Doctor Who Project: The Tenth Planet

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.

Read more

Doctor Who Project: The Smugglers

My dear boy, it could be a great deal worse.

From the swinging Sixties, we head immediately to the swinging Sixteens—hundreds, that is—to open the fourth season of Doctor Who. Brian Hayles’ “The Smugglers” (Story Production Code CC) deposits the Doctor and his two new companions, Polly and Ben, on the coast of seventeenth century Cornwall, caught between pirates on one side and the titular smugglers on the other. The sense of youthful vigor Polly and Ben brought to the prior story carries through here, and the Doctor seems pleased to watch his young charges discover that they have, indeed, travelled through space and time. The youngsters scamper up from the beach where the TARDIS has landed, and the Doctor follows along after them with some glee. He displays considerable anger upon discovering them in the TARDIS, but his actions here belie his true feelings.

Landing on beaches with new companions has become standard procedure for the Doctor—Steven’s first disembarkation from the TARDIS was on another British beach—but one wonders why the Doctor, for all his knowledge, tends to forget that tides go both out and in. With the TARDIS trapped by the tide, the three time travellers must find shelter for the night and walk right into…the Curse of Avery’s Gold.

It’s not truly the tide that traps them, though; the Doctor decides show off for Ben and Polly, and that behavior embroils them in the intrigue. The local churchwarden initially wants nothing to do with them, being distrustful of strangers and suspicious of any who might come from the sea. As a demonstration of his savoir faire, the Doctor charms and flatters the nervous layman, so sufficiently that entrusts the Doctor with a deadly secret:

If you should this way again and find me gone, remember these words: This is Deadman’s Secret Key: Small[beer], Ringwood, Gurney.

Shortly after the three head to the local inn, a burly pirate named Cherub emerges from hiding, having seen the churchwarden whisper in the Doctor’s ear. Our churchwarden turns out to be a former pirate, and Cherub wants the secret. Cherub is quicker with his knife than his tongue, though, and kills the churchwarden, leaving only one source for the clue to finding the legendary treasure of Avery’s Gold: the Doctor.

A non-cherubic Cherub

And what do Polly and Ben think of their sudden appearance in the seventeenth century? Ben has no second thoughts about employing Cockney slang on random inn patrons, while Polly just wishes everyone would stop calling her “lad” and thinking she’s a boy, a nice riff on her short-cropped hairstyle and Sixties-stylish pants-suit. These, then, are not your parents’ companions. Until, of course, the Doctor is kidnapped by the pirates and the companions get framed for the murder of the churchwarden and thrown in jail, where Polly yells, much like Susan, upon seeing a rat.

Read more

Doctor Who Project: The War Machines

Well, hardly a specialist, sir, but I dabble. Yes, I dabble.

Doctor Who‘s third season ends as the entire series began, in 1960s London, and in many ways, the season’s final story, “The War Machines,” (Story Production Code BB) takes its meager strengths from being set in quite familiar surroundings. Ian Stuart Black’s tale of an artificial intelligence bent on destroying its organic creators could easily have transpired on some distant planetoid in the far future, but such a danger arising from a laboratory atop the newly completed Post Office Tower in London just at the point when computers were beginning to make inroads into public consciousness provides sufficient narrative impetus that we can almost ignore the sloppy plot.

The Post Office Tower . . . of Doom!

Writing his second Doctor Who story, Ian Stuart Black again shows no sense of familiarity with (or worse, no respect for) the series’ norms and established precedents. The Elders in his “The Savages,” aired immediately prior to “The War Machines,” track the Doctor through space and time somehow, which the Doctor himself has not yet accomplished through three seasons, while here the villain of this story, the awakened computer WOTAN (Will Operating Thought Analogue), refers to the Doctor as, egads, “Doctor Who.” In “The Savages,” at least, Black has characters specifically note that they do not know the Doctor’s name; here, even henchmen spout the offending phrase:

Professor Brett: Top priority is to enlist Doctor Who. He has advanced knowledge which WOTAN needs. Doctor Who must be enlisted into our services tonight.

Much about this story suggests a break from past precedent and the dawn of a new era, as the production team was obviously complicit in this breach of naming protocol. After three seasons of not being able to get back to contemporary London, the TARDIS materializes there with nary a remark from the Doctor. He merely pops an “Out of Order” sign on the rather beat-up looking police box door and, sensing that something is very “alien” about the Post Office Tower, arranges confabs with the leading scientists and civil servants of the day.

