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Cybermen make their first appearance on Doctor Who, and William Hartnell his last (for a while), in this legendary classic serial.

The Doctor and his two companions, Ben and Polly, materialise in the distant future of 1986, in what the Doc dubbed “the coldest place in the world” in C028 The Smugglers. We learn, perhaps somewhat disappointingly, that they’ve not arrived on Hoth but in the Antarctic, coincidentally right atop a subterranean, military-controlled, UN-regulated space-base, which is governed by the faux-American General Cutler and acts as (a) a launch pad for exploratory space rockets, and (b) the unlocked and unguarded repository of one of three doomsday devices known as Z-bombs.

While we’re on the subject of coincidence, an odd Tenth Planet has just arrived. (You see, kids, this was done back in the day when Pluto was still a planet!) And with it, the Cybermen. That’s right, this is the first appearance of Cybermen in Doctor Who!

Some random facts:

  1. This was William Hartnell’s final go at playing the Doctor. (Well, until he returns in The Three Doctors.) That’s right – spoiler alert – it features his regeneration into Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor.
  2. These Cybers hail from the planet Mondas, Earth’s long-lost twin planet – you can already smell the homage in the air twixt Rise of the Cybermen (their first appearance in #NewWho) and this, right? Twin planet vs. Practically identical parallel dimension! Pretty cool.
  3. The arrival of Mondas on our side of the sun, while completely unexplained, has terrifying consequences, namely, it begins to absorb all of the energy in its vicinity, including that of the Earth!
  4. Bobbing around in space after the wanton destruction of the Zeus IV rocket (yeah, that happened) is its replacement, the Zeus V rocket, which is manned by General Cutler’s son!

Ipso freaking facto, General Cutler has a personal stake in the destruction of Mondas. But will blowing it up with a Z-bomb also cause the death of the Earth? Will the Cybermen enslave us all before he even gets a chance to detonate the doomsday device in the first place? And will The First Doctor save the day one last time?

You’ll just have to watch this serial and/or listen to our review to find out!

#DoctorWho #DrWho #cybermen #ClassicWho

 

PS: Special thanks to @sgamer82 for bringing this Doctor Who / Star Wars nugget to our attention.
(A belated) May the Fourth be with you, Sir!

Bossk's clothing is a recycled spacesuit from the classic Doctor Who episode The Tenth Planet

Here's what we think of C029 The Tenth Planet

We rate Doctor Who stories on a scale from 0.0 to 5.0. For context, very few are excellent enough to merit a 5.0 in our minds, and we'd take a 0.0 Doctor Who story over a lot of other, non-Whovian stuff out there.

Leon | @ponken

3.8

Nik | @nikulele

2.9

Here's what we think of C029 The Tenth Planet

We rate Doctor Who stories on a scale from 0.0 to 5.0. For context, very few are excellent enough to merit a 5.0 in our minds, and we'd take a 0.0 Doctor Who story over a lot of other, non-Whovian stuff out there.

Leon | @ponken

3.8

Nik | @nikulele

2.9

Here's what you think 14 Responses to “C029 The Tenth Planet”
  1. Gallifreyan Buccaneer | @aluntrussler

    To save time, as we all know this is a monumentally important episode for so many different reasons I’m only going to talk about the Cybermen and the concept of regeneration.

    The Cybermen here are, in my opinion, the greatest enemy Doctor Who has ever produced. Just as the Weeping Angels in Blink surpass their later characterization, so to do the Cybermen in the Tenth Planet. These Cyber-men, and let’s break that down: Cyber. Men. Cybernetic men. Not monsters that stalk the night, nor hate-filled creatures in travelling machines, or lonely assassins – Men. Humans.

