Saturday, 27 October 2012

Story 29 - The Tenth Planet

In which the TARDIS materialises near the South Pole in December, 1986. The Doctor and his companions go outside to explore - unaware that they have landed above an underground space tracking station called Snowcap. The commander, General Cutler, has them brought inside. His main concern at the moment is the safe return of the Zeus IV space mission. The capsule is off course - the reason for which is the arrival of a new planet in the Solar System. The Doctor knows what this is and predicts imminent arrivals from this Tenth Planet. Initial images show a familiar pattern of oceans and continents - those of Earth - but inverted. The Doctor had also predicted this.

The base is soon taken over by Cybermen, who have travelled from the new planet - which they identify as Mondas. This is the Earth's long lost twin, which was thrown out of the Solar System thousands of years ago. The people of Mondas replaced organs and limbs of flesh and blood with those of metal and plastic in order to survive their wandering through space. Emotions were eradicated as weaknesses. They have now piloted the planet back to Earth. Their intention is to absorb the Earth's energy. The population will be invited to become like them - or be eliminated. Ben destroys one the Cybermen and steals its gun. He gives it to Cutler, who uses it to destroy the others. The Zeus IV is destroyed, but a second capsule is launched to investigate the new planet. Onboard is Cutler's son. Cracking under the pressure, and now with his son at risk, the General decides to deploy the awesome Z-Bomb against Mondas. This may cause devastation on Earth as well.

The Cybermen attack in force and land all over the Earth. Ben sabotages the Z-Bomb. The Cybermen recapture the base and Cutler is killed. The Doctor, whose health seems to be deteriorating rapidly, and Polly are held captive in a Cyberman spaceship. The Cybermen prove susceptible to radiation and fuel rods from the base reactor destroy several. The Doctor had earlier cautioned that no-one should take any action against Mondas. The planet begins to absorb too much energy and starts to break up. With their power source not yet transported to Earth, the Cybermen collapse. They and Mondas are destroyed.
The Doctor hurries back to the TARDIS. He collapses onto the floor as Ben and Polly arrive. They are shocked to see his features blur and change into those of a complete stranger...

This four part adventure was written by Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis (episodes 3 & 4), and was broadcast between 8th and 29th October, 1966. The fourth episode is infamously missing, though the regeneration sequence survives. There are some off screen cine-film sequences from the missing episode, and the soundtrack exists.
The Tenth Planet is significant for two things - the introduction of the Cybermen, and the first regeneration (though the term was never used at the time).
It is without doubt one of the smartest decisions ever made in television - to exploit the Doctor's alien nature and give him the ability to renew himself into another body when he grows old, sick or is seriously injured.
We have Innes Lloyd and Gerry Davis to thank for helping to keep the programme alive to this day.

In recognition of his failing health, William Hartnell is given a light workload in his final story. He is absent from episode 3 altogether - the Doctor having collapsed. It is not certain if his health is failing naturally or if he is being affected by the energy drain caused by Mondas. At one point he simply states that his old body is wearing a bit thin. It may be that he has prolonged this particular physical incarnation too long and regeneration is overdue. The TARDIS seems to play a role in the process.
Whilst Michael Craze carries the action (and gets some of Hartnell's lines in part 3), some of the Doctor role falls to Snowcap scientist Barclay - played by David Dodimead.
Principal guest star is Robert Beatty, a Canadian actor who played American parts in British TV and films from 1939 to 1987. He died in 1992. Beatty plays Cutler, a tough, no nonsense man who starts to lose his grip when confronted by a series of extraordinary events - including the almost certain death of his son.

The Cybermen are eerily effective. This particular design is seen in this story only. They have human hands - to remind us that they were once like us. The face is a blank skull-like cloth mask. When they speak, the actor holds his mouth open and Roy Skelton provides a curious sing-song voice, like a computer tape speeding up and slowing down. The iconic handlebar headpieces, and the accordion-like chest units, which fulfil heart and lung functions, are quite crude and cumbersome additions.
Kit Pedler got the idea for the Cybermen from his concerns about spare parts surgery. What if someone took the process too far and replaced everything. At what point might you no longer be considered human.
The Cybermen have replaced emotion with logic. They believe themselves more efficient than humans and superior. From their earliest appearance, they think everyone should want to be like them - and they are prepared to carry out the process against your will - as they know what is really best for you. Simple logic.
Episode endings for this story are:

  1. Two soldiers are sent to investigate the TARDIS. The Cybermen attack and kill them. We see a human hand turn one of the bodies over, but when we see the face it is a blank mask.
  2. The Snowcap radar operator announces that a huge fleet of spaceships is heading for Earth.
  3. The Z-Bomb is about to launch. Ben had earlier tried to sabotage it, and isn't sure if he has done enough. The rockets fire...
  4. The Doctor is lying on the floor of the TARDIS when Ben and Polly arrive - and they see him change his appearance...

Overall, the first of the base under siege tales, which I happen to like. The Cybermen get off to a great start. A lot of their potential will be squandered by subsequent writers and production teams - even unto their most recent appearance. He may have little to do, but Hartnell has some fine moments in the first two episodes. A complete Part 4 is, beyond doubt, the Holy Grail of Doctor Who.
Things you might like to know:
  • The caption roller writer on this story has a bad day or two. We have Kitt Pedler, Gerry Davies, and music by Byron Grainer.
  • Gerry Davis had to rewrite episode 3 at the last moment as Hartnell fell ill just before recording.
  • Michael Craze had sustained an injury to his nose shortly before filming. When he got a bit of polystyrene snow up his hooter - thrown by production assistant Edwina Verner - it aggravated the injury. Craze did not bear a grudge. Readers, he married her.
  • Though seen in the closing seconds, Patrick Troughton does not get a credit. Peter Davison is the first Doctor to get a credit at the end of his predecessor's final story.
  • The Big Finish audio Spare Parts forms a prequel to The Tenth Planet. It gives an explanation for Mondas leaving the Solar System. Events of this story are heavily referenced in Attack of the Cybermen.
  • In 1990 a Mr Roger Barrett claimed to have a copy of episode 4. The BBC prepared for a VHS release. They hedged their bets by getting Michael Craze to record two introductions - one with the episode still missing and one with it found. It transpired that Mr Barrett didn't exist - nor, sadly, did the episode.
  • On leaving the programme, despite health concerns, Hartnell did not go into retirement. He went straight into a rather disastrous pantomime of Puss In Boots. He had hoped to be the Doctor in this but the BBC refused permission. He appeared instead as a cobbler - but did wear the Doctor's ring. He made three TV appearances, including an episode of the popular BBC police series Softly, Softly: Taskforce. His last TV appearance, before coming back for The Three Doctors, was in 1970. William Hartnell passed away at his home in Kent on 23rd April, 1975. If you want to know more about Bill, check out the biography Whose There, written by his granddaughter Judith Carney.

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