from the 2014 DOCTOR WHO Symphonic Spectacular in Melbourne
…back in the swing of ‘classic’ WHO reviews via this look at The Tenth Planet, Hartnell-era DOCTOR WHO adventure originally transmitted October 1966. TTP famously marks the debut of the show’s iconic Cybermen, as well as first Doctor’s regeneration into Patrick Troughton’s iteration of the role (in its final scene/shot). Sadly, the episode featuring said regeneration was scuttled when BBC ‘house cleaned’ a number of early DOCTOR WHO serials out of existence. While a momentary glimpse of the transformation does exist in crude video form…
…it is presented as an animated sequence on this DVD release (the ‘missing’ episode wrapped around it is animated as well). The Tenth Planet is an enjoyable but decidedly mixed bag, and we’ll talk more about it shortly. But first…
CHARACTER OPTIONS HAS ANNOUNCED A NEW WAVE OF FIGURES
DOCTOR WHO News has a nifty, roll-overy and embiggenable chartish image showing the characters they’ll be releasing. I’m beginning to wonder if these figures are generated by folks who’ve actually seen this show.
You can find said figures HERE.
HORNORSILK REVIEWS THE ANTIDOTE TO OBLIVION BIG FINISH AUDIO
Big Finish 182 – Antidote to Oblivion
By: Philip Martin
One of the nice features of the Big Finish line is they allow classical Who writers like Marc Platt and Philip Martin continue to contribute to the Doctor Who universe. Martin’s Vengeance on Varos is a classic Sixth Doctor story, in part, because of the many themes Martin brought to the story, including but not limited to, the interdependent relationship between television productions and its audience. There was something of a Nigel Kneale quality to the script, elevating the story beyond the limited production values of the time.
Vengeance on Varos also introduced Martin’s main contribution to the Doctor Who universe: the ruthless Sil, a slug-like businessman whose love for money often puts him at odds with the Doctor. Martin deserves respect for the creation of Sil, who represents, once again, another Doctor Who highlight. However, with Sil, the character has yet to have a story which fully uses his potential. Each time Sil appears, much of the story feels as if something is being rehashed from Sil’s previous appearances: Martin, in a way, suffers from the same problem Terry Nation had with the Daleks. And that is the major problem I have with this audio adventure: half of it feels like it is old hat, with Sil following the same line of interests we have seen before: genetic manipulation and the search for immortality.
The story begins with the Doctor, and his companion, Flip, on so long a retreat, Flip has become more than a little bored and is wanting the Doctor to take her somewhere exciting. When the TARDIS receives a distress call from another TARDIS, the Doctor finally is motivated to act, and together with Flip, they arrive in London of the future, to discover it has been taken over and pacified, with the government in league with Sil. Sil, on the other hand, has an assistant, Cordelia, who has her own reasons to hate the Doctor. Sil and Cordelia are engaged in genetic research, trying to use Time Lord physiology to create antidotes to all kinds of killer virii they want to release upon the earth and use the antidotes to weed out major populations on the earth while making a profit on those who are considered worthy of being saved. Their previous experiment, on another Time Lord, a bully the Doctor who the Doctor had recently become reacquainted with, ended with that Time Lord’s genetic information being rewritten and turned into a low-life pet for Sil.
Now, I have to say, I have found Flip to be a rather mediocre and boring companion to date, and, I have found little in this audio to change that opinion of her. What she goes through, I feel, could have led to an interesting interaction with the Doctor, but instead, she just takes it in stride, despite the fact she had no reason to believe she would survive. She didn’t seem to have much fight in her, and, it is that kind of fight I think the Sixth Doctor needs (it is what made Evelyn so effective). I don’t blame the actress, Lisa Greenwood, for the problem with Flip, just, the way Big Finish have decided to take her character. She needs to have more personality, and she needs that infusion fast.
Sil is, as expected, played quite well by Nabil Shaban. The role is perfect for him, and, even if Sil has yet to be let loose and given the kind of story I think he could have, Shaban makes sure the character is enjoyable. You might ask, what kind of story would I like to see with Sil? My answer is something along the lines of the Davros storyline. Imagine if he had been the one who had recruited Davros for his business pursuits the kind of triple-play that adventure could embrace. It still could be done (or, Davros and Sil could be put at odd against each other, with the Doctor landing in the middle of it). Another thing I want with Sil is a story with another incarnation of the Doctor. The different dynamic would be interesting, and I think would push Sil’s story further.
The revelation of who Cordelia is should not be too surprising for those familiar with Martin’s previous work with Doctor Who. However, because it remains a “mystery,” I do not want to spoil it for those who cannot figure it out. Once again, because of the way she is used to repeat what Martin has done before, I feel a bit let down with her character, though I admit, the way her character arc ends plays out quite well.
Since a lot of the adventure feels like something we have already experienced several times with Sil, the story is somewhat a disappointment. Yet, underneath it, the fun of having another Sil story needs to be taken into consideration. It’s not the return I wanted, but it still leaves Sil open for such a story in the future. As such, it is a solid, if rather lukewarm, story, a 7/10.
