The Tenth PlanetBookmark and Share

Monday, 14 October 2013 - Reviewed by Chuck Foster

The Tenth Planet SE
Written by Kit Pedler
Directed by Derek Martinus
Broadcast on BBC1: 8 - 29 Oct 1966
DVD release: 14 Oct(R2), 19 Nov (R1)
This review is based on the UK Region 2 DVD release.

This time last week, our world view of Doctor Who was quite different. Last month's Terror of the Zygons represented the end of a DVD era, as the final complete adventure was released and so from The Tenth Planet onwards we'd be looking forward to incomplete stories with animation to fill the gaps ... and then Friday midnight changed that completely! Now, we have another complete story to look forward to (The Enemy of the World), and all the excitement that entails. So, in some ways, the status of this adventure has diminished; however, that can hardly be said of the story itself.

Regardless of above, The Tenth Planet still has its 'firsts': it's the first story in the fourth production block, leading to the first credit on the show for several crew including costume designer Sandra Reid, make-up designer Gillian James, designer Peter Kindred, and production assistant Edwina Verner (and also the first time she met future husband Michael Craze!); it's the first appearance of the Cybermen, it's the first change of the show's key performer - and, of course, the first (fleeting) appearance of Patrick Troughton's Doctor.

But, of course, it is also a story of lasts, with William Hartnell delivering his final starring performance as the Doctor. It's a shame that, then, with his health declining, that it was hardly a "pull-out-all-the-stops" adventure, and Hartnell himself had to pull out of episode three due to bronchitis leading to a rapid rewrite to cover his absence. And to add insult to injury, some bright anonymous spark managed to lose the last episode, so we are almost unable to watch his final performance either (thank goodness for Blue Peter and off-air recordings that at least allow us to see his departure in the closing moments).

His departure is one of those stories of which there are many variations, with Hartnell himself giving two versions as time went on; regardless of whether he was persuaded to leave or otherwise, it is interesting to see him play the role for this final, single story of a new season. As I mentioned above, this wasn't a climatic way to go; Colin Baker famously declined to reprise his role for one final adventure after his removal from the show, but I suspect had he done so his story would have been as 'epic' as, say, Jon Pertwee's or Peter Davison's departure. Of course back then Doctor Who was almost a production line so it would just be one episode after another, with Hartnell coming back off holiday, so in many ways it would have just been 'business as usual' and not such a 'stand out' moment in the same way as Matt Smith's departure at Christmas will be. Another side-effect of this is that the following week's Troughton-led adventure was a natural progression in the series, and not the hugely jarring impact of having a "mid-season change" when The Twin Dilemma followed The Caves of Androzani!

In the scenes that he's in, however, the Doctor continues to be a dominant personality, something he would need to have been against the equally dominant General Cutler at Snowcap base. The production notes indicate that there was a mutual respect between Hartnell and Robert Beatty, and their performances complement one another nicely as a result. It's a shame we lost more of that in episode three, but at least they got to have their confrontation at the start of episode four.

Having those personalities are actually vital to the story as, otherwise, it could have been a very mundane story indeed, in spite of the involvement of the Cybermen. We basically have an attempt to save one space mission (Zeus 4) followed by an attempt to save another space mission (Zeus 5), the fates of both of which were inevitable - the destruction of one and the survival of the other - as Mondas passes through its own inevitable course of destruction as the Doctor foretold. It is Beatty's portrayal of the professional leader abusing his responsibility in order to save his son that maintained my interest, at least.

It is also one of those stories where the overall end result would have been reached without the Doctor being there at all - it is Ben's initiative to help defeat both invading Cyber-forces at the base that is of consequence. To be honest Polly didn't have to be there at all, though she did offer to make coffee - a career that would come to haunt her in future episodes!

