In the early part of the decade following man's landing on the moon optimism regarding humanity's future in space was still running relatively high. The prototype US space station Skylab had been successfully launched was looked upon as the next small step towards our exploration of the heavens. In was within this atmosphere of as yet undimmed expectation that on 9th September 1973, the BBC launched its new space based drama series, Moonbase 3.
The brainchild of former Doctor Who alumni, producer Barry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks, the series chronicled in a semi- documentary style the trials and tribulations of the highly trained men and women populating one of a number of permanent Lunar bases in the year 2003. Against the backdrop of political tensions both on Earth and on the Moon, coping with insufficiently meager budgets and non-stop technical and psychological problems, the large cast of characters lead by scientific troubleshooter and new European Moonbase director David Caulder, (Donald Houston) his deputy Michel Lebrun, (Ralph Bates), struggled to live and work in the hostile environment which marked the then farthest outpost of the final frontier.
Although originally envisioned as providing intelligent, realistic drama rather than science fantasy, despite the best intentions of Letts, Dicks and script consultant James Burk, the lynchpin of the BBC's Apollo coverage and star of his own Burke Special series of applied science programmes, Moonbase 3 was doomed to a run of a mere six episodes rather than the intended thirteen. With hindsight, the reason for the show's failure can be laid squarely with the lack of genuine dramatic tension to the majority of the stories, which fatally undermined the inherent potential of the series' basic format.
Given the enviable track record of Letts and Dick's during their association with the revitalised Doctor Who at the time, their decision to reject injecting even the slightest of science fiction/fantasy elements into the fledgling series can be seen now as the gravest of miscalculations. This squandering of dramatic potential resulted in a total failure to engage viewer empathy with either the characters or their situations, and ensured that Moonbase 3 was destined to fade away on the 14 October 1973 following its short and ignoble run. A promising premise, first rate cast and production personnel notwithstanding, Moonbase 3 is best remembered as a noble failure that ultimately promised so much more than it eventually delivered.
Published on January 8th, 2019. Written by SRH (2005) for Television Heaven.