The Tenth Planet has a formidable reputation in Doctor Who history for just three reasons: First, it introduces the Cybermen to the series. Second, It marks the end of William Hartnell's three-year-plus tenure as The Doctor, and ushers in his replacement, Patrick Troughton. And third -- the fourth and final episode does not exist anymore in any form other than an audio soundtrack, which has made an official DVD release or even a television airing impossible.
Alas, when one finally gets to see it, it does not live up to its reputation. Not even a little bit.
It is bad. It is bad and it is not good.
Its most dismal failure lies in its function as a send-off for Hartnell. Watching this and the previous serial, "The Smugglers," it is evident that Hartnell is by no means on his last legs ... and that he seems to be trying even harder than usual, as if he's gotten a whiff of a dangerous scent in the air. This is all the proof I need of Hartnell's later statement that he did not leave the show willingly.
The show at that time had a new producer who was no doubt eager to "prove" himself and "make" his career. He would not be able to accomplish either of those things as long as Hartnell remained on the show. He wanted a change of direction, and he wanted it fast: Hartnell -- as was the same case with Tom Baker years later -- stood in the way of that.
How badly did they want to get rid of Hartnell?
Hartnell doesn't even appear in the third episode. Instead, a double shot only from behind passes out and spends the runtime of the show unconscious.
This is actually only slightly worse than what they do to Hartnell in the first two episodes. In these, he is kept quite firmly on the sidelines while new companions Ben and Polly do their over-emoting thing. (Ben and Polly have an ignominiously short history on the show, serving only to bridge the two incarnations of The Doctor before being written out as swiftly as they were introduced... and no wonder -- they are bland puddings indeed).
The story focuses almost entirely on the American military guy who is in command of a North Pole base with an objective that's never clearly stated, but involves astronauts and spacecraft somehow. For three episodes, we are treated to the actor's hackneyed blustering and shouting and bullying and chest-thuumping: and then the character's son goes up in a rocket, and it gets worse from there.
With literally the fate of the ENTIRE PLANET at stake, this jerk-hole is more concerned about saving his son. And he never lets you forget it. "I'm gonna save my son!" he blusters and shouts again and again.
As for the Cybermen, who certainly do look and sound interesting, their only significant appearance is in episode two -- where they are defeated ridiculously easily and single-handedly by Ben: who beats them by shining a flashlight in their eyes and then picking up the cyber-weapen when it's dropped.
It is bad and it is not good.
Because it hasn't been restored, the whole thing is all the worse for its grainy kinoscope footage and a soundtrack that makes everyone sound like Charlie Brown's teacher.
I'll be watching the final episode tonight, in the form of a fan restoration made using still photos. And although I like and look forward to Pat Troughton's Doctor, and the show would not likely be around today without his taking over the role when he did, still I feel sad not only for the loss of Hartnell, but for the shabby way in which his leaving was accomplished -- on and off the screen.
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