climb down the shuttle ladder.

Excellent suit design.

Considering the Moon’s gravity is so low, they’re walking very slowly indeed. If there’s any reason they can’t bound along in time-honored science-fiction fashion in 1/6 gravity, nobody’s mentioned it. Maybe they’re afraid of damaging their “space suits,” which are pretty pathetic. They look like cloth coveralls with large helmets attached. Footgear appears to be laced hiking boots (!), and their air tanks are nothing more than small backpacks (!!!) I know the budget was limited, but couldn’t they have managed to make something that at least looked like air tanks, and if hiking boots were the best they could afford, could they not have kept the camera well away from them?

Some unique camera angles here.

Fragile female Helen appears to be exhausted by her slow saunter in low gravity, but she pulls herself together after some harsh words from Michel and manages to follow the others up a ridge. At first there’s no sign of the outpost, and they’re about to give up hope, when Tom feels a vibration underfoot and sees a small cheap plastic model an enclosed car driving along the lunar landscape. Its driver spots them and hails them. They’re saved!

Moon taxi arrives.

Except they never were in danger in the first place, or at least in no more danger than there is in taking three inexperienced people on a hike across airless rocky terrain. (Make that two inexperienced people, Tom Hill was once an astronaut.) The whole thing was cooked up by Dr. Caulder, who wanted them to see for themselves how dangerous life on the Moon is. Why those three in particular? He wanted to show them that on the Moon, everybody has to take care of each other (he actually said “love one another,” which sounds a little too flowery to me), otherwise they won’t survive. Good thing none of the rather self-centered three had powerful connections back on Earth who could get Dr. Caulder in trouble for his somewhat unorthodox training methods, or that Dr. Caulder didn’t have enemies on Earth just waiting for him to do something they could use against him. Yeah, I’ve worked in some rather Darwinian offices, can you tell? Finally, Dr. Caulder rules that the previous Director was the only one directly responsible for his own death, and Michel, Tom, and Helen are off the hook.

No one is happy with this situation.

So far, I’m not that crazy about this series. This episode was very slow moving. Were Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks burned out from Dr. Who’s fast pace? Besides that, it’s not very interesting. The action could be taking place in any good-sized office, and science fiction barely came into this episode. I’m not liking any of the characters very much, either, none of them seem to be very nice so far. The show’s budget was obviously low, and cut corners show up throughout the episode. As I mentioned, though, there was really no excuse for the hiking boots. As far as personality conflicts and poor workplace relationships are concerned, this series so far is outdoing Space Patrol Orion, and I’m curious to see how these are going to play out in the following episodes. I get the feeling Michel in particular is as unhappy with the new director as ever.

”Yep, says that right here in next week's script.”

Episode 2: Behemoth

I found the first episode to be somewhat boring, but just the title to this episode has me interested. What sort of behemoth could be on the Moon? At first the episode gives no hint. It opens with two scientists out on the Moon’s surface, setting up some sort of equipment. Their work is shortly interrupted by shaking, which at first I thought was due to carelessness with the camera but which proves to be the ground itself shaking. The shaking gets bad enough to make the scientists fall down, and then – we are in Dr. Caulder’s office. It seems that the scientists did more than just fall down, they’ve disappeared completely, and nobody can find them. Was the earthquake, or moonquake if you prefer, not felt at Moonbase 3? If it was, nobody’s mentioning it. Since as you’ll recall, this is happening on the Moon, they need to find the missing scientists before their air runs out. At this point, that means within the next two hours.

Just taking a stroll.

In order to make the search easier, Dr. Caulder orders the search area out of bounds to everybody but the people designated to do the searching. This order is greeted with dismay by a scientist we saw in the last episode, the one who seemed to be keeping some of his research to himself. He seems to have had something going on in the area where the other scientists disappeared, and he’s not at all pleased to hear he isn’t allowed to go there. He’s kind of weaselly-looking, and he has an accent that may be German, so I’m betting he’s a bad guy. Uh-oh, his name is Heinz and he’s got a combover, he’s definitely a bad guy!

And he has an ugly sweater.

