“The Tenth Planet.” One of the most famous Doctor Who stories of them all, and why? Not only do we have the introduction of the legendary Cybermen, but we also have the first regeneration – the importance of which can never be overstated. On top of all that, of all the four episodes, it just had to be the pivotal final episode that perished in the 1970’s archive clear out, leaving us with only three existing episodes of William Hartnell’s swansong, and, just to rub salt in the wound, Hartnell is in only two of those! Episode 4 was even reported to have been found back in 1992, but sadly that proved to be inaccurate. History certainly hasn’t been kind to “The Tenth Planet,” but fans, on the other hand…
Doctor Who fans tend to love “The Tenth Planet,” and with some justification. Dr. Kit Pedler’s story of the dangers of technology and dehumanised medicine really raises the fear factor to fever pitch; not only are viewers scared of Cybermen, they are also scared of becoming Cybermen. Their design in this story is certainly original; the cloth masks are particularly impressive as they remove any vestige of humanity from the face, yet it is still obvious that what lies beneath was once human. However, they certainly don’t look cybernetic by any stretch of the imagination, and they are far too front-heavy to be practical. The voices, on the other hand, are absolutely superb. They put the Darth Vader rip-off Cyber voices of the 1980’s to shame! Their high-pitched, disjointed, ‘Microsoft Sam’ voice suits them perfectly – I was absolutely thrilled when Big Finish used it in their ‘Genesis of the Cybermen’ story, “Spare Parts”, in 2002. It isn’t just how they say it either; it’s what they say. You don’t get any of that “Excellent” nonsense from these original Cybermen; they are completely and utterly devoid of emotion, and their application of cold logic is often frighteningly reasonable! One of my favourite scenes in Episode 2 sees Polly remonstrating with a Cyberman about how he doesn’t care that two astronauts are going to die. The Cyberman replies by simply saying that people are dying all over the world every day, so why doesn’t she care about them too? It’s wonderfully written, thought-provoking stuff. Strangely though, despite their complete divorce from emotion the Cybermen in this story are far less uniform and far more individual than the ones the Doctor would encounter later in his life. They even have names like ‘Gern’ and ‘Krang’ – something never repeated other than in the prequel, “Spare Parts.”
I should also say that I love the romantic notion of a dead planet – and not just any planet, Earth’s twin ‘Mondas’ – drifting off through space on its own. It might not be the most sound scientific premise from Doctor Who’s unofficial ‘scientific advisor’ Dr. Pedler, but it makes for one hell of a story and moreover, it makes things interesting by implying that if the inhabitants of Earth’s twin planet could do this to themselves, then so could the inhabitants of Earth…
The Polar setting of “The Tenth Planet” is recreated incredibly well in the studio; often these black and white stories look more realistic than some of the early colour stories – colour seems to be far less forgiving than good ol’ monochrome! The high quality of the stock footage and the unusual, unique titles and credits also make the story feel special and different – for once, it looks like the programme actually had some decent money spent on it (which I’m sure it didn’t!) One of the areas where the realisation of the story falls down though is in its depiction of the ‘future’ – 1986 to be precise – though the programme makers can hardly be blamed for failing to foresee the future with any sort of accuracy! I found it amusing that Ben and Polly thought they had arrived back home in the 1960’s, because that is exactly the decade I would guess that I was in were I to materialise in this story’s South Pole Base!
The commander of the base, General Cutler (Robert Beatty) is a great character, and one that it is hard for the audience to get a handle on at first. The sub-plot involving his son and how far the General is willing to go to save him is brilliantly done, and actually manages to salvage the desperately poor third episode. Cutler is one these brilliant human antagonists that Doctor Who tends to do so well – although he’s a pain in the arse and a menace, he has his reasons for everything that he does… and that’s what makes him such a disturbing character. He’d sacrifice the world to save his son…
As I mentioned earlier, we only have about fifty (surviving) minutes of William Hartnell to enjoy in this story – seventy-five or so if your lucky enough to own the BBC Video featuring the spectacular full-length reconstruction of Episode 4! The Restoration Team have to be praised for creating such a brilliant approximation of the missing episode; much like ‘Loose Cannon’, they have used telesnaps, clips, 8mm off-screen footage, linking text and a recording of the soundtrack to create probably the closest we’ll ever get to seeing Bill Hartnell’s final episode. My only possible gripe with it is that it isn’t full screen, but I’m sure they had their reasons for cropping it down slightly. Even though he’s definitely my least favourite of all the Doctors, I have to say Hartnell goes out guns blazing here! I didn’t notice one single fluff in any of his three episodes, and even more importantly he is as intense and has focused as he has ever been. I really liked how the writers make the Doctor the man with the knowledge in this episode – he’s not just a traveller, blundering into trouble. He knows of Mondas. He knows of the Cybermen before they even show up. He knows that they will come. Of course, this begs the obvious question – how? – but with hindsight there are any number of answers. He probably knew of the Cybermen from the legends of them being used in the Death Zone on Gallifrey in the Dark Times… though of course, that would lead one to question how he couldn’t have known of the Daleks before he first visited Skaro…
“This old body of mine is wearing a bit thin.”
