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The Tenth Planet Review

Review: Doctor Who – The Tenth Planet / Cert: PG / Director: Derek Martinus / Screenplay: Kit Pedler, Gerry Davis / Starring: William Hartnell, Anneke Wills, Michael Craze, Robert Stephens / Release Date: October 14th

Released earlier this year in a vanilla edition in the celebratory Regenerations set (Starburst 391), William Hartnell’s swansong as the Doctor arrives on its own dedicated special edition which presents the existing three episodes with a well-animated fourth episode sitting in for the currently missing televised instalment (although the regeneration footage which exists appears in one of the special features).

We’ll cut to the chase on this one; the real USP of this release is the inclusion amongst the special features of an archive interview with Hartnell post-Doctor Who, discovered some time ago by researcher Richard Bignell and held back for DVD release. Filmed in 1966 after Hartnell had relinquished the role, with the actor in his dressing room preparing to take to the stage in a Puss in Boots pantomime production, it offers a fascinating look at Hartnell in what remains his only known surviving filmed interview footage. It reinforces the popular fan image of Hartnell as grumpy and irascible and whilst he’s ferociously protective of his career as a character actor, determined not to be typecast by his three-year stint on Doctor Who, hindsight offers the material a certain poignancy. We know that illness curtailed his aspirations beyond Doctor Who but he’s on fighting form here, belittling and demeaning the art of pantomime even as he’s greasing up to perform in one and brushing aside any thought of typecasting after three years of TARDIS travel. But there’s an air of desperation about him, as if he’s aware that his career’s coming to an end but won’t dare to admit it. Fascinating, priceless and yet really rather sad.

But The Tenth Planet itself has several claims to fame. It’s Hartnell’s farewell, of course, and it also introduces the Cybermen into Doctor Who mythology. But these clunky, wobbly-voiced, human-handed creatures are a far cry from the sleek, super-fast machine-monsters of their most recent TV appearance in Neil Gaiman’s limp Nightmare in Silver earlier this year. They’re also considerably better. Created in an attempt to give the show a less fantastical and more scientific background, the Cybermen were inspired by writer Kit Pedler’s disquiet about medical advances in cybernetics and body-part replacement. The story is set in and around the Mission Control centre of a subterranean tracking base near the South Pole in 1986 (which makes the story futuristic from a 1966 perspective but historical from ours). The Doctor, Ben (Craze) and Polly (Wills) arrive just as a ‘new’ planet is spotted drifting close to the Earth, a planet the Doctor quickly identifies as Earth’s long-lost sister planet Mondas. Mondas is dying and its inhabitants are humanoids who have replaced chunks of their bodies with cybernetic parts, in the process erasing all trace of emotion, which they’ve replaced with cold logic. With Mondas draining the Earth of its power, the Cybermen plan to take human beings back to Mondas for conversion into their own kind.

The Tenth Planet is actually quite a stagy, talky production. Most of the action takes place in the Snowcap control room and consists of the Cybermen, with their remarkable sing-song modulated voices, arguing with the base’s human technicians or else threatening doom and gloom for the human race. Hartnell himself is generally on better form than he had been for a while (although illness necessitated his absence from episode three) and there is an air of doomy finality about the story; the “contemporary” scientific setting itself suggests that Doctor Who is changing even as the Doctor himself starts to falter. Despite the regeneration sequence at the end of episode four, The Tenth Planet really belongs to the Cybermen. More sophisticated modern viewers might find them laughable but it’s the idea of the creatures, often lost in modern stories where they’re little more than faceless robots or canon fodder, which makes them so memorable. Here they’re deeply sinister, an eerie, awkward presence, a symbol of a race not really that much more advanced than humanity taking tentative steps along a new technological road. It’s not much fun being Tenth Planet Cybermen, speaking in a squeaky voice and carrying a gigantic searchlight-like lamp in front of their chests, but their ungainly appearance is symptomatic of their determination for their species to survive. As a design element the Cybermen were to become refined and modified as they returned in later years (frequently during Patrick Troughton’s era) but they’ve probably never really been more effective than here in depicting the horror of what they actually are.

Overall, then, The Tenth Planet ends the Hartnell era on a high, the show starting to take itself seriously again after the meandering quaintness of much of its third year. It’s the end of the first Doctor but this debut tussle with the Cybermen was to create another legacy for the show which would endure for the next fifty years. This bulging 2-disc set, packed with admittedly loosely associated mop-up featurettes and clips, is a satisfying and eclectic testament to the legacy of both Hartnell’s Doctor and his final adversaries.

Extras: Moderated commentary with Anneke Wills and supporting cast / Hartnell interview / “Making of” documentary / Archive Anneke Wills interview / Blue Peter clip, Boys! Boys! Boys! Feature / Companion Piece feature / Episode 4 reconstruction from the 2000 VHS release/ Photo gallery

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