For all that the scientists have to be found in the next two hours, it doesn’t seem that anybody’s going to start out any time soon. We listen to scientists grouse about how nobody cares about their findings, and Dr. Caulder calls a staff meeting. In the meantime, Heinz sneaks out to the search area by himself. Hmm – so there’s no system in place to stop anybody who wants to from getting himself a spacesuit and a vehicle and heading out without telling anybody? Is this a good idea on the Moon? Wouldn’t this lead to the likelihood of someone getting into an accident and nobody having any idea where he is, or even missing him until it’s too late? For that matter, are spacesuits and lunar vehicles so plentiful there’s a lot just sitting around so people can help themselves? I’m being sarcastic here, since the answer is “Probably not.” We’ve been hearing complaints about limited funding, and both spacesuits and vehicles suitable for lunar conditions would likely be expensive enough so there’d have to be some sort of checkout procedure to make sure everybody got a fair turn at the few available. Even if that isn’t a concern, there’s still the safety issue to consider.

Another day, another moondollar.

But back to the action, such as it is. There is some cause for concern that solar flares may interrupt communication between Moonbase 3 and Earth, and this is important because one of Moonbase 3’s responsibilities is to provide hurricane warnings. As luck would have it, a hurricane appears to be forming right now, but it’s not yet certain it’ll progress to a real hurricane. There is debate between Dr. Caulder and a scientist about how to handle the situation, but after a few minutes of less-than-gripping conversation, Dr. Caulder makes the decision to warn Earth now but say the hurricane may not happen after all. Although the communication thing is probably of great concern to Earth, to the people on the Moon it pales before the mysterious disappearance of the two scientists and the fact that they need to be found ASAP, so this just serves to distract from the primary concern.

”Why is my 401k so small?”

The next scene shows a discussion between Dr. Caulder and Tom about whether researchers should be allowed back into the search area. This is not very interesting either, although we do learn that Tom still bears a grudge against Dr. Caulder for scaring him in the last episode. We also learn that Tom is as indifferent to the probable death of the two scientists as he was to the death of the previous Director. I’m not liking Tom at all. It really isn’t clear, but it sounds as though the area has now been thoroughly searched with still no signs of the missing scientists. Nobody has said if their air would have run out by now. But finally, something happens! An alarm goes off, and Tom looks at a screen on the wall and says the seismology lab has been totally depressurized. Automatic seals have isolated it from the rest of the moonbase, but there’s no way of knowing who was in there when it depressurized. This gives further indication that the moonbase urgently needs to implement accountability procedures so it’s possible to know who is where at all times, although in this case there’s no need to worry about how many have to be rescued, since everybody in the lab must be dead.

Finally, a map of Moonbase 3!

Tom puts on a spacesuit and, along with several others, goes out to get into the seismology lab from the outside. It’s in very bad shape, with a hole big enough to walk through in an exterior wall, and the interior looking as though a bomb went off in it. One body is found, and it will be autopsied to try to figure out what happened. Almost as an aside, it’s revealed that the dead scientist is Heinz.

Checking out the damage.

Subsequently there is another long-winded discussion about what could have happened. I’ll spare you the details, but we learn some important things: the two missing scientists have been gone long enough to use up all their air, so they’re assumed to be dead; it looks as though there was an explosion in the seismology lab; the scientists doing the seismology research have access to explosives, but they’re strictly forbidden to bring them inside the moonbase; and the explosives they use can’t be detonated by accident. Tom weighs in to say the hole looked as though it was “bashed in” from the outside, and he says he didn’t find a meteorite in the lab, so it couldn’t have been that. The doctor doing the autopsy on Heinz says the body was torn apart by a tremendous force, but what that force was, he doesn’t know. “Bashed in” – “torn apart”…is The Behemoth at work? And did The Behemoth have anything to do with the disappearance of the two scientists?

Don't you two have some work to do?

A conversation with one of Heinz’ staff reveals his research involved setting off explosives underneath the surface of the same area where the two scientists disappeared. It seems Heinz was keeping secrets from everybody, including why he was using explosives, but his subordinate says Heinz did say his research was related to the possibility of life on the Moon. Heinz kept a lab notebook, but for some reason he chose to write most of it in code, so it’s no help. Oh, no – did Heinz stir up Godzilla’s Lunar cousin? Maybe. The repair crew informs Dr. Caulder they found giant footprints outside the damaged part of the lab. They seem to be leading to the area where the astronauts disappeared, but they become covered with moon dust and can’t be traced to their point of origin. And I’m not the only one who thinks there’s a monster out there – a number of the scientists do too, as we learn in a discussion that goes on a little too long. This series is showing signs of long-windedness. In fact, it appears rumors of a monster have spread to the other moonbases, too. The rumors have all the inhabitants of the moonbases on edge, and a number of them are refusing to go outside, as though there hasn’t been enough proof that being inside is no protection against whatever-it-is.

Stressful days.