Hartnell’s absence from Episode 3 really screws up the story. This isn’t a criticism, it’s a fact. The writers and producers do an admirable job of working around the illness-enforced absence of their lead man, and in a weird and wacky way it kind of links in well with the Doctor’s impending regeneration. In Episode 3, he’s totally spent; in Episode 4, he summons all his strength for a sort of “once more unto the breach” finale… then he collapses and regenerates. I’ve always wondered what actually killed the first Doctor, and I’m still unsure. Old age seems the most likely cause of death; after all, the Doctor’s first incarnation could be anything up to about 400 years old at the time of “The Tenth Planet.” For an incarnation of the Doctor, that’s damn good innings!
“It is far from being over. I must get back to the TARDIS, immediately! I must go…”
Thankfully, those folks at Blue Peter used a clip of the regeneration sequence in one of their programmes and so it survived the fires and hence rounds off the reconstruction of Episode 4. It’s not quite a morph, it’s more like one flash of light, a twitch and then…. Patrick Troughton! It all begins again, and in one brilliant masterstroke the producers give the best television programme ever virtual immortality…
I wasn’t sure exactly how to begin reviewing this particular story. In my start to finish Doctor Who marathon I’ve finally reached the final tale in William Hartnell’s era of the show, and it’s strange to think that in four more episodes, he’ll be gone. A remark from Paul Clarke’s review stands out in my memory, that of “feeling a (slightly embarrassing) pang of regret” at the loss of the Doctor as Hartnell played him, and oddly enough I felt much the same sadness, minus the embarrassment. It’s strange that I’d feel slightly sad, considering that I can go back and watch the old episodes any time I like, but there you are. My intention not to skip around and to continue watching in a linear fashion means I won’t see Hartnell again apart from his brief scenes in “the Three Doctors”. I’ve come to really appreciate the Hartnell years more than before after watching them all in order, and it’s easy to enjoy an absolutely excellent leading man playing a wonderful character. He really did set the standard for those that followed.
I’ve seen “The Tenth Planet” before of course, several times. I remember being absolutely delighted to find a copy on the shelf among the Doctor Who videos a few years back. I had no idea it was coming out, and therefore it was a delightful surprise. Like so many stories from the black and white days that are now lost or incomplete, I have a certain fascination with these episodes, since they give us a glimpse into a time during our favorite show’s history that will always be somewhat beyond our reach, even with telesnaps and soundtracks. Nothing is quite a substitute for the actual episode, and so many of these stories still seem unfamiliar to me, even after I’ve heard them and watched the reconstruction. At least with “The Tenth Planet” 75% of the story exists, but frustratingly the crucial fourth episode does not. A few off-screen clips tantalize us, and thankfully those include the lead-in to the regeneration scene, with the fascinating sight of the TARDIS seemingly operating itself and the Doctor standing frozen over the controls before collapsing to the floor and changing. It’s unlike any regeneration since, and also unexplained in any satisfactory fashion, adding to the mystery of the Doctor.
The trend of “sidelining” Hartnell for the middle of a story continues here, with General Cutler dominating the first three episodes. I’ll return to him in a moment. There are plenty of good character moments from the Doctor in episode one as he scolds his companions for their flippant attitude as they are about to exit the TARDIS, and as he tells the very loud sergeant “Why don’t you speak up? I’m deaf!” He also rather oddly writes down a description of Mondas and tries to warn Cutler about it, and then after having shown himself to know far more about the situation than he should, expects to be allowed to leave. I don’t think he quite thought that plan through. The poor fellow seems out of his depth surrounded by the military personnel of Snowcap Base. He gets little to do in episode two other than debate the Cybermen. Episode three sees him collapse and be written out entirely as Hartnell was too ill that week to work. There is a last glimpse of the Doctor’s old confidence and ability to take charge in episode four, as he becomes the primary negotiator with the Cybermen after they kill Cutler. The Doctor stands up to them and works out their plan to destroy the Earth with the z-bomb, warning Ben not to trust them. Only when he is imprisoned on the Cyber ship does he once again seem tired, as though he summoned the last of his energy to confront the Cybermen, and having done so has nothing left. His hasty retreat to the TARDIS is a quiet moment as Ben and Polly wonder what’s happened to him before the final dramatic regeneration scene.
