The Tenth PlanetBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 16 January 2007 - Reviewed by Robert Tymec

"The Tenth Planet", whether it likes it or not, is a pivotal story in the history of the series. I use a term like "whether it likes it or not" because I'm pretty sure the production team, at the time, had little or no idea just how important this story would be. In their minds, they were probably just trying to shoot a good little action/adventure with a neat plot contrivance at its end that would write out its ill lead actor. They seem to have no idea that this story would not only set in place a crucial element of the show's format, it would also introduce one of the most popular monsters the show would ever see. 

And that's part of what makes The Tenth Planet such a good story. Oftentimes, deliberate attempts to make things grandiose fail miserably on television. I flinch when I hear terms like "season finale" used to describe an upcoming episode. For the plain and simple reason that good storytelling should not depend on when the story is placed within the context of a series. It should just be a good story. And the fact that this particular tale is slotted second in a new season (rather than placed at the end of a season as most other regeneration stories were) is a good indicator already that this is the production team's genuine intent.

So, did their earnestness pay off? 

I'd like to think so. If nothing else, it's a somewhat revolutionary tale in context of the series. We go into the slightly far-flung future in Tenth Planet. And, unlike the UNIT tales of the 70s where we're never a hundred percent sure whether or not these are present-tense adventures, it's clearly established by having the characters see a calendar on the wall that the year is 1986. And, anal fanboy that I am, I'm always glad when an episode states the year clearly like that. It just makes chronology so much easier! Now, because we're definitely in the future, some very clear attempts are made to depict this. International teams and successful space programs run abound in this tale. Along with special bombs and high-tech computers. Of course, many of these predictions are wildly inaccurate - but it's still nice to see the series making a genuine attempt to create an interesting future for our world. It's a bit like what the classic Star Trek series tried to do - but without hitting you quite so hard over the head with it! In Tenth Planet, the conventions are all there but its main intent still focusses more on trying to tell us the latest action tale in Doctor Who rather than portraying highly controversial inter-racial kisses and suchlike! And it was good that the story kept this focus. Cause there is some crackling good action in this tale. Particularly since it was made on the usual shoe-string budget.

There are, of course, many conventions present in the plot that would become quite standard for the show. Particularly in the future stories Pedler and Davis would pen. We have the leader of an important operation creating a plot conflict because of his personality flaws. We have the multi-racial crew (who, often times, are portraying insultingly bad stereotypes). And, of course, the notorious "base under seige" premise. We even have women making coffee! But all these are being seen for the first time in this story and that's what makes it so revolutionary. The show has never really quite gone in these directions before and it's great fun to watch it "dip its toe in the pool" during this story.

Of course, some of the conventions it explores never really get used again. Even though the drama created in those conventions was quite effective to watch. Both the sequences aboard the rocket ship and the U.N. office make for some interesting drama. Especially when you consider how simplistic they are. Especially the stuff with the two astronauts. I mean, really, they're just two guys sitting in chairs with a few moving props and some shaky cameras and mood music. And yet, we feel their struggle and get emotionally involved with it. And, even with Cybermen and regeneration affecting the impact of this story - those two poor schmucks stuck up in space when Mondas comes along is one of the things that remains indelibly stamped in my memory when I think of this tale. Some well-executed drama there. 

The other extremely memorable aspect of this story, outside of the obvious first regeneration and first Cybermen appearance, is General Cutler. He tends to work just as much for the story as against. He's a hard-ass with some interesting undertones to him. And his portrayal is very effective in conveying that. But, unlike the leader of operations that we see in the Moonbase, he needed a bit more reigning in sometimes. Cutler does get a tad too "hammed up" in places and we have a hard time believing someone so unstable would be allowed to run such an important base. Still, overall, he's a highly effective element of the story. His character carries a lot of weight on his shoulders. And he does it quite well.

But what about some of the stuff the story is truly remembered for? Is the regeneration as good as the nostalgia surrounding it? Do the Cybermen really inspire menace in their first appearance? The answer, in my opinion, is a resounding "yes" to the first question and a somewhat less resounding "yes" to the latter. 

The costumes given to the Cybermen are very quickly scrapped and re-invented for the next story they're featured in. This was definitely a good move. Though the costumes aren't complete crap, they are as silly-looking as they are chilling. If nothing else, those chestplates are far too cumbersome! And the voices are changed too. Another move that I felt was smart. The weird warble and "unusual lip action" (as Colin Baker described it in "The Early Years") also work as much against the Cybermen as they do for. 

But their on-screen impact is still very strong, overall. And their cold logic is in great evidence. Which is still the strongest impression they make in this story. They are here to wipe out the Earth in order to maintain their survival. There is no desire to gloat or conquer. They're just doing what they do and nothing more. And this is what makes them far scarier than most of the monsters the show has introduced us to over the years. In fact, I'd even go so far to say that I like the Cybermen just a teensy bit better than the Daleks. Cause, if nothing else, it does seem as though much greater thought went into their conception. Hats off to Pedler for that. He came up with a great idea and fleshed it out well. 

