Wednesday, 8 June 2011

29: The Tenth Planet - Introduction Of The Cybermen & The Doctor "Regenerates."

Written By: Kit Peddler and Gerry Davis.
Companions: The Doctor, Ben Jackson and Polly.
Monsters/Villains: The Cybermen.
Brief Synopsis: The Earth's long absent twin planet Mondas returns bearing Cybermen - humanoids augmented with machine parts.
Rating: 7/10.

Wow, there it is. I can't believe I've made it this far. It's been, excellent, tough, boring, amazing, surprising, thrilling, informative, and quite a journey thus far. I was aware when I started my epic excursion that Hartnell and Troughton would probably be the toughest stretch to get through, what with all the missing episodes. There is no disagreeing that Doctor Who is incredibly different now than it was in the 60's. Although it didn't have a big budget, impressive special effects, or the attention to detail made possible in modern television it is still just as enjoyable, if not more so. So here we find ourselves at the end of the line for William Hartnell's Doctor.

The story kicks off in the South Pole Base of International Space Command under the command of General Cutler. It's an interesting locale as this story could easily have been set anywhere. Choosing a remote base in the South Pole really cranks up the tension. It's well below freezing, and they are totally isolated. This "base-under-siege" framework really pioneers the layout we will see repeatedly during Patrick Troughton's tenure as the Doctor. 

In the TARDIS, Polly, Ben and the Doctor are donning warm clothes. It isn't long before the Doctor's famous curiosities get the better of him as the trio head out to explore their surroundings and are dragged into the base. After spotting a calendar, Ben and Polly quickly discover that they have arrived in December 1986 (twenty years ahead of their time, and two months after I was born) and are shocked to learn that at this point in time they've sent people to the moon. Being filmed in 1966 this story was three years ahead of it's time as the Moon landing didn't take place until 1969.

Alan White as Schultz and Earl Cameron as Williams.
Two astronauts aboard the Zeus 4 capsule inform Snowcap base of the arrival of a new planet between Mars and Venus; and it's pulling them off course. I was pleasantly surprised to see that one of the astronauts was black. During a time when the representation of black people on British television was incredibly poor, the casting directors of Doctor Who had the foresight to see how far the still fairly recent black equality could go.

The scientists notice that the new planet strongly resembles the earth and the Doctor tries to tell them that millions of years ago the Earth had a twin planet and that they should expect to soon be receiving visitors. An alien spaceship lands by the base and three Cybermen emerge. They incapacitate three guards and infiltrate the control room, killing a soldier.

These are the Cybermen at a very early stage in their overall development. They have exposed human hands and fairly humanoid faces. They have huge chest units and a large sort-of headlamp on their heads. Unlike their progeny these Cybermen still have names (including Krail, Jarl, Talon, Krang, Shav, Gern). They are impervious to bullets. Their strange mouths open when they speak but they do not move. I really like the awesome Cyber voices which were provided by the wonderful Peter Hawkins (1924-2006) and the marvelous Roy Skelton, who sadly just passed away today. In Doctor Who he provided voices for the Monoids, Daleks, Cybermen and the Krotons. He also voice Zippy and George in the popular children's television programme Rainbow. He will be sorely missed.

We learn that the new planet is called Mondas. Eons ago it was the twin planet of Earth but it drifted away on a journey to the edge of space. One of the Cybermen describes himself to the humans as, "Exactly like you. Our cybernetic scientists realised our race was getting weak, with shorter lifespans. So our scientists and doctors devised spare parts for our bodies, until we could be almost completely replaced. Our brains are just like yours, but weaknesses [emotions] have been removed. We do not feel pain" They incapacitate the General.
The Doctor and Polly meet the Cybermen.
The chief scientists Barkley and Dyson's immediate concerns are the safety of the astronauts in the Zeus 4 capsule. The Cyberman say it is impossible for the capsule to make it back to earth, but allow Snowcap to contact them. Mondas' proximity is draining power from Earth and the capsule. Zeus 4 tries to land using it's retrorockets but the ship accelerates away and explodes.

Ben ties to escape using one of the soldiers guns, but the Cybermen catch him, bending the gun as if it were rubber and lock him up. The Cybermen explain that Mondas' power has nearly been depleted and that it will drain all the power from Earth until it is destroyed. They say they will take the humans with them and then give us the imortal line, "You will become like us." Ben manages to blind one Cyberman with a film projector. He grabs the Cyberman's light weapon and kills it. He enters the command room and hands the General the weapon who kills the other two Cybermen. There is some truly epic dialogue in this story including, "If cutler is right, we are probably going to fight the first interplanetary war."