Like Steven before them, Ben and Polly have the job of carrying a large share of the plot, and they both do well with their story strands, though Ben clearly gets the lion’s share of the action. Polly is the subject of some humor in part one since she’s the only woman in the base, and being quite attractive she is the subject of attention from the men at first. Critics of this story often bemoan the fact that Polly is left making the coffee, but they forget that she offers to do so as a pretext for remaining in the tracking room to try and sway Doctor Barclay into sabotaging Cutler’s efforts to launch the Z-bomb. And she’s successful in her attempt. Polly also exhibits the very outspoken moral indignation that will later show up in “The Highlanders” and “The Faceless Ones”. She stands up to the Cybermen and demands that they justify the deaths of millions that the Cybermen will cause. That’s no small act of courage on her part, considering that the Cybermen have already killed one man and incapacitated Cutler for defying them. Sure she’s scared when trapped on the spacecraft in episode four, but who wouldn’t be? As a side note, she and Ben seem more like passengers of the Doctor’s than friends at this point, having had little time to develop the close relationship with him that Ian and Barbara or Steven had.
Ben gets to be both a soldier and a saboteur. Lest we forget that he is a military man, he snaps to attention when Cutler demands his name, telling him “Able Seaman Ben Jackson, sir. Royal Navy.” Later when the Cybermen have taken control of the base he unwisely attempts to take the fallen soldier’s weapon, getting himself locked up for his trouble. He’s resourceful enough to draw the guard Cyberman into the room and disorient him long enough to take his weapon, and though reluctant to kill him, he does so. He’s clearly shaken about the incident, and later shows no satisfaction in the killing, telling Cutler “I had no alternative.” It is his actions and capture of the weapon that allow the first wave of Cybermen to be killed, and the capture of three weapons allows the second wave to be destroyed. Ben also sabotages the rocket successfully, and together with Barclay holds off the Cybermen long enough for Mondas to absorb too much energy and destroy itself. In short, he is a huge factor in all the events that occur. It can be argued that Ben plays a larger role in the defeat of the Cybermen than the Doctor does, though the Doctor certainly plays a crucial part.
General Cutler is not what I’d call a villain, but he is certainly an antagonist for the Doctor, Ben and Polly. Characterized as a tough, no-nonsense general, he’s generally well acted by Robert Beatty. A few lines don’t come across as natural, but much of his performance is quite good. The things that convince me the most are the less bombastic lines, or actions that seem like natural behavior such as a reassuring hand on a subordinates shoulder when the countdown to launch is going on, or the wordless vocalization when Dyson tells him that Barclay’s probably gone to check the rocket. His accent is mercifully pretty good, because if it had been as poor as the ones in “The Gunfighters” or “Tomb of the Cybermen”, it would have killed the character’s credibility completely. Cutler is well motivated throughout the story, first by the need to bring the endangered astronauts down from orbit, and later by the need to take action against the threat posed by Mondas as well as to save his son’s life. Only when he becomes willing to chance the destruction of half the lives on Earth and when he is ready to shoot the Doctor and Barclay does his characterization become unconvincing. It’s as though the writers need to get rid of him quick to allow the Doctor to take center stage in the last episode, so he snaps in a rather unlikely manner and is gunned down by the Cybermen. It’s not really a fitting end for the general, who is a decent character, all things considered.
The Cybermen make their first appearance here. Honestly, I ought to find them absurd. They look as if they are made of cobbled-together bits of prop and ski masks. But I’m almost always in a generous mood when it comes to Doctor Who’s effects and costumes, and so I find myself enjoying the fact that for the only time in their history, thanks to the costumes, the Cybermen actually appear partially organic. Their eyes and of course the outlines of their face can be seen behind the cloth mask, and human hands are still visible. The odd manner of speaking where the mouth opens, words come out and then the mouth closes is conceptually interesting even if it isn’t pulled off in an entirely successful manner. The characterization of the Cybermen works fairly well, though they are a very talkative bunch at first. It seems to me that if they were governed by logic they would talk less and act more. The threat they pose to all life on Earth is a suitably grand menace for the first Doctor to defeat in his final adventure.
The manner in which the regeneration is handled certainly adds to the mystery of the character. We’re three years into the program at this point, and still have very little idea about the lead character, something I’m not sure that today’s audiences would stand for. Without any warning or explanation, he becomes an entirely different man who neither looks nor acts like the Doctor. It was no doubt a risky move on the part of the production team to recast the lead and write that into the narrative, and then not even explain the change very well! It’s also a pretty successful visual effect for the time, with the brighter screen helping to wash out some detail as Hartnell’s face fades into Troughton’s. I understand that they spent a good bit of time trying to get the sequence to look right, and it pays off.
To sum it all up, the scale of the story allows the original Doctor to go out in grand style, saving the Earth from what would become recurring foes almost as implacable as the Daleks. There are some bad accents and some iffy characterization here and there, but this is a solid story with some big ideas. Well worth seeing.
"The Tenth Planet", whether it likes it or not, is a pivotal story in the history of the series. I use a term like "whether it likes it or not" because I'm pretty sure the production team, at the time, had little or no idea just how important this story would be. In their minds, they were probably just trying to shoot a good little action/adventure with a neat plot contrivanace at its end that would write out its ill lead actor. They seem to have no idea that this story would not only set in place a crucial element of the show's format, it would also introduce one of the most popular monsters the show would ever see.