As for the Doctor's first regeneration. Well, fan reaction to this seems to divide into two camps. One seems upset that Hartnell wasn't given more involvement in the story since this is his swan song. Especially since he spends all of episode three unconscious. The other camp feels this was a good idea since it really conveys the weakness his imminent regeneration is causing in him. I'm a member of the second camp. The First Doctor is dying, and the focus should've been placed on that rather than getting him to single-handledly save the universe like he did in Logopolis or participate in a twenty minute car chase like in Planet of Spiders. Those elements work okay in the context of those stories, don't get me wrong. But here, the Doctor is simply regenerating cause his body has worn out and portraying that is far more important than making him a superhero. And it makes those last few minutes in the console room highly dramatic. Even a bit touching. 

So, to me, The Tenth Planet does classify very well as a classic tale. Not just because of what happens in it but because its execution is, overall, highly effective. Even more so, the fact that it doesn't really seem to be trying to be a classic makes it even more enjoyable. It's a good story first. And a pivotal point in the series, second. And those priorities get it to rise above some of the more "intentional" classics the series has produced.

FILTER: - Television - Second Doctor - Series 4

The Tenth PlanetBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 16 January 2007 - Reviewed by Ed Martin

Sorry for stating the obvious, but The Tenth Planet is one of the five most important stories the show ever did, along with 100 000 B.C., The Daleks, The War Games and The Deadly Assassin (just my list, by the way, feel free to make your own). The reason I mention it is that it’s the worst story of those five: it’s frequently viewed as one of the programme’s most enduring classics but for my money it undershoots ever so slightly. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a strong story and better than the other Doctor’s swan songs bar The War Games and The Caves Of Androzani, but it’s not made of gold. Part of the reason for this was out of the production’s hands and I’ll deal with that later; equally though Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis weren’t quite the writing team yet that made the razor-sharp The Tomb Of The Cybermen, and Davis doesn’t quite do Pedler’s idea justice. That said, it’s still a very good story when not viewed in the context of its slightly inflated reputation. Most of the criticisms are levelled against the second half though, so it gets off to a very strong start.

It begins with some above average stock footage that for once doesn’t look like it was found in a cesspit and some unique titles. They are the only really well made ones of all the specially made titles too, not being tedious, amusingly dated or fit-inducing. However, their inability to spell the writers’ names correctly does give them a certain amateurish, home-made feel.

This is a rare example of a depiction of the future that isn’t half bad, with ordinary dress (we’d have to wait until Planet Of Evil before we got spacesuits with shoulder pads and flares) and a multinational crew of the polar base (a Pedler / Davis trademark). However, I have to hand it to The Discontinuity Guide: they are right to point out that it is an all-male cast save for Polly and Wigner’s secretary (whose one line, “toot sweet”, leads me to wonder how seriously she was taking it). In fact, I should expand on this by pointing out that in all three of their collaborations the writers show women making coffee. It wouldn’t be until The Wheel In Space that a woman would be seen in a position of genuine authority in a Cyberman story. I’m no feminist, but…

The swirly incidental music seems a bit melodramatic now and is the kind of thing I’d expect to find on a comedy programme, although this does have the first use of the awesome Cyberman theme. The girly pictures on the wall of the sleeping quarters are really quite radical for the time (although they don’t do Pedler and Davies any favours), and Tito is stereotyped in the extreme: I wince at every “Mama Mia!” he screams. William Hartnell performs well in this story, belying his illness. Ben and Polly are also good and were a very strong duo, although the hero / damsel in distress characterisations date them badly. Still, they’re a good looking, fun pair and it’s a shame so little of their time survives.

It’s right that a police box wouldn’t be recognised in 1986 (no one was watching Doctor Who by then, you see). The story is generally well-directed although there are more boom mike shadows than usual. The tracking room is an impressive set and location of some very dramatic scenes, although at this stage I’m wondering why the American Sergeant is suddenly their best friend. The moon landing description was an in joke made funnier by future events, although the idea that it would still be continuing in 1986 was strangely optimistic.

The plot’s a latecomer in this story, with the first episode being almost half over before anything other than initial scene setting happens. It’s a great, enigmatic start though, with a mysterious force affecting the crew of a space craft. What could it be? Nigel Kneale’s lawyers would very much like to know. Even in 1966 though the idea of Mondas not being detected until it had almost clonked into Earth like a cue ball is hard to credit and an early example of the flaws in Pedler’s and Davis’s embryonic writing partnership, and the fact that everyone is arguing about whether the continents match Earth when really the planet is simply Earth upside down makes me sometimes feel that this story works better on audio from the start (not to mention that it’s scientific nonsense, which Dr. Pedler should have known). Barclay goes over the plot points in very simple, childish logic (“do you suppose that massive planet might have something to do with the mysterious gravitational anomalies?”), but “we must get them down!” is a dramatic line well delivered by David Dodimead. It’s also interesting that the Doctor knows of Mondas already: it is implied in The Five Doctors that the Cybermen where tried out in the Death Zone in the ancient histories of Gallifrey…[pause while head is removed from backside]…it’s nice how these things unintentionally interlock, isn’t it? (The Tenth Planet and The Five Doctors by the way, not my head and…oh never mind).

