Written by Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis
Directed by Derek Martinus
Spring is a time of rebirth and renewal. The ancient Celts here in Britain noticed this, and celebrated it in various festivals of new life and fertility, such as Beltaine. Eggs were used to symbolize new life, while the fuck-happy rabbit was seen as representing promiscuity and fertility. Further south, in England, children were made to dance round a huge wooden penis which spurted forth white life giving ribbons. When the early christians arrived to convert the pagans they, in a clever move, decided to place their own festival of rebirth to coincide with the spring equinox festival, and thus easter as we know it was born. It always makes me smile to see churches, organizations known for their various hang-ups about sex, adorning themselves with Easter Bunnies, creatures which are actively representing promiscuity and fertility, at this time of year. The fact that kids are still made to dance round the maypole just creeps me out though*.
It is serendipitous, therefore, that I ended up writing about The Tenth Planet on Easter Sunday.
The Tenth Planet is a story that will always be remembered for two important facts: firstly, it was the first appearance of the Doctor’s silver nemesis, the most iconic villains since the Daleks, and the only other First Doctor villain that any other Doctor would face, the Cybermen. Secondly: it introduced the notion of regeneration, and as such, was the last First Doctor story**.
These two facts are both undeniably important, and I will get to them shortly, but what about the story in its own rights, judged by its own merits? The idea of a group of scientists stranded at a remote research facility being attacked by a small preliminary attack force would turn out to be the plot for just about every other story that Kit Pedler came up with: The Moon Base and Wheel in Space to name just a couple, and one that other writers would fall back on from time to time too, like both Seeds of Death and Seeds of Doom***. Its easy to see why: it gives the Doctor a defeatable opponent, while simultaneously putting the whole earth at risk. This was the first time it appeared though, at least as a Doctor Who story. Compared to some of the others that share the plot it may not be as slick, and the characters may not be quite so well rounded, but it does gain points for originality.
With Hartnell somewhat sidelined, particularly in parts two and three, the bulk of the heroics is left to Ben and Polly, who manage to do a pretty good job at leading the story, but the real protagonists here are the Cybermen.
In some ways the Cybermen are quite similar to the other First Doctor villain still around today, the Daleks: they’re both once human-like creatures who have dramatically changed themselves over time with the heavy use of technology into something much more resembling a machine. But while the Daleks are highly emotional creatures fueled by anger and hatred, the Cybermen are utterly emotionless, driven only by their only surviving instinct: survival. The result is a completely different type of villain, horrifying due to their total lack of concern or even interest in anything other than their goals. Their coldness gives them a chilling efficiency: they’re not going to get distracted by the enjoyment of killing the way a Dalek might. Much as I’m not their biggest fan myself, its easy to see why they’ve endured for so long.
But of course the hero is, as always, the Doctor. Hartnell had, for some time, been slowly getting more and more ill, and his memory was suffering as a result. Being a fantastic actor, this didn’t always matter, and he usually managed to bluff his way through scenes perfectly well, but it by no means clear how long he was going to be able to continue. I personally would find it impossible to name my favorite Doctor, but William Hartnell would sure as hell be somewhere near the top of my list, and whether or not he was my favorite, in many ways he will forever be THE Doctor. No other actor has managed to balance the warmth with the irascibility in a way that seemed both real and totally alien. Many people site the Daleks as the reason for Who’s success, but no matter how hard he tried, Terry Nation could never get them to work without the Doctor, while the Doctor himself has survived long periods without hide nor hair of anything resembling a condiment container. No, the Daleks were only good for one thing: getting defeated by the Doctor. And William Hartnell WAS the Doctor, through and through. Many other actors have given spectacular performances as the Time Lord and made the role their own, but it was Hartnell that created him in the first place.
When he left the role, Hartnell apparently suggested an actor to replace him . He was known mostly for playing the first television version of Robin Hood, a character whose vaguely socialist ideals had many parallels with the Doctor’s. Patrick Troughton would go on to define who the Doctor is almost as much as William Hartnell, because as the Second Doctor he was able to choose what he could change about the character, and what it was that had to stay, or in other what it was that was core, that made him the Doctor. So, what choices would he make in that regard? find out next time in The Power of the Daleks.
*having said that, I had to do it and it didn’t seem to scar me. I didn’t realize at the time that the pole was supposed to be a huge cock though, or that the ribbon I was holding was meant to be spunk.
** Not including multiple Doctor stories.
*** oddly, in most ways, quite different stories.