Back to the Cybermen. I was a little dismissive of them above, which is a little unfair. They may not have been quite the central threat that they become in future adventures, but The Tenth Planet does a good job of introducing the (apparently) emotionless creatures that evolved from a dying race. Personally, I think the Mondasians look far better than the Telosian we encounter later, the balance between the mechanical and biological works well with the still-human hands and bandaged almost mummified heads - also, though it was probably a production error, the close-ups of them in pristine DVD-a-vision occasionally give the rather disturbing impression of the sunken eye sockets of a cadaverous skull as the actors' eyes were glimpsed within. Vocally, the effect of their mouths opening to emit their syncopated ministrations (thanks to the remarkable performance by Roy Skelton) also accentuates their alien qualities - though post-Rainbow I can't help imagining a cybernetic race of yellow wide-mouthed creatures (which wasn't helped by Zippy popping up in an advert just now too!).

The attempts at giving the International Space Control a truly international feel works quite well (better than in The Moonbase I felt). Earl Cameron commented on his role as a black astronaut as being quite advanced at the time; however, women still hadn't made their way into key technical roles by 1986 it seems. Having said that, there is Ellen Cullen credited as "Geneva Technician", though she managed to pass me by!

A few observations:
  • Was his blasting the Cyberman with its own weapon the first time Ben has taken a life? He certainly was quite cut up about it afterwards.
  • The description of the Z-Bomb's capabilities made me wonder if the Master inadvertently left the Time Lord files on the Uxarian's weapon behind on Earth at some point...
  • Was this the first appearance of an air duct escape in Doctor Who?
  • The Cybermen are depicted as a slow-moving, methodical race throughout - except when they end up under attack, judging by the way the last one scarpers in episode three!
  • Suits that are able to protect against radiation but not poison gas?
  • Why on Mondas do Cybermen ships have prison cells and manacles when they are all logical and wouldn't understand 'crime'?
  • At least in 1986 Mondas would still have been considered a tenth planet in the solar system!
  • "Next Week The Power Of The Daleks" - yeah, we wish!!!

Episode Four

With episode four missing presumed not in Nigeria or other African outpost, this edition presents us with an animated alternative, courtesy of Planet 55 who previously worked on The Reign Of Terror. Their distinctive anime look is still visible, though the quick-cutting points-of-view from their earlier work has been toned down here. There is still a little more inter-cutting between characters that perhaps jars a bit with the more sedately live camera scenes, but this didn't particularly bother me when watching. It was the Cybermen that niggled me slightly, as their expressions were a little more 'dynamic' than I would have expected from their 'mechanical' appearance - certainly more so than their live counterparts in the earlier episodes. I also felt the recreation of the regneration scene didn't flow as well as it could have been (and at first glance I thought it was a re-enactment of the sixth/seventh regeneration with an animated Troughton sporting a Hartnell wig!). However, those are my only reservations, really, overall I felt the animation did the episode justice, and conveys the story better than the original VHS reconstruction (which is also available on the DVD should you wish to watch that way).

The Extras

Commentary for this story are given by Anneke Wills, Gregg Palmer aka Donald Van der Maaten, Christopher Matthews, Earl Cameron, Alan White and from episode three Chris Dunham, plus some inserts with designer Peter Kindred with moderator Toby Hadoke (who continues to display his encyclopaedic knowledge of the acting profession!). The cast and crew reflect on their involvement with the story, its protagonists and of course the departure of William Hartnell. The production notes, compiled by Stephen James Walker supplement the commentaries with plenty more data than you can throw a radiation rod at, pointing out things like a continuity error with the Doctor's glasses thanks to a scene cut, the correspondence between Hartnell and director Derek Martinus, the actor's unexpected way to explain how to be an actor to Kindred, and the various versions of the his departure from the show. However, everything is squeezed into the three existing episodes, with nothing to accompany the animated fourth episode this time around.