The modelwork is good (better than The Moonbase’s), and the Cybermen’s introduction is terrific, with three mysterious figures coming out of the snow, initially too far away to be seen clearly. The final pan up the arm is also good, even if the Cybermen in close up do look a little silly. The only real sore point is the way they shed their cloaks but pause dramatically before killing the humans, which just looks cheesy.

The first scene with the Cybermen is well written, dramatic and possibly the most important of the story (barring the regeneration scene) as it establishes backstory that makes the Cybermen such good monsters, and also that plays a significant role in most subsequent stories featuring them. Here is the major problem with them though: their costumes, while innovative, are cumbersome and too delicate to be practical meaning that they are largely reduced to standing around talking. Their voices, while original and unique, do get irritating after a while. The idea of their mouths hanging open while the words stream out is brilliant, but the synchronisation is off a bit. One of their best features however is technically a goof: the actors’ eyes can be seen behind the black gauze, making it appear that their vestiges of their human form are trapped beneath far more effectively than David Banks’s silly silver chin in Earthshock. However, in terms of visuals the sellotape round their heads thoroughly torpedoes their credibility. What really makes them here is their motivation: they are interested only in their survival, not conquest like their caricatured 1980s versions. Their total lack of malice makes them all the scarier; this is what led to their downfall in their colour stories. The Cyberman’s line of “that was really most unfortunate” seems a bit out of character with their later versions (but David Banks’s book Cybermen justifies this excellently. No pun intended.).

Locked up, Ben talks to himself: an example of poor writing, where they can only get a character out of trouble by having him exhibit signs of insanity in order to advance the plot. Davis might have been a good script editor for quality producer Innes Lloyd, but at this stage he struggled a bit when (co) helming an entire story. Also, the Cyberman’s intolerance to light undermines their claim to physical superiority somewhat.

The destruction of the spaceship shows the power of understatement. Cutler’s son affects the plot only indirectly, instead being important mainly for the purposes of characterisation. It does turn General Cutler into an ‘insane leader’ cliché though (okay so I ripped that off The Discontinuity Guide as well, but a good point is a good point). The cliffhanger to part two also shows the importance of dialogue and radar screen in Doctor Who, making things that could never be shown – it also shows how effective it can be, and the power of the imagination (although I don’t call that a formation).

Episode three is where it really starts to falter. While a lot of this is down to Hartnell’s illness and so not something I should really criticise, I can’t get away from the fact that it does affect the story regardless of the lack of blame. For example, Barclay’s sudden acquisition of a backbone points to a very fast rewrite that didn’t have time to iron out the wrinkles. There are lots of minor fluffs in this episode, as the cast struggle with lines they have had to learn and rehearse too quickly. 

The Z-Bomb would be extremely poor if it was actually used; instead through its underuse it becomes an effective, omnipresent threat in the name of a saviour. Even given this though the episode is still very much an episode three, filling the gap betweens set up and climax. The Cybermen, for example, are superfluous and only in it to fulfil some sort of need to have them in the episode no matter what. There are some good stunts though, particularly Ben falling over the barrier. The countdown to launch is a good moment of tension, but countdowns usually are. They are a cheap thrill, but they do the job.

The Doctor’s sudden arrival out of nowhere at the very beginning of episode four shows the crudeness of the rewrite further – although he really goes to town for his last performance, and some clips still exist of some iconic lines. In a very out-of-character scene though, he thanks the Cybermen for killing Cutler. Also of not is Ben’s pronunciation of Mondas as “Mandos”; is this a fluff I wonder, or intentional?

The Cyberman that takes over from Wigner has the most annoying voice I’ve ever heard (the one at the base is just about bearable). Also, it’s retrospectively annoying to see they have a different weakness in every story: radiation, gravity, the cold / shoddy batteries, quick-set plastic, emotions and of course gold. Radiation makes particularly little sense as surely they could augment themselves with material that would block it from their organic components.

The Uranium rods, that just happen to be in the same room as them, are a contrivance. When the heroes escape they sit round and talk, waiting for the plot to resolve itself. I don’t have a problem with the Doctor not being involved: people complain that Hartnell should have more to do in his “epic” finale, but that is based on the standards of what came later and doesn’t therefore hold much water in my mind. My problem is that nobody at all has any fundamental involvement, which I can’t even say about Revelation Of The Daleks. The destruction of Mondas was apparently a rubbish effect, but I’d like to have seen it anyway. 

After this we have the fantastic line of “it’s far from being all over” followed by the first regeneration, and I’m truly glad that clip exists. Simple but good, miles better than the rubbish Pertwee – Baker one in 1974, while not as visually impressive as the 1980s ones it has the added bonus of being completely unexpected and unexplained, surely one of the craziest ideas ever inserted into any narrative. Without it the show would never have survived, and it’s still as mind-boggling a concept today as it was forty years ago.

Well, what can I say? The Tenth Planet is a strong story, providing a good introduction for the Cybermen, a good departure for Hartnell and a better foundation for Patrick Troughton – not to mention a hundred minutes of generally solid entertainment. But an absolute gem? Sadly, no.

