Power of the Daleks - Episode One - AnimatedBookmark and Share

Saturday, 5 November 2016 - Reviewed by Marcus
Credit: BBC Worldwide

Episode One of Power of the Daleks is arguably the most important episode in the entire history of Doctor Who. So much was riding on the success of the story. Doctor Who would only continue if it was proved possible to replace the leading actor. If the audience could accept such a change then its longevity was assured. Even if it came off air for while it could always return, refreshed and updated. If the experiment had failed, if only William Hartnell was accepted playing the Doctor, then the series would wither and die, and would now be an obscure relic of the past.

Given it is such an important episode it is one that been viewed by relatively few people. The entire story has been missing from the BBC archives since the mid-seventies , just a few clips and telesnaps remain.  Which make it such a joy that the story has now been animated, allowing a whole new audience to relive the excitement of the original broadcast.

The story is very well written, as would be expected given it was written by one of the creators or the original series, David Whitaker. He uses the change of the main character to push the story along, with Ben and Polly as confused as to who this strange man is as many of the audience would have been. The conflicting signals work well. The Hartnell reflection is contrasted with the ill-fitting ring. Is this man really the doctor? The recorder can get irritating through. 

The first thing the new Doctor witnesses, outside the TARDIS, is a murder, which gives the team a focus and serves to push forward the story, with The Doctor being mistaken for an Earth examiner.  By far the most anticipated part of the story was the reveal of the Daleks. The tension is ramped up and we get our first view of the metal monster, glinting in the darkness, draped in cobwebs.

Patrick Troughton nails the character of his Doctor from the start. His performance is superb and you certainly feel the mystery and the impishness of the character. This man may not be the character we are used to, but he certainly leads the action, keeping everyone guessing as to his motives. Troughton was a superb character actor, at the top of his game, and it shows. 

He is well supported by the two companions, the first to witness a regeneration. Ben and Polly, played by Anneke Wills and Michael Craze are very underrated, by virtue of so much of their contribution to the series being lost. But they make a good team and you can sense the confusion of two young adults plucked from 1960's London and now witnessing their only friend changing before their eyes. 

The animators have done wonders bringing the story back to life. The project has been intense, with budgets tight and deadlines always looming, but Charles Norton and his team have achieved something special. Some characters are realized better than others. The older actors, with defined jawlines and rugged features, lend themselves to animation more than the younger members of the cast.  The Doctor is superb with the characterisation spot on. The planet Vulcan is eerie and mysterious with pools of mercury bubbling away.

Full marks too to  Mark Ayres for his heroic work restoring the soundtrack. It's difficult to believe the original source was a domestic tape recorder plonked in front of a domestic television. The dialogue is now crystal clear and Ayres has used the original music and sound effects tapes to create both a stereo and 5.1 mix. 

The announcement of a  colour version of the animated story is a surprising development, especially given Norton expressing his opinion that the story works best in Black and White. I suspect many fans will double dip and get both versions and if the colour version being more young fans to the delights of the Second Doctor, then it is a worthwhile investment. 

Overall the Power of the Daleks is a supurb story, and well worth adding to any Doctor Who Library. And who knows, if sales are healthy enough, this could just be the start.

 

 

 






The Underwater MenaceBookmark and Share

Friday, 16 October 2015 - Reviewed by Chuck Foster
The Underwater Menace - DVD cover (Credit: BBC Worldwide)
The Underwater Menace
Written by Geoffrey Orme
Directed by Julia Smith
Released by BBC Worldwide, 26th October 2015 (R2)
Well, it's finally here. After some eighteen months since we originally expected it to be released, The Underwater Menace has finally arrived for everybody to enjoy on shiny DVD. Any boy, has it been a wait, with the story being delayed owing to animation, then effectively being cancelled and then suddenly being announced ahead of time by an accidental listing by the BBC Shop! Then, with features still under wraps, it was a question over how would the missing two episodes be presented ...

 

The Episodes

 

It turns out episodes one and four are telesnap reconstructions in the very strictest sense of the word - they are literally just the telesnaps, shown in progression - including those taken of the opening and closing credits! So, for episode one the opening title music plays over the "Doctor Who" logo, and the closing music plays over an image of a fish-person (plus the producer/director credit telesnaps at the end). The static images also lead to some strange imagery, such as when Zaroff is first introduced you might be led to believe he was a shark!

