Doctor Who: The Tenth Planet
1986, Snowcap Base, Antarctica. The base, led by General Cutler (Robert Beatty) faces the threat of an alien planet, Mondas, which has entered the solar system and is draining energy from Earth. And behind this, are the Cybermen,...
I write this as Doctor Who's fiftieth anniversary is in sight. We generally define Classic Who as 1963 to 1989, with the 1996 TV Movie as an in-continuity pendant. New Who, 2005 onwards, while it has more and more referred back to the show's past, was a new beast, aiming at a new audience and as we know, it succeeded. But if you look at the twenty-six-year original run, there are fracture points. I've argued that the original show ended and a new one began in the six months between The War Games and Spearhead from Space: the move from black and white to colour, from a year-round to a half-year recording and broadcasting schedule, the set up of the Doctor's exile to Earth and the only point in the whole run where the entire recurring cast was replaced.
But there is another fracture point, where the series rebooted itself. It's less able to be appreciated because the final episode of the present serial and the entirety of the next, The Power of the Daleks are missing from the archives. This is the point where with the stepping down of the lead actor this show could have ended after three successful years, and Who would be no more and no less than a show from the 1960s, fondly remembered by those who saw it, and maybe released on DVD for the same audience who normally buy cult and vintage television on disc. But of course in this timeline that didn't happen. William Hartnell was only fifty-eight, but was beginning to show the early signs of arteriosclerosis that would curtail his acting career (which more or less ended a few years after Who, his final appearance in The Three Doctors notwithstanding). However he had becoming increasingly irascible and troublesome. The previous producer, John Wiles, had tried to persuade Hartnell to step down, but Hartnell had gone over his head and had ensured he stayed. However, incoming producer Innes Lloyd finally did manage to talk Hartnell into resigning the role, and the concept of regeneration, into a twelve-year-younger actor, Patrick Troughton, was brought into being...and that is why we are still watching the show today. Because this serial was so pivotal, it hurts that it is not complete, and that's the reason why the fourth episode made its way into the BFI's top ten of missing television programmes. It's still AWOL as of this writing, so check your attic.
The Tenth Planet was written by Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis. Davis, the show's then script editor, is only credited on episodes three and four and both men have their names misspelled on one episode each. Pedler was a distinguished scientist, brought in to give the show a little more scientific rigour. Also, the story was intended to bring in a new chief recurring villain, as the show was facing the prospect of the Daleks no longer being available: Terry Nation, Dalek creator and co-rights-owner was trying to develop a separate Dalek series and they had just embarked on a cinema career. Enter the Cybermen. They have had design modifications since: in this first iteration, their faces are cloth masks, they have organic hands, and Roy Skelton's odd syncopated voice delivery was not continued. Peter Hawkins, who shares voice duties with Skelton in the fourth episode, returned as a Cyber voice for the Doctor's return matches with the Cyber hordes in the 1960s. But, like the soon-to-be-introduced Ice Warriors played by six-foot-plus actors inside the costumes, they are suitably imposing and remain second to the Daleks as the show's most iconic monsters.
In many ways, The Tenth Planet anticipates the incoming Doctor's stories. Obeying the unities of time (it takes place over one day) and mostly set in one location, this story establishes the base-under-siege storyline that featured much in the next few years. There's a more adult tone to it: less fanciful, harder-edged – and check out the pin-ups on a barrack-room wall. Hartnell is less in evidence: you could argue that General Cutler is the real protagonist of this story rather than the Doctor. Hartnell does not appear in Episode Three at all due to illness, so Gordon Craig doubled him briefly and his lines were redistributed between Ben, Polly and others. Derek Martinus makes this a pacy hour and a half. Before Star Trek even started, this serial has a noticeably multinational and multiethnic cast, with the base being run by a Canadian, and the astronauts being a Bermudan of colour and an Australian.
Ben and Polly are hard companions to call, as to this day their only complete serial is their first, The War Machines, and they were to be written out shortly in the next season. Ben gets to some action scenes but Polly, though not here the screamer her character became, has less to do. Paul Grice later wrote a short story, “Mondas Passing”, in which a twenty-year-older Ben and Polly meet up on New Year's Eve 1986 just as their younger selves were battling the Cybermen in the Antarctic. The Tenth Planet changed Michael Craze's life in another way: production assistant Edwina Verner playfully threw polystyrene snow at him, unfortunately causing a reaction due to recent surgery on his nose. They married: he died in 1998, she a year later.
