Doctor Who: The Tenth Planet REVIEW

Doctor Who: The Tenth Planet DVD review.

Doctor Who "The Tenth Planet"

“Do you mind if I smoke?”


Release Date: 14 October 2013
1966 | PG | 94 minutes | £19.99 (DVD)
Distributor: BBC Worldwide
Director: Derek Martinus
Cast: William Hartnell, Michael Craze, Anneke Wills, Robert Beatty, David Dodimead

As Who fans’ thoughts gradually turn towards the Eleventh Doctor’s final bow, the release of William Hartnell’s last adventure seems well-timed. One thing is absolutely certain: considered purely as a regeneration story, the Christmas special will do a better job than “The Tenth Planet”.

Back in 1966, recasting the central character was an extraordinarily risky throw of the dice. What’s so surprising about Hartnell’s exit is that it’s so low-key. There’s no great fanfare, it happens abruptly, and it’s tacked onto a story in which the hero is largely sidelined. The Doctor doesn’t even appear in episode three (hurriedly written out after Hartnell collapsed), and in the opening two episodes he’s relegated to the role of an observer, upstaged by the guest characters -particularly the excellent Robert Beatty’s gruff General Cutler, commander of the South Pole mission control base where the story is set.

It’s a landmark in another respect, since it also marks the debut of the Cybermen, the creation of scientist/writer Kit Pedler. The fact that Pedler is viewed as ‘60s Who’s “scientific adviser” is bemusing, given that his scripts feature so much nonsense. Here, the Cybermen’s home planet Mondas, Earth’s “lost” twin planet, floats back into the solar system and starts draining all its energy. But why Earth has an identical twin planet, how it’s come back, and how the energy drain works are never satisfactorily explained.

Still, there’s plenty to praise. There’s palpable tension in the sequences where the base’s staff struggle to save astronauts in orbit from the disastrous effects of the power drain; the version 1.0 Cybermen, with their cloth masks, fleshy hands and weird sing-song voices, are strikingly weird; and the seriousness with which everyone treats the material impresses. In many ways, with its near-future setting (1986) and focus on military characters, “The Tenth Planet” is an early dry-run for the UNIT years.

Sadly episode four is missing from the archives; once again, this has been remedied by commissioning new animation. The results are more anime-flavoured than usual, with lots of half-face close-ups, and the likenesses are of variable quality – not the worst we’ve seen, but not the best either.

Extras:

William Hartnell doesn’t emerge from the bonuses on “The Tenth Planet” well. He’s gruff, snobbish and unendearing in a recently recovered interview with BBC Points West (three minutes), recorded while he was appearing in panto in Bristol, while Making Of “Frozen Out” (29 minutes), doesn’t flinch from addressing the awkward matter of his racial prejudice: co-star Anneke Wills declares, “[fellow companion] Michael Craze and I were ashamed for Bill.” There’s commentary on the first three episodes by Wills and five other actors, with snippets of the designer slipped in too.

Two further featurettes are disappointing; “The Golden Age” (16 minutes), presented by TV historian Dominic Sandbrook, and “Companion Piece” (24 minutes) strive to explain respectively whether Doctor Who ever had a “golden age” and the role of the companion; both are extended exercises in stating the obvious, particular whenever a psychologist rears his head in the latter to mouth platitudes and pretend he knows all about Victoria Waterfield.

Much more fun is “Boys Boys Boys”, a cute piece which brings together companions Frazer Hines, Peter Purves and (via a TV screen) Mark Strickson to share their experiences. You also get the episode four reconstruction (using soundtrack and stills) from the old VHS release, a Blue Peter clip, and the usual trivia-packed text commentary, galleries and Radio Times PDFs.

Ian Berriman twitter.com/ianberriman

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