The Tenth Planet Review

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A story of many firsts, but also sadly the last regular appearance of William Hartnell as the Doctor. The Tenth Planet would help to shape the future of Doctor Who in more ways than one and lay the groundwork for the Troughton era in particular.

Plot

The TARDIS arrives at the South Pole in 1986. The Doctor, Ben and Polly decide to explore and discover the Snow Cap Base, a space tracking station, designed to supervise the Zeus IV spaceship. The base is commanded by the hotheaded General Cutler who takes an immediate dislike to the four time travellers and locks them up.

Suddenly the Zeus IV is dragged off course by a mysterious force, and a new planet begins to emerge in the sky. A rescue ship, the Zeus V, piloted by Cutlers son, Terry is sent to try and rescue the lost vessel meanwhile.

The Doctor recognises the new planets continents as being identical to earth, and realises that the planet is Mondas, earth’s identical twin planet, and warns the base that the Mondasians will soon be arriving.

Sure enough, a mysterious spaceship soon lands in the snow and three strange robot like creatures emerge from it who quickly kill the guards and overtake the base.

The creatures reveal that they are Cybermen and that they were once similar to human beings, but in order to survive their planet drifting off course, they slowly removed all of their organic components and replaced them with machine parts. They also removed all of their emotions to prevent themselves from going insane.

The Cybermen prevent the base from saving the Zeus IV rocket and it is seemingly destroyed. The monsters then reveal that Mondas is draining energy from the earth and that it will soon explode. The Cybermen intend to get as many people off the earth as possible before this happens and convert them into a new race of Cybermen. Cyber scout ships soon begin to appear in every major city and command base around the globe as a full scale invasion of earth begins. 

The Doctor and his companions, working with Cutler are able to fight back against the Cybermen using their own weapons and reclaim the base, though the Doctor quickly collapses from exhaustion afterwards. 

Cutler plans to use the Z-Bomb, a special to secret weapon to destroy Mondas. He is warned however from Geneva HQ that destroying Mondas this close to earth could release vast amounts of radiation which would kill billions. Cutler doesn’t care however as if he doesn’t act soon the Zeus V will be destroyed.

Ben however, working with another scientist named Barclay is able to sabotage the bomb. Cutler attempts to kill the Doctor, Ben and Polly in response, but he is killed by the Cybermen who retake the base. The Doctor realises that Mondas will be destroyed instead as it will absorb too much power from the earth.

The Doctor attempts to mediate with the Cybermen and offers them a new home on earth alongside humanity, but they refuse to listen. Taking Polly hostage, the Cybermen send Ben and various other scientists from the base to disarm the Z-Bomb. The Doctor deduces however that the Cybermen are actually planning to use the bomb to destroy the earth in order to save Mondas and warns Ben. 

Ben and the others fight back against the Cybermen using radiation rods (having realised that the Cybermen are vulnerable to radiation, hence why they needed the humans to work on the bomb.) 

The Cybermen however take the Doctor hostage, and as more Cybermen surround the base all hope seems lost. Fortunately, Ben and the others are able to hold them off long enough for Mondas to absorb to much energy, after which it harmlessly vaporises into nothing. 

Following Mondas’ destruction, all of the Cybermen on earth start to die and the invasion is over. (The Zeus V is also ironically able to return safely to earth.) 

Ben rescues Polly and the Doctor from the Cyber ship. The Doctor however is still very weak and poorly, but he simply tells Ben and Polly that “Its far from being all over.”

The Doctor heads out alone to the TARDIS, though Ben and Polly follow after him. When they finally reach the TARDIS they find the Doctor collapsed on the floor. Suddenly a beam of light emerges from the Doctors body, and much to Ben and Polly’s shock he changes into the form of a much younger man with thick dark hair. 

Review

The Tenth Planet is a story that I think for many people often sadly doesn’t live up to its hype.

Its the first Cyberman story, the first story where the Doctor regenerates, and it has the most sought after missing episode. I’d imagine many fans probably expect it to be an epic, all time classic adventure like Genesis of the Daleks or Caves of Androzani, and sadly its really only an above average story. I’d say its a minor classic. As a result I think its come in for some unfair criticism over the years.

Its not bad, but it’s certainly not as strong as the first stories of other memorable villains like Terror of the Autons or The Daleks. Overall it tends to play out as a more basic base under siege story. In all fairness however this adventure was actually one of the very first ever examples of the base under siege formula in Doctor Who. Still its not used quite as effectively here as it would be in the Troughton era. Despite only running at four episodes, its pace is somewhat lethargic in places.