2 Entertain's release of The Tenth Planet comprises two dual-layered discs. Disc One is encoded for Region 2 and Disc Two for Regions 2 and 4. Both discs have optional audio-descriptive menus. Because of the differing format of Episode Four to the other three, the serial's Play All option splits the story into two titles, running 70:00 and 24:37.
Other than some prefilming on 16mm at Ealing Studios (the snowy exteriors), The Tenth Planet was entirely studio-bound, shot on 405-line black and white video at Riverside Studios. The aspect ratio of the DVD transfers is 1.33:1 as you would expect from television of the time. The serial was broadcast from two-inch quad videotapes, but these were wiped in due course, no later than 1969. However, 16mm telerecordings of all four episodes were made for overseas sales. Copies of the first three still existed in the BBC's library at the point where the BBC redefined its archiving policy in 1978, but Episode Four at some point was sadly lost. The 30-second regeneration clip survives due to its inclusion in Blue Peter's tenth-anniversary feature. There are off-air soundtracks recorded by fans, and an Australian fan filmed small clips from the final episode by aiming his 8mm camera at his TV screen. Also, telesnaps – still photographs taken during the broadcast, commissioned as a record of the production by the director or other crewmembers – exist for all four episodes. More of those later. As has been the practice for 2 Entertain's releases of incomplete serials, Episode Four is reconstructed in animated form, with the off-air soundtrack. The three surviving episodes have been restored from the 16mm telerecordings and VidFIREd. As always, given the circumstances these look as good as they are ever likely to, even bearing in mind that televisions nowadays are much larger and less forgiving than those of 1966.
The soundtrack is the original mono, also cleaned up and restored. Hard-of-hearing subtitles are available for the episodes and all the extras except the commentary. The information subtitles are the work of Stephen James Walker this time round. These are featured on the first three episodes only and because of that there's a sense of having to fit a four-parter's worth of information into a smaller space – particularly noticeable in the third episode, much of which is devoted to Hartnell's departure and the remainder of his career and life. That said, these are up to the usual standards, giving us information on the inception and production of the story, the cast and bloopers and similar trivia. I don't know why more DVDs, not just those of archive television, don't have a feature like this.
Similarly, the commentary only features on the first three episodes. Toby Hadoke moderates a larger than normal chat cast. This features Anneke Wills, supporting cast members Christopher Matthews (the radar technician), Donald van der Maaten (who, billed as Gregg Palmer, played Cybermen Shav and Gern), Alan White (astronaut Schultz), Earl Cameron (ninety-four years old at time of recording, ninety-six and still acting as of this writing, who played astronaut Williams). Alan White and Earl Cameron do not appear on the third episode's commentary but the others are joined by Christopher Dunham, who played the R/T technician. On all three episodes, comments from the designer Peter Kindred are edited in. This is a very engaging conversation, ably moderated by Hadoke and everyone gets to say their piece, especially when consider that the participants are relying on forty-five-year-old memories.
“Frozen Out” (29:11) is the making-of documentary, featuring many of the commentary participants. This is, as you might expect from similar documentaries on other Who discs, a solid runthrough of the story from start to finish. Anneke Wills was the new girl on set, this being only her third story, and she is outspoken about how difficult Hartnell was to work with. He had resisted leaving but his declining health forced him to leave. Gerry Davis is given the credit for coming up with the regeneration idea.
Also on the disc is the reconstruction of Episode Four that appeared on the VHS release of The Tenth Planet (24:23). This is made up of the telesnaps, the off-air 8mm film clips, the regeneration scene (which had been telecined for Blue Peter from a 16mm telerecording) and explanatory captions where necessary, all played to the off-air soundtrack. There is also a self-navigating stills gallery (3:40) and the Radio Times listings in PDF format. These are preceded by a brief article from the same magazine, which highlights Robert Beatty's participation. Beatty gets second billing in the listings themselves, above Anneke Wills and Michael Craze, with the cast listed in the usual order-of-appearance way. At the end, a “Next Week in Radio Times” cutting trails the reappearance of the Daleks, apparently a bigger draw than a new Doctor, it seemed. Finally on Disc One is a trailer for the forthcoming DVD of the Doctor's return match with the Cybermen, The Moonbase, which will include animated reconstructions of its two missing episodes.
