The Tenth PlanetBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 16 January 2007 - Reviewed by Jordan Wilson

In Derek Martinus’ The Tenth Planet, we’re introduced to the ‘nefarious’ Cybermen – courtesy writers Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis – and witness The Doctor’s (William Hartnell) first regeneration.

The TARDIS materializes in 1986, within the vicinity of the South Pole Space Tracking Station; as helmed by the authoritative Gen. Cutler (Robert Beatty), and scientists like Dyson (Dudley Jones), and Barclay (David Dovimead). Naturally, “Doctor Who”, Ben Jackson (Michael Craze) and Polly Wright (the sincere Anneke Wills) have a wander, and find their bumbling selves captured, interrogated, accused, and socially accepted by the outgroup. As coincidence is the very fabric of the Who universe, the villains simultaneously appear on the scene, seeking out Earth’s resources to replenish their own planet: Mondas. This establishes the forthcoming Troughton Era’s general plot paradigm.

This could’ve been one of my favourite stories, due to the debut of the Cybermen and regeneration alone. Sadly, despite a promising premise, – if a painting-by-numbers plot – there isn’t much to it. The Cybermen - Doctor Who’s #2 alien race, in terms of popularity – aren’t used effectively enough; only appearing significantly in two episodes. Despite promising photographic stills, as published in various literature, they look pretty daft in action: karate-chopping opponents in almost exaggerated slow-motion. When they don’t move, they do look impressive… and sinister, thanks to Sandra Reid’s parsimonious costume design. Although later known to ‘regenerate’ themselves de temps en temps, the aliens are presented in their most humanoid, and subsequently unsettling ‘incarnation’ here. Their cloth masks erase the face and all observable intragroup distinction – the Cybermen have been ‘feminized’ by their technology. Their visibly human mitts trail cold, limp, and seemingly uselessly alongside their waists… Portrayed by Gregg Palmer (Shav / Gern), Reg Whitehead (Krail / Jarl), Harry Brooks (Talon / Krang), Bruce Wells, John Haines, John Slater, and John Knott – and voiced in bizarre fashion by Roy Skelton and Peter Hawkins – this race has potential. Additionally, this is one of those rare times the Cybermen actually do what is implied on the tin: act impassively, devoid of emotion! They aren’t ‘nefarious’ per se, merely driven by survival; forming an interesting parallel with Cutler’s primary motivation: ensuring his legacy’s survival. Relatedly, Terry Cutler (Cullen Angelo) reminds me loosely of Dustin Hoffman’s character in The Graduate (1967)… Foresight or hindsight?

Contextual stereotypes are both unused and applied, here: there’s a black astronaut and aide, yet Polly makes the coffee…

Wills is genuinely likeable, yet sadly not given sufficient screen-time. The rambunctious Ben, in stark contrast, is integral to eliminating the first wave of alien visitors… thanks to a dexterous contrivance utilizing a film projector!

Hartnell doesn’t get much off a send-off, mainly due to his absence in episode 3. He was a good Doctor, and it’s regrettable his illness prevented him from resuming the role in future multi-Doctor stories. I’ll particularly miss his Yoda-inspiring chuckle.

As he collapses on the TARDIS floor, his countenance inexplicably begins to glow… TV history. Next?: The Monster Doctor! **[/5]