And that's part of what makes The Tenth Planet such a good story. Oftentimes, deliberate attempts to make things grandiose fail miserably on television. I flinch when I hear terms like "season finale" used to describe an upcoming episode. For the plain and simple reason that good storytelling should not depend on when the story is placed within the context of a series. It should just be a good story. And the fact that this particular tale is slotted second in a new season (rather than placed at the end of a season as most other regeneration stories were) is a good indicator already that this is the production team's genuine intent.
So, did their earnestness pay off?
I'd like to think so. If nothing else, it's a somewhat revolutionary tale in context of the series. We go into the slightly far-flung future in Tenth Planet. And, unlike the UNIT tales of the 70s where we're never a hundred percent sure whether or not these are present-tense adventures, it's clearly established by having the characters see a calendar on the wall that the year is 1986. And, anal fanboy that I am, I'm always glad when an episode states the year clearly like that. It just makes chronology so much easier! Now, because we're definitely in the future, some very clear attempts are made to depict this. Inernational teams and successful space programs run abound in this tale. Along with special bombs and high-tech computers. Of course, many of these predictions are wildly inaccurate - but it's still nice to see the series making a genuine attempt to create an interesting future for our world. It's a bit like what the classic Star Trek series tried to do - but without hitting you quite so hard over the head with it! In Tenth Planet, the conventions are all there but its main intent still focusses more on trying to tell us the latest action tale in Doctor Who rather than portraying highly contriversial inter-racial kisses and suchlike! And it was good that the story kept this focus. Cause there is some crackling good action in this tale. Particularly since it was made on the usual shoe-string budget.
There are, of course, many conventions present in the plot that would become quite standard for the show. Particularly in the future stories Pedler and Davis would pen. We have the leader of an important operation creating a plot conflict because of his personality flaws. We have the multi-racial crew (who, oftentimes, are portraying insultingly bad stereotypes). And, of course, the notorious "base under seige" premise. We even have women making coffee! But all these are being seen for the first time in this story and that's what makes it so revolutionary. The show has never really quite gone in these directions before and it's great fun to watch it "dip its toe in the pool" during this story.
Of course, some of the conventions it explores never really get used again. Even though the drama created in those conventions was quite effective to watch. Both the sequences aboard the rocket ship and the U.N. office make for some interesting drama. Especially when you consider how simplistic they are. Especially the stuff with the two astronauts. I mean, really, they're just two guys sitting in chairs with a few moving props and some shaky cameras and mood music. And yet, we feel their struggle and get emotionally involved with it. And, even with Cybermen and regeneration affecting the impact of this story - those two poor schmucks stuck up in space when Mondas comes along is one of the things that remains indelibly stamped in my memory when I think of this tale. Some well-executed drama there.
The other extremely memorable aspect of this story, outside of the obvious first regeneration and first Cybermen appearance, is General Cutler. He tends to work just as much for the story as against. He's a hard-ass with some interesting undertones to him. And his portrayal is very effective in conveying that. But, unlike the leader of operations that we see in the Moonbase, he needed a bit more reigning in sometimes. Cutler does get a tad too "hammed up" in places and we have a hard time believing someone so unstable would be allowed to run such an important base. Still, overall, he's a highly effective element of the story. His character carries a lot of weight on his shoulders. And he does it quite well.
But what about some of the stuff the story is truly remembered for? Is the regeneration as good as the nostalgia surrounding it? Do the Cybermen really inspire menace in their first appearance? The answer, in my opinion, is a resounding "yes" to the first question and a somewhat less resounding "yes" to the latter.
The costumes given to the Cybermen are very quickly scrapped and re-invented for the next story they're featured in. This was definitely a good move. Though the costumes aren't complete crap, they are as silly-looking as they are chilling. If nothing else, those chestplates are far too cumbersome! And the voices are changed too. Another move that I felt was smart. The wierd warble and "unusual lip action" (as Colin Baker described it in "The Early Years") also work as much against the Cybermen as they do for.
But their on-screen impact is still very strong, overall. And their cold logic is in great evidence. Which is still the strongest impression they make in this story. They are here to wipe out the Earth in order to maintain their survival. There is no desire to gloat or conquer. They're just doing what they do and nothing more. And this is what makes them far scarier than most of the monsters the show has introduced us to over the years. In fact, I'd even go so far to say that I like the Cybermen just a teensy bit better than the Daleks. Cause, if nothing else, it does seem as though much greater thought went into their conception. Hats off to Pedler for that. He came up with a great idea and fleshed it out well.
