Doctor Who Project: The Tenth Planet

I don’t understand it. He just seems to be worn out.

As Doctor Who stories go, quite a lot is asked of Kit Pedler’s “The Tenth Planet” (Story Production Code DD). In addition to delivering a ripping near-future yarn about cybernetic invaders from a twin-Earth, the story also needed to usher out William Hartnell’s First Doctor in a fitting and dignified manner. Pedler, with assistance from story editor Gerry Davis, manages both with some aplomb. Not only do we get the Cybermen, more frightening here in their debut story than in any future iteration, but also, Hartnell is given the chance for the virtuoso exit he richly deserved.

The TARDIS again finds its way to Earth, skipping from seventeenth century Cornwall to twentieth century Antarctica, though in 1986, twenty years in the future from Ben and Polly’s time, much to their dismay. With plenty of warm coats in the TARDIS wardrobe to choose from, our time travellers merrily pop out onto the ice cap for a visit, only to be apprehended by soldiers from the International Space Command, at whose polar base the TARDIS had landed. The commanding officer, General Cutler, has no time to interrogate his guests, however, as a space capsule on a routine mission has run into trouble. Some outside force is pulling the astronauts from their planned orbit. And the Doctor knows just what has happened.

Ben, Polly, the Doctor, and the South Pole

In order to prove his knowledge of events, and thus potentially to help, the Doctor gives a scientist at the base a piece of paper noting that the problem stems from the sudden appearance of another planet—the Tenth Planet—in Earth’s vicinity; and not just any planet, but Earth’s long-lost twin, Mondas, with the same continents (and continental drift), only upside down. What’s more, the Doctor knows that Earth is about to receive visitors.

Hello, I'm a Cyberman

The Cybermen are on their way. They don’t want much, really. Just to drain the Earth of all of its energy and then destroy it.

For the very first time in the series, the Doctor has the same knowledge of “future” Earth events in which he finds himself embroiled as he does of adventures set in Earth history. Granted, he’s aware of the broad (and vague) contours of galactic human civilization in stories such as “The Sensorites,” “The Space Musueum,” “The Ark,” and “The Savages,” but his knowledge doesn’t extend to the situation at hand in those stories. Here, he knows that, in the late twentieth century, humanity encounters a twin planet that has drifted “to the edge of space” and back and also that the planet is populated. One could even make the case that he’s aware of the existence of Cybermen, as he evinces no surprise when they burst into the tracking room of Snowcap base.

And yet even after the initial wave of Cybermen is defeated, no one asks the Doctor just how he knew what was going on, or what to do next. Strange people and aliens keep appearing at this base and no one breaks his usual routine. Even after the Cybermen have declared that the Earth shall soon be drained of all energy, the scientists just want to bring the wayward space capsule back to ground. Given the time period the story was produced, when the space race was in full swing, failing to focus on the heroics of the ground crew and astronauts would not make sense, and with only four episodes to tell the story, one accepts the narrative impulse to keep events moving. Still, the relative lack of shock at the appearance of the Doctor and his companions, not to mention the Cybermen, jars somewhat.

The crew of Zeus 4

Of note, the casting for the staff of Snowcap base and the astronauts portrays a unified Earth, with American, Italian, and English soldiers and scientists reporting to a headquarters in Geneva. The lead astronaut, Williams (Earl Cameron), is black, with a West Indian accent, an enlightened portrayal of 1986 from twenty years prior. No special mention is made of any of this multi-national (and multi-racial) cooperation, nor do Polly or Ben remark upon it.

When the Cybermen reveal that Mondas is draining all energy from Earth, the Doctor asks how they control the transfer, to which they note that they have no control over the process. The concept of the energy transfer remains quite nebulous throughout the first two episodes, but then suddenly in episodes three and four, the runaway energy transfer threatens to destroy Mondas, if only the Cybermen can be prevented from destroying the Earth first. But really, the overarching plot of the energy transfer remains secondary to the real story here: excessive emotion, in the person of General Cutler, versus no emotion, in the Cybermen.

A Cyberman with General Cutler

General Cutler (Robert Beatty) is a stereotype of a hard-nosed American military officer, gruff and blunt, almost a human Cyberman. And then, his astronaut son is placed in jeopardy in orbit, and he becomes obsessed with saving him at any cost. He’s even willing to destroy Mondas with a Z-Bomb, one of three doomsday weapons on the planet (one of which is conveniently located at the South Pole), despite the chance that he will destroy the Earth in the process, if it gives his son a chance to escape the gravitational pull of Mondas that destroys the other capsule. Cutler shifts from pure military logic to emotional illogic. The Cybermen, by contrast, have been improved cybernetically over thousands of years to remove emotion, pain, and even aging. They have no objective other than the survival of their kind, as Cutler has none but the survival of his kin.

Polly convinces Culter’s chief scientist, Barclay, to help Ben sabotage the rocket that will launch the Z-Bomb at Mondas, a betrayal that Cutler is about to repay with murder when the Cybermen burst into the control room and kill Cutler. In his desire to save his son, Cutler neglected to guard against hundreds of Cybermen ships detected by their scanners. Cold, heartless logic wins out over impassioned emotionality.

The Z-Bomb

The Cybermen have a weakness, however. Radiation kills them instantly, and the only way to destroy the Earth is to detonate a Z-Bomb. Ben (Michael Craze) figures out that the Cybermen need humans to activate the bomb, so he has the rather sensible idea of just staying in the radiation-filled bomb chamber until Mondas blows up. And, after some Benny Hill-type escapades with nuclear core rods on sticks used as weapons to knock out some Cybermen, Mondas does just that, with no adverse affects on the nearby Earth whatsoever except for the disintegration of all the Cybermen, who relied on its energy to live. Ben, who has previously expressed guilt for killing a Cyberman (very much in keeping with the Doctor’s own ethos about violence and the taking of life), takes charge in episode four in a way he has not yet in his brief time on the show.

The Cybermen are not the only ones to lose energy. Polly notes throughout the story that the Doctor seems unwell, and the Doctor collapses at the beginning of episode three. In actuality, William Hartnell collapsed at the end of filming for episode two, and his stunt double, Gordon Craig, stands-in during episode three, which has no lines at all for the Doctor. Hartnell returned for episode four’s shooting, and by the time Ben rescues Polly (Anneke Wills) and the Doctor from the Cyberman ship where they were held hostage, both Hartnell and the First Doctor he portrayed for three years are tired, yet resolute.

Doctor: “It’s all over,” that’s what you said. No. But it isn’t. It’s far from being all over.

He insists that he must return to the TARDIS immediately. “I must go now,” he proclaims, and rushes into the polar cold ahead of his companions.

The Doctor locks Ben and Polly out of the TARDIS while he confronts the end of this life—and the beginning of his next. His last act is to open the TARDIS doors for them to enter, and they see his body bathed in bright light, then change.


The shooting script contains a short speech by the Doctor just prior to his regeneration, but it was not recorded:

Doctor: No no I can’t go through it—I can’t I can’t I will not give in

A silent regeneration fits William Hartnell’s Doctor better. His final words, a wistful remark to his companions, suit this cantankerous, inquisitive, mischievous, and stubbornly determined Doctor better than any fist raised against the oncoming darkness.

Doctor: Keep Warm.

And thus ends the story of the First Doctor.

(Previous Story: The Smugglers)

(Next Story: The Power of the Daleks)

Post 29 of the Doctor Who Project

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