Sue: Yay! It’s The Tenth Planet! I know all about this one.
It’s time to come clean. It would have been fantastic if Sue had been oblivious to this story’s significance, but she wasn’t. I could have pretended it shocked her to her core but, alas, that isn’t what happened. Truth be told, she’s been looking forward to this one ever since we sat down to watch ‘An Unearthly Child’.
This is what really happened: In 1994, about a year after I 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 for a few months. However, this was the second idea we went with. Right up until the last moment, we were going to submit 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 a bunch of socially inept friends could search for. In fact, for 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. I interviewed OAPs about their gambling habits instead.
Sue: Oh, I’m all excited now. This is it. This is the big one.
Me: Steady on, love.
Sue: And I think we can confidently say this episode isn’t 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 still giving it everything they’ve got. This feels quite edgy.
Sue is fascinated by the international cast, which feels very fresh and contemporary. In fact, for a few minutes, she believes we’re watching events unfolding on an alien planet.
Sue: Oh, I see. It’s our past but their future. That explains why everyone is getting along with each other. It’s very Star Trek.
I decide to let that go.
Sue: I hope the Open University lecturer is in charge.
Snowcap Tracking Station is run by a gruff American General named Cutler. He doesn’t take kindly to the Doctor and his companions waltzing into his base unannounced, especially when he’s got an out-of-control spaceship to deal with. The Doctor tries to explain, but the General doesn’t believe him. It isn’t hard to see why.
Sue: That’s a bit silly. A twin planet? Who’s flying it? And how?
And then, just as the Doctor predicted, some uninvited visitors arrive.
Sue: Are they…? Aren’t they…? I think they might be…
Me: Go on. You can do it, Sue.
Sue: Are they Cybermen?
Me: Hey, I’m impressed.
Sue: I know they’re Cybermen because you have a row of action figures on the shelf behind us, and one of them looks like that one over there – the one with the lamp on his head. Not that I’ve ever studied them or anything.
And then we become embroiled in a tedious argument about a dead soldier’s cape.
Sue: The Cybermen wouldn’t do that.
Sue: They’re Cybermen. They’re as hard as nails. They wouldn’t need a poncy cape.
Me: He isn’t 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 Doctor Who’s most celebrated cliffhangers, and all you can talk about is a ****ing cape. I don’t know why I bother.
Sue: Don’t blame me. I didn’t write it.
There’s only one topic up for discussion during 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 its mouth.
Sue: Whoah! What the hell was that?
Nicol chooses this moment to walk into the room. She was taking a break from revising for an impending exam about tachyons (yes, really).
Nicol: That’s not right.
Me: I like it. It’s different. Distinctive.
Nicol: It’s ridiculous.
Sue: I think I like it. It’s so odd, it’s frightening. There’s only one problem with it.
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 may look scary, but they sound ridiculous.
Sue: Actually, that voice is very familiar.
Sue: Don’t get annoyed, Neil, but you have to admit that he sounds like Zippy from Rainbow. Sorry, I’m just winding you up.
Nicol: Are the Cybermen supposed to be this camp?
Sue: They’re starting to freak me out a bit.
Me: They’re eerie, aren’t they?
Sue: They are seriously beginning to freak me out.
The freakiest bit is when Krang (at least we think it’s Krang) interrogates the base personnel like 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. The way he casually informs the Open University professor that Earth is doomed, as he makes some notes for his files, is genuinely horrific.
When they finish pressing the staff for their National Insurance numbers, the Cybermen explain their home planet, Mondas, is draining Earth’s energy.
Nicol: Right, 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, and the Cybermen are inspired by real technology that was 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. However, more are coming. A lot more.
Sue: Either somebody’s sneezed on the radar screen or they’re in big trouble now.
Me: I forgot to mention this yesterday, but that was the last episode to feature a fully moving William 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 story! What’s he playing at?
I provide Sue with the background to what actually happened, specifically Hartnell’s sudden illness and the quick rewrite that had to be undertaken to accommodate it. 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 like her top, though. Or is it a dress? It’s difficult 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 all the technobabble about the rocket. That’s my best guess.
The episode is frustrating in the extreme. Not only is the Doctor completely absent, the Cybermen are hardly in it, either.
Sue: This isn’t doing anything for me. I really thought I’d enjoy 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 William Hartnell wasn’t even in it. Thanks for that.
It good to see Hartnell back in action again, even if it is only via some still photos and the odd scrap of Super 8 film (“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 dragged away to the aliens’ spaceship with Polly.
Sue: Are the Cybermen going to assimilate them?
Me: Wrong show, love.
Sue: I can see how this would be frightening for the kids. It looks like they’re being assaulted by a pervert in a gimp mask. Not that I’d know anything about that, of course.
The Doctor is tied to a chair, Cutler is killed (“Good riddance”), and then Mondas gets too close to comfort and it, erm, melts.
Sue: So the Cybermen turned out to be totally useless. They didn’t think it through, did they? And why would they melt? I thought you said a real scientist wrote this?
Me: I did. I didn’t say he was a good scientist.
Sue: So what is William Hartnell doing while this is going on?
Me: He’s having a nice lie 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 snow (and the camera). 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 breaks loose.
Sue: What the **** is going on?
The Doctor lets Ben and Polly into TARDIS (“About time!”), and then he collapses. We never get to see him fall, which is a bit sad when you think about it.
And then… Well, you know the rest.
Sue: Is that it?
Me: That’s it.
Sue: I’m so angry, I don’t know where to start.
Me: Is it because they don’t explain the regeneration?
Sue: No, that’s the only bit I 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’s my problem. 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 very stupid. I can’t decide.
Sue: I can. 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 (sic) did in that film? It’s very, very sad, but for all the wrong reasons.
Me: Did the regeneration 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 context for a change. It’s certainly the first time it’s meant anything to me. But I’ll have to think about it later, I’m much too angry to take it in right now.
Sue: I honestly 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 20 years. And it was shit. Utter shit. But not just any old Web Planet shit – this was William Hartnell’s last story. What they did to him here was unforgivable. I definitely would have stopped watching the series if I’d been a child back then.
Me: But you were a child back then, Sue.
Sue: Shut it. Okay, I’m giving it:
Sue: And the way I’m feeling right now, it should count itself lucky to get that.