Monday, January 27, 2014

Ice Station Cybermen


STORY 029: THE TENTH PLANET

The Tenth Planet is both a debut and farewell.  It is the first Cyberman story, a monster that has become one of the most iconic of Doctor Who monsters (who have also undergone many alterations in design throughout the series).  It is also the last First Doctor story, where we are left with the very first regeneration.  While the actual look of the Cybermen themselves may disappoint (and actually, I figure it didn't look all that good the first go-round), the actual concept of the Cybermen is in itself a splendid one.  The Tenth Planet also moves well and on the whole works, albeit not without a few hiccups.

It is the South Pole, 1986 (i.e. twenty years into the future).  On Station Snowcap General Cutler (Robert Beatty) is overseeing the routine flight of a spaceship, Zeus IV.  General Cutler (Robert Beatty) is running the International Space Command station while chief scientist Dr. Barclay (David Dodimead) handles the technical aspects.  Two groups arrive at Station Snowcap.  The first group is The Doctor (William Hartnell) and his Companions, Able Seaman Ben Jackson (Michael Craze) and Polly (Anneke Wills).  The arrival of three humans in the middle of the South Pole startles the crew.  They are taken but found to be harmless.

Into this we find that Zeus IV is having technical issues.  The instruments on Snowcap are also experiencing strange readings.  The Doctor knows what it is, and soon his warnings are confirmed: a whole new planet is suddenly appearing.  The Doctor knows what this planet it.  It is Mondas, the Earth's twin planet, lost ages ago but now returning.  With Mondas' arrival we also get new beings: metallic beings who call themselves Cybermen.  They were once like Earthlings, but over time their body parts were replaced with robotic parts, keeping their brains but removing all things called 'emotions'.  The fate of Zeus IV is irrelevant to them.  Mondas is absorbing the Earth's energy and will soon destroy our world.  With that, the Cybermen say they will take humans and turn them into Cybermen.


Cutler and Ben are able to defeat this Cyber-party, but it looks like Earth is doomed due to Mondas absorbing Earth's energy and bringing Earth to an inevitable explosion. Zeus IV is destroyed when it was dragged to Mondas and exploded due to the absorption of energy. Cutler decides that he will use the Z-Bomb, a Doomsday Device, to destroy Mondas.  This of course could bring destruction to Earth, the nuclear force being so great it could wipe out the side of Earth that is facing Mondas.  Just when he is needed the most, the Doctor has become violently ill and is out of commission.  Cutler is also motivated by the fact that his son Terry (Callen Angelo) has been sent on a rescue mission to Zeus IV which was too late to save the ship and runs the risk of a similar fate.  Ben, echoing the Doctor's previous warnings, begs Cutler not to take this act, saying that Mondas is absorbing so much energy that it will destroy itself.  Barclay similarly insists on the dangers, but Cutler will not be dissuaded.

Ben and Barclay manage to sabotage the rocket that was to carry the Z-Bomb, and Cutler orders them killed.  However, a new Cyber-party arrives in time to kill Cutler, inadvertently saving everyone else.  The Cybermen, however, will now use the Z-Bomb against Earth to save Mondas, taking Polly as a hostage.  The Doctor, Ben, and Barclay manage to delay long enough to see Mondas explode, and with that the Cybermen disintegrate.  Ben and the Doctor rescue Polly, but now the Doctor tells them that it's far from being all over.  Having complained earlier that 'this old body of mine is wearing a bit thin', he has them rush him back to the TARDIS, where he locks them out.  Once they finally get inside, they find the Doctor collapsed on the floor.  As the TARDIS starts dematerializing, the Doctor's face begins to change into someone else's...



It is the most tantalizing loss in the Doctor Who archive: the very first regeneration.  The actual regeneration sequence does survive, thanks to a clip used on the children's program Blue Peter, but apart from that and a few off-screen recordings Episode Four of The Tenth Planet is lost.  Both the surviving sequence and the animated reconstruction are quite effective and chilling.  In fact, the animation for Episode Four gives indication that The Tenth Planet would have worked brilliantly as an anime-type story.  The destruction of Mondas and the disintegration of the Cybermen in their animated form is brilliant, and I think looks better than the actual footage would have looked like.

The animation is the same as that from the missing episodes of The Reign of Terror, not as fluid as that of the animation for The Invasion, but this time I didn't find it as much of a hindrance as I did for Reign of Terror.  I think it is probably because The Tenth Planet is science-fiction, so that kind of story lends itself better to animation than a historic-based story like Reign of Terror.  Seeing the Cybermen animated also makes them more menacing, even if the initial Cyber-design was not the best.  Fortunately, their design was worked on to where the Cybermen would become one of the great Doctor Who monsters rivaling the iconic Daleks. 


In terms of performances Hartnell, though slowly slipping into illness that forced him (in part) to retire from the role, seems oddly invigorated as the Doctor.  He still commands authority and mixes that with a genuine caring aspect for his Companions.  The fact that Hartnell became ill during the making of Episode Three (thus basically writing him off that episode) works because we can imagine that in retrospect it is the beginning of his regeneration taking effect.  His final moments as the Doctor were brilliant: a sense of fear and terror coming across as he is about to enter a new phase.  Craze takes command as Ben Jackson, being less a man of action and more a man who needs to do things to save others, like a good Royal Navy crewman would.  Wills, sadly, had the run of screaming and looking almost helpless, but that is a reflection of the times.  However, she and Craze have a great rapport, especially when their Swinging London sensibilities come against the ancient Time Lord's more Edwardian outlook, particularly in clothes.

The design for the Cybermen, as I stated, were a bit odd-looking now.  The costume, with that lantern on their head and the mask (whose mouth sometimes did not open when they first starting speaking) runs the risk of looking a bit comical now.  However, they were quite effective whenever they killed, and the sing-song voice they used indicated correctly that they had something vaguely human about them but that they were not entirely machine or human.  I have long wondered whether the Cybermen were the metaphorical ancestors of Star Trek's Borg, and hearing them say in Episode Four that "Resistance is useless" does heighten the suspicions.

I do have some questions in Kit Pedler's screenplay (with Gerry Davis co-writing Episodes Three and Four).  The Doctor has knowledge of Mondas' existence and who the inhabitants of said planet are, but we never learn how he came to this information.  Having the Cybermen have two landing parties does seem a bit peculiar, as does their fortuitous arrival to save them from Cutler.  In particular, the aspect of the Doctor knowing about Mondas but never learning how or why looks like it was thrown in just to have someone understand how this all came about.  The subplot of the Cybermen going to Geneva in their plot to either destroy or take over the Earth also was a bit short-shifted.

Still, apart from those aspects The Tenth Planet holds up extremely well and gives the First Doctor a proper send-off, leaving open so many possibilities that are now part of established Doctor Who Canon (regeneration, Cybermen).  It's a very good story, acted well, which moves steadily and who uses the Doctor's absence effectively. 

Sadly, the next two stories,  the Second Doctor debut story The Power of the Daleks, and the historical adventure The Highlanders (which was the debut of Companion Jamie McCrimmon, the first Scottish Companion...sorry, Amy Pond), are lost, with no surviving episodes apart from short clips.  The third story, The Underwater Menace, is the first semi-complete Second Doctor story, and in perhaps the strangest irony, the first completely intact Second Doctor story is Story 037...The Tomb of the CybermenThe Tenth Planet moves well, has an interesting story, and despite the now-weak Cybermen look we can see how things will work out in the future.

We will not be deleted...


8/10

Next Story: The Power of the Daleks

Next Available Story: The Underwater Menace

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