The Tenth Planet: Episode Two
Martinus deserves enormous credit for his direction of this story, ensuring that if feels vital even when the script’s grasp of logic is at its most tenuous.
General Cutler isn’t mellowing out at all during the episode. And the rather unnecessary addition of a subplot concerning his son, who has embarked on a rescue mission of the doomed astronauts, is just another cliché for Beatty to act out. Beatty’s not bad, but Cutler is never more than a one-note caricature. To some extent this renders criticism pointless, but it’s worth noting that while the Doctor takes a back seat to most of the action here, when he does speak he’s pretty much calling the General a massive arse. Cutler pulling the sympathy card, justifying his aggressiveness by mentioning his son, only weakens his case further. Particularly as Polly falls for it and says she’s sorry (after commenting “What a ghastly man”).
The Doctor: I can only repeat what I’ve already told you, sir. You will get visitors from that other planet.
In terms of editing, the story is also playing up that the General is wrong, wrong, wrong, as this exchange follows us seeing that the Cybermen are already here, in some rather fetching winter wear.
Later in the episode, thanks to Ben, Cuntler makes short work of the Cybermen in the control room.
The Doctor: I don’t think you should have done that, General. We may have learned a very great deal.
The Doctor: I think you’ve rather underestimated the Cybermen, General.
Cutler: So that’s what you reckon, is it, old man? Well, you’re entitled you your own opinions. So long as you keep them to yourself.
Hartnell raises his voice once in the episode (in the confusion as the Cybermen first enter) but mostly he is silent, gazing imperiously, occasionally holding his lapels. He looks never less than iconic, a force to be reckoned with, when he’s doing nothing at all.
The ITN news report (another ropey American accent) is now the recognised shorthand for emphasising big events on a budget (which doesn’t explain why big budget movies fall back on the device so much). So much so that it was a staple for RTD, particularly in his overblown season finales.
This scene bears the signs of hasty scripting
Newsreader: Jodrell Bank, England, says the planet is approaching Earth but there is no cause for alarm. It won’t come near enough to collide.
I suppose he is an American newsreader. The model shots of Mondas remind me a little of the RKO logo (without the transmitter, obviously). I can’t think of any good reason for the land masses of Mondas would resemble those of Earth, other than to emphasise the symmetry of the two worlds.
The presentation of the Cybermen here is with mixed success, but there’s no doubt that they have screen impact. We are told that their scientists realised they were becoming weaker and were dying younger, so they began to replace their body parts, and there is a Frankenstein’s monster quality here that is largely absent from later appearances. They’re imposing throughout, and their cloth masks don’t become any less sinister as their presence becomes more familiar.
Vocal performance-wise, my immediate response was that it detracts from them visually. But, once you get used to them, combined with the Munch’s Scream permanently open-mouth holes, I think the stylisation works better than the twanging Troughton effect. They are off-kilter, peculiarly un-human but resonant thereof, whereas the voices later are too abstract to have lasting power.
While it’s easy to take the piss out of them trying to pass themselves off in parkas (did they take a camouflage course before setting out? So many questions) Martinus does superbly in staging their entrance and take-over of the base amidst the tumult of how to rescue the space rocket. One moment Billy is raging, with hooded figures appearing in the background. The next, Krail is announcing that he is in charge.
The Cybermen effectively undercut objections from the humans to their methods and disinterest in the lives of the astronauts.
Krail: I do not understand. There are people dying all over your world yet you do not care about them.
The problem is, for every great line there’s a clunker that needed an attentive script editor (stand up, Mr Davis) to iron out. You can’t really wag the finger at inconsistent presentation of the Cybermen over the years when they’ve been all over the place from the off.
Krail: You will be wondering what has happened.
Very considerate of you!
Krail: Aeons ago the planets were twins. Then we drifted away from you on a journey to the edge of space. Now we have returned.
Polly: You were right, Doctor.
Well, of course he was. But the lack of anything approaching scientific rigour in Krail’s explanation is a little disappointing. Mondas just “drifted off”? And the comment that it is beyond their powers to prevent Mondas from draining the Earth is curious; experimentation that can no longer be controlled?
What did they do to their planet? Or did its journey through space give it strange properties? To some extent it allows the viewer to fill in the blanks, but it also leaves the impression that Pedler couldn’t be arsed to think it through.
There’s a great wedge of exposition following their entrance, but it doesn’t feel laboured. Only underwritten at times. Cutler manages to alert Europe that the base is under threat.
