The Tenth Planet

Written by:
Kit Pedler/Gerry Davis
Directed by: Derek Martinus
Starring: William Hartnell
Year: 1966
Video Availability: Try Amazon

The final Doctor Who story with William Hartnell as the regular lead, this one completes the suggestion that the era basically informed everything that followed. Aside from small quirks like dream sequences and hearing the "thoughts" of characters, every single device - musicals, postmodernism, comedy, time distortions, political commentary - was invented here. The Tenth Planet completes this claim, because it's effectively at least 50% of the Troughton era. A base under siege and some great new villains, with the upped pace and slickness it doesn't actually feel like a Hartnell story at all, but a new era about to begin. Doctor Who as we really know it started here, a line drawn where only one historical would be allowed to cross, and the monster ante is greatly upped. Those who dislike all the Hartnell era stands for - and they're entitled to that opinion - should find no such complaints here.

On the BBC's 40th anniversary documentary The Story of Doctor Who, Anneke Wills perhaps disingenuously said "When Pat came on board, the fun started to happen, and the magic started to be made." It's a shame, and Polly and Ben seemed to have far greater importance to Bill's Doctor than Pat's. With Pat on board and Frazer Hines joining they got frequently marginalised and eventually pushed out. With Bill in the role - especially ailing, as here - they got a far greater slice of the action.

Let's not forget that this is the first Cyberman story. Despite being frequently misused - in all honesty probably only three of the eight sequels were really any good - they remain one of the key villains of the series. I'll come to them more later, because they're saved here for a cliffhanger excursion. The Tenth Planet isn't particularly in vogue at present, with the most recent fan poll - DWM's "We © Doctor Who" special - not even seeing it reach the top fifty. This is something of a comedown from earlier years when it would be a dead cert for the top thirty, though its recent video release (in 2000) perhaps demystifying some. Constant rumours that its missing fourth episode may one day be found and returned should prove interesting should such a thing ever happen.

There's an attempt at a grittier, harder Who here. Okay, the "multinational" accents are comical and the spacecraft look as dated as something made in 1966 would do, but it's shocking to see a crewman with girly posters on his wall, or the openly discussed sexuality of Polly. It's faster, funkier, fresher - just compare this with the slow, staid introduction of the series' most popular villains just two years earlier - they're worlds apart. There's an argument to be had that this is Who whoring itself, cutting off its balls and its intellect in favour of the populist vote, but you get so caught up in the pace of the whole thing that it drags you along uncomplaining.
* * * * ½

Mondas… Senda… four of the same letters - they even got three in the right order. Anyway, Doctor Who still shows it has a moral core here with one of the finest lines in the entire series: "But don't you care?" << CARE? NO - WHY - SHOULD - I - CARE? >> "Because they're people and they're going to die!" << I - DO - NOT - UNDERSTAND - YOU. THERE - ARE - PEOPLE - DYING - ALL - OVER - YOUR - WORLD - YET - YOU - DO - NOT - CARE - ABOUT - THEM. >>

I think it's probably the primitive appearance of the Cybermen that puts some off, and indeed they are cloth faces with button eyes, torch heads and cumbersome mid sections. But there's something more chilling about this lot than any other Cybe, save for those in The Invasion. What makes it is their half-human status, with their flesh hands creeping through the costumes. Actually, while I do like this one, on reflection I do have to admit they are a bit crap. Who's attempting to bring in a big new monster to the show and they're wearing polythene capes and shiny leggings. When they complain to the base personnel that they don't take them seriously you can't help but feel that they have a point.

This is very much Polly's episode, with Ben's "You didn't give me no alternative!" (a double negative, but you can't argue grammar with a Cockney, can you?) shows limitations in Michael Craze's acting, and Bill's righteous indignation has now become a little bit predictable and formulaic. It's a shame, because while he's ill and away for episode three, he's clearly a little jaded throughout the whole of his last showing.
* * * *

Those "computerised" credits are a real innovation, but I do wonder about the science side of it. While Kit Pedler was a genuine scientist the idea of a planet that can travel through space seems pure Nation fare. It's a real 60s throwback, all "Earth's evil twin planet" guff, and highly implausible. A series that had so little idea of its potential longevity that it created a far flung "future" that was 1984… then made things even worse by revisiting the futuristic version of Earth when it actually got to be 1984… except then it was a contemporary 1984. I'm getting this all muddled up now, it's not making sense, and it's not fair to blame any failings of the story on the dumbness of Attack of the Cybermen. But a travelling planet?

With Hartnell sick and his double pretending to faint, this is the weakest of the four, though episode threes usually are anyway. Robert Beatty's required to deliver some crushing exposition, including the laughable "this so-called planet Mondas, whatever it's called". He's tremendous in the first episode of Blake's 7, so why is he so hammy here? The Cybermen scarcely feature, almost forgotten, and there seems a very real "we've had to hastily redraft it cos of Billy on the sick" feel. Still, not bad, even if the pace has reversed.
* * * ½

Of all the episodes to be missing, it's a pivotal one like this. And for once, a Loose Cannon reconstruction is almost unwatchable, as previous moving images from the first three episodes are spliced together with the soundtrack, causing out-of-synch mouth movements throughout it all. It's headache inducing, as is Beatty's acting. This is probably a moot point as Loose Cannon withdrew their reconstruction when the BBC released theirs on the official video (which I've never seen).

To be perfectly truthful, this is a bit of an anti-climatic resolution to the story, with most of the promise and menace just thrown out for the laziest climax imaginable. What helps to elevate it to almost-genius is the truly striking first regeneration, still impressive even all these years later…
* * * * ½

Definitely more than the sum of its parts, while flawed, The Tenth Planet has enough iconoclastic verve to make it, as a whole, one of four truly classic Hartnell stories.
* * * * *