Sunday, March 25, 2012

Doctor Who: 029 The Tenth Planet

Moving on in season 4, we come to William Hartnell's last story, The Tenth Planet where the Doctor first encounters the Cybermen, and first regenerates... into Patrick Troughton. Of all the villians and monsters the Doctor has faced over the years, the Daleks and the Cybermen have to be two of the most iconic. The Doctor encounters the Daleks in his second serial, and each incarnation of the Doctor has encountered the Daleks at least once... even in the new series (with the exception of Paul McGann, whose single on-screen outing was against The Master, a villain who was not introduced until Jon Pertwee). Likewise, nearly every incarnation of the Doctor has faced the Cybermen at least once (Paul McGann and Christopher Eccleston being the exceptions this time, unless you count Eccleston seeing a Cyberman head in a museum in Dalek, although if Eccleston had stayed on one more season, he probably would have faced them). I'll have to admit that for the longest time, I thought the Cybermen were introduced during Troughton's time as Doctor and The Tomb of the Cybermen was the earliest Cybermen story I had seen. I then discovered that Hartnell encountered them in his very last story... So this is where it all began. :)

All the episodes in this serial exist except the last one. This is probably the saddest of all the missing episodes and is probably the most sought after episode of all the missing ones because it contains the Doctor's first regeneration. Remember we talked about John Wiles wanting to replace Hartnell by making the Doctor invisible during The Celestial Toymaker, then making him visible as another actor at the end of the serial, but BBC management wouldn't allow it. After BBC management changed, the writers concocted another plan to replace Hartnell by having him weaken to the point of death, then regenerate as another actor... giving the show virtually infinite life. How things might have been different if Wiles had been allowed to replace Hartnell his way!

Even though the final episode is missing, we do have the actual regeneration scene from an episode of the children's show Blue Peter. There are also silent 8mm on-air film clips at various points in the episode including some footage shortly before the regeneration. Thanks to this, telesnaps, and the audio recordings that exist for all the missing episodes, this episode is able to be reconstructed. Loose Cannon did take on this story as one of their early reconstructions, but for the official BBC VHS release, the Doctor Who Restoration Team decided to do an "official" reconstruction, so Loose Cannon pulled theirs. It was this official reconstruction that I watched. No announcement has been made regarding the DVD release plans for this serial. None of the episodes of this serial appear on the Lost in Time set, so the BBC probably plans to either release the same reconstruction that appeared on VHS, a new reconstruction, or an animated reconstruction.

I'll have to admit that this is actually the first serial/reconstruction that I watched when I started this project because I wanted to the see the first Cybermen story. I also wanted to see how the BBC felt a reconstruction should be done. I'll have to say that it's good, but Loose Cannon's efforts, especially some of the latter ones are just as good. :)

Moving on to the story, I find it amusing that this is supposed to take place in 1986, 20 years after the serial aired and the year I graduated high school... :) In true B-grade sci-fi movie fashion (and somewhat similar to the "cardboard" sets of Star Trek the original series), the technology is dated looking now even though it might have looked futuristic at the time. You always have to take into account when a show was made, and Doctor Who, until the revival in 2005, never had a big budget anyway. The stories were generally good, and people were able to overlook the sock puppet and bubblewrap monsters. :)

Speaking of sock puppets, the original Cybermen look like they're about to rob a bank with stocking masks on. :p Each time the Cybermen appeared on-screen, they looked different from the previous time, but this is the first incarnation. As a story, this serial works well. The astronauts lost in space due to the rogue planet, then eventually the commander's son being in peril provide just the right amount of tension to keep you interested... Even with the stocking faces, the seemingly 7-foot tall Cybermen are quite menacing. You can see why they brought them back time and time again. By the time you get to the missing episode, you're so absorbed in the story that you may not even realize you're watching a reconstruction. :)

With the single missing episode of this story, our total is up to 5 for season 4. With the end of Hartnell's Doctor, I'm going to take a detour into an alternate universe... that of the feature films where the Doctor is played by Peter Cushing, and his name is not "The Doctor", but "Dr. Who" (as he was credited in the early serials).

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