The Tenth Planet, William Hartnell’s final story as the Doctor, is so much better than season 4’s first story, The Smugglers, that I can only shake my head at how The Smugglers made it into this season. I enjoyed the story and the concept, although I felt the approach and destruction of Mondras happened a little too quickly. And it is truly a shame that the final episode, including the Doctor’s regeneration, is missing. There is a quick clip of Hartnell at the TARDIS controls, but the final scene itself is gone. The reconstruction of the episode, however, is the best I’ve seen so far.
The travelers arrive on Earth at a space command center at the South Pole in the distant future of December, 1986. A space mission is coming to an end, but it runs into some serious issues. A new planet, that looks identical to Earth, only upside down, zooms into Earth’s orbit and destroys the ship. The Doctor tells those in charge at the base that he knows what’s going to happen. They, of course, do not listen to him. Led by an incredibly irrational General Cutler, those at the base seem to be a group of angry, reactionary hotheads. With the exception of Dr. Barclay (and, of course, the filler characters that just blindly follow orders). I kind of wanted them all to be killed off by the Mondas inhabitants (the Cybermen). They were all so obnoxious. One thing I did notice, however, was that the world seemed to be full of international cooperation. There were British and American people at the base, they communicated on the phone with a chubby man whose accent I couldn’t place, and received calls from Geneva. Everyone banded together. What I liked about this, is that they didn’t point it out. Often, shows or movies will point out how well everyone is getting along and there hasn’t been a war in years and blah blah….this was just presented as natural. International cooperation has always been an optimistic image, and the writers of this story built it in as if it were not particularly remarkable. Nice touch.
The Cybermen are a great race of villains. For a couple of reasons. First, they’re truly creepy with their blank faces and the way they talk by just opening their mouth like a speaker. And their robot voices rule. But creepiest of all is the fact that they are something like human. The Cybermen are a depiction of our future. As humans strive for longer and longer life spans and begin replacing our natural parts with technological devices we lose our humanity. And this has happened to the Cybermen. They say that their brain are just like that of a human, but they can no longer feel emotion or empathy. They are truly posthuman Frankensteins. Elaine Graham would describe them as existing at the gates of humanity. Mondas used to be Earth, but left the solar system. While that isn’t really explained, it is implied that the Cybermen truly used to be human. Which makes their lack of humanity even more terrifying. They are us. I know that the Cybermen have at least two more stories in the future, I hope they don’t change too much, because I think they’re a great set of villains.
I must admit, though, that attacking a remote South Pole base twice is not the best strategic move. Maybe it had something to do with the bomb? Unfortunately, as terrifying as the Cybermen are, they really don’t do very much. They show up, do some talking, and are relatively easy to defeat. The plot generally doesn’t have much to it. The quality of the story lies much more in the concept of the Cybermen and regeneration than it does in excellence of script.
The supporting cast is unremarkable. As I mentioned, Cutler is a hothead reactionist. We don’t really get much out of Barclay. He’s apparently a good guy, but there is no depth. And everyone else is bland, following orders. I’ve come to the conclusion that this is standard for the show. And that’s fine. But, it is not really even worth mentioning. In fact, I think that from now on I shall only mention the supporting cast if it is good….It seems that most other reviews I read of the stories point out the flatness of the guest cast. Does it really matter? They’re only around for one story arc. If a good story is being told, I only need my main characters to have depth.
In this story, we don’t get a lot of depth from the Doctor, mostly because he spends much of the second half of it unconscious. But it seemed that Hartnell was essentially phoning in his final appearance. And Polly I’m not sure has a lot of depth. She does stand up to the Cybermen, which something Dodo never would have done. But, when the general asks her why she wants to stay with Barclay she replies “I can make him coffee or something.” Good job, writers. No wonder there are no women at the South Pole base in 1986.
Ben, however, continues to impress me. He’s still a take-charge dive right into the battle kind of companion. He has a no nonsense air about him. And he is the hero of the story. With Polly and the Doctor taken hostage by the Cybermen, Ben is left to work on the bomb Cutler had intended to blow up Mondas. He recognizes that the Cybermen are afraid of the radiation and comes up with a plan to expose and kill them. The plan is successful and enough time is bought so that Mondas, which had been sucking the energy from Earth, was destroyed by sucking up too much energy. This all happened too quickly for my taste. Obviously, they are under time constraints for the show, but it seemed like everything went down in a couple of hours. They could have given the impression that a few days had passed at least. But instead I am to believe a planet from who knows where flew at ludicrous speed into Earth’s orbit, sends some scouts, sucks the energy, sends some warships, takes two people hostage, then sucks too much energy that it melts all in the span of a few hours? That’s just not plausible for me. At least indicate that a week or two pass or something.
Now, the Doctor’s regeneration. It is not exactly explained what happened. In the third episode, without warning, the Doctor simply falls over, as if from exhaustion. He lies motionless for the entire episode, I figured that was all there was to it, Hartnell would wake up as Troughton. But, no, he awoke for the final episode not particularly concerned, only to fall asleep again while being held hostage. At that point he knew there was a problem and needed to get back to the TARDIS. Once there, he fiddles with the controls while the lights flash and things go crazy all around him. He says that his body seems to have worn thin. I thought that was a brilliant description, it had been worn out and he needed a new one. Did he need to be in the TARDIS for a successful regeneration? What if he hadn’t been able to get back? What controls was he messing with? Were they helping him to regenerate?
He collapses at the controls. In the reconstruction, a closeup of Hartnell’s face fades into a closeup of Troughton’s face and that’s the end. It was all very intense, kind of in the same way as the rush to the TARDIS in the wake of the Time Destructor was intense in the Daleks’ Master Plan. Did that perhaps hasten the necessity of the regeneration? Did it have a greater impact on the Doctor than we (or he) knew?
Generally I was fascinated by the regeneration and I hope we get some more explanation in the next story.
The Tenth Planet was very good and I hope is a sign of what Season 4 will be now that Smugglers is behind us and we have a new, younger Doctor. The next story, entirely missing, is a Dalek story. Nothing like throwing the newbie right into the fire. Does the Doctor still have all of his memories? How many times has this happened to him? Had it happened to Susan before? So many questions that are probably never answered…..