Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Tenth Planet — Blogging Doctor Who

Resistance is useless!
I’m going to miss William Hartnell, but at least his send-off was on par with “The Daleks” and not with “The Gunfighters.” As the First Doctor’s final story, we meet the #2 baddies of Doctor Who, the Cybermen. But first a few quibbles.

The serial is called “The Tenth Planet” because, at the time, Pluto was viewed as the ninth planet. The problem came up later that there were plenty of other things that were as much as planet as Pluto is, so we either demote Pluto or decided that a lot of other things are planets. A bigger point is that there is no way that Mondas, the home world of the Cybermen, could have formed as a twin planet to Earth. No, you can’t have two planets sharing the same orbit.

To make things worse, even a “twin” planet to Earth, that is one with the same composition and mass certainly wouldn’t have the same landmasses. Sure, the absolute equivalence of Earth and Mondas does create a plot bit where the planet is initially dismissed as some sort of bizarre reflection of Earth, but let’s not strain our credulity too far.

The episode is set in 1986, though the technology looks pretty much like 1966. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of technological progress since “The War Machines” (maybe the aftermath of WOTAN was a slowdown in the development of computers), but that’s not any distraction. I really like the weird intonations given to the Cybermens’ speaking voices. They don’t quite get this whole oral communication thing. They’re creepy. It’s more unnerving that instead of a flat emotionless voice, they try at human intonation and fail.

The Cybermen really are creepier than the Daleks. The Daleks know that they’re not doing you any favor by exterminating you to make way for more Daleks. The Cybermen think they’re doing you a favor. This comes up with their very first appearance. They’re offering essentially immortality. Sure, your emotions and individuality is suppressed, but parts of you will live far longer than the lifespan of your body. In this particular story, converting people into Cybermen isn’t a high priority, preserving Mondas at the cost of Earth is. Instead of converting anyone, they kill a few people.

And every time it looks like one side or the other is winning, something goes wrong. Both sides are fighting a race against time, one in which the Doctor counsels the people on the Antarctic base to just hold tight and run out of the clock. The base is shown as a nice international effort, with an American commander over people from the UK and Italy, if not other places (we’ll assume the people from other countries just never made it to the air). The UN official we encounter is also an Italian. It was a good day for British actors who could do Italian accents.

But a bad day for the Doctor. He had been nearly killed a few times before: his aborted conversion to a Roboman in “The Dalek Invasion of Earth” his partial quick freezing in “The Space Museum,” and so perhaps it wasn’t too surprising that the energy drain on Mondas affects the Doctor as well (maybe it affected everyone, but he was the worst off). We end with one of the most sought-for pieces of lost recorded drama: the first regeneration. This is our goodbye to William Hartnell (other than his cameo in “The Three Doctors,” though viewers didn’t know it at the time). Unfortunately, Hartnell’s poor health means that he doesn’t show up much in this story, which detracts a little from it.

Eye Candy for Gay Time Lords
There’s a smattering of good-looking men in this story. I’m going to stick with Ben Jackson as one of the most handsome companions. Additionally, we open the story with Tito (our first Italian) whistling opera. Unfortunately, he’s the first one killed by the Cybermen. One of the technicians is a handsome young blond man. It is difficult to tell, but General Cutler’s son, Terry, looks to be a handsome lad (with an amazingly broad American accent)

So, Is This a Must-See?
Oh yeah. Let’s tally it up: William Hartnell’s last story; the introduction of the Cybermen. Yes. Could it have been better? Yeah. Should you see it? Yes. Personally, it wouldn’t bother me one bit if the next time we saw the Cybermen, they spoke in that weird, unnerving singsong.

Next: Due to some missing serials, guess who's back sooner than expected.
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