Dr. Caulder stoutly proclaims to everyone that the lab explosion was just a freak accident, but there seems to be enough evidence to warrant an investigation. Admittedly there doesn’t seem to be any life at all on the Moon, let alone life big enough to capture two adults and knock a hole in a laboratory wall, but the fact remains: two adults disappeared, and there seems to be no way the lab explosion could have happened by accident. Those explosives can’t be detonated by accident, remember? Couldn’t these incidents have been caused by all-too-human agencies? Gad, could the Secret Nazi Moonbase be behind all this?!!

She could use some shoulder pads.

Finally Dr. Caulder sees things my way, and he leads a party out to investigate. He and the others are of course wearing spacesuits and – yes, those laced hiking boots again. Seriously, keep the camera away from their feet! To build up a little more suspense, those solar flares mentioned earlier are kicking up, and the radio link between the investigators and the moonbase is having problems. Back at the moonbase, one of the scientists has been going through the documents Heinz left and questioning another scientist Heinz did some work with. He seems to have found out something which makes it urgent he tell Dr. Caulder the search party is going into danger, but curses, the radio link is completely gone, and he races off without bothering to tell anybody what he’s found out. No sooner has he gone to wherever, the link is restored enough for Dr. Caulder to inform the base that he and the others are going down into a crater located in the area where the two scientists disappeared. Once inside the crater, the ground goes all wavery, and Dr. Caulder falls down. A closeup of his hands shows his gloves look suspiciously like heavy-duty rubber gloves. I’m not sure they’re even sealed to his suit. Then the other searchers fall down, and while they’re flailing and trying to get their balance, we see their suits are clearly cloth coveralls. Was it so impossible to shoot the scene at enough distance to hide the cheesiness?

Small backlot.

But no harm done, and also nothing learned – so far. The scientist who seems to have found out something turns up at the crater just then, looking for Dr. Caulder, who is now behind a ridge. The radio has chosen this moment to go out again. The two men in the lunar vehicle point out the direction Dr. Caulder and his two buddies went, and just after they haul Dr. Caulder out of a pit that opened up under him, somebody spots the bodies of the two missing scientists. Remember them? The bodies are partially hidden by rocks, but they’re still easy to spot. I thought this area was thoroughly searched when they first went missing? If not, why not? Dr. Caulder is rather the worse for wear, but he manages to write “I-C-E” in the moon dust. Yes, in an anticlimax, it turns out there was a layer of ice under the surface, which amplified the shock waves from the explosives the two scientists were using, causing them to be killed and the ground to become unstable, which is what caused the pit Dr. Caulder nearly got buried alive in. Heinz died because he asked somebody to make him some special explosives so he could determine the extent of the layer of ice, and unfortunately the jerry-rigged explosives, unlike the regular explosives, were easy to detonate accidentally. A moon tremor set them off. (It doesn’t appear the scientist who made the explosives for Heinz is going to suffer any disciplinary action.) The tracks spotted outside the moonbase are explained as figments of imaginations run wild. The blockage of communications between the Moon and the Earth that was so important earlier has been completely forgotten.

Chinese Moonbase 4 is annoyed at this foolishness.

What a cheat. Ice instead of Godzilla. However, it doesn’t explain why it looked as though the explosion happened on the outside of the dome while Heinz’ body was found in the lab, unless Heinz for some unknowable reason left the explosives just sitting on the ground right outside the dome instead of keeping them in the lab. (The regular explosives were stored in a small building outside the dome, and the building showed no signs of damage when it was checked after the explosion.) It also doesn’t explain why whoever did the autopsy on Heinz didn’t recognize injuries caused by an explosion. Hmm…could it be the Secret Nazi Moonbase built a giant robot that went on a rampage, and some of the Nazis lured Dr. Caulder into the pit and hypnotized him into thinking all the damage was done by ice? I’d like to think so.

Why is Barry Gibb on the moon?

There was some sloppy writing in this episode, as I pointed out. I want to point out further that we were shown the giant footprints, and if they were figments of the imagination, my imagination was running wild, too, because they certainly looked like giant footprints of some sort to me. It occurs to me that since in 1973, VCRs and DVD players didn’t exist, the writers could be sure viewers wouldn’t be able to rewind and check out any inconsistencies they thought they might have spotted. It must have been a big temptation for writers on a deadline to go ahead and write something that didn’t completely match up with what the viewers had already been shown, particularly if earlier segments would have had to be re-shot to bring them into accordance with the later material. Are scripts for TV shows generally written on the fly, instead of being written in advance?

Video tech not exactly hi-def.