A Broken TARDIS?

We have no lead-in from a prior story—and no lead-out from this story to the next—to explain why and how the TARDIS has arrived at the next destination. The Doctor just shows up, senses something is wrong, fixes it (ostensibly because he has nothing better to do), and disappears. Even the interactions here with the military, a first, will become commonplace in the next eight seasons. A format has arrived. Even the episode titles are different, in a computer font with an animated effect. To go along with this change in sensibility, two new companions arrive, every bit products of ’60s London, and one companion is almost literally sent out to pasture.

And how does the Doctor fix a maniacal computer bent on the eradication of the human species? With punch cards, of course.

Read more

Doctor Who Project: The Savages

Though we know you only as a record in our charts of space and time, yet you seem to us like an old friend.

It’s not often that the Doctor is expected. Typically he turns up as an uninvited guest at best—and a meddlesome pest in need of eradication at worst—or else, as in “The Celestial Toymaker,” he is plucked from the time-space continuum against his will. Yet in Ian Stuart Black’s “The Savages” (Production Code AA), the highly advanced civilization where the Doctor, Dodo, and Steven land has been tracking the TARDIS and eagerly awaits his arrival. Very shortly, however, the Doctor turns into said meddlesome pest.

From the start of the four episode story, we see the central conceit at work: this highly civilized planet is also home to the eponymous Savages, whose spear-and-loin-cloth costume and speech patterns stand at odds with the funky helmets and futuristic stylings of the Elders and those who live in the City, where art and culture and scientific discovery reign supreme. Not much narrative effort is spent providing a cohesive back history for this planet—the City has no name, nor does the planet, and no dates are given. But quickly, we realize that not all is as it seems in this utopia. How could it be with those helmets?

Image via

The Doctor is at first warmly welcomed by the Elders, who have studied his travels through space and time and plotted his eventual arrival. “You are known to us as the Traveller from Beyond Time,” proclaims Exorse, one of the City’s guards, upon greeting the Doctor in the scrubland beyond the City walls. (Given that the Doctor cannot at this point direct the TARDIS in any direction at all, he somehow manages to conceal his wonder at their ability to do so.) The Elders wish to learn from the Doctor, even granting him a position as an honorary Elder. The Doctor seems eager to share his knowledge, as he too is aware of this civilization, apparently reputed far and wide for its advancement, but first he wants to understand how they have built this remarkable civilization.

The head Elder, Jano, tells the Doctor that they harness “only a very special form of animal vitality” to give new power to members of their community who are in need of it, forever keeping them full of energy. This “one simple discovery” has allowed them to create a miraculous civilization.

Image via

Dodo, in her customary function as plot device, gets separated from the guides showing her and Steven around the City and follows a secret passage to the laboratory where the truth is revealed: Animal Vitality is People!

Read more

Doctor Who Project: The Gunfighters

Ain’t it wonderful, honey, what a man’ll do for what he truly believes in?

Even the best of the Doctor Who historicals suffer one fundamental flaw: the historical personages tend to overshadow the Doctor and his companions, particularly when the history is well known. In the non-historical stories, the writers cannot afford to have our intrepid heroes off-screen for long, lest the audience wonder just why these generic aliens and anonymous humans are hatching plans to disengage the Framistat of Doom. In the historicals, though, a little bit of set dressing goes a long way, and there’s no compunction about ten minutes of, say, King Richard the Lionheart and his knights conversing about Saladin, or a humorous interlude between Priam, Paris, and Cassandra. Striking a balance between the historical figures and the Doctor takes some doing, and, to my admitted surprise, Donald Cotton succeeds in “The Gunfighters” (Story Production Code Z), despite some rather dodgy American accents.

On the face of it, the premise is about as wobbly as the accents and the bar prop in the Last Chance Saloon: the Doctor needs a dentist (there being no facilities for dealing with dental care on the TARDIS, nor even any painkillers, despite being a craft capable of travelling in four dimensions), so at their very next stop, they must seek one out. Our time travellers just happen to land in Tombstone, Arizona, shortly before the shootout between the Earps and the Clantons. Four episodes of horses and nooses and gunplay and dusty shot glasses are sure to follow, a feeling not diminished by the ever-present saloon ballad that kicks in right after the opening title music. And yet, much like the last historical, “The Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve,” Cotton’s story manages to be not about the events at the O.K. Corral so much as about the Doctor’s belief system, all tied together with a rather clever case of mistaken identity.