The most disappointing aspect of the story is that Hartnell’s Doctor isn’t given much of a send off. He is out of action for the third episode and he doesn’t play that big a role in the others he’s actually in either. The most significant thing he does is simply warn Ben that the Cybermen want to destroy the earth. Its entirely down to Ben that the Cybermen are defeated however.

I don’t blame the writers for this. Originally the Doctor was going to save the day, but Hartnell fell ill during the making of the story and had to be written out of the third episode and his role was subsequently reduced for the fourth.

Still whilst I understand why it happened (and I think they got round it rather well by having the Doctor collapse there by setting up the idea of Doctor’s body wearing a bit thin.) It is a shame that Hartnell’s Doctor just kind of fades away rather than going out as a hero.

Hartnell’s performance is nevertheless as strong as ever. He most certainly does not phone it in, and he gets some of his most memorable lines and deliveries such as his famous speech towards the Cybermen. “Emotions, pride, hate, fear! Have you no emotions? Sir?”. Its not the most memorable send off, but Hartnell certainly makes the most of it.

Still despite some failings, The Tenth Planet is overall a strong story with many fascinating concepts and ideas. The Cybermen themselves are obviously a brilliant idea that has stood the test of time for 5 decades. They were a genius fusion of the age old concept of men being turned into monsters, (such as Vampires, Zombies and Werewolves) and then contemporary techno fears. They played on the fear of a loss of identity, mankind’s constant attempts to cheat death backfiring on him, the primal fear of becoming something totally inhuman, and fears for our future of technology turning in on us; all at the same time.

The Tenth Planet deserves credit not only for introducing the Cybermen but also for using them in a somewhat more effective way than many future Cybermen stories.

The Tenth Planet is really the only Cyberman adventure where the monsters do genuiney blur the line between man and machine. In later stories the Cybermen I feel are portrayed as being totally mechanical creatures. In some later classic era stories such as Revenge of the Cybermen, their ability to turn humans into Cybermen isn’t even mentioned!

In the Tenth Planet however the Cybermen do still have organic parts, such as their hands. I also love the fact that their faces are covered in cloth rather than metal. When I was younger I used to have nightmares where I would pull the cloth off and see the mangled, mutilated, faces underneath!

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I also like the fact that these Cybermen have names such as Krang. Again it helps to reinforce the idea that these machines were not only once people, but that there are still traces of the person they once were, chopped up and mangled inside.

Sadly later writers I think would just write the Cybermen as second rate Daleks, IE, generic robo conquerors, but in this adventure they stand as their own, perhaps in some ways, more disturbing concept than the Daleks.

My only problem with the Cybermen’s design in this adventure is that its a bit too clunky in places. The chest units are too big and cumbersome and would not have been practical for later adventures.

The direction in this story is also among the best for any Classic era story. Derek Martinus gives the story a tight claustrophobic feel that suits the Cybermen. The Cybermen are always at their best in tiny little surroundings where they can corner you, and there’s no way you can fight back. Martinus also makes use of the location too, such as when the monsters first emerge through the snow storm and we can’t quite make them out at first, but still get an idea of how large and powerful they are.

I also like how the first thing we glimpse clearly of a Cybermen is its organic hand, before it zooms up and we see rather surprisingly that there is a robot creature attached to it. Much like the Daleks in their first story we are left guessing as to what the monsters true nature really is until the big reveal later in the story.

The supporting cast for The Tenth Planet is also very strong. Robert Beatty gives a stellar performance as Cutler, a human villain who makes a nice contrast to the Cybermen, as he is a very emotional character.

Cutler is a sympathetic character who just wants to save his son, albeit is willing to go to any lengths to do that. The tragic irony is that his son survives, whilst Culter, for all the sacrifices he made to protect his son, dies believing that Terry was killed. You can’t help but pity him, despite his more ruthless actions.

The rest of the scientists at the base’s characters aren’t as well fleshed out, but they serve as fairly likable foils for the Doctor and his companions during the story. They have enough personality that you actually do care about them when the Cybermen attack.

Whilst it may be more remembered for the concepts it pioneered than anything else, The Tenth Planet is still overall an enjoyable, well written, well acted and well made adventure that serves as a decent send off for the Hartnell era, even if Hartnell himself is sadly relegated to the side for most of the serial.

Influences

The Cybermen were created by the series scientific adviser Doctor Kit Pedler and the then script editor Gerry Davies.

Both men were inspired by the British comic strip Dan Dare (which had also served as an inspiration on Terry Nation when writing the original Dalek stories.)

The main villains of Dan Dare were a reptillian race known as the Treens who had no emotions and sought to conquer the universe. Much like the Cybermen, they had also augmented themselves, removing all of their emotions. The Treens had also genetically engineered a member of their race, The Mekon, with super intelligence to lead them.

