Published on October 13th, 2013 | by Barnaby Eaton-Jones
The Tenth Planet DVD Review
If you’re a ‘Classic’ series fan, you’ll know that The Tenth Planet is kind of a big deal. It features two firsts. Not only does it boast the very first regeneration (although it isn’t called that yet), from original actor William Hartnell’s First Doctor, to incoming actor Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor, but it also hosts the first appearance of the Cybermen; the legendary race of human-parts-made-machine who stalk the ‘Best Who Villain Ever’ lists, waiting for the Daleks to take their eye-stalk of the ball and eager to move from the second-placed slot to claim the top accolade.
If you’re a ‘New Series’ fan, you might well know these facts but the likelihood is that you won’t have seen the four episodes. If you have seen all four, then you’ve secretly stumbled across the missing last episode and you’d better jolly well give it back to the BBC before a man with a bowler hat comes to your door and takes it off you in a slightly condescending way. Or Ian Levine contacts you and asks to buy it.
So, whatever type of fan you are, I’d argue that you need this DVD in your collection (unless you’ve already got it, if you bought the lovely-looking but mixed-quality stories of the Regeneration box set recently).
[pullquote align=right] The Cybermen speak in a sing-song manner, Stephen Hawking-like in its inhuman cadence.
I’m not suggesting Stephen Hawking is a Cyberman, by the way. Cyber Controller, maybe. He’s a the clever one.
What’s so good about it, you may ask? And rightly so. I often ask that and then tell myself the answer. This time, I get to tell you, which makes me sound less of a fruit loop to my neighbours.
For a start, this is an adult tale of complex matters and tension-building directives. The Cybermen on display are a far cry from what they would become (essentially, large Marvin the Paranoid Androids with a need to destroy everything in their sight for no discernible reason aside from they are very depressed about everyone else not being Cybermen too). These are not the sleek, super-fast, almost indestructible creatures who shout “Delete!” a lot and stomp round like an overgrown teenager. These are human-like beings, augmented by technology in order to survive. The technology involved may look like a large searchlight on their head and a giant radiator strapped to their chest but, even with a surgical sock for a balaclava, there is something disturbing and discomforting about these imposing, looming figures of mainly metal. The fact that you can see the eyes within the mask makes them more human, more realistic, more chilling.
Memorably, they speak in a sing-song manner, with no attempt to match their mouth to the words that are coming out. It’s almost Stephen Hawking-like in its inhuman cadence and, realistically, these clever-calculating Cybermen are also entombed – just like our eminent scientist – in a way that cuts them off from the normal vision of a human being whilst trying to reason and impart knowledge to those around them. I’m not suggesting Stephen Hawking is a Cyberman, by the way. Cyber Controller, maybe. He’s a the clever one. Ahem.
In a nutshell, this is a story about a twin planet to Earth, called Mondas. As Mondas drifted from the sun, the inhabitants had to ‘enhance’ their bodies to survive and create a race of emotionless supermen. They are now returning to ‘upgrade’ the human race and restore energy to Mondas by sucking the Earth dry. In a space tracking station at the South Pole, personnel are monitoring the return of a space capsule and happen across the arrival of the Cybermen instead. Handily, the Doctor and his companions, Ben and Polly, are also there to lend a hand in thwarting the machinations of the metal monoliths. There’s a real sense of urgency as the story unfolds, with the Doctor incapacitated with exhaustion for the penultimate episode of the story (in reality, William Hartnell was getting over the effects of a bout of pneumonia). This all paves the way for the Doctor to ‘renew’ himself – in a different way to the Cyberman – at the end of the story, apparently just dying of old age and tiredness.
Script editor Gerry Davis (paired up with Kit Pedler for the writing of this story) had said that the Doctor’s ‘death’ was due to the energy being taken from him too, as well as Earth, via Mondas. This would make sense of his collapse in Episode Three as well. But, the script doesn’t play up this connection and expects the viewers to guess why he regenerates. Most fail to spot the link between Mondas, and its huge energy hoover, and the gradual deterioration of the Doctor during the story. Mondas eventually consumes too much energy and explodes, taking with it the threat to Earth and disabling the Cybermen who are fighting to gain control of the Antarctic base. By that time, the Doctor is on his way out.
The direction of Derek Martinus gives the story an added edge, with a distinct style and some impressive camera work and bold choices of framing scenes that means the missing fourth episode – which is animated – is enhanced by using the camera script to recreate it and, thus, gives it a real continuity and sense of style.
All the regulars perform well, with Hartnell’s very last line of “Keep warm!” - as he departs through the snowstorm to the TARDIS for his final moments – is imbued with a sense of subtle poignancy. Ben and Polly (Michael Craze and Anneke Wills) have a real chemistry together, and create a definite ‘of the time’ characterisations which the television audience can engage with. It is sad that they are dispensed of so quickly after Hartnell’s departure but they really seem to work best with the Grandfatherly figure of the First Doctor, bringing a youthfulness to him. With the more energetic and younger Second Doctor (who looks modern enough with the Beatles mop-top going on), they don’t seem to gel so well.