    They are a dark mirror to humanity, coming from Earth’s lost twin planet Mondas. They are what happens if we decide to remove our emotions. But that isn’t the worst thing, the worst thing is that it’s obvious we clearly chose to do it. We wanted to be stronger, faster, more resilient, so we grafted metal to ourselves, spliced and cut our way to perfection. And what are we left with? Balaclava’d faces that hide any identifiable features, mouths that don’t respond properly to our synthesized speech, and an ironic sing-song voice that repulses our human brothers and sisters. How you respond to this at first is probably to laugh, ‘look how clunky the Cybermen used to be, aren’t their voices silly?’. Well honestly, not really. Listen long enough and it becomes chilling. Imagine this human-like thing standing in front of you, cold eyes, emotionless voice, the smell of disinfectant for whatever skin is left under their cloth face masks. It’s revolting precisely because it’s so un-human.

    The Cybermen aren’t robots, they’re people. You really get the sense of it in this story, these Cybermen had a life, jobs, they used to love. What could possibly have made them want to become this revolting thing? Ambition, strength, perfection – human virtues. They are brilliant, they are so much more nuanced, creepy and insidious than they will later become. The closest we get is in Tomb of the Cybermen. If anyone ever asks, what’s the Blink of the Cybermen, the episode that really shows how great they can be a villain. This is it.

    Regeneration: What a novel and brilliant idea to recast your leading man. Where 007 is re-cast with barely a mention of past adventures (except for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, damn it!), The Doctor regenerates. Through death he lives again. And here he dies an old man, on the run from his own race, his granddaughter left to live her own life, fighting emotionless parallel’s of a race he’s come to know well, and among companions he’s only just met. His energy is drained by an entire planet as he’s surrounded by death and destruction, but from this we know that ‘It’s far from being all over’. Out of death comes new life, we don’t know why, or how, but it happens. This cantankerous, brave, lovable, insulting, heroic figure ends his life and we get something entirely new – Patrick Troughton!

    The Tenth Planet as a story gets a 4.5 from me, but as part of Doctor Who mythology it’s invaluably important.

  2. Stephen | @sgamer82

    As I promised Ponken over Twitter, I’m coming into the review of “The Tenth Planet” with a potentially unique perspective. I own and have read the novelization of this serial via Kindle. The novelization is largely faithful to the television episode, with differences usually just being a case of different wording here and there. However, there are a few big differences that drew my attention:.
     
     * The Doctor’s increasing frailty is given much more prominence, as Ben & Polly’s narration notes the Doctor seeming to age rapidly early on, and makes it sound as if the Doctor is going up and down in terms of vitality. Weak one moment, back on his feet as strong as ever the next.
     * The conversation at the start of episode 3, in the TV serial, is held between General Cutler, Ben, and Barclay because William Hartnell was presumably too ill to film that week. In the novelization, their conversation is largely identical but held almost completely between Cutler and the Doctor.
     * When the Doctor says his body’s wearing a bit thin, he adds on that it’s “about time for a change.”
     * The regeneration scene itself plays out very differently. In the book, Ben & Polly have entered the TARDIS and are are changing out of their winter coats when they hear a shout. Upon investigating, they find the Doctor in a sleeping pod, face covered by his cloak. They notice his hands have changed to look more like a younger man’s, then the Doctor appears, looking very different, and introducing himself as the NEW Doctor.
     
     The plot felt weak in a few points, mostly because I initially had a hard time trying to work out why the Cybermen were even interested in the Snowcap base to begin with. Things made more sense when I remembered their intent regarding the Z-Bomb. I also had some issues with the resolution of “Mondas destroys itself”, on the other hand winning by stalling for time was definitely a different type of battle.
     
     This first iteration of the Cybermen were interesting, mostly for how different they were from their successors, even in the Troughton era. The odd little sing-song their voices have is unique to this batch. Personally, given they were trying to convince people to return to Mondas with them, I like to think they were trying to be sociable and were completely botching it as only creatures with no concept of feelings or emotions could. Perhaps more compelling as an antagonist is Cutler, whose actions are driven by his desperate desire to save his son’s life, one of the most basic of emotions
     
     The companions were quite active in the plot as well, in their own ways. Ben constantly trying to find ways to challenge the Cybermen and escaping captivity no less than three times. Polly (once again the only female in the cast) trying to reason with the Cybermen and, later, win over Barclay to their side.
     