The Treens came from Venus and were driven off their home planet by Dan at the end of their first story. Throughout the remainder of Dan Dare’s initial run, the Treens would be portrayed as a desperate band of creatures, trying to reclaim their former glory.

The Treens influenced the Cybermen in a number of ways, from their emotionless nature and reliance on logic, to their desperate situation after losing their home world in their initial story, to finally their leader, the Cyber Controller. The Cyber Controller was originally to have been a small, flying creature with an enlarged brain, similar to the Mekon. Ultimately however the budget would not allow this, though the Cyber Controller was still given a large brain inspired by the Mekon’s look.

The future of the Tenth Planet also matches that seen in Dan Dare. Dan Dare broke new ground in the 1950s by depicting all of the races of the world living together in the future (long before Star Trek) which is seen in The Tenth Planet, which features the black actor Earl Cameron as one of the astronauts. Space Command HQ in Geneva is also a similar organisation to Space Fleet from Dan Dare as well.

Finally the plot for The Tenth Planet was directly inspired by the second Dan Dare adventure, The Red Moon Mystery, which also revolves around a planet that can travel through the universe like a spaceship and that returns to our solar system to wreck havoc.

Kit Pedler was always very open about his love for Dan Dare, even supplying the forward to a 70s reprint of Dan Dare, where he said that “the Cybermen are very like the Treens.”

Legacy

The Tenth Planet is one of the most influential and important stories in Doctor Who’s history. It marked the introduction of both the Cybermen and the concept of regeneration.

The concept of regeneration is generally believed to have been created by Gerry Davies (though prior to this Innes Lloyd had wished to recast William Hartnell using a different method in the story The Celestial Toymaker. Here the titular villain would have made the Doctor vanish, and when he returned he would have had a different appearance.)

At the time The Tenth Planet had been made, nothing had been revealed about the Doctors race (including even what they were called) and so it was decided to introduce the idea that the Doctor could renew himself, thereby changing his physical appearance whenever his body broke down.

Originally it was going to be revealed that the Doctor’s body renewed itself every 500 years, and that the Doctor always dreaded the process. The producers also intended to reveal that Hartnell’s Doctor was not the first, with their having been multiple Doctors (including a pirate incarnation) before Hartnell.

Ultimately most of these ideas were jettisoned from the final script, and the process of renewal remained vague and undefined for many years. It wouldn’t be until the 4th Doctors era when the process would be fully fleshed out and we discovered that the Doctor could only regenerate 12 times. It wouldn’t be until the 20th anniversary story, The Five Doctors meanwhile until we found out that William Hartnell was the first Doctor after all.

The Tenth Planet was also one of the first examples of the base under siege format, which would go on to become dominant in the Troughton era. In much the same way as The Invasion and The Web of Fear can be seen as dummy run’s for the later Pertwee era, then so can the Tenth Planet be seen as a template for the Troughton era. It features his most recurring monsters, the Cybermen, the standard formula for many of his stories, and some other key Troughton aspects too. The Hartnell Doctor for instance, though normally commanding in his other stories, struggles to be taken seriously in this adventure from Cutler, which is a common plot point in many Troughton adventures.

Scenes from the Tenth Planet would also later be recreated for the docu drama An Adventure in Space and Time in 2013.

Notes and Trivia

  • William Hartnell was very unhappy at being forced to leave the role of the Doctor that he loved so much. Nevertheless he approved of his choice of successor. According to some sources Hartnell described Troughton as the only man in England that could take over. Michael Craze and Peter Purves however have both disputed that he ever said this, as they felt Hartnell was so protective of the role he wouldn’t have liked anyone else playing it. Hartnell’s widow Heather however said that Hartnell loved Troughton and later Jon Pertwee’s performances as the Doctor. She also said that Hartnell watched most of Troughton’s era, but eventually it became too painful for him, and he subsequently only saw a few of Pertwee’s stories. Hartnell himself said in an interview taken in 1971 that he felt Doctor Who had become too violent and was no longer for kids. Nevertheless he did reprise the role in 1973 and in his final interview said that he was proud it had gone on for so long.
  • The 2017 two part story World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls serves as a prequel of sorts to this story. It reveals the creation of the Cybermen (who originated on a colony ship away from Mondas) and features the return of the Mondasian Cybermen seen in this story. This blogger however personally does not consider the new series canon to the old.
  • The Cyber invasion of 1986 is revealed in later Classic era stories such as Attack of the Cybermen and The Moonbase to have not been covered up afterwards and becomes an important historical event.
  • This story was set twenty years after it was broadcast.

 

 

 

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