THE TENTH PLANET
In 1986, the Doctor (William Hartnell) and companions Polly (Anneke Wills) and Ben (Michael Craze) materialize at “the South Pole base of International Space Command” - populated by grumpy ‘Americans’ with not terribly convincing accents. Paranoia ensues as base personnel attempt to glean and second guess our traveler’s purpose at the base - considerations quickly cut short by the unexpected introduction (and arrival) of the Cyberman, whose home planet is about to smash into Earth…
The Tenth Planet is a lot of fun - but never terribly ‘good’ by any measure. The story structure and pacing brought to bear by scripters Kit Pedler and Gary Davis (Pedler also scripted the Cybermen-centric The Moonbase (Troughton, Story #33) and Tomb of the Cybermen (Troughton, Story #37) - Davies also co-authored Tomb) is top-notch and geared towards propulsion and suspense, offering a very Hollywood-esque approach to set pieces, cliffhanger timings, and character arcs. Their work is largely commendable in a ‘popcorn entertainment’ sort of way - this sounds like an insult, but it is actually intended as a sincere tip of the hat.
Where TTP stumbles, however, is in its execution. Where Pedler and Davies imbue their work with numerous, well-considered thriller sensibilities, Morris Barry’s direction does not always match their precision, and some grievously miscalculated performances only serve to further gum up the works. Several stints by Brits as ‘Americans’ suggest that either the actors in question had never met someone who was actually from the United States, or had met the wrong kind of people from the United States. Many of these thespians overact, project loudly, and sound like New York City street toughs. Maybe that’s how UKvians genuinely perceive Americans - I don’t know. But for purposes of dramatic effectiveness, such abrasive proclivities might’ve been dialed down a few notches.
Canadian actor Robert Beatty - playing General Cutler (conspicuously, one letter off from ‘Custer’)...
...acquits himself more reasonably here, although he’s still a tad ‘nails in the mouth’ OTT. Beatty is, by the way, one of the moon scientists in 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (he's the guy on the far right in the picture below)...
Cutler’s briefly visited moral quandary is one of The Tenth Planet’s more compelling concerns - his anxious but well- intentioned general is faced with a wrenching choice: letting his own son die on a probably ill-fated space mission -or- blasting the fuck out of the alien world imperiling his son’s vessel (an act which could endanger the entire human race here on Earth). An interesting conundrum whose dramatic reflection might’ve been expanded upon. Although…to TTP’s credit…Cutler’s plight is supplanted with an equally intriguing ‘mutually assured destruction’ theme which plagued real world militaries and governments in the era of nuclear proliferation.
The Cybermen themselves are functionally interesting, although their grating, sing-song vocalizations evoke Andy Kaufman’s Latka role from TAXI from the get go - which substantially undermines their impact as a proper foil or antagonist. The Cybermen’s propensity for clumsy exposition doesn’t help matters - this is perhaps the greatest shortcoming of Pedler and Davis’ script. Between their lecturing nature and annoying voices, one may find themselves wishing this breed of Cybermen would juts shut the hell up or go away. Doesn’t build a great deal of ‘threat’ cred. This said, they do what they need to do, and even in their comparatively ‘proto’ appearance here…
…they are aesthetically compelling, and clearly set a nice template for future models. The Tenth Planet’s decision to not actually visit the Cybermen’s home planet was unquestionably prudent from a budget perspective, and nicely served the air of mystery surrounding the adventure’s newly introduced opponents. While Mondas is seen on viewscreens and whatnot, grounding this tale in a very limited number of human settings allowed TTP ‘crisis’ to remain centered more firmly on our own world and the plight of both lead and guest characters. A nice and effective move.
Screentime by outgoing Doctor William Hartnell is kept to a noticeable minimum in TTP. His Doctor is not around very much, and isn’t given a great deal to do when he does show up. This was undoubtedly in deference to Hartnell’s health issues, which necessitated a streamlining of his contribution to the show. However, The Powers That Be may’ve miscalculated their efforts, as his actual regeneration feels a tad cursory and is conducted with a ‘lets get on with this’ brevity carrying no gravity or poignance whatsoever. This may not have been the show makers’ intent, as the production may well not have understood the dramatic possibilities of regeneration at such an early juncture. Still, the send-off feels sloppy and is broadly defined - with the story’s narrative offering only vague implications regarding what prompted the regeneration to begin with (old age, fatigue, energy from a Cyberman ship - it’s all a tad broadly defined).
Someone along the way decided to mess about with TTP’s title sequences, adding info bursts (like data streams) before the episode title and writing credits up front. This approach is revisited during closing credits, where the DOCTOR WHO’s theme is also tweaked with a slight reverb evoking Cybermen voices. I love it when shows mess with their own conceits like this - and it’s always amusing to see how DOCTOR WHO handles such matters. Team Moffat have done similar things from time to time during their era - maybe the edgier Capaldi WHO will consider revisiting this notion?
The Tenth Planet is now available on DVD HERE in the US and HERE in the UK. It includes a trailer for The Moonbase, the second-ever Cyberman adventure which is coming to DVD next week, and will be the subject of next week’s Docback.
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