FILTER: - Television - Second Doctor - Series 4

The Power of the DaleksBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 16 January 2007 - Reviewed by Adam Riggio

The Power of the Daleks is about just that – power, and how it can twist you. Central to this idea is the character of Bragen, the security chief of the colony on Vulcan, Lesterson, the colony’s head scientist, and his assistant researcher Janley. Shortly after his first regeneration, The Doctor lands on the planet Vulcan with his companions Ben and Polly, and quickly discovers a human colony bristling with more political intrigue than The Manchurian Candidate or the American congress, whichever you prefer.

The Examiner from Earth is murdered quite literally just after introducing himself, and The Doctor, possibly hoping to bring the murderer to justice, poses as the Examiner to ingratiate himself with the colony and investigate the place himself. This would have made a pretty good plot for a story as it is, but the introduction of the crashed Dalek factory ship that cranks up the danger level. The Daleks play excellent manipulators here, deviously manoeuvring the humans into giving them the power they need to rebuild a (presumably cloned, judging from their manufacturing machinery) army of Daleks. The Doctor’s warnings of the threat posed by the Daleks go unheeded, as humanity has presumably never publicly had contact with Daleks before, so none of the colonists understand their nature as xenophobic killers.

But perhaps the most important reason why the colonists fail to understand the danger of the Daleks until it is too late, is because the principal movers and shakers on Vulcan see the Daleks as a means to further their own ends. Lesterson sees the Daleks as enormously intelligent servants who can help solve many of the economic problems of the colony, as does Vulcan’s Governor Hensell. Bragen and Janley, meanwhile, believe they can use the Daleks as weapons in their plot to overthrow Hensell’s government. All of them are destroyed when the Daleks, having gotten what they wanted, turn on their former protectors. Lesterson, Hensell, Bragen, and Janley all believe they have power over the Daleks. And that hubris destroys them, as well as Vulcan.

Bragen is the most nakedly ambitious of all the characters in Power of the Daleks. It is slowly unveiled during the course of the story that he is the one behind all the political problems on Vulcan. He successfully has his most dangerous enemy among the Vulcan government, Deputy Governor Quinn, imprisoned. We eventually learn that he masterminded the political instability on Vulcan, having turned a group of disaffected fellow colonists into an armed rebel group. The help of the Daleks allows him to speed up his plan for conquest, taking over from Hensell while the Governor is on a trip to the rural areas of the colony and killing him on his return. To add further to his status as baddest humanoid villain of this story, when he has established himself as dictator of the colony, he orders the murder of the entire rebel group who put him in charge, so that no challenges to his rule remain. The way writer David Whitaker slowly reveals Bragen as the source of all the political uprisings on Vulcan is brilliant, as you see layer after layer of his deception peeled away. 

Janley is, I think, the most interesting supporting character in Power of the Daleks. We first meet her as the vocal leader of political dissent on Vulcan, trying to encourage Lesterson to join the rebel group, and going to ruthless lengths to use the Daleks for her own revolutionary ends. We see how fanatical her devotion to her cause truly is when she conceals Resno’s death in an early experiment on the Daleks from Lesterson. Then uses it as blackmail to prevent the scientist from interfering with her plans. Later, when she is celebrating her victory with Bragen, he casually informs her that the rebels are all to be killed to consolidate his own hold on Vulcan’s government. She is crestfallen here, as she realizes that her ideals have only succeeded in putting a dictator in power. Yet she remains blinded by her original expectations of the Daleks. After the Daleks begin their massacre of the colony, she still believes that they could aid her in defeating the guards. It is Janley who leads one of the Daleks to her squad of rebels, expecting help fighting Bragen’s guards, and she is the most shocked when all her compatriots are exterminated. A minor note – some of what Janley says about the problems of the colony can be interpreted as having vaguely communist overtones. I’m not sure if this was intentional on Whitaker’s part or not, but communist revolutions on colonies in the future sounds like a good idea for the focus of some future Doctor Who story.

Lesterson too dreams of power, but scientific – not political – power. It is through this means that he is most amazed by the Daleks. He is increasingly impressed by their intelligence, and most horrified at his fairly early discovery of the malevolence. Lesterson begins the story just as arrogant and self-centred as the rest of the supporting cast. He doesn’t care about the political instability of Vulcan simply because he doesn’t find it as interesting as the Dalek spacecraft. He wants to use the Daleks as slaves, whether in the mines or as computer engineers. The way he speaks about the scientific breakthroughs he can make with the Dalek’s help shows that he is also keen for prestige in the scientific community, dreaming of a legacy like Einstein or Turing. Either way, he sees himself as holding power – in the literal sense, as he initially controls their flow of electricity – over the Daleks. When he finally sees the Dalek production line at the end of episode four, he understands that they are manipulating him. The Daleks, in allowing the power schemes of the other characters to come true, have taken his power away. Really, Lesterson is the first victim of the Daleks, even though he is one of the last in the story to die. He wants power over the Daleks, but by episode five, the Daleks have power over him. And this is what drives him mad. His last lines before he is exterminated is almost a mockery of the Dalek’s earlier facade of servitude, saying to them, in the Dalek’s own mechanical inflections, “I am your servant.” Lesterson admits that the Daleks have beaten him, but only while allowing The Doctor to destroy them once and for all.