The reasoning behind why BBC Worldwide decided to present the story in this way is really quite mystifying, especially as their previous effort with The Web of Fear episode three was a much more fluid reconstruction. One can only assume that the budget was so restrictive for this release that they couldn't afford to utilise imagery more appropriate to reflect who/what is on screen, let alone insert the censor clips recovered from Australia, incorporate the standard opening title sequence or recreate the end credits! However, it does mean that you can see the Cura telesnaps in all their glory ...

The soundtrack itself is a clean, un-narrated version. For collectors like myself this is actually quite a good thing, as previously we only have the Anneke Wills-narrated soundtrack version to listen to. However, in terms of presentation the narrated version would probably have made more sense to assist in explaining what is going on, especially with the static telesnap presentation where there are long sequences stuck on a single unreprestative frame.

Overall, I'm not too sure how I feel about the presentation of these episodes; on the one hand it does (just about) serve the purpose of telling the story, but if you are unfamiliar with these episodes then it might well be quite confusing to follow the plot, especially where there is no dialogue - in those cases you might be better off muting the TV and playing the narrated soundtrack alongside the images on screen (or perhaps not even bothering with that as so little is occuring on screen!)

Of course the real reason we're here is the chance to finally see Episode Two in all its glory! With the exception of the lucky attendees at its unveiling at Missing Believed Wiped in December 2011 and a couple of special presentations around the country, the majority of fans have been unable to see the recovered episode for nigh on four years - indeed, we got to see both The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear beforehand! But was the wait actually worth it?

Episode Three has been available to us for many years of course, and perhaps familiarity has bred contempt, often leading to the story being derided for its outlandish characters, madcap chases, not to mention that immortal final line from Zaroff. With all that baggage, the second episode, therefore, was always going to have a fight on its hands to raise the story from being seen as a 'farce' to something more 'sensible'. However, it wasn't much of a fight in the end - from the outset we are presented with a terrifying scene of Polly about to be operated upon, and then to a much calmer, thoughtful, insightful version of the Doctor to the one seen in the latter episode. I woudn't say that this necessarily immediately raises episode three and the overall story into (ahem) 'classic' status, but in context it now makes the latter episode feel like a 'normal' part three as opposed to the extra prominence placed upon it as being the sole representative of the story.

The Underwater Menace DVD: The Doctor, as played by Patrick Troughton in episode two (Credit: BBC Worldwide)The problem with a "new" episode is often that there's too much to take in on the first viewing, not to mention the excitement of seeing it that first time. It's the second viewing that normally gives you the chance to better appraise it, and also whether it stands up to the closer scrutiny. Episode two does manage to pass that test, which to me at least means it has been worth the (extended) wait to see it. Though the narrated soundtrack and exisiting telesnaps mean I'm not entirely unfamilar with it, unless we are extremely lucky with when Cura took his shot much of the time little nuances within a scene are lost. Good examples are when we can now see the Doctor's reaction to Zaroff's outrageous claims, or his miming the professor's insanity to Thous, things that weren't evident before. Another one I like is the Doctor hiding in a plain and common wardrobe - in this case there are telesnaps showing this, but they don't quite portray the humour that is present.

I don't think the episode quite meets the hype that has grown up around it being the one remaining episode left to be released for this era of Doctor Who, and it was (justifiably) eclipsed by the two Season Five returns, but all-in-all it isn't a particularly bad episode and probably more representative of the story as a whole. It also now has the 'honour' of being the earliest complete episode of the Troughton era, and means the second Doctor  no longer has an 'embarassing' start to his visible adventures!

As a little bonus, those who sit through the end of the episode four credits can find the telesnap credits featured over video of the story's location, Winspit Quarry, which unfortunately only features in the two missing episodes. Not quite a "Now and Then" feature, and the footage hails from A Fishy Tale, but welcome nonetheless!

 

Special Features

 

Fortunately, one of the revelations of the formal DVD announcement was that, unlike Enemy and Web, it would  (most of) the special features that we are used to on 'classic' series releases. These also included the two (brief) Australian censor clips that weren't incorporated into the reconstructed episodes above, so at least these can still be seen on the DVD.

