The First Finale

Review of The Tenth Planet (#29)
DVD Release Date: 19 Nov 13
Original Air Date: 08 - 29 Oct 1966
Doctor/Companion: One, Ben Jackson, Polly Wright
Stars: William Hartnell, Michael Craze, Anneke Wills
Preceding Story: The Smugglers (One, Ben, Polly)
Succeeding Story: The Power of the Daleks (Two, Ben, Polly)

With all the focus on regenerations and the history of the show lately, it seems fitting that the DVD releases for the anniversary year should draw to a close with The Tenth Planet. Not only does it bring Hartnell's era to a close with a radical new idea, but it also introduces the "always a bridesmaid, never a bride" baddie from every fan favorite list ever (in case it's not clear, I'm referring here to the Cybermen, who always come second (or worse) to the Daleks).

Tenth Planet is one of the last (mostly) complete stories to be released on DVD. Although I had read the synopsis a few times, and read a photonovelization at least once, then, I'd never had the opportunity to watch it. As a result, it still felt new and unfamiliar. And I'll admit I was taken off guard by these Cybermen.

Forty-seven years down the road, it's difficult to put oneself in the mindset of the audience of the time. They must have found this new threat truly horrific, these once-human, but distinctly alien, robot invaders. On the brink of the Space Age, they must also have recognized many of their own fears about the dangers of space exploration as the plight of the Zeus IV crew unfolded. (I'll admit that I didn't much care to watch their fate, either, despite how cheaply inaccurate the portrayal looked to those of us who have watched actual astronauts at work on the International Space Station.)

Another thing that seemed obvious to me, but I can't tell whether or not it would have been so to the original viewers, is how often Hartnell is shunted off screen. Having just seen behind the scenes in the brilliant An Adventure in Space and Time, my heart ached for the failing actor. His performance is strong—I saw no hint of the infamous line fluffs here—but the Doctor is out of the action in a dead faint for the entirety of Episode Three (though this was a necessary move, as Hartnell had fallen ill; Ben, Polly, and Barclay split his lines among them), and tied up in a Cybership with Polly for much of Episode Four.

It becomes, then, primarily a story about Ben and the new creatures. A modern viewer may need some time to adjust to this primitive version of the Cybermen—and the fact that their crotch fans (see the DVD cover image) are actually weapons. But although their sock faces and weird speech patterns—three alternating tones and pauses at unusual points in each sentence—make these villains almost laughable by today's standards, they remain recognizable as the forebears of the Cybermen throughout the decades. Among other things, we hear phrases that will return again and again in decades to come: "You will become like us," and "Resistance is useless!"

The plot itself is rather wobbly, full of deus ex machina (Barclay just happened to design this part of the base, and that ventilator shaft just happens to lead to the rocket silo Ben needs to reach?) and really bad science (If Mondas continues to absorb energy from Earth, it will turn into a sun? OMG, srsly?), and those unaccustomed to '60s pacing may find certain scenes too drawn out for their tastes. Given that the final episode is one of the many "currently missing from the archives," though, being able to see it in motion—even just as an animated reconstruction—makes for a nice bonus. I just wish I could see Hartnell's final performance for myself.

DVD Extras (highlights)
Frozen Out
The obligatory making of documentary has a slightly sad tone, beginning with recollections of how Hartnell was convinced it was time to leave. That's not to say everyone treats his memory with kid gloves; Anneke Wills (Polly) was quite frank about both how difficult he was to work with, and his personal prejudices (read: racism). Also covered are the origins of the story idea, the creature and set designs, the decision to have an international cast, and how the regeneration scene was mixed.

Doctor Who Stories—Anneke Wills
Interviewed in 2003, as with the other installments in this series, Wills discusses her time on the show, from casting through the decision to leave. Among other things, she talks about both Doctors with whom she worked, some of the monsters she faced, and what it meant to be Polly even long after the fact.

Boys! Boys! Boys!
Apparently having decided the "Girls! Girls! Girls!" extras on the Paradise Towers, The Three Doctors: SE, and The Rescue/The Romans DVDs were enough of a hit, the team here presents a reminiscent chat among three of the male Companions. Participating are Peter Purves (Steven Taylor), Frazer Hines (Jaime McCrimmon), and Mark Strickson (Vislor Turlough). These "boys" cover topics including how they first came to the show, their costumes, the role of a male Companion, and how the show affected their careers and public reception.

Companion Piece
I found this extra much more interesting than I'd anticipated. It discusses not only the literary purpose of Companions, and what role they play, but also the psychology of the kind of person who would go off traveling with the Doctor, and what a Companion gets out of their relationship with the him. Several Companion actors, writers, and a psychologist all weigh in.

The Doctor himself is sadly lacking from much of this serial, which may be part of the reason the end of the story is so anticlimactic; after all, the Doctor's not there to save the day, so the problem must be resolved somehow. Even so, it's enjoyable enough, and is so fraught with historical importance for the show—including the first big end-of-an-era moment—I can't recommend giving it a miss.

Besides, the introduction of a classic adversary is always worth a watch. No one at the time could have imagined how far both Cybermen and the show as a whole would come, when Ben exclaimed to himself, "Just imagine trying to tackle one of them geezers with a screwdriver!" Imagine, indeed.


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