A number of pointers from the above also crop up in the making-of feature, Frozen Out, which features anecdotes from Wills, Cameron, Kindred, Cyber-actor Reg Whitehead and vision mixer Shirley Coward. It was quite a poignant discussion of Hartnell's swan-song, and it'll be interesting to see how this is handled in the forthcoming drama An Adventure in Space and Time; however I was a bit surprised to hear Wills say that he "couldn't hack it any more" - very candid! (However, the montage of Doctors at the end was missing Peter Capaldi, reflecting the feature's production some time before Smith's successor was announced.)

Disc Two contains a number of features that are rather companion-oriented. Doctor Who Stories - Anneke Wills is an unsurprising item for this story, featuring the actress talking about her time during the show, including how her audition was against some 150 other potential Pollys and how she originally saw the role as a light-hearted "jolly" on the side as her ambitions were to be a 'serious' actress. Boys! Boys! Boys! (a - ahem - companion piece to Girls Girls! Girls! on The Romans) features a discussion between Peter Purves, Frazer Hines and Mark Stickson on how they got their roles, costume decisions, and where a male companion sits within the show against the more popular girls and the Doctor himself. Strickson participated via a screen virtually, and might well have simply been pre-recorded considering the way the interaction flowed as Hines and Purves dominated the feature with their camaraderie. Companion Piece was a more in-depth look at the role of a companion, with contributions from Nicola Bryant, Arthur Darvill, William Russell, writers Joseph Lidster and Nev Fountain, plus psychologist Dr Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic - his views on the companions' roles and their behaviour was quite an eyebrow-raiser! Even though it has been about for some nine years now, it is still a nice surprise to see the 21st Century series pop up on the 'classic' range - and especially fun to see the really early pre-return trailer with Rose, too! It was also quite lovely to see a couple of inserts with the much-missed Elisabeth Sladen.

The oddity in this set is The Golden Age, a feature in which Dominic Sandbrook rambles his way through various loosely themed facts and figures about Doctor Who in order to determine when was the best time to be a Doctor Who fan. I'm not entirely sure what this feature was really meant to prove, though it was quite interesting in presenting JNT's then-infamous "memory cheats" comment on Open Air, which is not as outrageous as it seemed some 25+ years ago, plus the equally infamous comments by then youthful writer Chris Chibnall! Ultimately, of course, it is always going to be down to the individual as to what they believe is the Golden Age - the opening quote from Jon Pertwee taken from Invasion of the Dinosaurs sums it up!

Also on the disc is an extract from the Blue Peter feature on Doctor Who's Tenth Anniversary, which is included in its entirety on The Three Doctors but presented here because of its Tenth Planet clip heritage.

Leaving the most intriguing feature til last, this DVD set also includes the only known surviving interview with William Hartnell, captured during his tour of Puss in Boots where he played Buskin the fairy cobbler. The short interview sees the actor discussing his thoughts about Daleks and how he considers the acting roles he undertakes and what he thinks of pantomimes ...


Conclusion

The Tenth Planet is a story that isn't exceptional by any means, but its significance in Doctor Who history cannot be underestimated. It introduces the fundamental mechanism by which the show has kept alive and kicking for some fifty years; it also introduces my favourite Doctor Who monster, too, so that's another positive vote as far as I'm concerned! The circumstances surrounding the missing final episode also serve to enhance its mystique, and with the recoveries this last week fuelling fervent interest in the quest to find these gems once more, you never know we might yet get to see Hartnell's final twenty-four-odd minutes in all its glory (don't hold your breath though!).

Coming Soon

Those pesky Cybermen are back, this time causing mischief for a Moonbase ... or they would have been had Salamander not resurfaced from his Nigerian bunker to be regarded as The Enemy of the World ...




The TV Movie at the BFIBookmark and Share

Sunday, 6 October 2013 - Reviewed by Anthony Weight
For the previous screenings in the British Film Institute’s monthly Doctor Who 50th anniversary events, there has been some degree of choice for the organisation in which story it selects to celebrate the era of each particular Doctor. While it’s true that every era of the show has a small gaggle of stories held up as classics by a large portion of fandom, there have still always been options. Not so, however, for Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor. The man who once described himself as “the George Lazenby of the Time Lords” is represented by only a single entry in the televised history of Doctor Who – the 1996 TV Movie, which brought the programme back from the dead after seven years, but failed to lead to the new US network series that the team behind it had been hoping for.