The Underwater Menace DVD: A Fishy Tale (Credit: BBC Worldwide)A Fishy Tale covers the making of the story, looking into the 'mountainous' production journey undertaken by The Underwater Menace from its original inception as Under The Sea, its rejection as unmakable by its original director Hugh David and a 007 film crewmember(!), its removal and subsequent re-instatement to the production schedule as other scripts fell by the wayside, and its ultimate tackling by the previous year's The Smugglers director Julia Smith. Regular companion Anneke Wills provided the main 'commentary' on how the story was produced, with additional insight from Frazer Hines on his formal arrival as Jamie as new companion (and the script adjustments needed to cater for another TARDIS traveller). Other contributors include Catherine Howe who played Ara, assistant floor manager Gareth Gwenlan, and new series writer Robert Shearman giving his take on viewing the story in 'modern times'. The feature was narrated by Peter Davison, who only really started to get his teeth into the special features range through its director Russell Minton, who also provided another welcome touch in the inclusion of especially shot footage out on the story's original locations at Winspit, featuring 'fish-people' out on the beach and in the quarry.

As with the majority of behind-the-scenes features in the Doctor Who DVD range, A Fishy Tale nicely summarises the making of the story, but sadly the nitty-gritty details of the ins-and-outs provided by production information subtitles are not included with this release. Being that these traditionally carry lots of interesting snippets about how the script progressed and changed, what was happening around and during production, etc., it feels like there's a bit of a vacuum this time around, and we are missing out on the usual 'definitive' story of production. I guess we will need to wait for the eventual release of the relevant edition of The Complete History now for that account.

However, at least we have the commentaries to listen to, which provide traditional behind-the-scenes 'gossip'. As with previous incomplete story releases, the existing episodes have the regular cast/crew reminiscences on production, with the missing episodes used to present contextual interviews, clips, etc. For The Underwater Menace, episode one takes the form of the second part of an interview by moderator Toby Hadoke with Patrick Troughton's son Michael (recorded prior to his own inaugural appearance in Last Christmas), who candidly discusses life growing up with his father, his relationships and attitudes towards the work he undertook. The second episode features Anneke Wills, Frazer Hines, Catherine Howe, sound composer Brian Hodgson and floor assistant Quention Mann, and as might be expected discussion focussed on the return of this episode after a few decades and how they felt about being able to see it again. Other tidbits along the way include Frazer commenting on how Colin Jeavons aka Damon's eyebrows reminded him of an androgum (with Toby observing no colour photos exist to compare against), and how the opening scenes of the story raised concern over children not wanting flu jabs. Moving onto the third episode, anecdotes included reflections on the challenges faced both for and with director Julia Smith, the 'infamous' way in which Joseph Furst played Zaroff, plus Brian on the difficulties of sound mixing in the early days and Anneke on Troughton's thoughts over 'that' scene with the fish-people ... The last episode is made up of archive recordings, and features Julia Smith and the originally-slated director Hugh David on making (and not making) the story, producer Innes Lloyd on what he liked about producing Doctor Who and the changes of direction he instigated, and a longer interview with the Doctor himself, Patrick Troughton in which he talks about getting and creating the role, costume and "hairy" arrangements, and how important a routine was for making such a frenetic show.

The Underwater Menace DVD: The Television Centre of the Universe: Janet Fielding, Peter Davison, Yvette Fielding and Mark Strickson (Credit: BBC Worldwide)Yvette Fielding is back for the second half of The Television Centre of the Universe - and we also get a "previously" which is quite useful if you haven't watched the first half since it's release on The Visitation in 2013. The "cliff-hanger" is resolved to be cameraman Alec Wheal, and then it's straight into anecdotes between him and the trio of Peter Davison, Janet Fielding and Mark Strickson about life in the studio during recording (plus BBC producer/fan Richard Marson chatting about the "fan glitterati" who watched whatever they could studio galleries!). As before, the main conversations were interspersed with anecdotes from other production personnel, such as assistant floor manager Sue Hedden on how props could disappear and exhibitions assistant Bob Richardson admitting he had purloined a terileptil mind control device! Other contributors included production assistant Jane Ashford (who reflected on the challenges of maintaining contunuity during filming) and videotape engineer Simon Anthony (who commented on combatting recording issues from lighting and physical effects). It was also an unexpected bonus to see behind-the-scenes footage from Earthshock to help illustrate the discussion!

