The small town of Shrimpton-on-Sea is much like any other coastal British village, it has its ways and traditions, not to mention its share of local characters, but there is something about to happen that not one inhabitant could have predicted. Not one apart from perhaps the postmaster Harold Drake (Eliot Makeham), who casts his eyes over the evening newspaper with great concern, since the headlines are full of the story of the so-called Dead Star, a heavenly body traversing the skies which is growing perilously close to the Earth. Could this be the cause of the earthquakes and storms across the planet - and could his hometown be next to fall under its spell?
Once in a New Moon was a modest, one-hour science fiction tale from Britain at a time when the genre was largely confined to the printed page, in that country at least, as audiences' interest in space aliens, weird technology and incredible fantasies in general was still in its nascent form, and mostly relegated to the horror genre. Not to say there was no sci-fi whatsoever, but Fritz Lang's Metropolis had failed to start a global movement in cinema the previous decade to this, probably thanks to the prohibitive expense all those special effects and lavish sets would present to any filmmaker wishing to explore the more "out there" concepts the books were following.
Another issue was that the business of space rockets and distant planets was regarded as kids' stuff, and relegated to the serials where the junior viewers could lap them up in the spirit of adventure, whereas the more serious writers of the form considered it a grand forum for ideas, and you could discern some of that here, no matter that lighthearted tone. There was an atmosphere less of the uncanny and more of mockery, sending up British values when faced with the troubles that anything from outside their sphere of experience in the everyday could throw up, so when Shrimpton is torn from the surface of the globe and shoots off into space, denial is the overall reaction.
Drake is the exception to that rule, determined to prove his theories correct as the resident, keen scientific mind and, not so coincidentally, astronomer - a hobby that was very popular during this era and sold a lot of telescopes to amateur stargazers as a result. He sets off in a sailboat to circumnavigate this new mini-planet, along with his daughter, pointedly named Stella (René Ray, who would go on to pen science fiction herself when her writing career took off a couple of decades later), and discovers on winding up where he started on the shores of Shrimpton that he knew what everyone else on the town council was in denial about, that they are now a satellite in orbit around the Earth. Naturally, this sets up all sorts of new challenges.
Like who is in charge, for a start, as satire takes root in the plot. There are two opposing philosophies here, one, that the landed gentry (represented by regular old buffer performer Morton Selten) and the other officials such as mayor or vicar should rule as they have before because they are important, and two, that the people, who feel underrepresented by that lot, should bring about a socialist utopia and abolish the establishment. Again, science fiction, led by the methods of H.G. Wells, was designed as a breeding ground for heavyweight discussions of ideas, therefore no matter how much this took the Mickey out of the Shrimptonians, it was fairly serious on the topics of who should rule this brave new world and apparently intended to send the audience home pondering and exchanging views on the points arising. Nevertheless, as part of this form where not many special effects were used or needed (quaint animation aside), twenty-first century audiences may well be bemused at its approach.