Doctor Who Reviews — The Tenth Planet

This is the last William Hart­nell story I’ll be reviewing for a while. One thing I confirmed while watching so many of these older stories is that Hartnell’s Doctor is funda­men­tally different to all who come after him. While his incar­na­tion is essen­tial to setting up the mythos, in an odd way he’s not the Doctor.

The Tenth Planet is a good example of what I’m talking about. On the one hand it’s essen­tially a base under siege story which is some­thing that Doctor Who still uses on occa­sion and used to rely on heavily due to budget constraints. On the other hand, the Doctor really isn’t the fulcrum of events. He is more a partic­i­pant than a manip­u­lator or agitator. A situ­a­tion made worse certainly due to Hartnell’s illness during episode 3.

The Tenth Planet is best known for two things. The first regen­er­a­tion (though it was not referred to as that for many years) and the first appear­ance of the Cybermen. The ratio­nale for the planet Mondas’ appear­ance is hokey 60s scifi but if you put that aside there is defi­nitely some­thing chilling about the Cybermen. About their brutal prac­ti­cality and the alien look of them.

Admit­tedly the look is prim­i­tive. Hampered once again by that tiny budget. But the strong design elements shine through and you can see why they were brought back again and again. You can also see how much they lost over the years despite the improve­ments in their appearance.

The story is set in the “far future” of 1986 which is one of those Doctor Who time­line issues it’s best to just walk away from. But we don’t get to see much of the Earth mainly just the one snow bound base. The Cybermen however are there in force. ANd it’s inter­esting to me that they were always rela­tively easy to destroy (lots of them are killed here).Their threat seems to be more sheer numbers and ruthlessness.

The emotion­less of the Cybermen is nicely contrasted by the oh so human self­ish­ness of General Cutler who devolves steadily from impa­tient to fool­ishly destruc­tive in his need to try and save his son. It’s a nice touch that isn’t over­played or hammered on.

Ben and Polly as rela­tively new compan­ions spend a fair amount of time covering familiar terri­tory. I did find their voices and atti­tudes quite refreshing even so. Ben at least got some decent action, attempting to fight Cybermen and sabo­taging a bomb. Polly on the other hand… well she made coffee!

William Hart­nell played the Doctor much as he always did. Alter­nately crotchety and scolding then giggling almost mani­cally. He does get a few moments of real moral authority here, but his absence in episode three sabo­tages that substantially.

And then there is the regen­er­a­tion. It’s played very differ­ently to all the others. There’s no heroic sacri­fice here. Instead it’s really just tacked on to the end. We don’t get any expla­na­tions for what’s happening and it must have been a huge shock to viewers at the time. But again, while it’s the first and thus impor­tant it doesn’t really feel like Doctor Who to me.

So all in all this story repre­sents the William Hart­nell era well both in its good and bad sides. I should note that the film for episode four is missing and has been replaced by an animated version. While initially a little jarring moving from episode 3 to episode 4 I found I got used to it very quickly and the anima­tion while simple was extremely effec­tive. Much more so than the previous method of photos to accom­pany the audio.

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