If the extras on Disc One were specific to The Tenth Planet, those on Disc Two are more general. It begins with a recently discovered interview with William Hartnell, conducted in his dressing room as he appeared in panto in Puss in Boots (in which he made his entrance from a police box to the accompaniment of the Who theme). An opening caption indicates that this interview was conducted for the BBC regional magazine Points West and this (3:19 in total) is what remains of it, presented unedited. Hartnell seems to be in denial about his circumstances, claiming not to be “brassed off” at his departure from Who and stating that the actor's job is to make a success of something else. He also bites the hand that fed him by saying that his future is not in pantomime and that the form is not “legitimate” for a character actor like himself and that he leaves the business of his career to his manager, as he lacks the necessary patience himself. Given this material's rarity, it's a fascinating glimpse of Hartnell the man rather than the actor, though the picture it gives is not an overall likeable one.
Anneke Wills has her turn in the spotlight in the latest “Doctor Who Stories” (13:40), made up from interviews conducted in 2003. She was one of a hundred and fifty actresses auditioned for the role of Polly, which Wills didn't know at the time, seeing the part as an interesting one though she saw herself as more of a dramatic actress at the time. She agrees that her character screamed too much, to the point where her children wondered if Mummy would be coming home that night. Her husband, Michael Gough, who had acted in The Celestial Toymaker, warned her about Hartnell's difficulty. She found Troughton much easier to work with. Troughton was a practical joker, but one of hers and Michael Craze's backfired: they appeared on set with T-shirts saying “Come Back Bill Hartnell, All is Forgiven”, a joke that fell distinctly flat with Troughton. She also describes the monsters she faced, especially the Cybermen and the Daleks.
We're told that golden ages are around the age of fourteen, and of course Who is not what it used to be... Dominic Sandbrook investigates in “The Golden Age” (15:50), first by bringing out the viewing figures and appreciation index, and highs and lows notwithstanding they are fairly consistent. The AI is actually higher for New Who than Old Who. We also get John Nathan-Turner excusing his era of Who by claiming that older viewers have rose-tinted memories, an opinion that a run of VHS and now DVD releases has disabused most people of. Also, a young Chris Chibnall (later to write for New Who and produce Torchwood, not forgetting his writing of Broadchurch) on a 1986 edition of Open Air suggesting the show could become much more adult than it was. Yes, Sandbrook says, the show could be silly and it could be grown up too, and discusses changes in style made by complaints about violence and general suitability for children. This shows signs of having been in the can for a while: the ratings figures only go up to “The Wedding of River Song”and the clip from The Mind of Evil is in black and white. Sandbrook also makes one factual error: the shortest-ever Who episode, all of eighteen minutes long, was episode five of The Mind Robber, not the first. The golden age of Doctor Who is, Sandbrook concludes, all of it.
There have been two “Girls! Girls! Girls!” featurettes on past DVDs, one covering the 1960s and the other the 1970s, but now it's time for “Boys! Boys! Boys!” (19:34). There's just the one featurette this time, reflecting that male companions were in the minority over the series's run. Peter Purves, Frazer Hines and (on a video link) Mark Strickson chew the fat over their experiences of being in the show, from their casting to their departure and their afterlife, though Purves is almost certainly better remembered nowadays as a Blue Peter presenter than as a Who companion.
As a companion piece to that companion piece, we have “Companion Piece” (24:25). This is a discussion of the companion's role with several of the actors and actresses who played them, including Nicola Bryant, Arthur Darvill (bearded) and William Russell. There are also contributions from a psychologist, who compares companions who go off adventuring in time and space and the unknown with people who apply to go on reality TV shows.
On 5 November 1973, Blue Peter devoted a feature to the tenth anniversary of Doctor Who and this then nine-year-old was watching. The full version of this previously appeared in the Special Edition of The Three Doctors (released as part of the Revisitations 3 box set, review linked to above) and this version (9:06) is minus the introduction featuring the then Doctor Jon Pertwee arriving in the studio in the Whomobile. Peter Purves takes centre stage, presenting several clips from the previous decade of the show, inclusing some from episodes now lost, including a sizeable clip of himself from “The Traitors” (episode four of The Daleks' Master Plan)...and the regeneration clip from the end of the current serial. Blue Peter has a far higher survival rate than most other programmes of its time, and the fact that this edition still exists on its original 625-line videotape is the reason why we still have the regeneration sequence at all. And of course, if Who had ended when Hartnell left, Blue Peter would not have been celebrating the show's anniversary and forty years after that nor would we.
This way to the Digital Fix Doctor Who: 50th Anniversary Podcast, featuring Rob Bayley, Mike Sutton, John White and myself.
Last updated: 31/05/2018 00:01:28