Ah, yes, The Doctor. The most cartoonish of Troughton’s facial expressions on the telesnaps just accentuate what’s gone. But it’s his performance in this story that was the make-or-break moment for Doctor Who. The first ten minutes of Power of the Daleks is probably the most important ten minutes of the show’s history, because if viewers couldn’t maintain their faith in The Doctor, the show would never have lasted much longer. Ben and Polly’s reactions are perfect for an audience getting used to The Doctor’s first change of character. Polly is flabbergasted, but eventually accepts that this odd little man is The Doctor. But Ben is skeptical for the first episode or so, and The Doctor almost punishes Ben for his skepticism by playing mind games with him – speaking in the third person, rummaging through the chest as if it was someone else’s, making up gibberish about a butterfly breaking from its chrysalis, irritating the hell out of everyone with his recorder. Once The Doctor discovers the Daleks, however, he is (almost) all serious. The mind games continue, but instead of his companions, his targets are the colony government and scientists, trying to convince them to destroy the Daleks and discover their motivations for working with the metal creatures. Here was the seed of The Second Doctor’s particular brand of manipulation that we would later see in full force in Evil of the Daleks and Tomb of the Cybermen. He doesn’t only play the fool to put people off their guard about him, as in when he looks for microphones hidden in the fruit bowl in his quarters and tries to break the sonic lock on his jail cell with a dog whistle. But he also finds just the right words to get on the nerves of Bragen, Lesterson, Janley and others in just that way that they reveal their motivations to him. And when the Daleks finally strike against the colony, The Doctor rises to action, leading his friends back to Lesterson’s control room and overloading the Dalek’s power supply, blowing them all to pieces. Why does he take such extreme measures? Well, the Daleks are certainly extreme creatures, and as he put it, “I like to do things MY way!” This proved it once and for all. He’s still The Doctor, and you don’t want to mess with him.

Ben and Polly come off quite well, with very good dialogue trying to get their heads around The Doctor’s regeneration, and when they find themselves embroiled with the increasingly violent Vulcan politics. Ben’s scepticism is an excellent mirror image of Polly’s faith in the cosmic hobo. Polly has some excellent moments of righteous indignation at the unjust imprisonment of Quinn, and the rebels’ working with the Daleks when she is held prisoner in the factory ship. Ben gets a great showcase in episode four helping The Doctor infiltrate the rebel meeting and letting himself be captured so The Doctor can escape. But I think the best Doctor-companion moment comes at the very end, when Ben mentions that The Doctor’s warnings to the colonists about the Dalek threat were not really all that convincing. The Doctor only chuckles mischievously before they are on their way. 

Fanwanky canonicity follows!

No one on Vulcan knew what the Daleks were, so The Doctor knew from this that it was before the Daleks conquered Earth in the mid-22nd century. Perhaps during The Dalek Invasion of Earth, he had done some research and discovered when humanity’s first public contact with the Daleks was. And perhaps it was at this colony on Vulcan. The Doctor, having discovered previously that the Daleks all but wiped out the human colony on Vulcan before the main body of their invasion fleet moved on to Earth, knew that he had to let the massacre happen. It was an established part of history, so he couldn’t interfere. He knew he had to do his best to minimize the damage and destroy this particular Dalek force. But it’s likely that the Daleks from the factory ship would have alerted Skaro when they were reactivated, and the Dalek war fleet set course for Earth for the first time.

Getting back to the story, the Daleks themselves are excellent. They are terribly villainous and devious for the first five episodes, manipulating the humans around them into helping them re-establish their power supply before going on a suitably frightening massacre. The scene late in episode six surveying a city full of dead bodies is suitably chilling, I think moreso with just Anneke Wills’ spine-tingling description over the stark incidental music. The music is another praiseworthy part of Power of the Daleks. It’s spare as to be almost non-existent, and when it does appear, it consists of a low drumming punctuated by a stabbing, low-pitched electronic whistle. It’s gorgeously atmospheric for the scariest scenes in the story, excellent to punctuate the regulars creeping around the Dalek vessel.

Incidentally, the planet Vulcan seen here in Power of the Daleks pre-dates the UK premiere of Star Trek, featuring the planet and race of hardcore logicians, the Vulcan. Star Trek first appeared in Britain on 12 July 1969, according to, and Power of the Daleks, featuring the human colony world Vulcan, debuted in Britain on 5 November 1966. This is an entirely nitpicking concern I have over the originality of the word ‘Vulcan’ in this story, which has been so overused thanks to Trek that it can never be mentioned in a new piece of literature for the rest of human history.

