Friday, September 16, 2005

'The Tenth Planet'

4 episodes: 3 surviving

Or, the famous debut story of the Cybermen and the last of the First Doctor's era. I effectively watched four episodes, but as the last was a 'recon' it's technically only three. Of all the Doctor Who adventures left incomplete today by the tape-wiping of the 1970s, this is the only story where just a single missing episode would complete the whole serial; and maybe for this reason the lost fourth part of 'The Tenth Planet' is held in almost mythical regard - although, from the audio soundtrack and reconstruction using still photos and scant seconds of film, despite its significance in the canon it seems not to actually have been that great in comparison with the rest of the serial. The strength of the story lies more in its first three episodes: the superb snowbound landscape scenes at the South Pole; the appearance of the Cybermen; the terrible backstory given by the silver giants to their present state; the mini-dramas in the space capsule, its offscreen demise lent poignancy by this only being conveyed by a silent white video screen; the second capsule with the son onboard of the General at the Pole, caught between military action and paternal concern. The last part, in contrast, is a little formulaic as the goodies find the baddies' weakness and exploit it, then Mondas blows up. Exactly how it was 'draining energy' from the Earth is never satisfactorily explained, nor how its continents look the same after millions of years apart, nor how the whole planet has been piloted across the Solar System (shame the Daleks of 'The Dalek Invasion of Earth' didn't talk to them - could've saved them a whole lot of bother), but I guess in the long run these can be glossed over. The Cyberman Krang (was this the only time they had names?) has a bizarre sing-song intonation that sounds remarkably like the Dalek Supreme a few stories back - this is explained when the credits come up and you realise that both voices were provided by Roy Skelton, a multi-time Who voice artist/walk-on-part man, who also famously voiced the non-humans in kids' classic Rainbow... which also explains why both sound quite a lot like Zippy... The credits are marvellous, actually: they have another unique look for this story, with blurring rows of numbers flickering into cast and crew names; there is a kind of fittingly stark beauty to it. The cliffhanger at the end of the third episode also deserves praise, with the tense countdown sequence for the Z-bomb rocket reaching zero in perfect time to segue straight into the credits.

One more thing this story does do well is the rare feat of making it feel like a worldwide catastrophe: the use of foreign astronauts and scientists and the Geneva HQ help to spread the reach of the drama beyond the Home Counties (as cliché would so often have it), and make it almost feel for stretches like you're watching a film. In a way, this effect is helped by the fact that the regulars don't have an enormous amount to do, with the Doctor worst affected. Ironically, the real-life illness of William Hartnell caused him to miss his own final intact episode: but this reinforces the on-camera deterioration of the Doctor, who has complained that his old body is "wearing a bit thin". He then spends much of the final part imprisoned on the Cybership with Polly, and when Ben releases them he staggers to the TARDIS, collapses to the floor and is suffused with a bright white light. His face blurs and changes, and a momentous occurrence in Doctor Who history has taken place - the first regeneration.


Episodes watched: 89
Episodes still to watch: 633

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