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Case Number 26589

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Doctor Who: The Tenth Planet

BBC Video // 1966 // 93 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart (Retired) // November 18th, 2013

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All Rise...

Appellate Judge James A. Stewart is planning his nine-hundredth birthday bash already.

The Charge

"It's far from being all over."—The Doctor, shortly before his first regeneration

Opening Statement

William Hartnell uttered that line in 1966, and it proved true. In the midst of Doctor Who's fiftieth anniversary, BBC America and BBC Radio 4 Extra (which you can hear online) are celebrating with adventures and specials. The BBC's pronouncements make it sound like they're already preparing for the Doctor Who centennial, if not the bicentennial.

I will note that Hartnell's Doctor apparently died of old age. His successors' lifespans were trifles compared to the First Doctor's hundreds of years. He's still a young fool by Gallifreyan standards.

The last episode of Doctor Who: The Tenth Planet is gone, reproduced in two ways: with stills and clips, or with animation. My guess is that they chopped it up for clips by mistake at the Tenth Anniversary (Note to BBC: Be very careful with the first Dalek appearance in your clip shows, now and forever.). Three episodes still remain in their original form, though.

Facts of the Case

"All I can see is snow, snow, and more snow." That may be true at first for the crew of a South Pole space base in 1986, but soon they'll be seeing a blue hut and its three-person crew—the Doctor (William Hartnell, Brighton Rock), Polly (Anneke Wills, Strange Report), and Ben (Michael Craze,Two Left Feet). The Doctor, in turn, proclaims that the Cybermen will soon make their first appearance, hoping to get a battery recharge for their home planet by draining the Earth—and killing us all, of course. Soon, he's right. The South Pole crew will face as many as seven Cybermen at a time, and they'll see a lot of scary dots on a radar screen. News reports from Palomar Observatory in San Diego (another foreshadowing of the Doctor's future pop culture status) will confirm the Cybermen's invasion.

Somewhere in there, the Doctor takes ill, and—when the Cybermen are defeated, for now—heads back to the TARDIS, where his face becomes Patrick Troughton's just as the credits start to roll.

The Evidence

Today's viewer might find The Tenth Planet talky, but the sort of talk going on at the South Pole base will be familiar to viewers of The Walking Dead and many a zombie flick. Essentially, the TARDIS crew spends a lot of time discussing how to deal with Cybermen with General Cutler (Robert Beatty, 2001: A Space Odyssey), who actually runs the base and is supposed to make the decision. The Doctor and his companions want to hold off; Polly's even concerned about the lives of the Cybermen. General Cutler, however, wants to blast 'em with the Z-bomb. He's not totally cold-hearted; instead, he's concerned about what'll save the life of his son, who's an astronaut somewhere up there in the middle of this invasion. The discussion is handled well by the cast, despite hasty rewrites as the very human actor William Hartnell actually took ill during taping.

The original tape of the last chapter is gone, but it's re-created twice (the soundtrack survived). There's an animated version which flows nicely, and a cobbled-together alternate version from stills and clips that appeared on VHS. That one isn't horrible, either, which reminded me how static this story is as far as action goes.

The original tape has a lot of grain, particularly in stock shots of rockets and such.

As usual, there are a lot of extras, although it's not a flood this time. Quite a few actors and crew members join in the commentary, including Anneke Wills and Earl Cameron, who, as a black actor, recalls his breakthrough in playing an astronaut in the space capsule. There's a pop-up track which points out stuff like a character reading a Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos comic book (which was not actually in print in actual 1986, but I foggily remember has some relation to the current Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the Marvel Universe) and also tells us that there were quite a few Professor Quatermasses in the fifties.

Other bits and pieces include Blue Peter host Peter Purves (one of William Hartnell's companions) going into Who history for what he must have thought would be the last retrospective at the ten-year mark; a short interview with William Hartnell as he reluctanly starred in a Christmas pantomime after leaving the show; an interview with Anneke Wills, who says her kids at least once thought she was in real peril while watching a show's cliffhanger; "The Golden Age," which discusses whether there was a Golden Age of Who; "Companion Piece," which interviews Arthur Darvill, Nicola Bryant, Louise Jameson, Elisabeth Sladen, and William Russell about their stints alongside some Doctor or another; "Boys! Boys! Boys!" which talks to male companions Peter Purves, Frazer Hines, and Mark Strickson; and a photo gallery.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

If you don't give a fig for Doctor Who history—and even if you do—you won't be able to help noticing that "The Tomb of the Cybermen," a Patrick Troughton encounter with the almost-humans, is a better adventure. It's up to you which one you'd prefer to check out.

Unless you're a Cyberman, you'll shed a tear for William Hartnell, who was nudged out. His memory destroying arteriosclerosis was taking hold, but his career ended with a sad whimper—a pantomime show, one last stage show after that, and a few guest spots. Yeah, I'll have to admit that I'd miss the years of shows that might not have been if he'd stayed on to cancellation, but it's still sad. I hope he's at a viewing party on November 23, 2013, in Heaven—and boasting till the angels weep (but not scream, since they've taken most of the screaming out of the current series).

Alert viewers will notice that the Cybermen, which writer Kit Pedler envisioned as symbols of "dehumanization of medicine," still have one original human part: their hands. That's put down in the commentaries and featurettes to a costumer's oversight, but as with nearly every mistake on Doctor Who, everyone who discussed it decided they kind of liked it after all.

You'll also note that we lost a planet, not gained one, since 1966.

Pop-up notes and commentary are absent for the animated re-creation.

Closing Statement

If it weren't for the historical aspects of the storyline—the first Cybermen appearance, the first regeneration, and the series' first black astronaut—Doctor Who: The Tenth Planet wouldn't be on anyone's must-have list. Still, it's a decent, and intellectual, serial.

Doctor Who and its cliffhangers were probably quite old-fashioned even in 1963, and I've seen that the writing and production appeared sharper during Patrick Troughton's stint (although it may just seem that way because of all the missing pieces). I still enjoy William Hartnell's portrayal of (as he put it in that interview clip) "a cross between the Wizard of Oz and Father Christmas." His farewell makes a fitting DVD release for the show's fiftieth anniversary week.

I wouldn't have had the nerve to chase William Hartnell out if I'd have been there in 1966. Of course, second-guesses like that are the stuff of which Doctor Who is made; one of the BBC's radio serials next week has a "What if?" about the Beatles.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 70
Audio: 90
Extras: 90
Acting: 90
Story: 90
Judgment: 90

Perp Profile

Studio: BBC Video
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• English (SDH)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 1966
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Genres:
• Adventure
• Classic
• Cult
• Drama
• Family
• Foreign
• Science Fiction
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• Commentary
• Featurettes
• Gallery

Accomplices

• IMDb
• Official Site
• BBC Radio 4 Extra








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