Another problem that I saw in this episode and in Episode 1 is that there wasn’t enough story to fill up an hour. It would have been possible to fit all the action into half an hour, if all the long-winded discussions between the various researchers had been eliminated. And finally, the characters are still quite unlikable. Dr. Caulder isn’t as self-centered as most of the people we see, but there’s something a little too theatrical about him, and I wonder how much of his concern is real and how much is put on because he thinks it’s better for his career if people like him. To sum up, so far I don’t like this series. Nate, it’s your turn to tell us what you think of it.

No one is the “hero”.

Episode 3: Achilles Heel

Thanks, Pam, I'll take a few episodes to see what all the yawning is about. And, ohmy, are we yawning.

This episode kicks off with mysterious things happening with a science experiment at the base. The three-person team responsible for the experiment, recently arrived from Earth, each have their own explanations and theories about what is happening, ranging from criminal mischief to simple human errors. After the “accidents” continue, despite the renewed overwatch from Caulder, it's clear someone is a lying bastard.

Woof, back in the prop locker with you.

The most notable things about this episode is how little screen time the “regular” moonbase crew gets, with the exception of Caulder and Helen. For all they do to advance the plot, Michel and Tom could have taken the week off. Caulder gets a lot of lines, mostly because he's the final decider of all things Moonbase 3, but this is pretty much an episode devoted to the three guest stars and Helen. And that's fine, all the guests are great in their roles and it's nice to see Helen get some quality face-time that doesn't involve being a second banana to Caulder. She even gets to fall in love with the handsome Adam (one of the visiting scientists), and they share some sweet kisses and make plans to retire to his Norwegian cabin, nice stuff.

I hope you're off the clock.

The other two guest scientists get their share of character development as well. Bill is newly married and feeling lonely and desperate to go home, concerned that his wife is cheating on him while he's off-world. Kate is middle-aged and feeling pressured to produce results to keep the younger generation of scientists at bay, she even pouts and threatens to resign at one point before realizing that she still has something to offer. In fact, you end up caring about these two characters, neither ever seen again, more than the regular station crew, which is a problem.

Kate is “television old”.

The problem is that Adam is rather unhinged due to being recently passed up for the manned Venus mission currently eating up the Space Command budget. Adam's mind cracks a bit and he starts sabotaging station equipment and even attempting to murder people who accuse him. Whether he's even aware of what he's doing or not is an open question, it sure seems like he has a multiple personality disorder at times. He talks to himself at times, seems to drift off into some internal happy place, and there's just something flaky in his eyes. In the end Adam's crimes are uncovered, Helen summarily dumps him, and he's shipped back to Earth for what is assumed to be a lengthy trial and lots of medications.

No color tv in the future?

Speaking of budgets, a large part of Caulder's time is spent wrangling with the suits back on Earth about money and deadlines and progress reports and all that boring stuff. There's just not enough money to go around in the Space Industry and Caulder's base is feeling the squeeze as more and more Eurodollars are being poured into the Venus mission. While that's a nice bit of worldbuilding there, it's dreadfully boring to watch and serves only to drag an already dragging episode (and series...) down even further into the “Tuesday afternoon on C-SPAN” territory.

I hate all of you.

Other noteworthy aspects to this episode? Well, we do get an extended look at the various wheeled vehicles that Moonbase 3 uses to get around, most notably a minivan-sized truck that Adam drives off a cliff in an effort to murder Helen and kill himself off in a fit of jealous rage (it doesn't work). The miniature work is shoddy and the full-size mockup looks like it was built in an afternoon with two sheets of plywood and a gallon of gray paint, but at least they made the effort to leave the station.

Love the satellite dish.

Despite this, however, this episode could have taken place in any setting, there is virtually nothing in it that demands that the setting be the moon, or any other sort of sci-fi environment. In fact, all the scripts so far could have been easily set in a terrestrial location (and were probably originally written as such...), which is a problem because you are wasting a truly unique and harsh environment with challenges and sights unknown to all but a comparatively small group of German, American, and Russian men. This could have been set in a sleepy little English country town and you'd only have to change the words “moon” and “space” to “Cornwall” and “mid-winter snowstorm”. You need a moonbase? How about a research station in an old farmhouse? Need a moonbuggy? Just rent a Range Rover. Need spacesuits for the environment? Just use trenchcoats and fedoras for the rain and wind, nothing will change the meat of your plotlines.

Helen needs a bonnet and a sundress.