We learn that Cutler's son is up in another capsule, Zeus 5 and the base pick up signals on their radar of hundreds of ships flying toward Earth in formation. Sadly due to illness William Hartnell is totally absent from episode three so the Doctor inexplicably collapses.

Robert Beaty as General Cutler.
The General's solution is to destroy Mondas by using the Z-Bomb despite concerns that the radiation effects might kill everyone on the side of the Earth facing the explosion, and that the planet targeted might go supernova. It would also certainly destroy the space capsule carrying his own son. Barkley is against this desperate measure and shows Ben what he needs to do to disarm the Z-Bomb, but the General catches Ben and the countdown begins.

9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, blast off!

Fortunately the rocket doesn't work. Now into episode four Hartnell' Doctor is back in the mix. When Polly questions the Doctor's sudden collapse, he replies saying, "This old body of mine is wearing a bit thin." It's the beginning of the end and both the Doctor and Hartnell know it.

Snowcap lose contact with Lieutenant Cutler. General Cutler believing his son to be dead, is about to kill the Doctor when more Cybermen land, enter the base and kill the General. Mondas is absorbing too much power. The Cybermen take control of the base and plan to use the Z-Bomb to blow up the Earth, thus saving their own planet from the effects of the energy transfer between the two worlds. They order Ben, Barkley and Dyson to move the warhead. The Doctor offers the Cybermen to stay on earth and live in peace with the humans, as their planet will be destroyed.

Barkley and Dyson.
Ben questions why the Cybermen have forced the humans to move the warhead instead of  using their obvious strength and doing it themselves. He discovers their weakness to radioactivity. Ben brings rods from the reactor and the radiation immobilises the Cybermen. Mondas breaks up and the Cybermen go with it. Contact is regained with Lieutenant Cutler and they begin the process of bringing him home.

We then get what really must be described as the best cliffhanger ever: After the Cybermen have decomposed, Ben goes to the Cyber Ship where the Doctor and Polly were being held prisoner and frees them. Polly is unharmed but the Doctor is groggy. "What did you say my boy? It's all over, that's what you said. It's far from being over. I must get back to the TARDIS." The Doctor returns to the TARDIS locking Ben and Polly outside. He uses the controls. The central column goes up and down, then he collapses. We hear the dematerialisation sound and there is a very bright light, which intensifies, and when it lessens there is a different man lying there and the credits roll. Best cliffhanger ever!!!

The Doctor's changing...
This is the first "regeneration"; although that term will not be used until 1974 in Planet Of The Spiders. The pivotal episode four of The Tenth Planet is missing from the BBC archives and only a few short clips of footage exist. Fortunately the regeneration sequence itself is among these. It only exists as it was used on a contemporary entertainment news program to discuss the transition to the new Doctor. It is sad but true that William Hartnell left Doctor Who due to bad health, but upon leaving he did say "If there is one man in England who can replace me as the Doctor it's Patrick Troughton!"

A considerable number of fans don't fully accept the fact that the Doctor died of old age. Theoretically Time Lords can live forever, barring accidents, and this incarnation was the youngest of all the Doctors. One theory is that the Daleks' Time Destructor shrunk the Doctor's lifespan and it was always going to lead up to this moment. Another is that Mondas plundered not only Earth's energy but the Doctor's as well, shrinking his lifespan even further.

One of the wonderful aspects of Doctor Who has always been it's ability to turn a weakness into a strength. When the show was originally conceived there was a never an intention to replace the leading character by giving him the ability to change his form. But what a wonderful way to ensure a series' legacy, by taking the weakness of an ailing leading man and turning it into the strength of allowing new blood to take over. Forty five years later in Doctor Who we take it for granted but just imagine how shocking and exciting this must have been when it aired.

The Tenth Planet is a truly wonderful story, it boasts, the first appearance of the Cybermen, some excellent characters, lines & cliffhangers, and of course the 'regeneration.' Hartnell will always have been the first Doctor. We wouldn't have the show without him. And at times he may have fluffed his lines, or taken too many holidays, but he helped put Doctor Who on the map; and for that he shall always have my gratitude. It  certainly is a shame to see Hartnell go, but I am very excited to see what Patrick Troughton will do with the role.

Join me next time for a new story The Power of The Daleks AND a new Doctor...

1 comment:

Steve said...

The Cybermen in The Tenth Planet look cool, but their voices are rubbish.  The new series Cybermen have voices that I don't like because they are difficult to understand.  I prefer the 70's and 80's Cybermen.