Krail: This is really most unfortunate. You should not have done that.
Get-ing a bit rough, is it?
I’m not sure their dialogue should be approximating that of Bond villains. Bonus points go to Krail for having Cutler put in a headlock (I wonder if Saward picked up on this for Glover getting a bruised skull). And leaving the Cybermen with human hands is a simple but effective choice (they have human brains too, it seems, but augmented). At this point there’s no explanation for the choice to invade the base, we only have the implication that subterfuge was a necessary part of the plan. This would later be reworked for The Moonbase; spearhead followed by invasion force.
The rather peculiar characterisation of Krail continues with his response to the plea to save the astronauts.
Krail: It is a foregone conclusion. It is a waste of time. However, if you wish to contact them I have no objection.
It makes him seem like a fairly decent sort, despite his threat to kill anyone who engages in deceit in the following line. Which he doesn’t. Krail decides to lock Ben up when he threatens the Cybermen with a machine gun. When he suggest to Ben “You do not take us seriously” that’s probably because Krail’s asking to be undermined. His instruction, “Take him out and look after him” would only have any power to it if he was referring to putting a bullet in Ben’s head, Mafia style.
But then in the next exchange, when he’s on topic with the philosophical debate over the nature of the Cybermen, Krail’s back on form (though it must be said, that the discussion goes round one time too many on the “Why should we care?” theme).
Krail: Fee-lings. I do not understand that word.
The Doctor: Emotions. Love, pride, hate, fear. Have you no emotions, sir?
Krail: Come to Mondas and you will have no emotions. You will become like us.
I like how Krail ducks engaging with the Doctor. He just gives a statement of inevitable consequence. We also learn of their motivational force, often lost in later tales:
Krail: We are equipped only to survive. We are only interested in sur-vival.
Despite Polly’s weak-arsed “I’m sorry” in response to Cutler, the companions are quite well-served. She is instantly repulsed by the Cybermen (“You’re robots”) and interrogates their lack of human decency at every opportunity (“Don’t you think of anything but yourselves?”). Ben, meanwhile, after nine-or-so episodes of Cockernee moaning, is given something approaching character development.
Admittedly, the whole set-up of locking Ben up is Davis/Pedler plotting at its worst (“Oh great! A projection room”) but the confrontation with the Cybermen suggest not only that Ben has depths beneath his more gung-ho action man status but that he hasn’t seen any action in the Navy.
Ben: You didn’t give me no alternative.
He comments, after slaying the Cybermen. A very different approach to the cannon fodder that they become in the Troughton era (and which reaches its zenith/nadir in the ‘80s). Indeed, following through the reasoning presented here, an attitude more akin to Pertwee’s Doctor towards the SIlurians (that they are life, whatever their behaviour) would seem more appropriate.
Cutler: You did well, boy, to kill that soldier.
Ben: I had no choice.
Cutler: Well don’t apologise. He’s dead, isn’t he?
We’ll only get anything approaching this kind of empathy with the brain-fried Cyberman gone haywire in The Invasion (the synthetic goo of emotion slopped over failed conversions in Army of Ghosts/Doomsdaydoesn’t qualify).
A word for the Secretary General, as he seems to be a reasonably bright chap, observing that the Earth losing its energy and the approach of Mondas are likely to be connected. Just how the Earth is losing its energy is not touched upon, nor when/how this was discovered (his scene is the first time this plot point is touched upon, I think). Krail comments that Mondas is nearly exhausted and that it requires the energy of the Earth to replenish itself. In one respect, the avoidance of any attempt at scientific explanation for Mondas knocking about through space, and the lack of detail on just how the Earth is being depleted, adds to the mythical elements that the return of the Cybermen represent (think Zechariah Sitchin with his translation of Sumerian texts on visitors from space, as he interpreted them – to multi-volume ends). Krail’s referencing of Mondas as an ancient name for Earth only underlines this (a nod to the Latin “mundus” presumably).
And next week, I will come back. Yes, I will... Er, no I won’t actually.
The climax of the episode, with the revelation of an approaching fleet of Cybermen spaceships, makes for effective escalation. Particularly as the advance party were despatched surprisingly easily.
Despite some increasingly evident failings on the script front – both in dialogue and plotting – the story remains dramatically compelling. Will the Doctor take centre stage next episode? Surely he will. It’s his last story...