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4x2. The Tenth Planet
Writers: Kit Pedler & Gerry Davis
Director: Derek Martinus
Script Editor: Gerry Davis
Producer: Innes Lloyd

Synopsis: The TARDIS materializes at a Space Tracking Station under international control in Antarctica in 1986, just as Earth faces two crises: the approach of its long-lost twin planet Mondas, which is draining the Earth's energy, and an invasion by its inhabitants, the Cybermen. The Doctor, Ben, and Polly confront both the threat from the Cybermen, who have replaced most of their body parts with mechanical devices and feel no emotions, and the possibility that the hot-headed General Cutler will overreact and use a weapon called the Z-bomb that could expose half the earth to lethal radiation. At the end, the exhausted Doctor returns to the TARDIS where he regenerates into his new incarnation.

Review: Of all the missing serials that Doctor Who fans would like to have back, "The Tenth Planet," which marks not only the first regeneration but the introduction of the Cybermen, would have to rank pretty high on the list. Fandom seems divided over whether this restoration by the BBC (episodes 1, 2, and 3, as well as the regeneration sequence, are intact, with episode 4 reconstructed as "telesnaps") lives up to the hype, but I am firmly in the positive column.

The Cybermen have a mixed legacy as recurring enemies, as many of their later appearances are not held in very high regard, but they certainly make for innovative and unconventional villains in this serial. What's most interesting about them is that they are driven towards "villainous" behavior only by their lack of emotion: they certainly aren't overtly malevolent like the Daleks, nor do they seem to be carrying out an aggressive assimilation program like Star Trek's Borg (to whom they otherwise bear some conceptual similarities). In fact, if their planet were not dying, one could make the case that they probably wouldn't bother anyone at all. When they first arrive at the tracking station, they say that they'll take all the humans to Mondas when it has drained Earth's energy, albeit with the intention of turning them into Cybermen, and they allow the crew to continue communicating with the two astronauts currently in orbit. Their actions are not borne out of malice, but rather out of a simple and detached calculation of what will be necessary to ensure their own survival and that of their planet. (Of course, this raises the problem of how exactly one can ever trust someone who feels no remorse over killing or breaking a promise. In the fourth episode, after numerous deaths, the Cybermen again pledge not to kill anyone who cooperates, but the humans no longer believe them.)

The Cybermen, we learn, were once more like humans, but have had the "weaknesses" of flesh and blood replaced with artificial technology, including emotions. Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis use this characteristic not only to make them effective as villains, but also to draw a contrast with the various human characters. When Polly asks the Cybermen if they care about the soldier they've just killed, one of them points out that people are dying all over the world and none of the humans present seem to care about that. In the case of General Cutler, the Cyberman's observation is not far off the mark: he only seems to care for those closest to him and is willing to irradiate half of the planet to avoid losing his son, who is trapped in orbit around Earth and might die if they don't use the Z-bomb to destroy Mondas first. He is driven to violence by excessive and misdirected emotion in the same way that the Cybermen are driven to violence by their lack of emotion.

Characters like Ben, Polly, and Dr. Barclay, however, display the right mix of emotion tempered by rationality when they become aware that Mondas will soon burn itself out and put an end to the threat from the Cybermen. They do, in fact, care about the people who may be killed by the Z-bomb's radiation even though they don't know them personally, and they are willing to risk their own lives by prolonging the confrontation with the Cybermen at the station -- and to make the hard choice of sacrificing Cutler's son -- if it means saving billions of others. They are ready to use violence if necessary, but they do so as a last resort: Ben, in fact, is nearly in tears over having to kill one of the Cybermen. Speaking of which, Ben continues to be a likable and engaging companion: he's consistently resourceful as he takes the lead in foiling the Cybermen, particularly towards the end when he realizes that they're vulnerable to radiation. Polly also proves useful in convincing Dr. Barclay not to go along with Cutler's plan to launch the Z-bomb, after convincing Cutler to let her stay by offering to make coffee in what is either a reflection of mid-'60s sexism or an amusing tweak of it (hopefully the latter).

Due partly to the ill health that forced Hartnell to quit the program, the Doctor isn't given much to do, though his verbal confrontations with Cutler and with the Cybermen are well-written. By later standards, the idea of the Doctor regenerating because his body is simply worn out seems a little underwhelming, but for fans who still knew nothing of regeneration or Time Lords, it still must have been a striking and surprising moment. Of all the scenes I would have liked to have preserved from Episode 4, I would easily pick the one immediately preceding the regeneration. The line "I must get back to the TARDIS immediately," delivered by Hartnell in a near-whisper, is particularly effective -- even without the visual -- in conveying the sense that something truly mysterious and strange is happening and that only the Doctor understands it, and I only wish I could have seen the expression on his face as he spoke it.

In terms of plot execution and the science underlying it, "The Tenth Planet" is a mixed bag. The main room at the tracking station is a good approximation of a "mission control"-type room, and the technical jargon regarding the astronauts that's constantly going back and forth at least sounds realistic (I have no idea whether it really is or not, though I'm assuming that Pedler, himself a scientist, had some idea what he was doing here). With the exception of the early scenes inside the orbiting capsule, "The Tenth Planet" looks, sounds, and feels authentic, even including this early and comparatively primitive design of the Cybermen. On the other hand, the notion of a "twin planet" that's "draining energy" strikes me as pure fantasy. I am of course out of my element here, but my guess is that an additional Earth-sized planet in orbit between Mars and Venus would cause more serious gravitational problems than disrupting the orbits of two small space capsules. As for the energy drain, it's never explained, as far as I can tell, how this is happening or even what exactly it means.

"The Tenth Planet" sits a bit awkwardly as the final serial of the Hartnell era, which was characterized largely by historicals and outer-space adventures. While it might have been nice to give the First Doctor a send-off that was more typical of his tenure on the series, it's evident that Davis and producer Innes Lloyd had a clear and successful new direction in mind for the show (i.e. more Earth-bound science fiction stories, as well as the "base under siege" formula that came into its element under Troughton), and I can't blame them for wanting to continue with that. Whatever "The Tenth Planet" lacks as a swan song for Hartnell, it makes up for it in solid and substantive storytelling, and this BBC reconstruction is one that deserves a place on any fan's shelf.

Other notes:

- I had to laugh at the Cybermen taking the cloaks from the soldiers they attacked outside the station and wearing them when they walked inside, instantly making themselves top contenders for the All-Time Worst Disguise Award. (Unless the idea was that they were cold, which would arguably be even dumber -- if they're so high-tech, wouldn't their suits have some sort of insulation?)

Rating: ***1/2 (out of four)

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