FILTER: - Television - Second Doctor - Series 4

The Power of the DaleksBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 16 January 2007 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

When I reviewed ‘Marco Polo’ I noted that some fans insist that the missing Doctor Who stories cannot be fairly judged on the strength of their soundtracks alone, since the visuals either add to or detract from the original story. This is a debatable point, but the fact remains that when I first heard ‘The Power of the Daleks’ when its soundtrack was released on audiocassette in 1993, it rapidly became one of my favourite Doctor Who stories of all time, and subsequent viewings of the Loose Cannon recon only strengthened my positive opinions of it.

The first notable aspect of ‘The Power of the Daleks’ is of course Patrick Troughton. The manner in which the lead actor was changed in Doctor Who is a work of minor genius in my opinion. It is not unheard of for major characters within series to be played by different actors when the original becomes unavailable; the death of Reginald Tate after The Quatermass Experiment resulted in John Robinson taking on the role for Quatermass II, and he was himself replaced by André Morell (arguably the definitive Quatermass) for Quatermass and the Pit. All three actors however (and later Sir John Mills), were playing exactly the same role; with the transition from Hartnell to Troughton, Troughton is still playing the same character, but the characterisation is very different. By making the change part of the actual storyline, the production team allowed Troughton to literally make the role his own, rather than simply trying to recapture his predecessor’s performance. The new Doctor impresses immediately. The new Doctor is far more energetic than his previous incarnation, and immediately seems more erratic; as soon as he recovers from his transformation, he starts clowning around and generally teasing his companions, who are stunned by his change and (quite understandably) wonder if he is an imposter. Even when he is rooting through the trunk in his TARDIS and reminiscing about the items he finds within it, he refers to his former self in the third person purely for the benefit of Ben and Polly, with an innate mischievousness. Once on Vulcan, he is quick to embroil himself in events even before he knows of the presence of the Daleks (although there are hints that he deliberately steered the TARDIS to the colony precisely for that reason), leaping at the opportunity to impersonate the murdered Examiner and therefore set about finding out who the murderer is. His clowning continues, and it quickly becomes clear to the viewer that this new Doctor is going to be far more erratic and eccentric than his predecessor. Once he discovers the Daleks in the opened capsule however, his manner quickly changes; the scene at the end of episode one when he, Ben and Polly, find the dormant monsters shows Troughton’s Doctor in serious mood for the first time, and he conveys the Doctor’s fears with a superb sense of urgency. When Lesterson and the others find them in the laboratory, he alternates between gravely trying to insist on the Daleks’ destruction and switching back to his habitual air of guileless, almost idiotic, innocence when Ben is in danger of saying more than he wants him to about what the travellers witnessed in the Dalek vessel, and this really establishes the pattern for Troughton’s performance in the future. Most importantly, one of the Doctor’s crucial character traits is re-established; when Ben suggests that they leave Vulcan if the colonists don’t want to heed the Doctor’s warnings, he refuses, explaining that he knows the suffering that the Daleks cause and can’t simply leave the colonists to their fate. Finally, and very importantly to my mind, it is the Doctor alone who proves capable of ending the threat of the Daleks, overloading their power source and blowing them up right at the very end. The Doctor’s recorder, one of my least favourite musical instruments, is quite irritating, but them its clearly meant to be. 

Ben and Polly are excellent here as usual, and play a vital role in helping the viewers to adjust to the new Doctor. Polly is far quicker than Ben to trust the new Doctor, accepting that since they saw him change he must be the Doctor. Ben is far less willing to accept this given that the apparent stranger doesn’t even act like the old Doctor, and their debating over the evidence as they slowly come to trust the Doctor again provides the perfect opportunity for the Doctor to explain (rather obliquely) his transformation. This is testimony to David Whitaker’s skills as a script-writer, as is the fact that within two episodes any doubts the Doctor are dispelled, allowing the viewer to concentrate on the main focus of the plot. Ben’s shocked realization that the Dalek at the end of episode two recognizes his friend and that he must therefore be the Doctor is a powerful moment and one that finally resolves the issue. After the first two episodes, neither Ben nor Polly has much to do, as the new Doctor becomes the focus instead, with both Anneke Wills and Michael Craze taking it turns to sit an episode out, but even with their diminished roles they provide adequate support as usual. The relatively large guest cast is also uniformly excellent. Bragan is a suitably loathsome villain, especially when he orders the murder of his former allies in episode five. I never fail to take satisfaction in his refusal to heed the Doctor’s warnings about the Daleks, knowing that it is they that eventually cause his brief rule of the colony to come to an end. It is also fitting that betrayed ally Valmar, saving the life of Bragan’s nemesis Quinn, eventually dispatches him rather than him being exterminated by the Daleks. The slightly abrasive Quinn is a great character too, as is the cold and manipulative Janley and the pompous but ultimately well-meaning Hensell. But it is Robert James’ Lesterson who steals the best supporting character honours; his initial blind and childlike enthusiasm for the Daleks gradually gives way to uncertainty as they obsessively pursue their own power source, and he finally gives in to blind terror as he discovers the Dalek production line inside the capsule and realises that the Doctor was right all along. James’ conveys his character’s panic incredibly well, especially during the scene in the Governor’s office as he tries to convince Bragan of the danger. In the face of Bragan’s refusal to listen to him, helped by Janley’s lies as she tries to ensure the continued safety of her supposed allies, he gives in to complete abject fear and literally ends up gibbering, before he descends fully into insanity and is eventually mercilessly killed by the creatures he championed so passionately. One of Lesterson’s finest moments is when the Doctor reveals that the Daleks are not robots and adds that they can achieve anything given sufficient resources; Lesterson’s quietly horrified “w- what?” beautifully demonstrates the exact moment at which he realises what he’s done. 

