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DVD Review: ‘Doctor Who – The Tenth Planet’

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Just in time to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who, BBC Home Entertainment has released the final story featuring William Hartnell as the first Doctor: The Tenth Planet.

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For years, this story was only available in very poor-quality bootlegged copies with the fourth episode missing completely. The BBC had destroyed all the copies and no one in the ’60s imagined that people would ever want to see old television programs again. When the “The Tenth Planet” was released on VHS in 2001, the missing episode was handled by using still photos changed every few seconds to follow the audio (which had been preserved.) It was better than nothing, but this new release effectively uses animation to reconstruct the story — an even better solution to the issue. One of the special features, however, documents how the VHS reconstruction was done.

This story has special importance because it introduced the Cybermen.  The Cybermen are rivaled only by the Daleks as the most popular menaces in the Doctor Who universe. Here in their earliest incarnation, they look pretty pathetic. They have stocking heads with helmets over the top and you can see the creases; they speak in strange sing-song voices, but you can definitely see the potential for the creepiness to come.

The story is interesting, imagining the space race resulted in regular trips to the moon by 1986, when a a manned space capsule gets into some difficulty. The Doctor arrives at the South Pole Space Tracking Station in time to explain that the problem is being caused by the gravitational pull of a new planet, which has entered the solar system and is heading for Earth. This planet is Mondas, the home world of the Cybermen, and it is draining the energy of earth in order to attempt to save itself.

The seminal moment of the story, the very first regeneration of the Doctor into another actor, was necessitated by the ill health of William Hartnell. It was a clever way to replace him and established Dr. Who as the unique show it is. By using 8mm film, the regeneration is complete in the episode.

The DVD set includes some intriguing bonus features. including commentary from some of the actors in the episodes, including Anneke Wills, who played Polly, one of the Doctor’s companions at the time (the other was Ben.)

There is also a making-of feature called “Frozen Out,” and additional bonus material, including “Doctor Who Stories” from Anneke Wills, which are most interesting because it is very obvious that Wills and Hartnell really did not get along very well. There’s a fascinating piece called “Companion Piece” which features many of the people who have played companions over the years, and “Boys! Boys! Boys!’ which has Frazier Hines, who played Jamie, Peter Purves (Stephen) and Mark Strickland (Turlough) discussing their roles. There’s also a discussion of whether Doctor Who had a “Golden Age,” a short but revealing interview with William Hartnell, and the Doctor Who Tenth Anniversary show from the British children’s program “Blue Peter.”

The bonus material alone is worth acquired The Tenth Planet and certainly no fan’s collection would be complete without the final appearance of Hartnell, the first appearance of the Cybermen, and the first regeneration.

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About Rhetta Akamatsu

I am an author of non-fiction books and an online journalist. My books include Haunted Marietta, The Irish Slaves, T'ain't Nobody's Business If I Do: Blues Women Past and Present, and Sex Sells: Women in Photography and Film.