For you see, the Clantons are in town, along with a hired gun, to find—and then, as these things tend to happen, to kill—Doc Holliday, who earlier killed a Clanton brother. They’ve never seen Doc Holliday before, but they know of his fondness for liquor and gambling, so they wait for their prey to make himself known in the Last Chance Saloon. When Dodo and Steven enter the saloon to secure lodging for the night (needing a break from the bedrooms in the TARDIS, I suppose), they happen to mention the Doctor. The Clantons put two and two together to get five, assuming that they mean Doc Holliday, the first time in the series that the Doctor’s moniker has put him into real danger.

Meanwhile, the Doctor has his aching tooth extracted by Doc Holliday, who has that very day opened a dental surgery in Tombstone. Holliday gets wind of the Clantons’ intentions and, more importantly, their misapprehension, and frames the Doctor, giving him a gun belt and a revolver with Holliday’s brand engraved on it, claiming the Doctor’s just not dressed right without it. When the Clantons kill the Doctor, they’ll assume they killed Holliday.


Upon entering the Last Chance Saloon, the Doctor is quickly surrounded by the Clantons. The Doctor knows his American folk history (he’s a big fan of the era, apparently) and knows he’s in a spot of bother. Despite his protestations, the Clantons are sure they’ve got the right Doc. The Doctor draws Holliday’s revolver and the Clantons’ hired gun falls to the ground, shot. Holliday took the shot from a hidden vantage point, allowing the Doctor and Steven to disarm the Clantons. But how is the Doctor, a confirmed proponent of non-violence, to survive in an era and locale where bullets, not words, solve almost all disputes?

Read more

Doctor Who Project: The Celestial Toymaker

I’m not sure that I like these clowns!

As we near the end of Doctor Who‘s third season, the Doctor and his intrepid companions have confronted many foes since in 1963: dastardly Daleks, malicious Monoids, tetchy Trojans, and an aggressive Animus, to name a few. So perhaps we can forgive whoever commissioned Brian Hayles to provide the Doctor with his most frightful opponents yet in “The Celestial Toymaker” (Story Production Code Y)—clowns. And also an overgrown schoolboy, characters from a pantomime, and some living playing cards.

In fairness, the notion of the Doctor meeting an immortal gamemaster, the eponymous Celestial Toymaker, who seeks to entrap the Doctor for all time as a worthy opponent, sounds quite promising. With his mind alone, the Toymaker (Michael Gough) has the power to affect the TARDIS and the Doctor himself, making him a more dangerous foe than any the Doctor has yet met. And, more to the point, the Doctor has met him before and escaped.

Screencap of The Celestial Toymaker via the BBC

While most of the stories to this point have featured lead-outs from the prior story, providing a thin narrative continuity, “The Celestial Toymaker” continues referring to the events on “The Ark” for a good portion of the first episode. The Toymaker has the ability to make the Doctor disappear and become intangible, changes taken at first to be linked the similarly incorporeal Refusians. It’s not until the Doctor realizes that he is confronting the Toymaker that he definitively dismisses the notion that the Refusians are involved:

Well, I don’t think it was the Refusians’ influence that made me become intangible. No! I think it was something here, and I don’t like the feel of the place any more than you do, but, ah, we have to face up to it. You know, I think I was meant to come here.

The Toymaker seems to have the measure of the Doctor. He realized that getting the Doctor out of the TARDIS was a simple matter of blanking the screens, knowing that his insatiable curiosity would lead him to investigate. And the Doctor, for his part, acknowledges that the Toymaker is a notorious figure who lures unwary travelers to his realm in order to trap them, for his own amusement. The Toymaker does seem to adhere to a particular set of rules, however, and he offers the Doctor, Steven, and Dodo the chance to escape, by winning his games, albeit games tilted to his favor.

A battle of wits between old foes should be in the offing; instead, we get electrified hopscotch and two episodes of a disembodied hand playing Solitaire. Oh, yes, and the clowns.

Read more