As for the supporting cast, there’s good range across the board even if nobody especially gives a stand-out performance. The attempt at a vaguely multi-racial cast – to showcase the ‘future’ (it’s 1986!) – is good for the time but the only person who gets a fully-rounded characterisation is General Cutler, who runs the Antarctic station. As always, that’s because he’s the one who commands attention. If you want to be remembered, especially in the forerunner of the overused ‘base under siege’ stories of the Second Doctor’s era, then you have to be reasonable and unreasonable in equal measures, whilst being in command, and make sure you SHOUT!
So, The Tenth Planet is a solid story rather than a magnificent one but it does contain that iconic regeneration scene and the first appearance of the Men from Mondas. For that alone, it is worth owning. Of course, there’s also the added bonus of…
Episode Four of The Tenth Planet is missing from the archives and so, as with some previous releases, BBC Worldwide have taken the decision to animate the surviving soundtrack. This has worked fairly well in most cases and, in the most recent (The Reign Of Terror – another First Doctor tale), the animation was very cleverly done but took odd liberties with the way it was directed and the huge amount of quick-edits that almost gave the impression that the animation was having an epileptic fit.
Suffice to say, returning animation company Planet 55 have learnt from their mistakes and obviously taken on board the constructive criticism from fans. This is a seamless transition from live action to animation, with a realistic flow to the direction (which matches the previous episodes) and an improvement on their previous effort. Obviously, it’s never going to be as good as the real thing but it’s a much better realisation than a slideshow of Telesnaps (photos of the story taken at various intervals throughout, from the actual broadcast, by a forward-thinker called John Cura).
- William Hartnell Interview – this is one of the main reasons for buying this DVD. A very rare find of an interview that William Hartnell agreed to do, not long after leaving the show, when he was on tour with a pantomime. It’s from a regional news programme and appears on the disc unedited and not how it was originally broadcast. So, you get a warts and all chat, with the actor coming across as tetchy, forthright and totally different from the often avuncular character he created. In a way, it reinforces the fan’s view of him being a ‘grumpy, old man’ but you can see he’s just a seasoned professional talking intelligently about his time on the show and his wider work. It’s almost depressing to watch as there’s that sense of him knowing his career is winding down and that he won’t ever have as good a part again (which was unfortunately true, though he did return for a very brief cameo as the Doctor in The Three Doctors when he was very unwell and near the end of his life). But, it’s amazing to watch– especially as this kind of ‘behind the scenes’ footage of William Hartnell hasn’t been available before. In an age where every movie and every TV series has its own ‘Making Of’ or its stars appearing on the chat show circuit, it’s amazing to think of how little footage there is of those from yesteryear in an age when the media circus was a ramshackle tent rather than a full-on marquee.
- Commentary, moderated by Toby Hadoke – the always-nifty moderation of Toby Hadoke keeps the chat-track bubbling along nicely, with a nice variety of behind and in front of the camera talent. It’s always fascinating to hear commentary on these older stories, where new facts and memories come to light by the gentle probing of questions and fellow workers.
- Frozen Out (Making Of) – a good, solid documentary charting the making of The Tenth Planet, which this DVD range has so excelled at and continues to do so.
- Episode Four VHS Reconstruction – using the surviving soundtrack and embellishing it with the individual images from the Telesnaps mentioned earlier, including any surviving clips (of which the regeneration scene is, in fact, one), this was how Episode Four could be viewed if you had bought the VHS release over a decade ago. A good attempt at helping a visual-hungry generation appreciate the soundtrack!
- Anneke Wills Interview - an extended version from 2003′s Story Of Doctor Who.
- Boys! Boys! Boys! - interviews with Peter Purves, Frazer Hines and Mark Strickson – companions to the First, Second and Fifth Doctor respectively. The latter, strangely, is beamed in via video-link, which makes for a slightly disjointed chat.
- Companion Piece - an at times odd examination, by actors and writers, on what it means to be a companion of the good Doctor.
- Blue Peter: Doctor Who’s Tenth Anniversary - a section from the popular and equally long-running children’s TV show, featuring the clip of the regeneration from The Tenth Planet.
- Radio Times Listing, Production Subtitles, Photo Gallery and the always well-edited Coming Soon trailer are all present and correct as they have been on previous DVDs of the Doctor Who range.
This 2-disc set is certainly stocked full of extras and has a great animation that captures the style of the previous episodes perfectly. All in all, BBC Worldwide have produced a fitting package for a story of the First Doctor’s regeneration.
Released on Monday October 14th, The Tenth Planet is available from Amazon UK for just £13.50. Release in the US is on November 14th, and you can pre-order now from Amazon where The Tenth Planet is listed for $29.73