Episode 4: Outsiders

In this episode, a visiting team of scientists working on an experiment are involved in mysterious accidents and finger-pointing and our station crew has to figure out who is to blame for all the drama and why before the bean-counters back on Earth cut their funding. Wait, wait, wait, isn't that the exact same plot of the previous episode as well? Are there (again) a group of floppy-haired Englishmen at the station, each with their own mental problems and reasons for either helping or hindering the experiments? Yes. Is Caulder mad at the delays and the confusion? Of course. Does Helen end up in love with one of them? Yes (you go, girl!). Is 75% of the running time mindlessly boring talking and talking and talking about stupid stuff for no reason? Oh my yes and I hate it.

Oh, it's you again.

No one cares about this new science experiment, it's just melting rocks and folding metal and other sliderule things, and any attempts to make it exciting or interesting are destined to fail. I get that this is sort of slow, incremental measuring and pouring and remeasuring and repouring of samples is scientifically accurate and all, but, damn, this is a television show, can you all please at least try and make it interesting? You want to melt rocks, fine, then have something go wrong and a river of lava threaten the station. Or have one of the scientists be a spy for the Russians. Or have someone stab someone else in a fit of jealousy over Helen, something. I don't want to watch a second-semester chem lab by a TA with no tenure, that's what CalTech's youtube channel is for. When is Helen going to get naked?

Wow, that's super lame.

About halfway through, a bigwig comes from Earth to check on the station and drink coffee. The scientists put on a demonstration for him, showing off their rock melting and all that, and it seems to go well. Oh no, that guy faked his results! Yawn. Oh no, that other guy found out and turned him in! Zzzzz... Feelings are hurt, careers are ruined, academic grants are revoked, people talk a lot. I just can't seem to care about any of this, it's just so boring. Why can't something catch on fire? Why can't someone shoot someone else? Where are the Nazis? You know, all of this could have been incorporated into last week's episode (which was also boring as drywall paste). Did not anyone notice how similar the scripts were? I mean, other than the poor audience?

Seriously, where are the Nazis?

In the end, the cheater scientists dude gets all butthurt and wanders off alone in a spacesuit to commit suicide by helmet-removal. But even that's boring, no one goes off in a mad dash to save him, he doesn't steal a moonbuggy, we don't see his head freeze and bulge, there's no stirring electronic music cues, no aliens blow anything up. Helen's a bit bummed, but she's a tough bird, she'll find someone new to kiss on (probably next episode...). Caulder, after being all uppity about lying and cheating before, sends off a false report that the dude died accidentally to save the guy's reputation, that was nice of him.

She has a cute nose.

There's really nothing in this episode that expands our knowledge of the station and its regular crew, and that's a shame because there's only a few more episodes left before the series got the merciful axe from the network. Caulder is still a controlling prick in pastel sweaters. Helen is still woefully bad at her job and uses too much hairspray. The other dudes with names and shoes and stuff are still there in the background collecting paychecks for saying a few lines and then exiting stage right. Can't really say that I learned anything new about any of them, a pretty wasted hour.

Oh shut up shut up shut up!

Help me out, Pam, tell me the next episode will be more exciting than the last two!

Episode 5: Castor and Pollux

I’m afraid I’ve got bad news for you, Nate. This episode seems to have been meant to be exciting, but since all the action was completely predictable, it was, how shall I put it…not.

This episode can be summarized in a few sentences: Tom Hill takes a spacecraft out to fix a busted satellite. Something goes wrong with his ship, and it’s stuck on the satellite. A Russian cosmonaut goes out to get Tom loose. At first he can’t do it, then he can. Happy ending. By the way, the “Castor and Pollux” mentioned in the title are Tom and the Russian cosmonaut, who’ve known each other for a long time. Is this good enough, Nate?

Crud. Nate wants more detail. Okay, let’s see. As those of you who have managed to stay awake through this review have noticed, a lot of stuff has been going wrong at Moonbase 3. Dr. Caulder doesn’t want to have to inform the powers-that-be that a major piece of equipment like this weather satellite has failed, so he insists somebody go out to fix it. He has an ulterior motive as well – the satellite is important to the Russians, who he’s sucking up to because he thinks if he can convince the Russians to participate in some of Moonbase 3’s projects, the entity responsible for allocating funds to Moonbase 3 will loosen up the purse strings and come across with more money so as not to look cheap in front of the Russians. Tom says that he (like us) is bored and he’ll go out and fix the satellite himself.

The boss poses.

Meanwhile, in another part of the moonbase, Michel is confiding to Helen yet again that he doesn’t think Dr. Caulder is an effective administrator, and that he (Michel) would be ever so much better. By this point, this is not exactly news, and Helen refuses to get excited about Dr. Caulder’s supposed failings, although she doesn’t really stick up much for him, either. One of the points Michel brings up is that he feels Dr. Caulder doesn’t have what it takes to out-scheme some of the other major players on the Moon. The commander of the Russian moonbase is the one Michel is most worried about.

