The Tenth Planet: Episode Four
Ben has prevented the lift-off which results in the ever-so clumsy “It didn’t work and now we’ve all got a chance of life!” Cutler wants the Doctor in the control room sharpish. But he’s turned into some maroon under a blanket. There’s not a chance.
Polly: But he’s ill.
Cutler: He’s gonna get worse. Get him up!
The Doctor: No need!
Yay! Hartnell’s back, and seems to have assimilated what’s been going on in his unconscious state. He knows that the plan to detonate the Z-Bomb has failed. He’s less sure of his own well-being, though.
The Doctor: Oh, I’m not sure, my dear. It comes from an outside influence. Yes, this old body of mine is wearing a bit thin.
I rather like the vagueness of his explanation. The implication is that it’s Mondas causing it, but we never get any more specific than this.
Unfortunately, it’s not like the Doctor comes back to do anything dramatic. He gets shouted at by Cutler and then locked up on the Cyber ship with Polly.
Cutler: The enemy. The enemy. I’ll tell you who the enemy is. You are the enemy. You. You killed my son! My son! So now I’m going to kill you.
It’s quite a powerful outburst, and the Doctor is as impressive in non-reaction to it. Impassive and silent.
And just as the Doctor’s sudden reappearance was a blessed relief, just as the story looked like it was going to become unremittingly turgid, so the Cybermen’s reinvasion of the base reinvigorates the mix. Even if they’re only there to stir and repeat what they were up to two episodes ago.
But, it’s quite interesting to see how overtly their return is signposted as their rescuing the time travellers from death at Cutler’s hands. Who is shot dead almost as soon as they arrive (shame, that).
The Doctor: We owe you our lives. That man was going to have us shot.
The Doctor is playing for time (as he says later), but effectively he is right. Although they are nominally aggressors here, the Cybermen are not, on the surface, as unrelentingly kill-happy as they would be in later appearances. They entertain discussion, within limits.
The Doctor: Your planet is finished. It will disintegrate. We know why you came here. So why not stay and live with us in peace?
It looks for a minute as if this a dry run for The Silurians. Except that Krang has no intention of agreeing to the Doctor’s offer; he only appears to consider it in order to gain control of, and detonate, the Z Bomb.
Polly is again sidelined, sent to the Cyber ship as a hostage (where she gets head-clamped into unconsciousness), and – in contrast to her enthusiasm in the previous story – is called upon to deliver weak girly nonsense (“Ben, I’ve been so scared!”). The Doctor’s rather sweet as she is led away (“And don’t forget your coat. I don’t want you to get cold”).
But, as in the previous episode, Ben has the lion’s share of the action. He realises the Cybermen’s susceptibility to radiation (they need the humans to move the Z Bomb) and organises the revolt against them by wielding two of the nuclear reactor’s fuel rods as weapons. This a real WTF plot development worthy of the Bristol Boys. Apart from the obvious fast-and-loose approach to nuclear science, it’s unclear why the Cybermen would be more susceptible to radiation than humans. One would expect the reverse to be true, but they drop like flies. It’s not something that’s been brought back as an Achilles’ Heel, although it might have been more convincing than the recurring gold allergy. And since it’s evident that they are resistant to heat, cold, disease and bullets, radiation is a fairly big area to miss. As is sensitivity to bright light (in Episode Three).
Ben shows himself to be quick-witted and pro-active, for all his geezerly charm elsewhere. He’s in favour of sitting tight until Mondas expires, initially (showing that he fully trusts the Doctor’s wisdom in such matters) and switching off the communication device so the Cybermen can make no more threats (to give up in three minutes or that’s it for the Doctor and Polly); very Jack Bauer.
The ensuing train of plotting feels slightly clumsy, however; Cyberman Jarl attempts to gas Ben and Barclay out of the room while petulant Dyson and another bloke come up behind them and radiate the Cybermen just in time. After which the Cybermen on the ship need drawing to the base. Unnecessary as it turns out (the Doctor has already noted that the ship appears to be absorbing too much energy from Mondas). Luckily, they arrive at the base just as Mondas begins to “melt”, which causes the Cybermen to do something similar; the photos suggest shrivelled heads remain.
Ben: They must have been entirely dependent on power from Mondas.
Which is up there on the “not accounting for all eventualities” front with the Daleks relying on static electricity and the Movellans attaching their power units to their belts. It also suggests that, even if they were willing, the Cybermen could not have taken up the Doctor’s offer of shelter on Earth.
Secretary General: The Cybermen menace has ended all over the world.
Hooray! It’s this kind of pat summary (exemplified by The Moonbase) that leads to accusations of kiddification of the series in the Troughton era. And there’s certainly enough instances where it occurs that it can’t just be brushed off.
An earlier sequence with the Secretary General deserves a mention as, in the story proper, it’s the most striking scene of the episode.
Secretary General: Tell General Cutler there have been massed landings of Cybermen in many parts of the world. Who are you?
Gern: I am now controller of the planet. Resist us and die.
Gern’s delivery is a bit too varying in pitch for my tastes, but the way he suddenly arrives in the Secretary General’s office mid-conversation is stunning.
Which brings us to the end for the first Doctor. Ben finds him (wearing his cool fez) and Polly on the Cybermen ship.
Ben: ‘Ere, come on Doctor. Wakey-wakey. It’s all over.
The Doctor: What did you say, my boy? It’s all over. That’s what you said. It’s all far from being over. I must get back to the TARDIS immediately. And I must go alone.
While pieces of scenes exist throughout this episode, it’s from this point until the end that you most wish was fully present and correct. There’s a snatch of virtual silence where Ben and Polly are presumably watching the Doctor leaving the ship. And the Doctor in the TARDIS control room, bathed in strange lights and evocative sound effects (before admitting Ben and Polly) is an arresting sight. The regeneration itself is achieved simply but strikingly; I’m not sure having the credits with the special Tenth Planet codes was really appropriate at the end of this one, as we’ve moved on very decisively from the main story.
A big improvement on the previous episode. While the global defeat of the Cybermen is reasonable (due to being telegraphed an episode earlier), the antics on the base take more swallowing. But it’s the iconic ending of the episode that puts this into four-star territory.
Overall Story: You can’t help wish that Hartnell had received a more full-on send-off but, aside from the rather egregious use of a stand-in in Episode Three, he’s on as sterling form as ever (I think Beatty has more fluffs than Hartnell). As a story, it’s definitely at its best in the escalating first half (where Kit Pedler has sole writing credit) and is at times clumsy in both plot and character logic. But Martinus’ direction, the eerie presentation of a new and lasting foe and the changing of the lead actor ensure that the story overcomes its less successful elements. The plot as a whole, and Episode Three in particular with Ben in action mode, signals the change of emphasis of the show during the Troughton years; for better or worse more action-orientated, spritely and less thoughtful and thought-provoking.
(Episode rating is the same as for the overall story.)