Apologies for the lack of updates lately. I’ve been snowed under with work and have got a little bit behind on my reviews.
And this is an important one.
We finally come to the end of the William Hartnell era. At the end of this story – The Tenth Planet – the First Doctor bows out to be replaced by Patrick Troughton.
The crucial thing here is that what happens at the end of the Tenth Planet is the only reason Dr Who is still around today. And when the decision was made to recast the Doctor, it wasn’t with the idea of allowing the show to continually reinvent itself, but rather it was just because Hartnell’s health was failing, he was becoming difficult to deal with and they needed someone new ASAP.
Probably the decision to ‘revitalise’ the Doctor was the most profitable throwaway decision in television history.
But that’s not all this story is famous for; the Cybermen make their debut too, along with the ‘Base Under Siege’ type story which Dr Who lives off for the next few years.
Doctor Who – The Tenth Planet Review: What’s This One About?
The plot to this one is almost incidental to the ‘momentousness’ of the whole affair.
Or that’s maybe a kind way of putting it because really, this story is a bit crap.
To be concise, this is the story of the return to the solar system of Earth’s twin planet, Mondas. Having journeyed to the ‘edge of the universe’ and back, Mondas is running out of energy and tries to rectify that by absorbing the energy it needs from Earth.
The inhabitants of Mondas (The Cybermen) make a social call to a NASA style underground base in the Antarctic just to let them know what’s happening, but the problem is the base is run by a lunatic who has already been sent over the edge by his son being sent into space, by all accounts to his death.
So the Cybermen are murdered (presumably because they thought that would sort the problem) and the insane General Cutler decides to use an extremely powerful nuclear device (the wonderfully named ‘Z Bomb’) to try and destroy the planet.
But he gets stopped, and then the Cybermen come back, a little bit less friendly this time, intent to destroy Earth with the Z Bomb and thus save Mondas.
But the problem is that Mondas expires before they get the chance, and for some reason that kills off the Cybermen.
Meanwhile, The Doctor spends the first two episodes sitting in the back of the control room, telling everyone he knows what’s going to happen, before keeling over and missing episode 3. He then comes back in episode 4 and…well…dies. A bit of an anti-climatic end compared to some of his later regenerations.
Thoughts – The Story
The thing about the Tenth Planet is that people assume it’s got to be an amazing story because it debuts the Cybermen and has the first regeneration in it. But it really isn’t.
Despite all the stuff I mentioned above, most of the story is devoted to the scientists at the Snowcap base trying to save two different rockets that have been sent off-course because of the change in the magnetic fields of Earth, due to the arrival of Mondas.
And that’s pretty dull.
The Cybermen themselves (and I’ll get into them in more detail shortly) only really have anything to do in Episodes 2 and 4. And what’s worse, they just become token villains in Episode 4.
As for the Doctor, as I said above, he just sort of…dies. There’s no grand farewell for him like most other Doctors will receive and no obvious ‘This Is His Final Story’ plot, which is what most companions get when they leave.
Really, he’s incidental to the plot (as is Polly and to a lesser extent, Ben), and there’s no explanation for why he ‘dies’. He just tells Polly that his body is getting on a bit. Personally, I’d have preferred it if he just had a stroke while on Pike’s ship in the previous story. That would have been more exciting.
No, despite what your preconceptions of this story might be, it’s not about the Doctor or the Cybermen, but rather about the politics of the Snowcap base – in particular the feud between the sensible scientist, Bartley and the rubbish General Cutler.
And for such an important story in the history of the show, that’s a huge letdown.
When I was growing up, I loved the Cybermen. The idea of them was great, and in my opinion they were far cooler than the Daleks.
For any Doctor Who fan growing up in the 80s and 90s, one of the best videos was ‘Cybermen: The Early Years’, which contained the surviving episodes of The Moonbase and the Wheel in Space, but none of the Tenth Planet. The Cybermen
from the Tenth Planet are briefly touched upon and are dismissed as being crap.
They have ‘Sing Song’ voices rather than robotic voices, and the costumes are far more basic.
Naturally, as a child, I concurred with this assessment. These original Cybermen were rubbish; the Cybermen started for real in the Moonbase.
But now I’m older and wiser, and I have to say that from the perspective of an adult, the Tenth Planet (or more particularly, Episode 2 of the Tenth Planet) is where the Cybermen are at their most interesting. They have a motive, a purpose and a character.
What they are are human beings who have modified themselves using mechanical parts to become ‘stronger’, and by removing emotion from their brains they become purely logical beings. Their voices are the way they are because they are supposed to have learnt English through intercepting radio signals (although I’m not sure this is really explained)
And the fact they have cloth facemasks and human hands just makes the whole look more creepy.