They should really just do it.

So Tom blasts off for the satellite, while Dr. Caulder goes to dine with the commander of the Russian moonbase. It seems the Russian commander is as eager to cooperate with the British Europeans of Moonbase 3 as Dr. Caulder is to work with the Russians, and the Russian commander dangles some very tempting projects in front of Dr. Caulder: first a trip to Mars, then, if all goes well on Mars, a trip to Jupiter. And he really wants Tom to go along as one of the pilots. Dr. Caulder manages to retain his cool in front of the Russian commander, but once he’s back at Moonbase 3, he radios Tom and gleefully recounts the news. Tom takes the possibility of going to Jupiter without much enthusiasm, the way he takes pretty much everything.

No one here has much pep for their job.

Tom is proceeding toward the satellite, slowly and with many instructions from Moonbase 3. Besides being boring and taking up too much time, all the coaching makes me wonder how Tom got to be considered such a hot pilot if pilots need this much direction from the ground. The coaching, however, can’t save Tom from disaster. The computer aboard his spacecraft malfunctions and delivers a surge of power at just the wrong moment, and the spacecraft hits the satellite and gets stuck, literally stuck, in it. Rather similar to the situation in The Atomic Submarine, but unfortunately Tom doesn’t seem to have any cutting tools handy. Also, his hatches are jammed shut and he can’t get out.

Disaster in space!

Although it’s mentioned that such computer glitches aren’t a rare thing, nobody on Moonbase 3 has any idea what to do. The satellite plus Tom are moving away from Moonbase 3, and the only suitable spacecraft they have may or may not be able to catch up with it, and since the satellite is tumbling around, may or may not be able to lock onto it if it does catch up. And if it does, since the hatches on Tom’s ship are jammed, will it be possible to get Tom out? All of this is pointed out to Dr. Caulder by Michel, the eternal pessimist. It’s questionable whether Moonbase 3 has a pilot good enough to do all this, and it seems all the American astronauts are tied up on other projects, apparently all of them so urgent they can’t stop for a little while to save somebody’s life. Nobody even brings up the possibility of the Brazilians or the Chinese helping.

The moon seems a bit too lumpy.

However, Dr. Caulder has an ace up his sleeve. As I mentioned, it was revealed at the beginning of this episode that Tom is hero-worshipped by Col. Dmitri Gararov, the Russian cosmonaut who is quite the hot pilot himself, and Dmitri sets off to try to persuade the Russian commander to let him go. Dmitri is being held in reserve for the Mars trip, and the Russian commander is decidedly reluctant to allow him to set off on such a risky mission. Besides, the Russian commander needs permission from the Kremlin to allow Dmitri try to save Tom, and it will take too long to get permission.

Cold War over, eh?

Tom is doing his best to get the hatches unjammed, and back at Moonbase 3, his compatriots are enduring the wait with what could be called British stiff upper lips or bored indifference, depending on your point of view. Michel continues to needle Dr. Caulder, who continues to ignore his jabs. Nothing new here. Then Tom radios in to say his ship’s so tightly wedged into the satellite that it’s not just a matter of getting the hatches open, he couldn’t get out even if they were open. Besides, if something goes wrong with the spaceship sent to get him out, it’ll blow Moonbase 3’s budget and Dr. Caulder will be in trouble with the funders of Moonbase 3. But Tom’s okay with all this, really he is! He’s accepted the inevitable! I’ll point out that this unselfishness is somewhat out of character for Tom, who up until now has seems pretty self-centered, along with all the other inhabitants of Moonbase 3.

Still need to work on those monitors.

Dr. Caulder, who to give him credit seems genuinely concerned about Tom, is not giving up. Suddenly the situation brightens when Dmitri walks in the door and says he’ll go and get Tom. He doesn’t say what his commander thinks of this, and in fact the commander turns up in Dr. Caulder’s office soon after Dmitri blasts off to let Dr. Caulder know he is very perturbed indeed. It seems Dmitri didn’t bother to clear his excursion with his superior officer. However, the commander doesn’t sound all that mad, so maybe he’s just protesting as a matter of form. Boy, oh boy, do we have some suspense now! Will Dmitri reach Tom in time? (Yes.) Will Dmitri end up in a gulag for disobeying orders even if he does bring Tom back safely? (No.) Will we get lots of boring filler before we find out? (Do we ever.)