That said, McGann’s sole outing on-screen wasn’t the initial focus of this event, which – unlike the others in the series that I have attended – began with a discussion panel before the showing, which kicked off at 10am, with much apology from host Justin Johnson that we’d all had to get up to early on a Saturday to be there! The first panel was a discussion and celebration of something the sheer level of which may be unique to Doctor Who – the plethora of fan-originated professional spin-off media that carried the flame of the series during the long years the TV show was off-air, both before and after McGann’s sole outing.

Dick Fiddy, Johnson’s co-host at all of these BFI events, expertly and deftly guided a panel consisting of Seventh Doctor script editor Andrew Cartmel, Big Finish’s Nick Briggs, Jason Haigh-Ellery and Gary Russell, BBC Books novel editor Justin Richards and non-fiction author and former Doctor Who Magazine co-editor Marcus Hearn. Cartmel more seemed to be there because he wasn’t able to attend the Seventh Doctor event back in August, and unlike the others on the panel didn’t come up through fandom and the fanzine world, but he did write for both the novel ranges of the 1990s and for Big Finish, and had interesting things to say about what were being somewhat jokingly referred to as “the wilderness years.”

While you might perhaps think that such a panel could be a little dry, the conversation was free-flowing and, for me, fascinating, and it was interesting to hear the opinions on display about the years when Doctor Who was very much a non-mainstream, cult property, being made by fans, for fans in terms of books and audio dramas. Some of the panel even admitted that they never really thought Doctor Who would ever return to television, although of course all were delighted when it did.

The panel was enjoyable and informative, perhaps the most so among all those I’ve seen at the BFI, and I was surprised to find it had gone on for as long as 45 minutes. If anything was missing it was perhaps any real discussion of Virgin Books’ output during the 1990s, although Russell did acknowledge what an important contribution they had made in originating the careers of writers who went on through BBC Books, Big Finish and in some cases onto the TV series itself. But it was an organic discussion, you can’t plan to include each and every thing, and there was only so much time available.

It was a small surprise that the TV Movie wasn’t then formally introduced – after the panel had finished and the chairs were removed from the stage, the lights went down… Then briefly up again, then down again, then the movie started – hopefully not catching anybody out who’d taken the opportunity to nip to the toilet!

I hadn’t watched the film for eight years – the last time I did so being just before the series returned back in 2005. But it was still very familiar, as I’d watched it repeatedly when it originally came out in the 1990s, when I was 12 years old and the return of Doctor Who, even sadly briefly, was one of the most exciting things I could ever remember having happened. I think fandom in general is a lot more relaxed about the TV movie these days. Before it was made there was anxiety and paranoia that it would be a heavily “Americanised” version of the show, and after it had come and gone much wailing and gnashing of teeth about its failings and the fact it didn’t lead to a full series. Now, with Doctor Who having been back on television for several years as a great success, we don’t have to be quite to worried about what it did or didn’t do, and we can just enjoy it for what it is. Flawed, indeed, but still with some great moments of humour and charm.

Indeed, for a production that was being pulled in so many different directions – by the BBC, by the Fox Network who were broadcasting it in the US, by Universal who were producing it, by Philip Segal as the Doctor Who-loving producer behind it – perhaps the most surprising thing about it is just how good it is. If it had been as big a mess as the process of getting it made was, then goodness only knows what we’d have seen on-screen.

Talking of being on-screen, while still strictly in standard definition format (no high definition version exists, nor is one ever likely to unless someone tracks down the original film elements and rebuilds it all from scratch) the fact it was made on 35 mm film means it scrubs up very nicely, possibly the best of the any of the three BFI showings I have attended. It was also the full original US edit, not the slightly cut BBC One version, meaning we got to see just exactly what happened to Chang Lee’s mates (they didn’t make it, in case you didn't know!) and also hear the Seventh Doctor’s rather undignified final scream.