As characters, they are interesting because they are not villains. They just think logically and are quite happy to offer mankind what they logically believe is help. I suppose in that respect it’s quite brave that they aren’t really the antagonists while General Cutler is alive.
Sadly for the Cybermen it’s all downhill after Episode 2. By the fourth Episode they become defacto villains intent on destroying the world (although at least it’s for a reason), and then over the next few stories they lose their interesting and unique nature and just become Robot versions of the Daleks.
By the time The Invasion rolls along they are relegated to hired goons because they become a nightmare to actually write for.
That’s not to say future stories with the Cybermen aren’t good. Every Patrick Troughton Cyberman story is great, but they are often more about the threat of what the Cybermen are than being about the Cybermen themselves.
Beyond the 60s there are a couple more peaks for the Cybermen, but these are down to two actors’ ridiculous ideas of what ’emotionlessness’ is. Christopher Robbie plays the Cyberleader in Revenge of the Cybermen as a manager on the edge of insanity, while David Banks plays his Cyberleader as a sort of Shakespearean villain.
And now? Well now, the Cybermen have hit a new low. They are just crappy robots who have been given an even crappier catchphrase (Ooooh…Delete, Delete) voiced by a bloke who can’t even be bothered to make it sound like it’s not just The Emperor Dalek with a Different Voice Modulator In.
And moreover, they’ve been shown up as pathetically inferior to the Daleks, who have themselves now been worn out to the point of exhaustion.
No, when it comes down to it, for a very short time, for what they are supposed to be, this is the Cybermen at their best (on TV anyway)
And I say ‘on TV anyway’ because I would highly recommend that anyone with a passing interest in Dr Who track down and listen to the Big Finish Audio, Spare Parts. While not my favourite Big Finish, it is the story of how and why the Mondas Cybermen came to be. In terms of exploring what the Cybermen are about and how they came to be, it really is the very best of their stories.
Above, I’ve criticised the way the regeneration just suddenly happens. From a storytelling point of view, I do think they could have done so much more with it. While it didn’t have to be as grand as some of the future regenerations, it could have been related to the plot at least in some way.
I know it was more out of necessity, and I also appreciate that even though it was done that suddenly, it would still have been a massive surprise to the people watching at the time. But still…
In fairness to the realisation of the scene though, it has to be said it looks fantastic for an effect done in 1966. Compare that to the regeneration of Jon Pertwee into Tom Baker and you’ll see how technically superior it is.
I should also point out that with Episode 4 missing, it’s lucky that the regeneration scene survives, even though the reason that episode is missing is because the scene that survives was being shown on Blue Peter and it went missing there.
It’s a funny old world sometimes.
- Other people have said this, so this is far from an original point, but why on Earth was someone as unstable as Cutler left in charge of a base containing the Z Bomb? He asks Geneva permission to use it, they decline and yet he tries to do it anyway. The Human Resources Officer of that department needs sacked.
- How come people in modern-day Dr Who don’t remember this happening in 1986?
- The Cybermen have names, which is quite cool. Take a step back and ask yourself ‘Why wouldn’t they’ and also why don’t Cybermen or indeed most ‘monsters’ have names.
- Multiculturalism is taken to the extremes in this story. Africans in full tribal dress hang around Space Command in Geneva, an Italian lusts after Polly, General Cutler’s is a caricature of the brash US Army Commander and the Australian Astronaut is called ‘Blue’. All that’s missing is a Frenchmen wearing a striped shirt and a beret. But don’t worry, he’s in the Moonbase.
- Why is Polly not frozen to death in the harsh Antarctic snow wearing a miniskirt and a coat that wouldn’t keep her warm at the football?
- I’m fairly sure in later Dr Who stories, the Doctor is credited with destroying Mondas. He has absolutely nothing to do with its destruction. Whatsoever.
- The whole nature of the Base Under Siege plot is sooo Second Doctor that William Hartnell feels out of place in this story.
- Being made and transmitted before man actually landed on the moon, it’s interesting to see what people thought rocket-flight, G-Force etc actually looked like.
Doctor Who – The Tenth Planet Review: Should You Watch The Tenth Planet?
From a point of historical significance, you should watch it. But you will be disappointed.
Episode 2 is good because of the Cybermen, but the story pretty much ends when Cutler is killed off at the start of Episode 4. Once Cutler is dead they just kill time until the sudden regeneration (and I know I’m repeating the opinion of a well known Dr Who review book, but I’m not going to say something else just for the sake of it)
If the Cybermen only ever appeared in this story, and the Doctor didn’t regenerate, I’d say you should avoid it, because it’s just not that good.
But because of what it is, I’d recommend checking it out.
You will be disappointed though.