     My confusion regarding the plot and the deus ex machina nature of its resolution works against the serial so I can’t feel like it rates a four or higher. Yet I also feel compelled to add to the score some due to this being William Hartnell’s finale story so my rating for this serial is a 3.9 out of 5.

  3. Peter Zunitch

    It’s sad that this wasn’t planned out better. Just two stories ago the dr was complaining of being tired. Right before that he was ready to pack it in. Then he’s in full form again and very active for the smugglers. Finally he’s on top of his game here, then he’s not, then he is again, then he’s gone.
    The story would benefit from three somewhat major revisions. 1) the above mentioned consistency with the doctor getting worse and worse, yet still rising above it all to win the day. 2) the revelation that the Cybermen never intended for Mondas to survive. It’s moronic that they didn’t know it would be destroyed. Instead it should have been their plan all along to move to the earth before that happened, with the doctor stopping them by preventing them from leaving in time. 3) Spend the extra 20 pounds and recycle a space ship set so you have more camera angles when talking to the astronauts. It became boring to see just the control room and the little monitor. It would have been nice as well to add a throw away line as to why Mondas is going to break apart, but why the Earth is showing no signs of damage, and why no one detected the planet until it was on top of them.
    Honestly I adored the stereotypes in this episode. It felt so true to the 60’s.
    It’s sad to see WH go. I really wish there were more of him. People often say how he was the first, but he was also one of the best. 3.9

  4. Despite the cold, the Doctor, Ben and Polly emerge at the South Pole to have a little look around the frozen wastes. The place is not as deserted as imagined, and soon the trio are arrested for trespassing on a secret military testing site, under control of the UN.

    Problems don’t come alone – a strange power drain is affecting the base, one of their spacecraft has gone out of control, and a sinister new planet has arrived in the Solar system on a collision course with Earth. Too late, the realisation dawns that these problems have a single cause – the Cybermen.

    THE MAJESTY
    In Doctor Who lore, this story is legendary. It is the first introduction of one of the series most enduring villains – second only to the Daleks. And it is the first time we ever see the Doctor regenerate, as Patrick Troughton enters the show for the first time.

    However, even if that wider history did not exist, and the story stood by itself, it would still be a highly entertaining piece. General Cutler is a brilliant character, transforming from a tough-talking soldier to a hysterical maniac with a gun. This “base under siege” story would become a staple formula of future stories, with a long run of petty tyrants and megalomaniac commanders. But few are as credible as the first – General Cutler!

    In addition, the Cybermen are particularly eerie here – their ‘body horror’ vibe is something they lose with their later development into mere robots. Here they have ordinary flesh hands, with cloth over their faces instead of skin, but with their eyes clearly visible underneath. Here they open their mouths in a silent scream while a sing-song pre-recorded answerphone voice recites their dialogue. They are a brilliant concept, and you can easily understand why audiences were keen to see more. Even their backstory is carefully crafted – trying to cheat death they have slowly replaced themselves with manufactured components, bit by bit. They’re easily one of the most horrifying things we have yet seen on the show.

    THE MISERY
    It’s not all good – there’s plenty to criticise about this series too. Not least is the question of why the Cybermen come to the base at all – what were they looking for, and how did they get there so quickly? And why – when they decided the base was a threat – did they not send in their spaceships to blow it up? Surely their civilisation has got some artillery-type weaponry and are not reliant upon foot-soldiers with handguns.

    The first two waves of Cybermen are defeated far too easily for us to be particularly afraid of the third, even if there are more dots on the screen – spaceships flying in formation, we are told!