As for the Doctor's first regeneration. Well, fan reaction to this seems to divide into two camps. One seems upset that Hartnell wasn't given more involvement in the story since this is his swan song. Especially since he spends all of episode three unconscious. The other camp feels this was a good idea since it really conveys the weakness his imminent regeneration is causing in him. I'm a member of the second camp. The First Doctor is dieing, and the focus should've been placed on that rather than getting him to single-handledly save the universe like he did in Logopolis or participate in a twenty minute car chase like in Planet of Spiders. Those elements work okay in the context of those stories, don't get me wrong. But here, the Doctor is simply regenerating cause his body has worn out and portraying that is far more important than making him a superhero. And it makes those last few minutes in the console room highly dramatic. Even a bit touching.
So, to me, The Tenth Planet does classify very well as a classic tale. Not just because of what happens in it but because its execution is, overall, highly effective. Even moreso, the fact that it doesn't really seem to be trying to be a classic makes it even more enjoyable. It's a good story first. And a pivotal point in the series, second. And those priorities get it to rise above some of the more "intentional" classics the series has produced.
In Derek Martinus’ The Tenth Planet, we’re introduced to the ‘nefarious’ Cybermen – courtesy writers Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis – and witness The Doctor’s (William Hartnell) first regeneration.
The TARDIS materializes in 1986, within the vicinity of the South Pole Space Tracking Station; as helmed by the authoritative Gen. Cutler (Robert Beatty), and scientists like Dyson (Dudley Jones), and Barclay (David Dovimead). Naturally, “Doctor Who”, Ben Jackson (Michael Craze) and Polly Wright (the sincere Anneke Wills) have a wander, and find their bumbling selves captured, interrogated, accused, and socially accepted by the outgroup. As coincidence is the very fabric of the Who universe, the villains simultaneously appear on the scene, seeking out Earth’s resources to replenish their own planet: Mondas. This establishes the forthcoming Troughton Era’s general plot paradigm.
This could’ve been one of my favourite stories, due to the debut of the Cybermen and regeneration alone. Sadly, despite a promising premise, – if a painting-by-numbers plot – there isn’t much to it. The Cybermen - Doctor Who’s #2 alien race, in terms of popularity – aren’t used effectively enough; only appearing significantly in two episodes. Despite promising photographic stills, as published in various literature, they look pretty daft in action: karate-chopping opponents in almost exaggerated slow-motion. When they don’t move, they do look impressive… and sinister, thanks to Sandra Reid’s parsimonious costume design. Although later known to ‘regenerate’ themselves de temps en temps, the aliens are presented in their most humanoid, and subsequently unsettling ‘incarnation’ here. Their cloth masks erase the face and all observable intragroup distinction – the Cybermen have been ‘feminized’ by their technology. Their visibly human mitts trail cold, limp, and seemingly uselessly alongside their waists… Portrayed by Gregg Palmer (Shav / Gern), Reg Whitehead (Krail / Jarl), Harry Brooks (Talon / Krang), Bruce Wells, John Haines, John Slater, and John Knott – and voiced in bizarre fashion by Roy Skelton and Peter Hawkins – this race has potential. Additionally, this is one of those rare times the Cybermen actually do what is implied on the tin: act impassively, devoid of emotion! They aren’t ‘nefarious’ per se, merely driven by survival; forming an interesting parallel with Cutler’s primary motivation: ensuring his legacy’s survival. Relatedly, Terry Cutler (Cullen Angelo) reminds me loosely of Dustin Hoffman’s character in The Graduate (1967)… Foresight or hindsight?
Contextual stereotypes are both unused and applied, here: there’s a black astronaut and aide, yet Polly makes the coffee…
Wills is genuinely likeable, yet sadly not given sufficient screen-time. The rambunctious Ben, in stark contrast, is integral to eliminating the first wave of alien visitors… thanks to a dexterous contrivance utilizing a film projector!
Hartnell doesn’t get much off a send-off, mainly due to his absence in episode 3. He was a good Doctor, and it’s regrettable his illness prevented him from resuming the role in future multi-Doctor stories. I’ll particularly miss his Yoda-inspiring chuckle.
As he collapses on the TARDIS floor, his countenance inexplicably begins to glow… TV history. Next?: The Monster Doctor! **[/5]
Sorry for stating the obvious, but The Tenth Planet is one of the five most important stories the show ever did, along with 100 000 B.C., The Daleks, The War Games and The Deadly Assassin (just my list, by the way, feel free to make your own). The reason I mention it is that it’s the worst story of those five: it’s frequently viewed as one of the programme’s most enduring classics but for my money it undershoots ever so slightly. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a strong story and better than the other Doctor’s swan songs bar The War Games and The Caves Of Androzani, but it’s not made of gold. Part of the reason for this was out of the production’s hands and I’ll deal with that later; equally though Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis weren’t quite the writing team yet that made the razor-sharp The Tomb Of The Cybermen, and Davis doesn’t quite do Pedler’s idea justice. That said, it’s still a very good story when not viewed in the context of its slightly inflated reputation. Most of the criticisms are levelled against the second half though, so it gets off to a very strong start.
