Saturday, 6 June 2009

Doctor Who: The Tenth Planet

Part One

"I don't like your tone, sir."

"And I don't like your face. Or your hair."

So, the "tenth" planet? But of course, Pluto was still canon back then...

We open with some stock footage, and some astoundingly advanced IT. The TARDIS doesn't land for a while, and instead we get some contemporary(ish) scientists and some naturalistic acting. However "traditional" an opening this may seem in hindsight, watching it in the marathon it's really quite jarringly new. There are some very effective nods to realism, not least of which is the girlie pics on one man's locker. The series has changed completely over the last season or so; this is a Troughton story in all but lead actor, and in hindsight the best arbitrary cut-off point is not the change in lead actor but the arrival of multi-episode story titles with The Savages.

More new and exciting sensory impressions: it's a very international group of humans, with a lot of American characters. The snow's clearly paper, but it's good enough. And then, finally, the TARDIS lands.

Ben and Polly have landed in 1986, only 20 years after their own time- surely this is close enough to be dangerous? They could easily get themselves in a position to do a Biff Tannen once they get back to 1966... Speaking of Biff Tannen, this seems to be scripted and shot very much like a Hollywood sci-fi movie, with the unstable commander, maverick scientist and general style.

Ooh! Our first taste of the Cyber theme, and it makes the hairs stand up on the back of me neck! These Cybermen look great. Oh, and I love what they've done with the closing titles.

Part Two

"Have you no heart?"

"No. That is one of the weaknesses that we have removed."

Hmm, how shall I put it? These disguises the Cybermen have adopted are... not entirely convincing, are they? Although their entrance is great; Derek Martinus having an outbreak of superbness plus a great look equals perfection. I can't emphasise enough how great these Cybermen are. Even their voices are fab, and we're talking Roy Skelton here.

Yes, of course... Mondas is an ancient name for Earth! I'm sure we'd all heard that before, hadn't we? It's very nice of this Cyberman to provide us with all this exposition; apparently him and his mates have been to "the edge of space". Who'd have thought it? Still, this is a great scene, and there's an interesting line in the light of more recent stories: after Polly accuses the Cybermen of being just robots their leader retorts: "Our brains are just like yours except that certain weaknesses have been removed"- pretty close to the new series. Well, apart from the human hands, that is...

This story manages to be extremely tense with the lurking physical presence of the Cybermen giving enough of a sense of threat that they don't have to actually do much. One Cybermen bending Ben's gun is enough to establish how hard they are. And their calmness, and casual dismissal of the horrible fate of the astronauts, are chilling. Of course, it's best not to analyse the backstory too hard even at this early stage, but this is great.

I like the guilt Ben feels after killing a Cybermen, emphasising their humanity. Naturally, the flip side of this is the presence of the threat of Cyber-conversion in a way it never would be again in the classic series- or, indeed, the remaining episodes of this story. The ongoing debate over feelings between Polly and the lead Cybermen is brilliant. I like the chattiness of these early Cybermen!

The cliffhanger is loads of Cyberships. Bet we'll never see that one again...

Part Three

"I don't understand it. He just seems to be worn out."

Almost the first thing we see is the Doctor, clearly played by a stand-in, collapsing, and Hartnell isn't even in his penultimate episode. It seems his health was indeed bad by this point. It's also clear that has absence only became clear at a relatively late stage; Ben obviously has most of the Doctor's lines. Polly gets a line which is... interesting, mind: "Well I could make some coffee or something."

Interestingly, the small group of Cybermen has now been defeated, yet tension is still ever-present: the real core of this story is human conflict, with the Cybermen mainly acting as catalysts, leaving the excellent Robert Beattie's General Cutler to be the real threat. In fact, he's the central character of this story, and this is perhaps the finest performance from a guest artist so far. Mind you, when the Cybermen arrive things are inevitably going to ratchet up even more.

What a cliffhanger!

Part Four (Ooh!)

"This body of mine is wearing a bit thin."

Hmmm... this BBC recon is all right, but it's not as good as Loose Cannon. But at least the Doctor's back for his final bow. And once the Cybermen kill Cutler the emphasis shifts: they can stop being rubbish and start being the threat. It must be said, though, fantastic though these Cybermen may look, sound and move, their plan's a bit rubbish. Still, we know we're in trouble when one turns up in Geneva. Incidentally, I like the way they have names.

Ben's very clever here, in fact the hero of the episode. His plan with the radiation is quite inspired. And when he tells Krang (what a pretty name!) that they'll wait for Mondas to start frying, the metal man starts getting a bit, well... emotional.

Hartnell hasn't really done a lot all episode, but you've felt his presence, and his final scenes are so very powerful. I'll miss him. I've just watched all his stories and, well, he was my Doctor.

Overall, great, and I don't care about the blatant plot holes. This story reminds me of RTD: yes, the plot may be a bit dodgy in places, but the emotional beats are in the right places and there's loads of pace. And this story gave us so much iconic stuff, not all of it obvious.

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