Talking? Yes.

Michel gets his moment of glory when Dr. Caulder is removed from his position by his superior on Earth and Michel is appointed director. It doesn’t make any difference, Tom and Dmitri are working together and not paying any attention to anybody’s orders or advice. At first it appears that even the great Dmitri won’t be able to help Tom. Back on Moonbase 3, there are a few furrowed brows and some lip-biting. I, however, am glancing at the time indicator at the bottom of the video and tapping my fingers. Six minutes to go, that means they won’t be able to drag out the rescue for much longer. But it seems it isn’t all up to Dmitri to decide, because the people back on Moonbase 3 have been monitoring Dmitri’s actions every step of the way and can somehow push a button or something and turn off his spaceship…I think, that part’s not real clear. Anyway, the people on Moonbase 3 have the final say, and the Russian commander is doing his utmost to convince Michel to push that button, because the Russian commander says the maneuver Dmitri plans is so dangerous it’s likely Dmitri will be killed. I’m so not on the edge of my seat, because by now it’s completely obvious there will be no surprises.

Not even the pretty girl can save this episode.

Indeed there are not. Michel doesn’t push the button, Dmitri does something, Tom’s ship comes loose from the satellite, and Dmitri picks him up. There’s a little polite applause from those who were monitoring the action back on Moonbase 3, and Dr. Caulder opens a bottle of champagne. By the way, now that everything’s turned out for the best, Dr. Caulder’s instantly back in the good graces of his superiors and back as Director of Moonbase 3, and even Michel doesn’t seem put out at his demotion. So it’s back to business as usual, but I have one recommendation: fix the computer that screwed up Tom’s flight to the satellite! Otherwise poor Dmitri may have to go back out tomorrow and do the same thing all over again. However, this seems to have occurred to nobody on Moonbase 3.

The models are nice.

Another point I want to bring up is Tom Hill. We’ve been told what a great astronaut he used to be, but we’ve been shown he’s now basically just the head handyman in Moonbase 3’s service department. This doesn’t seem to be any way to treat the superb pilot he’s supposed to be, although the amount of control exercised from the ground in this episode makes me wonder why they need good pilots anyway. (And now that I think of it, are we to assume his piloting skills haven’t deteriorated during the long period of time he hasn’t flown a spaceship?) Why is he putting up with it? Is there some backstory we would have gotten if the series hadn’t been canceled after six episodes? Tom’s accent is not as classy as those of his coworkers. At one time that mattered a lot in England, and I am told still does to some extent. Is he a man from a modest background who managed to become an astronaut because of some extraordinary skill? And did it happen that once his astronaut days were over, it was assumed by everybody, including Tom, that he was meant by nature to be working class, so he was automatically slotted into that kind of job? I understand this happened after World War II to RAF pilots who were good at flying but didn’t come from the “right” background.

But his hair is glorious!

As you have probably figured out by now, this show is really boring. I’d rather watch The Starlost, and I never thought I’d be saying that. This isn’t the first movie or TV show we’ve reviewed that tried to stretch the run time out longer than the plot justified, but it’s not only that, it’s that everybody is so deadpan and unemotional all the time. There’s none of the bouncy, we’re-all-best-buddies-and-loyal-comrades attitude Star Trek had, but on the other hand, there’s none of the we’re-all-a-quarrelling-bunch-of-misfits-and-screwups we saw in Space Patrol Orion, either. Dr. Caulder was the only character on Moonbase 3 that had any life to him. It might have been an improvement if the writers had elected to go full-on soap opera and have the episodes filled with sex and jealousy between coworkers, everybody plotting against everybody else to grab each other’s research funding, and Michel repeatedly trying to stab Dr. Caulder in the back so he could become Director. Oh, yeah, and if the Behemoth had been real, that would have been a lot better. But that was not to be.

Poor Caulder, gets it in the end.

One more episode to go. Nate’s got to review it, and I won’t have to watch any more of Moonbase 3. Excuse me while I go and spend some time watching paint dry to get more excitement than I got from watching Moonbase 3.

Episode 6: View of a Dead Planet

I got this, Pam, take a rest.