Finally, there are the Daleks. ‘The Power of the Daleks’ is the first Dalek story written without Terry Nation and Whitaker handles them without peer. In ‘The Daleks’ Master Plan’ they were effective because of the magnitude of the threat that the represented. Here, the stakes are much smaller; rather than an army of Daleks threatening the entire galaxy with a super weapon, here we have three Daleks threatening a single colony. And yet, they have never been this scary. It starts with the Doctor, Troughton excellently portraying controlled fear as he tells Ben that one Dalek could destroy the colony. We often saw the First Doctor’s suppressed hatred of his perennial enemies, but this is the first time the Doctor appears to exhibit trepidation in this way. Later, when he tells Lesterson that the Dalek will end the colony’s problems because it will end the colony, the threat is reinforced; the fact that the Doctor truly believes that a single Dalek poses such a threat is very powerful. But what really makes the Dalek seem more dangerous here than ever before is their guile and cunning. The cliffhanger to episode two as the Dalek relentless chants “I am your servant” over the Doctor’s appeals to Hensell is one of my favourite cliffhangers of the entire series. Later, the Daleks continue to consolidate their power by manipulating the colonists, Lesterson in particular, as the viewer is afforded a glimpse into their true natures; a Dalek automatically proclaims its superiority, only to catch itself just in time (“a Dalek is bet- is… not the same as a human being”), and on at least three occasions, their absolute loathing of the Doctor is made clear, particularly when one Dalek comes close to ruining its pretense of servitude to Bragan when he takes up the Doctor’s challenge and stops it from killing him. As the story progresses, we get to see just how much they are anticipating slaughtering the colonists, as they eagerly conspire together in the capsule and look forward to teaching the humans “the law of the Daleks”. The cliffhanger to episode four as Lesterson, and the viewers, first see the Dalek production line, is utterly chilling, the mechanical efficiency of the creatures contrasting horrible high-pitched screeching of the Dalek embryos being bred in their tanks. The Discontinuity Guide lists the Daleks’ endless repeating of “Daleks conquer and destroy” at the end of episode five as a dialogue disaster, but for me it serves as an illustration of why they are such effective monsters; unlike fellow part-machine monsters the Cybermen, the Daleks are not emotionless, they are utterly psychotic and motivated by hatred and xenophobia. They clearly enjoy massacring the colonists in episode six. So thoroughly monstrous are they in this story that their messy and explosive destruction at the climax is enormously satisfying and indeed a relief; the terminal power loss of ‘The Mutants’ would not have sufficed here; by the end of the story, after numerous shots of corpses littering the colony, they really needed to be defeated as utterly as possible. 

I really have no criticisms of ‘The Power of the Daleks’. Based on the recon and telesnaps, the production was impressive, with the mercury swamps and colony buildings looking highly effective (I particularly like the ornate bars of the prison cells that the Doctor and Quinn are imprisoned in). The sparse surviving footage reveals the obvious use of blow-up Dalek photographs, but that didn’t spoil my enjoyment of any of the previous Dalek stories and if ‘The Power of the Daleks’ was rediscovered tomorrow and released on video or DVD, I doubt it would bother me here either. Frankly, Troughton couldn’t have asked for a better debut story.

FILTER: - Television - Second Doctor - Series 4

The Tenth PlanetBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 16 January 2007 - Reviewed by Eddy Wolverson

“The Tenth Planet.” One of the most famous Doctor Who stories of them all, and why? Not only do we have the introduction of the legendary Cybermen, but we also have the first regeneration – the importance of which can never be overstated. On top of all that, of all the four episodes, it just had to be the pivotal final episode that perished in the 1970’s archive clear out, leaving us with only three existing episodes of William Hartnell’s swansong, and, just to rub salt in the wound, Hartnell is in only two of those! Episode 4 was even reported to have been found back in 1992, but sadly that proved to be inaccurate. History certainly hasn’t been kind to “The Tenth Planet,” but fans, on the other hand…