As with the previous part, this is a relaxed, light-hearted wander through the production process and a way to 'look' around TVC as-was, before its tragic final closure. And, in tradition, it's off to the BBC Bar to finish off both this production and (possibly) the classic Doctor Who DVD feature range as a whole!

 

Conclusion

 

Overall, the story is quite a jolly romp. We get to see Patrick Troughton portray a more playful and extravagant version before these elements are toned down into the more focussed, enigmatic Doctor we travel alongside in later adventures. We get the over-the-top mad Professor Zaroff played with gusto by Joseph Furst. And of course we get to see the companion triad of Ben, Polly and Jamie in action for the first time. Visually, there are some impressive sets, and I personally think the fish people "showcase" in episode three is quite an effective scene (not to mention giving Dudley Simpson a good run for his money!). However, the story is hardly a memorable classic like many of the era to come - it's certainly not the best story in the world, but then again it is also by no means the worst in the grand history of Doctor Who.

In terms of the DVD itself, it's a shame that the still missing episodes were presented in such a basic form, but to misquote a well-known BBC phrase, "other viewing methods are available!" It's also disappointing that the production subtitles were not included, but on the other hand it is great to finally be able to see the second episode fully restored, the making-of, and the final part of the TV Centre feature.

 

Coming Soon ...

 

Sadly, "Nothing left in the world has stopped us now..."





The SmugglersBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 16 January 2007 - Reviewed by Eddy Wolverson

Primarily, “The Smugglers” is a vehicle for establishing the Doctor’s newest companions, Ben and Polly. Following on directly from the end of “The War Machines,” the first episode starts with a lot of energy as the new additions to the TARDIS crew – Ben in particular – have trouble adjusting to the fact that they have just travelled in a time machine. Initially this is handled quite well by Hayles, but sadly Polly is convinced unbelievably soon and even Ben comes round to the idea far quicker than I feel is in keeping with his character.

The plot of this season-opening four-parter also leaves a lot to be desired. For the most part it revolves around several antagonistic factions of smugglers / pirates. Often this translates onto the screen as pure, unadulterated cheese – for example we have Captain Pike who, surprise, surprise, has a hook instead of a hand and a Church warden who, surprise, surprise, used to be first mate on a pirate ship before he found God! Moreover, Doctor Who’s production team may have changed considerably since “The Crusade” but they are still making the same mistakes – how on earth they expect us to believe that Polly, a beautiful woman, could be mistaken for “a lad” I have no idea! I’m willing to suspend my disbelief so far that I can believe that an alien from an ancient society travels through time and space in a Police Box, but there’s no way I’m having that Anneke Wills looks like a “lad”!

Believe it or not though, having now ‘watched’ “The Smugglers” twice (by playing the BBC Radio Collection’s release of the soundtrack in synch with John Cura’s telesnaps) I’ve actually become quite fond of it. It’s a harmless, light-hearted piece of melodrama that allows William Hartnell’s Doctor to have a little bit of fun! He gets to hunt treasure; Ben and Polly get to pretend to be wizards… it’s all good fun.

The serial hasn’t even dated that badly compared to some of its contempories – the pirate ship sets are realistic enough and scenes near the Church and on the beach (from the telesnaps) look pretty convincing. I’m just not sure how wise it was to call a black pirate “Jamaica”…





The SmugglersBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 16 January 2007 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

The Smugglers' is the final Hartnell historical Doctor Who story, and is noticeably different in style to any of its predecessors. It is not in the same vein as the more serious, dramatic historicals such as 'The Aztecs', 'The Crusade', or 'The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve', but nor is a fully-fledged comedy like 'The Romans', 'The Myth Makers' or 'The Gunfighters. Instead, it feels more like a Treasure Island, and has a decidedly whimsical streak, in spite of vicious pirates and several brutal deaths. This approach works surprisingly well, and 'The Smugglers' is an enjoyable opening to Season Four. 