    The Doctor’s absence for episode three is a bit less smoothly handled than previous departures. A body double collapses inexplicable in the first scene and he is carried out. Hartnell doesn’t reappear until episode four, where he simply walks in, telling everyone that he’s woken up again. It’s a shame that he is missing from a whole episode of his swansong.

    MAGICAL MOMENTS
    – In a daring moment of fanservice, we are introduced to one Italian soldier in a close-up shot of the pin-up girl postcards he has above his bunk, before we pull out to reveal him.
    – This same Italian ogles at Polly through the periscope: “Mamma mia! Bellissima!” I don’t recall much else happening with this Italian soldier, which is a shame after building up his character so well.
    – “Get the CO!” roars the Sergeant at the top of his voice. “Get him!” – “Why don’t you speak up a bit, hmmm?” grumbles the Doctor.
    – When the CO, General Cutler turns up, things don’t go better. “I don’t like your tone, sir!” says the Doctor. – “Is that right?” says the General. “Well I don’t like your face … or your hair!”
    – The end of the first episode with the arrival of the Cybermen is played for high tension and it really works. Give the director a medal!
    The Cyberman explain their history and constitution in Episode Two. It should be a dull scene – sheer exposition – but they are such creepy and intriguing villains that we are hooked.
    – The United Nations is an excuse for every comedy accent under the sun!
    – Later in this episode, General Cutler discovers the astronaut who volunteered for a suicide mission is his own son. It’s a powerful character moment that sets up his later descent into madness.
    – “The earth is about to fight its first interplanetary war” – there is a little frisson of anticipation that grips the audience on hearing these words.
    – “We can destroy Mondas!” declaims General Cutler at the beginning of Episode Three. – “But that’s impossible!” – “Impossible is not a word in my dictionary, Dr Bartlett.” – “And just how do you propose to do it?” – “By using the Zee-Bomb!!!!!” Gasps and screams of horror erupt all round from the watching specialists. I, on the other hand, couldn’t resist a little chuckle – all the rising drama of the scene was dissipated in one moment by a Deus-Ex-Machina with a preposterous name.
    – It later turns out this Zee-bomb is powerful enough to destroy half of all life on Earth if it explodes on Mondas. Wait… what? Seriously? What sort of fire power is this thing packing? Mondas is approaching the Earth, granted, but still it must be a good bit further away than the moon. And the blast from this Zee-bomb can still take out half the Earth’s population?! In comparison, even the Emperor’s “Death Star” looks like a peashooter. Credibility has been left long behind by this stage.
    – “Can I do something?” asks Polly, as interplanetary war erupts around her. But what’s the job she gets given? Making the coffee…
    Ben is tasked with crawling down a ventilation shaft because he is small enough to fit inside. Except that the said ventilation shaft is enormous… A pregnant pasta-mamma could fit inside – with triplets!
    – Ben goes for an absolute bender over a barricade when a Cyberman attacks him. It’s surely a stunt double, but it’s a brilliant stunt!

    IN SUMMARY
    “The Tenth Planet” will always be remembered as Hartnell’s last story, and the first in which the Doctor’s regenerates – a remarkable concept that transforms “Dr Who” into a series that is always bigger and greater than the sum of its parts. Hartnell led the way in popularising the character of the Doctor and the show in general. But without this story, and the regeneration into Patrick Troughton, “Dr Who” would be long forgotten, expect by nerdy enthusiasts of UK TV from the 1960s.

    Even without that mandatory inclusion in the Doctor Who ‘Hall of Fame’, “The Tenth Planet” is a strong story. Polly and particularly Ben are great here. General Cutler and the Cybermen are fantastic antagonists. The Doctor is missed from episode three, but it does help to avoid his regeneration merely being a tack-on at the end, as it can sometimes become in other stories. The idea of a base on the South Pole is a lot of fun, thought the action ends up feeling very constrained to just a couple of sets, especially when we are dealing with interplanetary war and global invasion. Nevertheless, the whole thing holds together very well despite it’s obvious limitations.

    Overall: 4.3

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