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.