on 11 October 2013
The Tenth Planet is a key story in the history of Doctor Who. It marks the departure of the original Doctor, William Hartnell, introduces the Cybermen and it is the first "base under siege" story, which would prove to be a staple of the Troughton era, particularly during season 5.
Although they would go on to menace the Doctor right up to the present day, it appears that the Cybermen were created purely as a one-off menace. Visually, of course, they are totally different from their later appearances - with their human hands, cloth covered faces and sing-song voices. On the one hand they look ridiculous, but on the other they are chilling in a way that no other Cybermen would ever be.
Soon, the Cybermen would be just another monster, their only goals being conquest and power. But in The Tenth Planet they merely want to survive - and if that means draining all the energy from the Earth in order to replenish their own planet, Mondas, then that's what they'll do. To them, this is logical, particularly if they can take the humans back to their planet and convert them into Cybermen. Why would anyone object to a life free from pain and disease? Certainly the Cybermen can't think of a reason, but the Doctor and his friends can.
Although William Hartnell didn't want to leave the show, his failing health sadly meant that there wasn't really any alternative. Indeed, a bout of illness meant that he had to be written out of episode 3 at very short notice, a particular problem given Doctor Who's treadmill-like year long production schedule.
But whatever his health issues or his feelings on leaving the part he loved, Hartnell is never anything but totally professional and rock solid. His confrontations with the Cybermen and General Cutler are particular highlights and his new companions, Ben and Polly (Michael Craze and Anneke Wills), provide him with good support.
Although the structure of the story is a little odd - the Cybermen arrive, go away for an episode, come back and then are defeated a little easily - The Tenth Planet, apart from the importance it holds in the history of Doctor Who, is a strong story in its own right, directed with assurance by Derek Martinus.
With the fourth and final episode missing since the 1970's, Planet 55 have re-created it via animation. Their work on Reign of Terror was a little controversial, but this works better and should gain more widespread approval as unlike Reign it sticks more closely to what the episode could have looked like. It's a very impressive effort with some good visual touches.
Toby Hadoke moderates with his usual skill and good-humour the commentary on episodes 1-3 (no commentary on episode 4). Joining him are Anneke Wills (Polly) and designer Peter Kindred, with a generous number of guest actors from the story - Christopher Matthews, Earl Cameron, Alan White, Donald Van Der Maaten and Christopher Dunham. Given that this story was made nearly fifty years ago, it's lovely to have so many participants on this one, particularly Anneke Wills whose love and affection for both the series, and her co-star, the late Michael Craze, still shines brightly.
Elsewhere, there's the Episode 4 telesnap reconstruction that was included on the VHS release. It may have been somewhat superseded by the animation, but it's still nice to have it included. The making of documentary - Frozen Out - has plenty of ground to cover, and is a good watch with Anneke Wills, amongst others, on hand with some interesting anecdotes. The thorny topic of Hartnell's difficult behaviour - both his racist attitudes and his general irritability - isn't shied away from, and there's also some interesting info on how the production coped with a Doctor-shaped hole in episode 3.
There's more of Anneke Wills on Doctor Who stories, which is culled from interview material shot in 2003 for The Story of Doctor Who documentary. Although it's quite short - at around 13 minutes - Wills' joy and enthusiasm make it another treat. She's been sadly under-represented on the DVDs due to the lack of surviving episodes from her time on the show, but with both The Moonbase and The Underwater Menace to come next year, I'm looking forward to spending more time in the company of Ms Wills.
Boys! Boys! Boys! sees Peter Purves, Frazer Hines and Mark Strickson chat about their experiences on the show, and is a jolly little programme. It's a pity that Strickson couldn't have been in the studio with Purves and Hines (instead he appears by satellite) but it's still a very amusing watch as Purves and Hines, in particular, bounce off each other very well.
There's another couple of documentaries, Companion Piece and The Golden Age, a nice piece of archive footage from a 1973 edition of Blue Peter, the usual Photo Gallery and PDF materials, which leaves one more little gem on this DVD - an interview with William Hartnell shot shortly after he left Doctor Who.
Filmed in his dressing room whilst preparing for a panto appearance, at times the short interview finds him in a prickly mood, dismissing pantomime as not being "legitimate theatre" for example. This is the only on-screen Hartnell interview that exists and it was only recently rediscovered - and it's wonderful to have a brief glimpse of Hartnell, the man.
So not only is The Tenth Planet a very solid story it also has a high quality package of special features that make this DVD a must buy.