Shows - Review
Doctor Who (1963-1989)
Episode: The Tenth Planet (Part 1)
Review by: Michael Hickerson
Well, having seen it several times now, (for the first in a really complete format that was easy to follow thanks the BBC reconstruction of episode four) I can honestly say that while it's not everything it's been cracked up to be over the years, the Tenth Planet is still an entertaining story. Certainly there are things that looking back over 30-years later, make you scratch your head (the obvious lack of breath by the humans in the colder regions of the South Pole being one) but they are nitpicky things. Overall, the story is a good one and it does a good job of ending the Hartnell years and introducing the Cybermen.
The storyline used in the Tenth Planet is one that will become quite common during the Troughton era--namley a small group of humans will be trapped somewhere and forced to fend off a group of alien invaders. More often than not, this is the basic pattern that most of the Troughton cyber stories will follow. (Moonbase and Wheel in Space being the biggest examples of this). One of the things that can distinguish one such story from the rest is to have a good, well-realized supporting cast. And the Tenth Planet has that. We have the general, who is, in some ways, a precursor to the Brigadier. It's interesting to watch the character on-screen because while he does cut the TARDIS crew a bit of slack, he never fully comes to trust them. He is willing to let the Doctor, Ben and Polly help him--as long as it serves his needs. And it's nice to see that the character has a driving goal--that of getting his son back before he is killed by the pull of the planet Mondas. And I also like his attitude of action of inaction. The General's refusal to wait for Mondas to simply break-up and end the crisis is nicely done and adds some much-needed tension to the later half of the story.
As for the Cybermen themselves, it's interesting that for a lot of the story, their threat is off-screen. They are a major player in parts 2 and 4, but are off-screen for much of episode one and three. Their first appearance is interesting simply because of the appearance of them. This story features the Cybermen at their least robotic, even going so far as to give them human hands and facial features hidden under a cloth mask, instead of the metallic head pieces we will see emerge. Their voices are also interesting as well (and if you want to see some fascinating material on the creation of the voices, I'd strongly suggest viewing the interview material on Cybermen: The Early Years with Roy Skelton.) being a bit sing-songy. It's a stark contrast to the later, more metallic voices that will be featured in the Troughton years.
As with the Daleks, the early Cybermen have some interesting quirks that come up in the first story but are forgotten later. The biggest of these is that the Cybermen are susceptible to radiation. (I have a feeling this was weakness was designed to help the writers find a way to defeat the Cybermen without having the Doctor, Ben and Polly be forced to use violence against them completely. It's interesting that it's later dropped and never mentioned again in the rest of the Cyber-lore). Also brought up is the Cybermen's dependence on Mondas for their own survival. Obviously this cannot continue to persist in later stories as Mondas is destroyed. However, it is interesting when viewed in the light of the Cybermen's apparent desperation to save Mondas in Attack of the Cybermen. Another interesting point to the Tenth Planet (and one which I would not have really seen had it not been for the telesnaps) was that in this story the Cybermen have individual names such as Krang.
Finally, the story features the first use of regeneration. Watching the story I found myself wondering what it would have been like to watch this story for the first time back in 1966 and having literally no idea what regeneration was and how it would affect the series. These days, regeneration is just one of the things that we accept as a given when watching Who. But back then it was shocking, new and very revolutionary. And it's nice that the script takes advantage of William Hartnell's failing health to show the Doctor gradually getting weaker and throwing in such lines as his body is slowly wearing out. The first regeneration is no marvel by the visual standards set by Logopolis or Caves of Androzani, but it's still compelling and interesting. And I will admit that as the credits rolled on the final part of the reconstruction, I was eager to see Power of the Daleks 1 to see how the story continued.
In the final analysis, the question that is left is "Is the Tenth Planet" a classic of Doctor Who? My answer is yes and no. It certainly deserves it status as a much-talked about story simply because of its two firsts--the first appearance of the Cybermen and the first regeneration. I would love to see episode four turn up and I can tell you that I'd plunk down another $19.95 for the complete story. That said, I don't think the story is all it's cracked up to be. It's good but it's not great. It's entertaining but it lacks that certain something that makes for classic Who.
All of that said, I must add a few comments about the reconstruction used on the commercially released video. To be quite frank, I really enjoyed it. It helped the final episode make a great deal more sense than just simply hearing it on an audio track. The reconstruction team did a superb job and the sheer simplicity of following the events of episode four make it worth the price of the video alone.
Last Updated: 10/25/2006
Other Reviews by Michael Hickerson
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