William Hartnell is on fine form as the Doctor, dealing with the pirates with ease. His manipulation of Pike's ego is obvious, but amusing, as he neatly avoids being tortured by Cherub by appealing to the Captain's vanity: Pike, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, likes to think of himself as a gentleman. Later in the story, the Doctor shrugs off Cherub's threats and manages to keep him talking whilst he waits for help to arrive, showing none of the worried bluster that the First Doctor occasionally demonstrates when threatened. His escape from The Black Albatross with Kewper involves a fairly predictable ploy to overcome Jamaica, but is nevertheless carried out with aplomb, both by the Doctor and Hartnell himself. Whatever the situation in which he finds himself, the Doctor maintains an air of dignity, even when being threatened by sword or Pike's spike. Ben and Polly continue to live up to the promise that they showed in 'The War Machines'. After fairly rapidly accepting that they have traveled through time (they have little choice but to accept that they have traveled through space), they demonstrate their ability to cope remarkably well, and after being hypnotized for much of 'The War Machines' whilst Ben took centre stage, Polly here gets to show her resourcefulness by engineering their escape from prison, thanks to her tricking of the superstitious (and admittedly rather gullible) Tom. Ben however is not left out, and gets a significant role in the story by befriending (after initial mutual distrust) Revenue man Blake. Both Craze and Willis put in excellent performances throughout, reminding me why they, like Purves, are sorely underrated as companions. Oh and Polly being mistaken for a boy is an amusing nod to 'The Crusade'; it's a shame that we are denied the visuals when Kewper refers to the Doctor's “lads”, since I'd love to see the expression on Polly's face. 

The plot of 'The Smugglers' is simple, though effective, allowing full attention to be given to the supporting characters, and this is the great strength of the story. The guest cast are great, all of them tackling their lines with relish. John Ringham (previously Tlotoxl in 'The Aztecs') as Blake provides noble support, saving the day during the final episode, and Terence de Marney is also impressive as the ill-fated Joseph Longfoot, the former pirate who quickly befriends the Doctor, but it is Paul Whitsun-Jones as the Squire, George A. Cooper as Cherub, and Michael Godfrey as Pike, who really steal the show. The Squire is delightfully cast as a scoundrel, eager to make ill-gotten gain from smuggling, but later realizing the error of his way and actually saving the Doctor's life when he realises how truly villainous his pirate allies are. Pike and Cherub are the real villains of the peace; the former is cast firmly in the Long John Silver mold (although without the redeeming features), and makes a flamboyant if dangerous foil for the Doctor, seemingly unaware when his opponent is flattering him into submission (the Doctor's convincing him to spare the village in episode four by suggesting that he wouldn't be able to stop his men from ransacking it is and thus employing the most transparent reverse psychology is a case in point!). The cliffhanger to episode one, as he slams his spike into his desktop, is wonderfully melodramatic. Cherub lacks even Pike's veneer of civilized behaviour, as he slaughters Longfoot with obvious relish and makes clear his intention to do the same to the Doctor. Every line Cooper utters drips with glee, making Cherub seem utterly psychotic. His happy reminiscences about his dead shipmates on board Avery's ship, whose names now point the way to the treasure, are bizarre; he clearly remembers them fondly, but accepts their deaths as part of his way of life, painting him as every inch a true pirate and scoundrel. 

I can't really find fault with 'The Smugglers'. The story progresses at a merry pace, carried along by the cast to a dramatic final sword fight. The Doctor even gets to depart through a hidden passageway in true romantic swashbuckler style. I could criticize Hartnell's fluffing of Longfoot's rhyme, which changes slightly between episodes, but it would be unnecessarily churlish. Overall, 'The Smugglers' is a modest but highly entertaining season opener, and one that serves to establish the new TARDIS crew before the massive change that is to follow…





The SmugglersBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 16 January 2007 - Reviewed by Shane Anderson

“The Smugglers” is written very much in the same vein as stories like “Treasure Island”. We have many of the staple ingredients present and accounted for: pirates, buried treasure, tales of a curse, secret passages, the small provincial village and the lonely church on top of the cliff. These aspects of the story are all very conventional, even clichéd, which gives this story a comfortable feeling of familiarity. My observation isn’t meant to criticize however, because a story hadn’t been done like this in Doctor Who before, so placing the Doctor and companions in this situation gives us a fresh take on the genre. 

