The Tenth Planet
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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