The Arctic Sun Project is a highly controversial scheme which has divided opinion . The plan is to detonate a hydrogen bomb above the Arctic Circle and the resulting explosion will melt the polar ice-caps and create vast areas of new land (dubbed the new Garden of Eden).
The creator of the project, Sir Benjamin Dyce (Michael Gough), has just arrived on Moonbase 3 for a visit and Caulder is naturally keen to hear directly from him about this tremendous feat of scientific endeavour. But he, and the rest of the team, are surprised and perturbed to be told by Dyce that the Arctic Sun Project will destroy all life on Earth.
Dyce is a brilliant scientist (amongst his many distinctions is a Nobel prize) but after his diatribe some of the others decide that he’s lost his grip on reality. However, when all contact with Earth is lost and the whole planet is engulfed in a peculiar mist, it appears that his doom-laden predictions have come true …..
View of a Dead Planet was Arden Winch’s only script for Moonbase 3. It’s notable for presenting us with a much more affable and pleasant Lebrun than we’ve previously seen. He spends the early part of the episode making ironic remarks and is later pleased when the others decide to surprise him by celebrating Bastille Day. It’s hard to imagine them making any sort of effort for the distant and surly Lebrun we saw in previous episodes!
The opening few minutes also gives us a rare glimpse of the Moonbase 3 personnel at rest and play. We see Tom Hill playing a game of long distance chess with his opposite number in the Russian Moonbase. I wonder if this was a homage to a similar scene in the Hancock classic The Radio Ham?
But there’s not too much time for fun as within a matter of hours the Earth looks to be dead. It’s a staggering coincidence that the architect of the Arctic Sun Project happened to be on the Moon at precisely the right time and was therefore able to explain to the staff (and the viewers at home) exactly what he believes would happen – via a large info-dump.
Michael Gough’s not terribly good in this, which is strange because he was usually such a reliable actor. Maybe part of the problem is that Dyce is supposed to be a much older man than Gough (he was fifty seven when this was made). The wig doesn’t help either.
Once all hope looks like it’s lost, it’s instructive to see how everybody copes. Lebrun gets drunk and demands to know when Caulder plans to kill them all, whilst Bruno Ponti (Garrick Hagon) gets drunk and mauls Dr Helen Smith. It’s rather eye-opening that his attempted rape of Helen is later dismissed quite casually (he was under pressure, like the rest of them, but it still seems remarkable that no further action was taken).
Caulder and Tom Hill meet to discuss what they should do. With limited food and oxygen, they can only last for a few weeks at most. Caulder isn’t keen for everybody to carry on until the final scrap of food is eaten, so the ever-practical Tom suggests introducing carbon-monoxide into the atmosphere. It’ll just make everybody drowsy and they’ll gradually drift away into a sleep they’ll never awake from.
View of a Dead Planet has more of a hard-SF edge than some of the earlier episodes, although human interaction is still very much to the fore. Since the acting is rather variable (always a slight problem with Moonbase 3) it’s not the strongest episode, especially thanks to the rather cop-out ending.
If Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks had been aware that the show wouldn’t be recommissioned, it would have been suitably bleak (rather like most of the series) to have ended with the complete destruction of the human race. As it is, just before Caulder orders everybody to be gassed, communication is restored with Earth. The detonation of the bomb caused considerable atmospheric disturbances, but this seems to be only temporary, so in time everything should return to normal.
After being so certain the the end was nigh, Dyce has to back-peddle somewhat – but he’s still able to provide the moral of the story (which sounds like it might have come direct from Barry Letts himself) by stating that mankind has been lucky this time, but they can’t afford any more mistakes. With such potent and powerful methods of destruction, all humanity is placed on a knife’s edge. Another miscalculation could result, next time, in complete annihilation.
It’s not perfect, but Moonbase 3 is a programme that’s well worth your time. And it wouldn’t be the last time that the BBC would create a SF series based on the Moon. Fourteen years later, Star Cops would have an equally brief run (clearly Moon-based shows just aren’t popular!) and that’s going to be the next series that I’ll dig out to rewatch.