“The Smugglers” also feels like a fresh start in other ways. Every other travelling companion thus far has overlapped with part of the previous crew. Vicki travelled for some time with Ian and Barbara after Susan left. Steven came on board and briefly met Ian and Barbara before travelling with Vicki for a few stories. Dodo came on board and travelled with Steven. But even though Ben and Polly meet Dodo in the previous story, the fact that she only appears in the first two episodes before Ben and Polly take over makes the TARDIS crew of the Smugglers feel like a clean break from the past, especially considering that Steven leaves at the end of one story, and then Dodo is effectively gone two episodes later despite a mention of her in episode four. There is no one to show Ben and Polly the ropes, forcing them to depend on each other. The quick friendship that they formed in “The War Machines” stands them in good stead here.

This is also a break from convention in that we have a different type of historical on display. For the first time since “The Aztecs”, there are no famous historical figures on display in a historical story. There is no Marco Polo, no Robespierre or Nero, no King Richard, Odysseus or Marshal Tavannes. No Doc Holliday or Wyatt Earp. The historical setting of “The Smugglers” exists purely to provide a backdrop and allow a pirates and buried treasure story to be told. I never get the feeling that it’s meant to be educational in the way that earlier historicals were. And while the story never feels as weighty or consequential as “The Aztecs” or “The Crusade”, it isn’t nearly as lighthearted as “The Highlanders” will prove to be a few stories down the road. It’s a pretty serious story with some rather graphic torture threatened at times, a high body count and some grisly deaths, which ironically we can still see, thanks to the fact that the Australian censors excised them from the program. 

I really enjoy Hartnell’s performance as the Doctor, and the closer I get to the end of his run in my Doctor Who marathon, the more I know I’ll miss his interpretation of the character. Until I watched all his stories in order I never realized just how sidelined he had begun to be near the end of his time on the show. As far back as “The Massacre” the scripts had begun to be written in such a way as to give him less to do in any given story, leaving more of the action to be carried by the companions. “The Ark” is probably the exception to this rule, but he’s missing for two episodes in “The Celestial Toymaker”, has less to do as the story goes on in “The Gunfighters”, barely appears in episode three of “the Savages”, and leaves much of the middle story to be carried by Ben and Polly in “The War Machines”. All of these were written well so that the Doctor is still central to events, but he’s not always around very much, perhaps only in a few key scenes. This trend continues in “The Smugglers”, where he’s barely in episode two, and has only a bit more to do in episode three until the end. 

Despite this, Hartnell’s performance really is as good as it ever was. His initial burst of anger at Ben and Polly’s intrusion into the TARDIS gives way to a gentle amusement when they simply refuse to believe his claims about where and when they are. He handles the encounters with the Longfoot and Kewper with tact, and keeps his dignity after being tied up and hauled aboard the Black Albatross to face Pike. In a delightful scene he easily outwits Jamaica (and correctly predicts Kewper’s future as it happens!) showing once again that it’s easy for villains to underestimate this frail old man, but they do so to their own peril. Morally, this is another fine hour for the Doctor as he refuses to leave when he has the chance, insisting that he must stay and try to protect the people of the village since he feels somewhat responsible for the danger they are in. He shows the courage we've come to expect from him even though physically he’s no match for either Pike or Cherub, and keeps them at bay with words and little else.

Ben and Polly are excellent characters, and they quickly show their suitability as travelling companions for the Doctor. Despite both talking out of turn and being less than cautious, they know enough about history to use the superstition of the time against Tom and get out of the cell. And simply because I enjoy pointing out where the ‘screaming coffee-maker’ stereotype that so often besets Polly isn’t universally true, I feel compelled to mention that she comes up with the plan. She grasps the potential of time travel much more quickly than Ben, who is pretty keen on getting back to his ship. Between the two of them they fill Blake in on what they know, and stand up to pirates and smugglers alike. It’s a strong beginning to their travels.

No pirate story would be complete without some good villains, and we have four. Two pirates and two smugglers. Kewper and the Squire initially appear to be rather small fry, who smuggle goods up and down the coast to dodge the tax man, and neither seems all that dangerous. Kewper turns out to be a rather nasty piece of work later on when Avery’s treasure is at stake, threatening harm or death to Ben and Polly; while Edwards shows that he has his limits. Both men pale in comparison to Cherub and Pike, who both kill victims without any remorse. Cherub in particular seems to enjoy knifing people in the back, while Pike at least has the confidence to confront his victims face to face. 