Doctor Who fans tend to love “The Tenth Planet,” and with some justification. Dr. Kit Pedler’s story of the dangers of technology and dehumanised medicine really raises the fear factor to fever pitch; not only are viewers scared of Cybermen, they are also scared of becoming Cybermen. Their design in this story is certainly original; the cloth masks are particularly impressive as they remove any vestige of humanity from the face, yet it is still obvious that what lies beneath was once human. However, they certainly don’t look cybernetic by any stretch of the imagination, and they are far too front-heavy to be practical. The voices, on the other hand, are absolutely superb. They put the Darth Vader rip-off Cyber voices of the 1980’s to shame! Their high-pitched, disjointed, ‘Microsoft Sam’ voice suits them perfectly – I was absolutely thrilled when Big Finish used it in their ‘Genesis of the Cybermen’ story, “Spare Parts”, in 2002. It isn’t just how they say it either; it’s what they say. You don’t get any of that “Excellent” nonsense from these original Cybermen; they are completely and utterly devoid of emotion, and their application of cold logic is often frighteningly reasonable! One of my favourite scenes in Episode 2 sees Polly remonstrating with a Cyberman about how he doesn’t care that two astronauts are going to die. The Cyberman replies by simply saying that people are dying all over the world every day, so why doesn’t she care about them too? It’s wonderfully written, thought-provoking stuff. Strangely though, despite their complete divorce from emotion the Cybermen in this story are far less uniform and far more individual than the ones the Doctor would encounter later in his life. They even have names like ‘Gern’ and ‘Krang’ – something never repeated other than in the prequel, “Spare Parts.”

I should also say that I love the romantic notion of a dead planet – and not just any planet, Earth’s twin ‘Mondas’ – drifting off through space on its own. It might not be the most sound scientific premise from Doctor Who’s unofficial ‘scientific advisor’ Dr. Pedler, but it makes for one hell of a story and moreover, it makes things interesting by implying that if the inhabitants of Earth’s twin planet could do this to themselves, then so could the inhabitants of Earth…

The Polar setting of “The Tenth Planet” is recreated incredibly well in the studio; often these black and white stories look more realistic than some of the early colour stories – colour seems to be far less forgiving than good ol’ monochrome! The high quality of the stock footage and the unusual, unique titles and credits also make the story feel special and different – for once, it looks like the programme actually had some decent money spent on it (which I’m sure it didn’t!) One of the areas where the realisation of the story falls down though is in its depiction of the ‘future’ – 1986 to be precise – though the programme makers can hardly be blamed for failing to foresee the future with any sort of accuracy! I found it amusing that Ben and Polly thought they had arrived back home in the 1960’s, because that is exactly the decade I would guess that I was in were I to materialise in this story’s South Pole Base! 

The commander of the base, General Cutler (Robert Beatty) is a great character, and one that it is hard for the audience to get a handle on at first. The sub-plot involving his son and how far the General is willing to go to save him is brilliantly done, and actually manages to salvage the desperately poor third episode. Cutler is one these brilliant human antagonists that Doctor Who tends to do so well – although he’s a pain in the arse and a menace, he has his reasons for everything that he does… and that’s what makes him such a disturbing character. He’d sacrifice the world to save his son…

As I mentioned earlier, we only have about fifty (surviving) minutes of William Hartnell to enjoy in this story – seventy-five or so if your lucky enough to own the BBC Video featuring the spectacular full-length reconstruction of Episode 4! The Restoration Team have to be praised for creating such a brilliant approximation of the missing episode; much like ‘Loose Cannon’, they have used telesnaps, clips, 8mm off-screen footage, linking text and a recording of the soundtrack to create probably the closest we’ll ever get to seeing Bill Hartnell’s final episode. My only possible gripe with it is that it isn’t full screen, but I’m sure they had their reasons for cropping it down slightly. Even though he’s definitely my least favourite of all the Doctors, I have to say Hartnell goes out guns blazing here! I didn’t notice one single fluff in any of his three episodes, and even more importantly he is as intense and has focused as he has ever been. I really liked how the writers make the Doctor the man with the knowledge in this episode – he’s not just a traveller, blundering into trouble. He knows of Mondas. He knows of the Cybermen before they even show up. He knows that they will come. Of course, this begs the obvious question – how? – but with hindsight there are any number of answers. He probably knew of the Cybermen from the legends of them being used in the Death Zone on Gallifrey in the Dark Times… though of course, that would lead one to question how he couldn’t have known of the Daleks before he first visited Skaro…

“This old body of mine is wearing a bit thin.”

Hartnell’s absence from Episode 3 really screws up the story. This isn’t a criticism, it’s a fact. The writers and producers do an admirable job of working around the illness-enforced absence of their lead man, and in a weird and wacky way it kind of links in well with the Doctor’s impending regeneration. In Episode 3, he’s totally spent; in Episode 4, he summons all his strength for a sort of “once more unto the breach” finale… then he collapses and regenerates. I’ve always wondered what actually killed the first Doctor, and I’m still unsure. Old age seems the most likely cause of death; after all, the Doctor’s first incarnation could be anything up to about 400 years old at the time of “The Tenth Planet.” For an incarnation of the Doctor, that’s damn good innings!

“It is far from being over. I must get back to the TARDIS, immediately! I must go…”

Thankfully, those folks at Blue Peter used a clip of the regeneration sequence in one of their programmes and so it survived the fires and hence rounds off the reconstruction of Episode 4. It’s not quite a morph, it’s more like one flash of light, a twitch and then…. Patrick Troughton! It all begins again, and in one brilliant master-stroke the producers give the best television programme ever virtual immortality…

FILTER: - Television - Second Doctor - Series 4

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]

FILTER: - Television - Second Doctor - Series 4