It begins with some above average stock footage that for once doesn’t look like it was found in a cesspit and some unique titles. They are the only really well made ones of all the specially made titles too, not being tedious, amusingly dated or fit-inducing. However, their inability to spell the writers’ names correctly does give them a certain amateurish, home-made feel.
This is a rare example of a depiction of the future that isn’t half bad, with ordinary dress (we’d have to wait until Planet Of Evil before we got spacesuits with shoulder pads and flares) and a multinational crew of the polar base (a Pedler / Davis trademark). However, I have to hand it to The Discontinuity Guide: they are right to point out that it is an all-male cast save for Polly and Wigner’s secretary (whose one line, “toot sweet”, leads me to wonder how seriously she was taking it). In fact, I should expand on this by pointing out that in all three of their collaborations the writers show women making coffee. It wouldn’t be until The Wheel In Space that a woman would be seen in a position of genuine authority in a Cyberman story. I’m no feminist, but…
The swirly incidental music seems a bit melodramatic now and is the kind of thing I’d expect to find on a comedy programme, although this does have the first use of the awesome Cyberman theme. The girly pictures on the wall of the sleeping quarters are really quite radical for the time (although they don’t do Pedler and Davies any favours), and Tito is stereotyped in the extreme: I wince at every “Mama Mia!” he screams. William Hartnell performs well in this story, belying his illness. Ben and Polly are also good and were a very strong duo, although the hero / damsel in distress characterisations date them badly. Still, they’re a good looking, fun pair and it’s a shame so little of their time survives.
It’s right that a police box wouldn’t be recognised in 1986 (no one was watching Doctor Who by then, you see). The story is generally well-directed although there are more boom mike shadows than usual. The tracking room is an impressive set and location of some very dramatic scenes, although at this stage I’m wondering why the American Sergeant is suddenly their best friend. The moon landing description was an in joke made funnier by future events, although the idea that it would still be continuing in 1986 was strangely optimistic.
The plot’s a latecomer in this story, with the first episode being almost half over before anything other than initial scene setting happens. It’s a great, enigmatic start though, with a mysterious force affecting the crew of a space craft. What could it be? Nigel Kneale’s lawyers would very much like to know. Even in 1966 though the idea of Mondas not being detected until it had almost clonked into Earth like a cue ball is hard to credit and an early example of the flaws in Pedler’s and Davis’s embryonic writing partnership, and the fact that everyone is arguing about whether the continents match Earth when really the planet is simply Earth upside down makes me sometimes feel that this story works better on audio from the start (not to mention that it’s scientific nonsense, which Dr. Pedler should have known). Barclay goes over the plot points in very simple, childish logic (“do you suppose that massive planet might have something to do with the mysterious gravitational anomalies?”), but “we must get them down!” is a dramatic line well delivered by David Dodimead. It’s also interesting that the Doctor knows of Mondas already: it is implied in The Five Doctors that the Cybermen where tried out in the Death Zone in the ancient histories of Gallifrey…[pause while head is removed from backside]…it’s nice how these things unintentionally interlock, isn’t it? (The Tenth Planet and The Five Doctors by the way, not my head and…oh never mind).
The modelwork is good (better than The Moonbase’s), and the Cybermen’s introduction is terrific, with three mysterious figures coming out of the snow, initially too far away to be seen clearly. The final pan up the arm is also good, even if the Cybermen in close up do look a little silly. The only real sore point is the way they shed their cloaks but pause dramatically before killing the humans, which just looks cheesy.
The first scene with the Cybermen is well written, dramatic and possibly the most important of the story (barring the regeneration scene) as it establishes backstory that makes the Cybermen such good monsters, and also that plays a significant role in most subsequent stories featuring them. Here is the major problem with them though: their costumes, while innovative, are cumbersome and too delicate to be practical meaning that they are largely reduced to standing around talking. Their voices, while original and unique, do get irritating after a while. The idea of their mouths hanging open while the words stream out is brilliant, but the synchronisation is off a bit. One of their best features however is technically a goof: the actors’ eyes can be seen behind the black gauze, making it appear that their vestiges of their human form are trapped beneath far more effectively than David Banks’s silly silver chin in Earthshock. However, in terms of visuals the sellotape round their heads thoroughly torpedoes their credibility. What really makes them here is their motivation: they are interested only in their survival, not conquest like their caricatured 1980s versions. Their total lack of malice makes them all the scarier; this is what led to their downfall in their colour stories. The Cyberman’s line of “that was really most unfortunate” seems a bit out of character with their later versions (but David Banks’s book Cybermen justifies this excellently. No pun intended.).