All in all, this is an enjoyable adventure. As much as I liked Steven and even Dodo, their replacement with Ben and Polly adds some much needed fresh energy to the proceedings. Hartnell is still in fine form and the story moves along at a good pace with some strong villains. This is a story well worth seeing (or rather listening to) and a good season opener.





The Tenth PlanetBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 16 January 2007 - Reviewed by Shane Anderson

I wasn’t sure exactly how to begin reviewing this particular story. In my start to finish Doctor Who marathon I’ve finally reached the final tale in William Hartnell’s era of the show, and it’s strange to think that in four more episodes, he’ll be gone. A remark from Paul Clarke’s review stands out in my memory, that of “feeling a (slightly embarrassing) pang of regret” at the loss of the Doctor as Hartnell played him, and oddly enough I felt much the same sadness, minus the embarrassment. It’s strange that I’d feel slightly sad, considering that I can go back and watch the old episodes any time I like, but there you are. My intention not to skip around and to continue watching in a linear fashion means I won’t see Hartnell again apart from his brief scenes in “the Three Doctors”. I’ve come to really appreciate the Hartnell years more than before after watching them all in order, and it’s easy to enjoy an absolutely excellent leading man playing a wonderful character. He really did set the standard for those that followed.

I’ve seen “The Tenth Planet” before of course, several times. I remember being absolutely delighted to find a copy on the shelf among the Doctor Who videos a few years back. I had no idea it was coming out, and therefore it was a delightful surprise. Like so many stories from the black and white days that are now lost or incomplete, I have a certain fascination with these episodes, since they give us a glimpse into a time during our favourite show’s history that will always be somewhat beyond our reach, even with telesnaps and soundtracks. Nothing is quite a substitute for the actual episode, and so many of these stories still seem unfamiliar to me, even after I’ve heard them and watched the reconstruction. At least with “The Tenth Planet” 75% of the story exists, but frustratingly the crucial fourth episode does not. A few off-screen clips tantalize us, and thankfully those include the lead-in to the regeneration scene, with the fascinating sight of the TARDIS seemingly operating itself and the Doctor standing frozen over the controls before collapsing to the floor and changing. It’s unlike any regeneration since, and also unexplained in any satisfactory fashion, adding to the mystery of the Doctor.

The trend of “sidelining” Hartnell for the middle of a story continues here, with General Cutler dominating the first three episodes. I’ll return to him in a moment. There are plenty of good character moments from the Doctor in episode one as he scolds his companions for their flippant attitude as they are about to exit the TARDIS, and as he tells the very loud sergeant “Why don’t you speak up? I’m deaf!” He also rather oddly writes down a description of Mondas and tries to warn Cutler about it, and then after having shown himself to know far more about the situation than he should, expects to be allowed to leave. I don’t think he quite thought that plan through. The poor fellow seems out of his depth surrounded by the military personnel of Snowcap Base. He gets little to do in episode two other than debate the Cybermen. Episode three sees him collapse and be written out entirely as Hartnell was too ill that week to work. There is a last glimpse of the Doctor’s old confidence and ability to take charge in episode four, as he becomes the primary negotiator with the Cybermen after they kill Cutler. The Doctor stands up to them and works out their plan to destroy the Earth with the z-bomb, warning Ben not to trust them. Only when he is imprisoned on the Cyber ship does he once again seem tired, as though he summoned the last of his energy to confront the Cybermen, and having done so has nothing left. His hasty retreat to the TARDIS is a quiet moment as Ben and Polly wonder what’s happened to him before the final dramatic regeneration scene.

Like Steven before them, Ben and Polly have the job of carrying a large share of the plot, and they both do well with their story strands, though Ben clearly gets the lion’s share of the action. Polly is the subject of some humor in part one since she’s the only woman in the base, and being quite attractive she is the subject of attention from the men at first. Critics of this story often bemoan the fact that Polly is left making the coffee, but they forget that she offers to do so as a pretext for remaining in the tracking room to try and sway Doctor Barclay into sabotaging Cutler’s efforts to launch the Z-bomb. And she’s successful in her attempt. Polly also exhibits the very outspoken moral indignation that will later show up in “The Highlanders” and “The Faceless Ones”. She stands up to the Cybermen and demands that they justify the deaths of millions that the Cybermen will cause. That’s no small act of courage on her part, considering that the Cybermen have already killed one man and incapacitated Cutler for defying them. Sure she’s scared when trapped on the spacecraft in episode four, but who wouldn’t be? As a side note, she and Ben seem more like passengers of the Doctor’s than friends at this point, having had little time to develop the close relationship with him that Ian and Barbara or Steven had.

