Monday, 2 November 2015

Review: Doctor Who Classic: The Tenth Planet

One with Ben at the South Pole.
Doctor Who - Season 4, Story Two - The Tenth Planet
Written between 19th and 20th September 2015

Under William Hartnell's tenure as The Doctor, the show had not only begun, but had also become a national phenomenon. Other shows take a while to get embedded into the public imagination, but under Hartnell the show had risen phenomenally, following the 60s trend of Dalekmania. Behind the scenes, however, several accounts show a man often harder to work with. In 1966, near the start of the show's fourth season, Hartnell's failing health and friction with newer members of the production team led to the suggestion of his leaving the show. In order to do this, writer Gerry Davis created the concept of regeneration, and he incorporated it into a story he'd been writing with his friend Kit Pedler, about a race of cybernetic creatures known as Cybermen...
     The Doctor and his two companions Ben and Polly (both from 1960s England) arrive in the South Pole. There they wander into an underground base led by General Cutler. The base is a scientific station monitoring a rocket launch towards Mars, and the three are immediately treated with suspicion. The rocket starts heading off course, and is ultimately lost, as a planet seems to come within range of Earth - a planet The Doctor identifies as Mondas. Soon the base is invaded by tall, bumbling creatures called Cybermen, who explain their origins as a race of human-like beings forced to replace parts of their bodies with technology. They want to invade Earth, robbing it of enough energy to keep Mondas alive and to kidnap to human population in order to convert them into more of their own kind. Before they can truly get their plan under way, however, Mondas absorbs too much energy, and is destroyed. As the Cybermen lie in ruins, The Doctor, feeling a bit tired, makes his way back to The Tardis and collapses, regenerating into The Second Doctor.
This amazing shot wouldn't be half as effective
if the costume designer had remembered the gloves.
     The previous, premier story of this season, The Savages, was filmed as part of the previous production block, meaning that for Hartnell, he was essentially coming back to the show solely to film his exit. It's been said that this quite frustrated him, even if his health kept continuing to disrupt the show even through the production of this story. At one point Hartnell missed a week of filming due to complications from his arteriosclerosis, and he was hence written out of his own penultimate episode, a lot of his lines being given to the serial's other characters. This means that the third episode, lacking both Doctor and Cybermen, is by far the serial's most boring and tedious, but that actually contributes to the serial's success, as the Doctor's collapse and tired recover foreshadows the (for the time) incredibly surprising regeneration at the end.
     The execution of the original concept of the Cybermen is... well, it's hard to say with a perspective so drowned in hindsight. The explanation of the Cybermen is fantastic - you can really imagine that these beings were once men and women. As with Hartnell's absence in episode 3, blunders sometimes help - the Cybermen's silver gloves weren't ready in time, and so they had to go on without them. The resulting Cybermen, gripping their foes with human hands, look far more body-horror for it. They also, for some people, contribute to the opposite effect. I remember in particular my sister watching The Tenth Planet with me and laughing her head off at them, with their beady eyes and ridiculous sing-song voices. For me, of course, it all works and is a horrifying view into a potential future of the human race. The voices are still funny though.
     Now, for the stuff related to this story's release today. As I mentioned in the prologue to this month, many of the episodes from the black and white days are missing. This provides several interesting and unique challenges in watching the old series, with fans resorting to the use of "recons", facsimiles of the show created using stills, stage directions and the original audio. Luckily, for four stories, their DVD releases have been accompanied by complete animated versions of the missing episodes, using a unique animation style which attempts to as closely as possible match the original shots. Here, the fourth episode of The Tenth Planet is animated, the entire episode (bar the regeneration, thanks to Blue Peter) having been lost. I actually really like it - after the dullness of the third episode, the animated episode has a brilliant element of style and menace which does the Cybermen (and Hartnell) due justice.
Even in animation, Hartnell's final lines carry a great sense of
     There's a brilliant sense of decline in this story which may or may not have been intentional. The Cybermen represent, here, a humanity driven by a desire for survival to a dark, technological fate. They are shadows of their former self. This is a black mirror for the idea of Regeneration in the first place. The Doctor's main aim this episode, interestingly, is simply to wait and allow things to work themselves out, as he knows that the Cybermen will fail. The same was known by Hartnell of himself, and so it stands out as a very definite, very final story for the Doctor who allowed the show to come into being. And I salute him.


NEXT WEEK: The Second Doctor is in a base which is under siege. You could say that it's a kind of... "base-under-siege" story. It's The Moonbase.

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