Locked up, Ben talks to himself: an example of poor writing, where they can only get a character out of trouble by having him exhibit signs of insanity in order to advance the plot. Davis might have been a good script editor for quality producer Innes Lloyd, but at this stage he struggled a bit when (co) helming an entire story. Also, the Cyberman’s intolerance to light undermines their claim to physical superiority somewhat.
The destruction of the spaceship shows the power of understatement. Cutler’s son affects the plot only indirectly, instead being important mainly for the purposes of characterisation. It does turn General Cutler into an ‘insane leader’ cliché though (okay so I ripped that off The Discontinuity Guide as well, but a good point is a good point). The cliffhanger to part two also shows the importance of dialogue and radar screen in Doctor Who, making things that could never be shown – it also shows how effective it can be, and the power of the imagination (although I don’t call that a formation).
Episode three is where it really starts to falter. While a lot of this is down to Hartnell’s illness and so not something I should really criticise, I can’t get away from the fact that it does affect the story regardless of the lack of blame. For example, Barclay’s sudden acquisition of a backbone points to a very fast rewrite that didn’t have time to iron out the wrinkles. There are lots of minor fluffs in this episode, as the cast struggle with lines they have had to learn and rehearse too quickly.
The Z-Bomb would be extremely poor if it was actually used; instead through its underuse it becomes an effective, omnipresent threat in the name of a saviour. Even given this though the episode is still very much an episode three, filling the gap betweens set up and climax. The Cybermen, for example, are superfluous and only in it to fulfil some sort of need to have them in the episode no matter what. There are some good stunts though, particularly Ben falling over the barrier. The countdown to launch is a good moment of tension, but countdowns usually are. They are a cheap thrill, but they do the job.
The Doctor’s sudden arrival out of nowhere at the very beginning of episode four shows the crudeness of the rewrite further – although he really goes to town for his last performance, and some clips still exist of some iconic lines. In a very out-of-character scene though, he thanks the Cybermen for killing Cutler. Also of not is Ben’s pronunciation of Mondas as “Mandos”; is this a fluff I wonder, or intentional?
The Cyberman that takes over from Wigner has the most annoying voice I’ve ever heard (the one at the base is just about bearable). Also, it’s retrospectively annoying to see they have a different weakness in every story: radiation, gravity, the cold / shoddy batteries, quick-set plastic, emotions and of course gold. Radiation makes particularly little sense as surely they could augment themselves with material that would block it from their organic components.
The Uranium rods, that just happen to be in the same room as them, are a contrivance. When the heroes escape they sit round and talk, waiting for the plot to resolve itself. I don’t have a problem with the Doctor not being involved: people complain that Hartnell should have more to do in his “epic” finale, but that is based on the standards of what came later and doesn’t therefore hold much water in my mind. My problem is that nobody at all has any fundamental involvement, which I can’t even say about Revelation Of The Daleks. The destruction of Mondas was apparently a rubbish effect, but I’d like to have seen it anyway.
After this we have the fantastic line of “it’s far from being all over” followed by the first regeneration, and I’m truly glad that clip exists. Simple but good, miles better than the rubbish Pertwee – Baker one in 1974, while not as visually impressive as the 1980s ones it has the added bonus of being completely unexpected and unexplained, surely one of the craziest ideas ever inserted into any narrative. Without it the show would never have survived, and it’s still as mind-boggling a concept today as it was forty years ago.
Well, what can I say? The Tenth Planet is a strong story, providing a good introduction for the Cybermen, a good departure for Hartnell and a better foundation for Patrick Troughton – not to mention a hundred minutes of generally solid entertainment. But an absolute gem? Sadly, no.
Back when I reviewed 'The Mutants', I said that it was a story that I'd always underrated and that watching it again I appreciated it more than I ever had before. This is also true of 'The Tenth Planet'. Furthermore, I've noted on several occasions that I wish I could have watched several Doctor Who stories without foreknowledge of what is to come, and this is very true of this story.
'The Tenth Planet' is a first in that it is the first real “base under siege” story in Doctor Who; the action takes place almost exclusively in the Snowcap base, which is under siege from the Cybermen. This scenario is an effective story-telling device, creating a sense of claustrophobia, since the base personnel have nowhere to escape to and the Doctor and his companions also remain trapped, isolated from the TARDIS, which remains outside the base, with the Cybermen. The base personnel are unfortunately fairly forgettable, and there are some dodgy accents on display in episode one, but fortunately Robert Beatty's General Cutler more than compensates for this. Initially just hard-bitten and with a no-nonsense attitude, he eventually becomes an internal threat to the Doctor and his companions as he blames them for the apparent death of his son and intends to have them shot. Whilst I have doubts that a man willing to risk irradiating half of the planet to save his son would have been allowed to reach the position of power that he occupies in any military organization, he is nevertheless an excellent character; for all his short-sightedness and obsession with saving his son, his motivations are always understandable (if not entirely sympathetic) and Beatty plays the part with conviction. His frank confession to Dyson that he is scared in episode three helps to make him more than just a paranoid megalomaniac willing to go to any ends to achieve his own aims, in defiance of direct orders. Dudley Jones' Dyson and David Dodimead's Barclay provide adequate support, although neither is particularly memorable, and the rest of the base personnel are little more than cannon fodder.
