It’s taken us 86 episodes, 33 recons, two films that don’t count, and 32 blog updates to reach The Tenth Planet. But it’s far from being all over…
Sue: Yay! It’s The Tenth Planet! I know all about this one.
OK, it’s time for me to come clean. It would be fantastic if Sue was oblivious to the significance attributed to this story, but she isn’t. I could have pretended that the end of the story shocked her to her core but, alas, that’s not the way it happened. Truth be told, she’s been looking forward to this ever since we watched An Unearthly Child.
This is what really happened: In 1994, about a year after I’d moved in with Sue, we were both out of work and struggling to make ends meet. So we approached the local Arts Council for a grant – as you do – and we ended up being paid to research a documentary about religion and bingo, which was called, to my eternal shame, Eyes Down. But at least it kept us in tabs and beer money for a while. This was the second idea we went with. Right up until the very last moment, we were going to go with a treatment for a screenplay called Searching for the Tenth Planet. It was going to be about a bunch of geeks who go to extraordinary lengths to find the fabled lost episode – with hilarious results! Sue was well aware of the episode’s significance, even if she couldn’t have cared less about its recovery; to her it was just a silly thing for a bunch of friends to search for. In fact, for many years afterwards, she’d occasionally bring it up again. “Why don’t you write that silly Tenth Planet thing?” she’d say. But I never did. Instead, I interviewed OAPs about their gambling habits, in the vain hope they’d draw some parallels with organised religion. Which they didn’t.
Sue: Oh, I’m all excited now. This is it. This is the big one.
Me: Steady on, love.
Sue: Well, I think we can confidently claim that this episode is NOT RACIST!
We give each other a high-five.
Me: It feels very progressive, doesn’t it? A black astronaut with reams of dialogue. He’s great, isn’t he?
Sue: Both the astronauts are. They haven’t got a lot to work with but they’re giving it all they’ve got. This feels quite edgy already.
Sue is fascinated by the international cast, which feels very fresh. In fact, for a few minutes at least, she believes we are watching events unfolding on an alien planet.
Sue: Oh, I see. It’s our past but its their future. This explains why everyone is getting along with each other. It’s very Star Trek.
I decide to let it go.
Sue: I hope the Open University lecturer is in charge.
Sadly, even though the Snowcap Tracking Station is an international concern, it gets very American very quickly when General Cutler is revealed to the top dog there. He doesn’t take very kindly to the Doctor and his companions waltzing into his base unannounced, and he’s got a spaceship that is out of control thanks to an unexplained force that is pulling it off-course. The Doctor tries to explain what is happening to it but the General is having none of it. When the truth is finally revealed, you can see why.
Sue: That’s a bit silly. A twin planet? Really? Who’s flying it? And how?
And then, just as the Doctor predicted, some uninvited visitors arrive at the station.
Sue: Are they – ? Aren’t they -? I think they might be -
Me: Go on. You can do it.
Sue: Are they Cybermen?
Me: What a mong.
Sue: Do you think? Maybe the reason I know they’re Cybermen is because you have a row of action figures on the shelf behind us, and one of them looks a bit like that bloke over there. You know, the one with the lamp on his head. Not that I’ve studied them or anything.
Just as I’m beginning to enjoy this momentous climax, we get embroiled in a very tedious argument about a dead solider’s cape.
Sue: The Cybermen wouldn’t do that.
Sue: They’re Cybermen. They’re as hard as nails. They don’t need a poncy cape.
Me: He’s not cold! He’s trying to disguise himself!
Sue: That’s even more ridiculous. Look at the size of him! He’s a silver giant in a tiny cape! It’s absurd.
Me: This is one of the series most celebrated and significant cliffhangers and all you can talk about is a ****ing cape. I don’t know why I bother sometimes.
Sue: Don’t blame me. I didn’t write it.top
There’s only one topic up for discussion in this episode and that’s General Wigner’s secretary who looks a bit like Verity Lambert. Well, her and the Cybermen, of course.
Sue: They’ve all got capes on, now. Would you like me to knit a tiny cape for your action figure?
Before she can goad me further, a Cyberman opens his mouth.
Sue: Whoah! What the hell was that?
At precisely this moment, my stepdaughter, Nicol, entered the room; she was taking a break from revising for an exam on tachyons (no, I’m not making this up).
Nicol: That’s not right.
Me: I like it. It’s different. Distinctive.
Nicol: It’s ridiculous.
It takes ages for Sue to commit herself.
Sue: You know, I think I might like it. It’s so odd, it’s frightening. There’s only one problem.
Me: What’s that?
Sue: I can’t understand a ****ing word they’re saying. But it’s a great concept. Now, if only the actors could open their mouths in time with the dialogue, they could be on to a winner.
Nicol: They might look scary but they sound ridiculous.
Sue: Actually, that voice sounds very familiar…
Sue: Don’t get annoyed, but you have to admit that he sounds a bit like Zippy from Rainbow. Sorry, I’m just winding you up.
Nicol: Are the Cybermen supposed to be this camp?
Nicol has picked up on Jarl (or is it Shav? They all look the same to me), who has positioned himself in a pose so camp it has to be seen to be believed. So here’s a screen-cap for your delectation.
Sue: They are starting to freak me out a bit.
Me: They’re very eerie, aren’t they?
Sue: They are seriously starting to freak me out.
The freakiest bit has to be when Krang (at least I think it’s Krang) relentlessly interrogates the Snowcap personnel as if he’s conducting a survey for Matalan.
Sue: Age? Age? Age? He’s not going to let it go, is he?
