Saturday, September 09, 2017

Doctor Who - The Tenth Planet (1966)

This week I finally caught up with the last of William Hartnell's appearances as the first Doctor Who. Of course, he did briefly appear in The Three Doctors years later but this is his last adventure on the show in the central role. In general I enjoy Hartnell in the role but I've always felt that the show didn't come into its own until the second Doctor, Patrick Troughton, came along.

As for the story, it is truly odd! Beyond it being the first time that we see the Doctor regenerate it also introduces one of my favorite Doctor Who villains - the Cybermen. That is fantastic all on its own, although this early appearance is really quite strange considering how different they looked just a few years later. Truly, the look of the Cybermen changed quite a lot over time and, in my opinion, got better as those changes went along. The story takes place in 1986 on Earth in an international military station giving the secondary cast the chance to try on various accents - for the most part quite well.

Oddly, William Hartnell is written out of the two middle chapters of the story giving us a doctor who falls ill and professes his weakness clearly before he collapses. This takes him out of the action and places his two companions front-and-center. Luckily Ben and Polly (and the actors portraying them) are quite capable of carrying the load. I originally supposed this was done to give the impression of the weakening of his physical body to make this first regeneration seem like something necessary but it seems Hartnell really wasn't physically well and asked to be written out of a episode to rest. Remember that at this time in the run of the show there was no such thing as a Time-Lord and there were only vague ideas about what the doctor's alien nature would eventually become. This regeneration thing was a big risk for a show as popular as this. No one knew how the public would react to changing the actor at the center of Doctor Who but I think we can now see that it was a major success. It certainly paved the way for decades more Whos to follow!

The DVD release of this story is quite good. The final fourth chapter is missing except for the recovered audio track and on this release the full audio is used and the chapter is recreated through animation to give us the chance to see the entire story. I always enjoy these animated reconstructions of missing episodes of the early Who. Even when it's odd and a little dull to see these animated characters run through their often stilted paces it's still fantastic to actually finally be able to see some of these 'lost' stories in a kind of complete form. I can't say The Tenth Planet is one of my favorite Doctor Who stories or even one of my favorite William Hartnell Doctor Who stories but it's not bad. If I can find the novelization that was published in 1976 I think I'll pick it up and read it. The book is apparently based on the original script and so there are some significant differences!

One of the devastating things about this DVD, though, is that on the extras there's a making of documentary about this particular story that downgrades my opinion of William Hartnell quite a bit. I had always been under the impression that the reason Hartnell left the show was because of his declining health and, indeed, that appears to have played a part. But decades later the participants who are still alive are more than willing to be honest about events and apparently Hartnell was very difficult to work with. In fact his last year on the show became so bad that he was actually pushed out of the role and finally agreed to go quietly when his health gave him an excuse. I guess it's even easier now to understand why they switched to someone like Patrick Troughton who seems to have gotten along well with everyone. It was also difficult to learn that Hartnell was a racist and had a hard time dealing with the fact that a member of the cast of this story was a black man. That's really disheartening. I guess it's always dangerous to learn too much about the people that you admire. Clay feet abound.

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