Following a very brief break (during which I did manage, with many others, to make a lightning dash to the toilet, before causing a minor inconvenience to Andrew Cartmel and the others sitting in my row as I made my way back to my seat!), we were onto the panel discussing the actual film itself. Philip Segal wasn’t in attendance, and there was no note read out from him as there had been from other high-profile figures who’ve been unable to attend previous screenings – I’m sure the BFI asked him along, of course, but doubtless living in the US made it difficult. However, someone who also lives across the Atlantic, and got a huge round of applause when it was announced she’d made the trip specially, is Daphne Ashbrook. Indeed, the actress seemed rather overwhelmed by the huge round of applause she received, perhaps even bigger than that given to her co-star in the film – the Eighth Doctor himself, Paul McGann.

Ashbrook and McGann were joined by the film’s director, Geoffrey Sax, for another enjoyable and convivial session, answering questions from Justin Johnson and, later, the audience – including me! I was brave enough to finally pluck up the courage to put a question at one of these events, and I’m glad I did as asking Sax whether he’d ever been invited to come back to Doctor Who by Julie Gardner (with whom he worked on the ITV Othello in 2001) or any other of the post-2005 production team prompted the revelation that he’d actually been invited by Gardner to direct the very first block of filming for Christopher Eccleston’s series back in 2005. He also said that after working with Matt Smith on the BBC drama Christopher and his Kind a couple of years ago, Smith had secured him an invitation to direct one of the Christmas specials. However, he was busy on both occasions, so has still to return to Doctor Who. As, of course, has Paul McGann, and I was surprised that nobody asked him the big question about whether he has even a cameo role in the forthcoming 50th anniversary special. The special was mentioned – with McGann suggesting that speculation about who is going to be in it even beats “Who’s going to be the next Doctor?” speculation these days – and someone asked him about a Tweet he’d recently made talking about Matt Smith and voiceover work, but nobody put the question itself outright – which I thought showed remarkable restraint!

Much of the discussion during the panel would have been familiar to anyone who has read the making-of book by Segal and Gary Russell, or seen the documentary on the DVD re-release of the movie, which Ashbrook herself spoke of recently having seen and been astonished by just how much effort it took to get the thing made. Ashbrook indeed seems to have been on something of a mission to discover Doctor Who in her years since appearing in it, when she had no knowledge of the show at all – she was even able to name-check Patrick Troughton when discussing favourite Doctors, and said how she still misses Amy and Rory from the current series! Her best story, however, was of returning in 2010 to the house in Vancouver which was used as the location of Grace’s apartment in the film. The same couple who’d owned it back in 1996 still lived there, and gave her a copy of a photo taken with her and McGann back when the film was being made.

McGann himself was most fascinating when revealing some of the tentative discussions he’d had with Segal about how the Doctor and the series might have developed had the movie been more successful Stateside. He was very clear that the appearance of the Eighth Doctor was not what he’d wanted, and he’d wanted a look and a costume much more akin to what Eccleston eventually got – a look McGann jokingly referred to as “the bin man!” He also confirmed that, had Russell T Davies offered him the chance to star in the 2005 series instead of Eccleston, he’d certainly have come back as the Doctor for that run.

Overall, it was nice to see a group still so pleased and proud of their association with Doctor Who, despite its brevity and its not leading to a full series. McGann remains a Doctor cheated out of exploring his full potential as the character, on screen at least, but I’m pleased he was here for his day in the sun at the BFI. These monthly celebrations continue to be hugely enjoyable, and I’m very glad I’ve been able to attend some of them – it seems such a shame they’re coming to an end soon, as the 50th anniversary reaches its climax. Can’t we just carry on and keep having one every month ad infinitum…? Please, BFI…?
Paul Hayes