“The Tenth Planet” is an adventure of the fourth season of “Doctor Who” classic series, which aired in 1966. It’s a four parts adventure written by Kit Pedler e Gerry Davis and directed by Derek Martinus.
The Tardis materializes in the Earth’s south pole in 1986. The First Doctor (William Hartnell), Ben (Michael Craze) and Polly (Anneke Wills) are arrested by the guards of Snowcap base, which among other things is a control center for space missions and is handling the contacts with a spacecraft in orbit. A series of strange observations worry the mission managers but that’s nothing compared to the discovery that an unknown planet is approaching the Earth.
The Doctor reveals that the mysterious planet is called Mondas and that its inhabitants will come soon to Earth but is not believed. While the spacecraft in orbit suffers a loss of energy, Snowcap base is attacked by three Cybermen, Mondas’ inhabitants who over time have replaced more and more of their bodies’ organic parts becoming cyborgs. The Cybermen want to bring the Earthlings to Mondas and make them become like them.
This DVD is rich in extras, so much that most of them are in a second DVD. There are typical contents such as production subtitles, a gallery of pictures from this adventure, the Radio Times Listings and a promo of the “Doctor Who” DVDs soon to be published.
There are various comments in the adventure episodes alternative audio track by the protagonist Anneke Wills, actors Christopher Matthews, Earl Cameron, Alan White, Donald Van Der Maaten and Christopher Dunham and designer Peter Kindred moderated da Toby Hadoke.
Frozen Out. A 29-minute documentary on the production of this adventure.
Episode 4 VHS Reconstruction. A reconstruction of the fourth episode, still missing, based on existing clips and photo associated with the audio track produced for the VHS edition.
William Hartnell Interview. A short interview with William Hartnell made in 1966.
Doctor Who Stories: Anneke Wills. An interview about 13-minute long with Anneke William from 2003 in which she talks about her playing Polly.
The Golden Age. A 15-minute documentary on the alleged “Doctor Who” golden age.
Boys! Boys! Boys! Peter Purves, Frazer Hines and Mark Strickson talk about their experiences as the Doctor’s companions in this 19-minute extra.
Companion Piece. A psychological analysis of the role of the Doctor’s companions with the participation of various actors who played them in an 24-minute extra.
Blue Peter. A clip about 9-minute long from the show “Blue Peter” about “Doctor Who” history broadcast two weeks before the show’s 10th anniversary.
Working with William Hartnell was becoming increasingly complicated because of his progressive difficulty in remembering his lines and his outbursts that made his relationships with colleagues and crew tense. The actor was beginning to suffer from what later was diagnosed as atherosclerosis but it took a long time for BBC executives to accept to change the star of “Doctor Who”. Probably an audience decline during the third season contributed to that decision.
Kit Pedler had previously worked for “Doctor Who” as a scientific adviser and discussed new ideas with its story editor Gerry Davis. The concept of a species that had developed cybernetics at such levels that they almost completely replaced their organic parts was accepted and Pedler started writing a story based on it but after a few weeks he had serious health problems and was hospitalized. Davis picked up the story and continued its development, which was finished by the both of them, who were listed as co-authors.
The change of the actor who played the Doctor was a crucial moment and the way to handle it was discussed within the show’s production staff. In the end, it was decided to exploit the fact that the Doctor was an alien by giving him the option to renew in some way his own body to rejuvenate. The term regeneration wasn’t used until several years later, when the Third Doctor regenerated into the Fourth, but a key element of the show was invented.
The budget didn’t allow to create particularly elaborate costumes for the Cybermen but the fact that they were clearly men helped to give them a sinister look. It’s in some ways a technological version of already existing monsters such as Frankenstein, let alone zombies and vampires, which turn humans just like the Cybermen want when they come to Earth.
The Cybermen represent an etreme choice to replace organic parts but also to eliminate their emotions and end up losing their humanity. For this reason, for them the end justifies any means, including the use of violence which is not so dictated by sadism but by a very cold assessment of its necessity and the benefits that may ensue.
From this point of view, the Cybermen of “The Tenth Planet” were unequaled in their following appearances because their features have become more confusing in various ways. The basic concept remained the same but they became robotic and yet at some point they became emotional.
There was a problem during the filming of “The Tenth Planet” because William Hartnell fell ill and the screenplay for the third episode had to be quickly adapted. Luckily, this contributed at least to show the Doctor’s sudden fragility. Despite these last-minute changes and the budget, I think the story works, also inaugurating the base-under-siege-type adventures.
Because of production limitations, the story takes place mainly in Snowcap base so you only see the Cybermen who land at the south pole but that’s enough to create a sense of threat and tension. Not everything works, for example the base is commanded by a general who embodies the stereotype of the American who shoots first and then ask questions, but overall I think it works.
Patrick Troughton appears only in the last seconds of “The Tenth Planet” in the regeneration scene. At that time he was already a famous actor and he was chosen for the difficult task of relaunching the show making the audience accept the change of Doctor. William Hartnell must be credited with having been crucial in bringing “Doctor Who” to his first successes.
The fourth episode of “The Tenth Planet” is among those missing and is perhaps the most sought after. A reconstruction that includes photos and short clips such as the regeneration was produced for the VHS edition and, together with a new animated version, is included in the DVD edition.
It’s difficult to give an objective judgment of an adventure that is not a normal one but represents a milestone for “Doctor Who”. Surely “The Tenth Planet” has some flaws but the Cybermen’s debut and especially the first regeneration make it a crucial story in the saga. The DVD edition with extras that in my opinion are generally good make it what I consider a must-have for fans.