Me: I love this bit – the way he casually informs the Open University professor that planet Earth is doomed, as he makes some notes for his files is genuinely horrific.
When he’s not pressing the staff for their National Insurance number, the Cyberman explains that their home planet, Mondas, is draining energy away from planet Earth. Which means planet Earth is toast.
Nicol: That’s my cue to leave. I have to get back to some real science.
Me: Actually, the person who invented the Cybermen, Kit Pedler, was a real scientist. The concept of the Cybermen draws on real science around at the time, especially organ transplants and cybernetics. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, the first heart transplant took place a few weeks after this episode aired.
Nicol: They’re still rubbish.
There’s no arguing with that – it only takes Ben and Cutler a few minutes to regain control of the base, wiping out all the alien invaders in the process. So much for them being as hard as nails. But there’s more of them coming. A lot more.
Sue: Either somebody has sneezed on the radar screen or they’re in big trouble now.top
Me: I forgot to mention this yesterday but that was the last episode to feature a fully moving Hartnell.
Sue: I thought you said this wasn’t a recon?
Me: It isn’t. But William Hartnell isn’t in it.
Sue: Don’t tell me he’s gone on holiday again! It’s his final fortnight! What’s he playing at?
I decide to give Sue the background to what actually happened, specifically Hartnell’s sudden illness and the quick rewrite that had to be undertaken to accommodate this. She never would have forgiven him otherwise.
Sue: I can’t believe Polly is putting the bloody kettle on again. Without a shred of irony. I do like her top, though. Or is it a dress? It’s hard to tell.
We spend most of our time wondering what the Doctor would have done if he’d been awake.
Sue: I can’t see him crawling through a ventilation duct like Ben, and I can’t see him making the coffee either, so he must have been the one spouting the technobabble about the rocket. That’s my best guess.
The episode is frustrating in the extreme. Not only is the Doctor absent, the Cybermen are hardly in it either.
Sue: This isn’t doing anything for me. I really thought I’d be enjoying this one a lot more than I am. I don’t see what the big deal is.
Me: And that’s it. The very last moving Hartnell. Finished.
Sue: And Hartnell wasn’t even in it. Thanks for that.top
It good to see Hartnell back in action again, even if it is only still photos and the odd scrap of Super-8 (“Somebody knew this was going to be special”). But just when you think the Doctor is going to step up to the plate one last time, he’s taken to the Cybermen’s ship with Polly.
Sue: Are the Cybermen going to assimilate them?
Me: Wrong show, love.
Sue: I can see how this would be frightening. It looks like they are being assaulted by a pervert in a gimp mask. Not that I’d know.
When the Doctor is out-of-the-way – tied unceremoniously to a chair – the plot plays itself out. Cutler is killed (“Good riddance”), and then the planet Mondas gets far too close to comfort and it, er, melts.
Sue: So the Cybermen turn out to be totally useless. They didn’t think it through, did they? And would they really just melt like that? I thought you said they’d got a real scientist in to write this?
Me: They did. I didn’t say he was a good scientist.
Sue: What is William Hartnell doing while this is going on?
Me: He’s having a nice sit down.
Ben eventually rescues the Doctor and Polly, but the Doctor isn’t feeling very well.
Sue: What’s wrong with him? Has this adventure got anything to do with his current condition? I don’t get it. Am I missing something important?
The Doctor stumbles into the camera and then into the snow. And then he enters the TARDIS, locking Ben and Polly outside.
Sue: Oh my God, he’s going to leave them there, isn’t he?
And then all hell starts breaking out in the TARDIS.
Sue: What the **** is going on?
The Doctor finally allows Ben and Polly to enter the TARDIS (“It’s about time!”), and then he appears to collapse on the floor. We’ll never see him fall. That’s a bit sad.
And, well, you know the rest.
Sue: Is that IT??
Me: That’s it.
Sue: I’m so angry, I don’t even know where to start.
Me: Is it because they don’t explain the regeneration?
Sue: No, that’s the only bit l liked about it. Keep it weird and mysterious. That’s fine.
Me: So what’s the problem?
Sue: That wasn’t a swan-song, that was a turkey being strangled to death off-screen. Where was the Doctor’s final heroic act? Where was his big speech? I feel completely cheated by that.
Me: The first Doctor’s last words are “keep warm”.
Sue: **** off.
Me: It’s either very British or it’s very stupid. I can’t tell.
Sue: I can and it’s a ****ing disgrace. What were they thinking? They should have given him something to do in his last story! If he was too ill, then surely they could have given him a decent scene – or even a single line of dialogue – in the final episode? There’s radiation all over the place – couldn’t they have had a moment where the Doctor exposes himself to it, saving the day but sacrificing himself in the process? Just like Dr. Spock did in that film. It’s very, very sad. And for all the wrong reasons.
Me: Did the regeneration itself excite you?
Sue: Not really, I’ve seen it loads of times. I’m married to you, remember? But it was nice to see it in the right context for a change. It’s certainly the first time it’s ever meant anything to me. But I’ll have to think about that later, I’m too angry to take it all in now.top
The Final Score
Sue: I honesty thought that would be brilliant. It’s got the Cybermen in it. It’s got the very first regeneration in it. You’ve been banging on about the missing episode for almost twenty years. And it was shit. Utter shit. But not just any old Web Planet shit – this was William Hartnell’s final story. What they did to him here was unforgivable. I definitely would have stopped watching it if I was a child back then.
Me: You were a child back then.
Sue: Shut it. OK, I’m giving it -
Sue: And the way I’m feeling right now, it should count itself lucky to get even that.
The experiment continues. I think…