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DVD Review: ‘Doctor Who’ – ‘The Tenth Planet’

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DWRecently released on DVD, The Tenth Planet is the second story in the fourth season of Doctor Who, and the final episode starring William Hartnell as The Doctor (aside from a three-Doctors special years later). Originally broadcast in October 1966, it features the very first appearance by the Cybermen, a terrifying enemy that will plague Earth for decades to come as one of the shows scariest and most frequently appearing villains.

The Cybermen look quite different in The Tenth Planet than they do in later installments. They are more fleshy, with clothing in place of being wrapped in metal, though some of the familiar elements are present. However they look, they remain a creepy race.

As the serial begins, The Doctor, Polly (Anneke Wills), and Ben (Michael Craze) land in Antarctica in the mid-1980s. At the same time as the TARDIS arrives, an Earth-like planet called Mondas also appears, heading straight towards our world. The emotionless Cybermen come from this planet and quickly take over Snowcap, a base near the South Pole, resulting in the death of Snowcap’s men aboard a probe.

The Doctor and his companions attempt to stop the Cybermen from destroying Earth and making its inhabitants like them. They soon come at odds with General Cutler (Robert Beatty, 2001: A Space Odyssey), who wants to use a very destructive means of stopping the Cybermen, even if these is massive collateral damage on Cutler’s own planet. Luckily, one of Cutler’s men, Barclay (David Dodimead, The Honey Pot), thinks the Doctor has it right and offers his assistance.

They do stop the Cybermen, of course, but at a very high cost. The Doctor, sick, soon dies in the TARDIS, his face changing to appear as another man.

Although the fourth installment of this four-part serial has been lost, the BBC has produced an animated version of it, which is combined with the existing audio recordings, finally allowing the complete story to be put out on DVD.

The disappointing part about Part Four being animated is that it includes the very first Doctor regeneration, as the First Doctor becomes the Second (Patrick Troughton). Because this is such an iconic moment of Doctor Who history, this, more than most things, is sad to lose. Now, the two-disc DVD set does include, as a bonus feature, the fourth episode with audio and stills from the VHS, which boasts a grainy video copy of this sequence, but the version shown when watching the serial itself is an animated version.

The Doctor’s departure is telegraphed throughout these episodes. Besides appearing ill, which Hartnell was in real life, the Doctor is almost completely absent from episode three. For those watching the show, as surprising as it may have been to kill of the titular lead, there had to be some hint that something bad was coming for the beloved Time Lord.

One cool thing about The Tenth Planet is the specifically designed title sequences, which only appear in this story. They are not only fitting, but highlight this serial as being very special, which it is. Although, the production of these may have been rushed, as there are a couple of misspellings in them.

There are a ton of bonus features in this DVD set. Besides the aforementioned alternate reconstruction of episode four, there’s an audio commentary with Wills and several guest actors, moderated by Toby Hadoke. PDF materials, a photo gallery, and a tenth anniversary retrospective are included. There’s a “Making Of,” a brief interview with Hartnell, and a profile of Wills. Plus, several other featurettes are present.

Doctor Who The Tenth Planet is an important entry in the Doctor Who saga, and this release is pretty satisfying, considering the circumstances.

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About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome writes TV reviews for BlogCritics.org and Seat42F.com, as well as fiction. He is a frequent guest on two podcasts, Let's Talk TV with Barbara Barnett and The Good, the Bad, & the Geeky. All of his work can be found on his website, jeromewetzel.com