Ben and Polly continue to impress, with Ben again taking the majority of the action, especially in episode three when the Doctor falls ill. Of particular note is his confrontation with the Cyberman in the projection room, which he is forced to kill with his own gun. The look of anguish on his face at the fact that he has had to resort to this tells the viewer more about his character than any amount of dialogue. Later in episode four, it is Ben who realises that the Cybermen are vulnerable to radiation, a discovery that allows the base personnel to defeat that particular wave of Cybermen and buy enough time for Mondas to burn up. Polly unfortunately gets very little to do and even gets relegated to the role of coffee maker, although she is instrumental in persuading Barclay to help Ben sabotage the rocket and therefore (probably) save the Earth.
Of course, 'The Tenth Planet' is particularly notable for the debut of the Cybermen, arguably Doctor Who's second most popular monster.
The Cybermen are chillingly effective in this story, due to their towering stature and their clear vestiges of humanity. At this point, they resemble far more than just marauding alien robots, with human hands and the implication of a skull beneath their cloth-covered faces. I've never noticed this before, but the whites of the actors' eyes are visible through the eye sockets in their masks; this may be unintentional, and probably wouldn't have shown up on a 425 line television set, but it is curiously effective, showing a stark glimpse of lost humanity in the midst of their impassive faces. They even have individual names. Appearance aside, they are also impressive as a species. Their lack of emotion is conveyed well here and most crucially, they seem neither cruel nor vengeful. They calmly inform the humans in the base that they will take them to Mondas to become Cybermen and later they explain that Earth must be destroyed so that Mondas can survive. Their matter-of-fact statements of these facts make them all the more chilling, and emphasize the horror of the potential fate of the base personnel and the TARDIS crew. Polly's almost hysterical response to Krail's announcement that their emotions will be removed perfectly conveys the horror of dehumanizing technology that inspired Kit Pedler when he created the Cybermen. What also fascinates me about the Cybermen here is their scientific interest; Krail is genuinely puzzled when Polly asks him why he doesn't care about the fact that the astronauts are going to die, simply pointing out that people all over the planet die every day, but Polly doesn't care about them. It's a perfectly logical response, which only an emotional perspective can rebuke and is the first, and most effective, demonstration, of just how different from humans the Cybermen have become. This characterisation is maintained throughout the story, even when Mondas is nearing saturation point; the Cybermen become slightly more urgent in the execution of the their plans, but this always seems true to their logical imperative to survive, rather than becoming panic or anger, which it so easily could have done had they been less well scripted.
If I have any criticisms of 'The Tenth Planet', they are of Mondas and the Z-bomb. The idea of a twin planet to Earth drifting through space and of a bomb capable of destroying either planet just sitting in the basement of Snowcap base feel too much like they have been lifted from a comic book. In particular, I'm suspicious that, even if Mondas had the same continental structure as Earth, it would have undergone such similar patterns of continental drift after floating around out of its orbit for so long. These are minor quibbles however.
Finally, there is the Doctor. For the first two episodes of 'The Tenth Planet', the Doctor is his usual self, imperious and commanding whether dealing with the obstreperous Cutler or the Cybermen. Interestingly, he knows of Mondas and it seems also the Cybermen, perhaps hinting at the unseen adventure mentioned in Keith Topping's 'Byzantium!'. Even when he asks the Cybermen questions, he gives the impression that he already knows the answers and is merely teasing them out of Krail for the benefit of everybody else. Then suddenly, at the start of episode three, he collapses without explanation. Whilst not originally planned for this episode, his sudden illness and absence from the story during this episode (brought about by Hartnell's real life illness) sets the scene perfectly for episode four, as he briefly recovers and challenges the Cybermen once more, only to rapidly deteriorate once on board the Cybermen's ship. By the time the Cybermen have died and Ben arrives at the ship, he is a mere shadow of his former self. Having never watched this era of the series in order from the beginning before, the impact of what follows has never really been impressed upon me before. Since I started watching '100,000 BC' all those weeks ago, William Hartnell has been “the Doctor”, rather than “the First Doctor”. I actually felt a (slightly embarrassing) pang of regret as, during the superb final scene in the TARDIS, he collapses to the floor and changes his appearance. For the first time in the series history the program's star changes, leaving the TARDIS itself as the only remaining constant from the first story. It is a hugely effective moment, particularly since it is not explained here, but instead fades straight into the closing credits. I really wish I'd seen it at the time.
In summary then, 'The Tenth Planet' as well as being memorable for introducing the Cybermen and ending William Hartnell's tenure as the Doctor, is an effective and gripping story in its own right and a fine end to the era.