Series creators Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks were keen to ensure that Moonbase 3 was science fact first and science fiction second. Most obviously this meant that Cauder and his team couldn’t expect to be visited by bug-eyed monsters – every danger they faced had to be scientifically credible.
Although having said that, it’s intriguing that Behemoth does tease the audience that there could be something strange out on the lunar surface. Several unexplained disappearances are rumoured to be the work of mysterious space monsters. These bizarre stories cause a certain amount of panic amongst even the most rational of people, which forces Caulder to venture onto the lunar surface to investigate.
One of Moonbase 3’s most fruitful areas of dramatic tension revolved around how a disparate group of people managed to live and work in the stressful, zero-gravity environment on the Moon. But this might also be the reason why the series was so short-lived – after all, there’s only so many stories you can craft about people who are slowly cracking under the strain.
When watching the next two episodes (Achilles Heel and Outsiders) this should be borne in mind and I’m sure we’ll come back to the thorny issue of exactly how Dr Helen Smith manages to keep her position as the base psychologist. Surely after yet another seemingly normal person has gone loopy, endangering the rest of the base, you’d think that somebody would be questioning her ability. Although to be fair, she does have concerns about Professor Heinz Laubenthal (Peter Miles) – which Caulder choses to ignore.
But then it isn’t always clear who’ll be the next to buckle. Some, like Laubenthal seem obvious candidates right from the off, whilst others, like Dr Peter Conway (John Hallam) do appear to be normal and rational.
It could be that Peter Miles has sometimes played characters who aren’t sinister or deranged, but if he has then I must have missed them. To be honest, if you cast Miles then you’re as good admitting from the off that the character he’s playing is a wrong ‘un. Maybe it’s the slightly odd, staccato way he delivers his lines (or possibly his space cardigan) but the Professor doesn’t seem to be completely normal.
After Caulder bans any work being carried out in the Mare Frigoris region, following the disappearance of two seismologists, Laubenthal reacts angrily. He’s carrying out research work in the area, but exactly what he’s doing is a closely guarded secret. And after an explosion in his lab kills him, it’s precisely the secretive nature of his work which allows the wild rumours to flourish, helped along by Peter Conway.
After a brief appearance in the first episode, Conway has a slightly larger role here – although his main episode will be the fourth one Hallam makes Conway a charming man – but he also seems to be troubled by something. Dr Smith is perplexed as to why he delights in spreading scare stories about monsters on the Moon. The question she ponders is if it’s simply his way of letting off steam or whether his actions are masking deeper problems.
Elsewhere, Lebrun clashes with the prickly weather expert Juan Benavente (John Moreno). Benavente has an astonishing accent, which Lebrun comments unfavourably upon. Given Ralph Bates’ fake French accent, this is a bit rich!
Behemoth and the later episode Outsiders were both written by John Brason. Like Arden Winch, who scripted the series finale View from a Dead Planet, he didn’t have a background in science fiction. Winch had written for The Wednesday Play, for example, whilst Brason had contributed to Colditz. This seems to be part of the drive by Letts and Dicks to recruit writers who would be able to craft good drama.
The presence of James Burke, as technical advisor, was another sign they were keen to be as accurate as possible. Barry Letts had decided that by 2003 there would be Moonbases and whilst the benefit of hindsight has enabled us to see that this was hopelessly optimistic, some of Burke’s reasoning at the time still remains sound. By 1973, the love-affair with the Moon was already over. The last manned mission had taken place in 1972 and Burke reasoned that nobody would be interested in returning there until at least the 1990’s – as it would take at a decade or so to study all of the materials brought back from the various lunar missions.
With scientific accuracy therefore very much to the fore, it shouldn’t come as a surprise there’s a rational, logical solution to the mystery. Both of Brason’s episodes are highlights of the series and it’s the mysterious nature of this story which helps to keep the interest level up.