Sep. 5th, 2018

purplecat: The  First Doctor (Who:One)
For a story that is so immensely important to the history of Doctor Who, I find The Tenth Planet strangely unmemorable. It may be that, as the first story to feature both the Cybermen and a Regeneration and arguably the first "base under siege" story, I expect it to be more portentious somehow. Instead it is more or less exactly like Moonbase or The Ice Warriors and, having watched those two previously on the randomiser, it just felt like more of the same, despite coming first.

One of the things I like about base under siege stories, is the characters figuring out the next way to repel the invaders. Polly working out how to melt the Cybermen chest units in Moonbase is a great moment and one that works better on screen, sold I expect by Anneke Wills' performance, than it does when described in the novelisation (as I first encountered it). There are some nice moments here, using radiation against the Cybermen for instance, but they seem less internally consistent. I wasn't tempted to ask "why are the Cybermen chest units made of plastic?" but I was bemused to discover that they vulnerable to radiation.

In fact large parts of The Tenth Planet are a rather mind-blowing piece of gobbledegook. It isn't made completely clear, but the implication certainly is that Mondas absorbing all the energy from Earth, then over-absorbing all the energy, then blowing up and returning all the energy is some kind of natural phenomenon and almost nothing about it makes any sense at all!.

The Writers' Room podcast pointed out that the story also wastes some potentially rich themes. It introduces us to monsters who have sacrificed their emotions in order to survive, but then gives us a human antagonist who's actions in no small part are driven by love for his son, short temper and a rather rigid world view. The value of human emotion has pretty much nothing to do with the progress of the story at all.

In fact, perhaps the big disappointment here, is that The Tenth Planet has no aspiration to be anything more than an adventure tale in which there is a monster to fight, peril to overcome and our heroes succeed mostly because they are the story protagonists. It thinks the Cybermen as mirrors of humanity are a cool idea but isn't really interested in using them as more than monsters, it wants the Earth to be in danger; but doesn't really care if the danger makes any sense or has anything particularly to do with the Cybermen. One feels the Cybermen deserved better for their first story.

One feels the first Doctor deserves better for his last, as well. He is suddenly absent for a whole episode which was probabily intended as foreshadowing of his eventual collapse but just appears rather strange and abrupt even for a time when the show was used to having members of the main cast randomly vanish for a week or two so the actors could go on holiday and ultimately the victory over the Cybermen that he engineers is more about delaying them long enough for nature to take its course than anything else.

I'm beginning to sound like I hated this, which is not true at all, I was just expecting there to be more to it. I am, after all, quite fond of the base under siege format and this is a perfectly aceptable base under siege story. The scenes of everyone doing their job at the Antarctic base are well presented and the interactions with the various astronauts above the Earth are tense. It is notable also that for what I think is the show's first use of a black actor in a speaking role, we are shown a man doing his job with perfect competence and no comment upon his colour at all. It's a shame, really, that less than a year later all our actors of colour will be playing mute strongmen servants.

At the end of the day I think the main problem that The Tenth Planet has is that it has no idea that it is a momentous moment in Doctor Who and that is probably more my problem than anything to do with the story itself.

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