So, way, way back before kids and ex-wives and mortgages, I fancied myself a budding novelist. One of my (many) ideas that I worked on for a while was a novel about the last remnants of humanity in space after all life on Earth was wiped out. The hook was the very first atomic bomb test in 1945, which started a chain-reaction and burned up the atmosphere and left Earth a dead, lifeless rock. The only humans left alive were on the Nazi Moon Base and in the couple of German rockets that were in transit at the time. I wrote on this off and on for a couple years while in college and probably had a good 200 pages of solid writing (on Corel Wordperfect!). But, it being the early 1990s before the internet and before I knew what I was doing, I saved everything to a floppy disc that I would take with me to the computer lab on free times to write (I didn't have my own computer, or, more correctly, couldn't afford my own computer). All gravy until one day some cockmaster stole my bookbag while I was in the bathroom at the campus library (my fault, in retrospect, a stupid brainfart of basic common sense) and gone was my floppy disc. No iCloud backups, no website archives, no hardcopy paper versions, everything was on that one disc and it was never to be seen again. It was such a good piece of writing, if I may say so myself, that for years afterwards I'd occasionally scan the sci-fi lit shelves at bookstores to see if my stolen story had been turned into an actual printed novel by whoever swiped my stuff, but that (or course) never happened. I tried once or twice to rewrite what I had, based on memory, but that's much harder than you might imagine and it was never the same so I gave up and just chocked the whole disaster up to a lessons-learned experience.

Why am I telling you this? Because that dickhead who stole my story back in 1993 obviously built a timemachine and traveled back to 1973 and sold my idea to the scriptwriters of Moonbase 3, because this episode is exactly my novel! Well, without the Nazis, of course, and with decidedly less sex and violence and violent sex, but the core of the ideas are the same. I am considering suing for royalties.

Anyway, in this show The Event is some experimental nuke being set off in the upper atmosphere to melt the ice caps that goes wrong and burns all the air off the planet. On the moon, the realization slowly sets in that the people of the five moonbases are all that's left of humanity. In our Moonbase 3 we hear that the situation is dire and there is no hope, there's only a few weeks left of food and with no prospect of resupply now, it's just a matter of time before they are all dead. Caulder plans to peacefully kill them all with sleeping gas when the time comes, save them the suffering of starving to death.

'tis a nobler death.

If you knew your life is ending soon, what would you do? Would you just give up and drink yourself to death? Would you indulge yourself of hedonistic pleasures up until the very end? Would you keep working until your last breath to find some solution to the hopeless problem? Would you just cry and cry and cry? Shovel-faced Tom is especially adamant about getting roasted on booze and then shoot himself, which certainly seems like his right under then circumstances. Caulder, the consummate professional, is going to sit stoically in his chair as the gas lulls him into an endless sleep. Bruno tries to rape Helen. But in the end, they all try and keep that British stiff upper lip, keep calm and carry on and all that, to varying levels of effectiveness.

Everyone has reached the end of their ropes.

Annnnnnnd just when all seems lost, it turns out that the Earth isn't dead after all, just out-of-contact for a while after the nuke test fried all the electronics. Yay, and there was much rejoicing and back-slapping. I think the message here was “Hey, superpowers, how about we not nuke ourselves into oblivion after all?”. There was quite a bit of topical, anti-war elements in the entire series, and this last episode is essentially a warning shot across the bows of those camps that wished to play nuclear brinkmanship with the Rooskies. As with the fictional accident in our show, a real-life nuclear accident could potentially spiral out of control and end our blue marble for good. Then there really would only be the Nazis in their Moon Base left.

Why the crotch-level video monitors?

This is the series finale, it was canceled soon afterwards, but this is actually such a strong episode, filled with the sort of tension and emotion that we've not seen before, that you wonder if the cast and crew knew the axe was coming and decided to go out with as much bravado and excitement as they could (putting aside the fact for now that if they had done this before they might not have been canceled...). Not only is the subject matter intense and mature, but there's fisticuffs and screaming, there's mild cussing and talk of murder and rape, we even (gasp!) see Helen's boobies! This single episode is better and more entertaining than the previous five combined, and that's no joke. If I have any problem with the episode's plot is that they didn't follow through with the death plan in the end. If they knew they were filming the series' last episode, why not end realistically as possible, either with the mass gassing death or, better yet, a murderous rage-fest of blood and misery, Event Horizon-style, ending with one final survivor sitting alone in a pile of corpses, staring silently off at the dead Earth. I suppose that would be too much for 1973, eh?

Maybe just have them wander off to die?

So that's that. All in all a pretty bad television show, mercifully truncated due to extreme boredom and a lack of anything exciting happening (parts of the last episode excluded, of course). If you want to watch this show (don't), do yourself a favor and just watch Episode 6 and call it done. Thanks for the help, Pam!

The End.

Written in November 2015 by Nathan Decker and Pam Burda.

comments powered by Disqus

Go ahead, steal anything you want from this page,
that's between you and the vengeful wrath of your personal god...