Ben gets to be both a soldier and a saboteur. Lest we forget that he is a military man, he snaps to attention when Cutler demands his name, telling him “Able Seaman Ben Jackson, sir. Royal Navy.” Later when the Cybermen have taken control of the base he unwisely attempts to take the fallen soldier’s weapon, getting himself locked up for his trouble. He’s resourceful enough to draw the guard Cyberman into the room and disorient him long enough to take his weapon, and though reluctant to kill him, he does so. He’s clearly shaken about the incident, and later shows no satisfaction in the killing, telling Cutler “I had no alternative.” It is his actions and capture of the weapon that allow the first wave of Cybermen to be killed, and the capture of three weapons allows the second wave to be destroyed. Ben also sabotages the rocket successfully, and together with Barclay holds off the Cybermen long enough for Mondas to absorb too much energy and destroy itself. In short, he is a huge factor in all the events that occur. It can be argued that Ben plays a larger role in the defeat of the Cybermen than the Doctor does, though the Doctor certainly plays a crucial part.

General Cutler is not what I’d call a villain, but he is certainly an antagonist for the Doctor, Ben and Polly. Characterized as a tough, no-nonsense general, he’s generally well acted by Robert Beatty. A few lines don’t come across as natural, but much of his performance is quite good. The things that convince me the most are the less bombastic lines, or actions that seem like natural behavior such as a reassuring hand on a subordinates shoulder when the countdown to launch is going on, or the wordless vocalization when Dyson tells him that Barclay’s probably gone to check the rocket. His accent is mercifully pretty good, because if it had been as poor as the ones in “The Gunfighters” or “Tomb of the Cybermen”, it would have killed the character’s credibility completely. Cutler is well motivated throughout the story, first by the need to bring the endangered astronauts down from orbit, and later by the need to take action against the threat posed by Mondas as well as to save his son’s life. Only when he becomes willing to chance the destruction of half the lives on Earth and when he is ready to shoot the Doctor and Barclay does his characterization become unconvincing. It’s as though the writers need to get rid of him quick to allow the Doctor to take center stage in the last episode, so he snaps in a rather unlikely manner and is gunned down by the Cybermen. It’s not really a fitting end for the general, who is a decent character, all things considered. 

The Cybermen make their first appearance here. Honestly, I ought to find them absurd. They look as if they are made of cobbled-together bits of prop and ski masks. But I’m almost always in a generous mood when it comes to Doctor Who’s effects and costumes, and so I find myself enjoying the fact that for the only time in their history, thanks to the costumes, the Cybermen actually appear partially organic. Their eyes and of course the outlines of their face can be seen behind the cloth mask, and human hands are still visible. The odd manner of speaking where the mouth opens, words come out and then the mouth closes is conceptually interesting even if it isn’t pulled off in an entirely successful manner. The characterization of the Cybermen works fairly well, though they are a very talkative bunch at first. It seems to me that if they were governed by logic they would talk less and act more. The threat they pose to all life on Earth is a suitably grand menace for the first Doctor to defeat in his final adventure.

The manner in which the regeneration is handled certainly adds to the mystery of the character. We’re three years into the program at this point, and still have very little idea about the lead character, something I’m not sure that today’s audiences would stand for. Without any warning or explanation, he becomes an entirely different man who neither looks nor acts like the Doctor. It was no doubt a risky move on the part of the production team to recast the lead and write that into the narrative, and then not even explain the change very well! It’s also a pretty successful visual effect for the time, with the brighter screen helping to wash out some detail as Hartnell’s face fades into Troughton’s. I understand that they spent a good bit of time trying to get the sequence to look right, and it pays off.

To sum it all up, the scale of the story allows the original Doctor to go out in grand style, saving the Earth from what would become recurring foes almost as implacable as the Daleks. There are some bad accents and some iffy characterization here and there, but this is a solid story with some big ideas. Well worth seeing.