Skip to main content

You see, millions of years ago, there was a twin...


Doctor Who
The Tenth Planet: Episode One


If The War Machineswas the first dawn of the more straightforward approach of Lloyd and Davis, The Tenth Planet forms something of a template for the next couple of years; base under siege storyline, memorable monsters, a ‘60s vision of the near future and an (at times) endearing indifference to plot logic and scientific principles. TPP remains arresting for a number of reasons.

In part, it came first so it has aspirations that its more stir-and-repeat successors lack. It also stands out for throwing Hartnell into a milieu that is foreign to his Doctor. Then there’s Derek Martinus’ direction, which makes the most of a limited budget in a story where epic events are occurring. More than these elements, I think it’s the premise that is so arresting. It’s not just the first Cybermen story, or the last Hartnell. It has a dazzling hook; the Earth’s twin planet has returned. It creates a mythic footing that would be repeated with The Tomb of the Cybermen (and a number of other Troughtons). An irresistible combination of the far distant past enmeshed with a one-time future.

The computer code titles are quite groovy; I like this kind of non-uniform approach to presenting a story. I was surprised that the same thing is done with the end titles; is that the only instance where this happens?

While the production team have gone to town on the Arctic exterior (particularly in the blizzard), the base interiors are very much on the threadbare side; the rocket cockpit is similarly cheap. It makes you appreciate what Martinus does to make this work. It could have been a laboured Richard Martin hash-up.


There’s a curious mix here; while the actual storytelling has become less thought-provoking than the Hartnell era at its height, there are contrasting attempts to make this feel more “adult”. The military trappings are part of that, and the glamour poses on the wall next to the bunks in the probe station. To some degree it’s the kind of approach Saward would embrace in the ‘80s, but more extremely. It also puts one in mind of the “action first, script later” attitude of Hollywood. Because this is really a disaster movie on a BBC budget. Complete with ill-equipped British actors attempting an international range of accents. At least Robert Beatty is authentic (coming across like a Canadian Ronald Leigh-Hunt). The star turn of the episode goes Earl Cameron as Williams, who invests huge conviction into his imperilled astronaut (I saw him in the ropey Kidman/Penn vehicle The Interpreter the other day; easily the best performance in the film). You almost believe he’s not stuck on a shitty set.


Most annoying is Shane Shelton’s priapic Italian Tito (“A woman!” “Mama Mia! Bellisima!”). He’s like a young Silvia Berlusconi. And, since there are Americans present, the Doctor is nicknamed “Pop” (I much prefer Sawbones). The impulse to show off a multicultural future is commendable, but when it’s instantly dragged down by the performances you begin to question the wisdom of the process. 

The Secretary General at least looks and sounds vaguely authentic, although his HQ includes an African ISC officer wandering about in traditional African attire (what, he does this at all times?)

The dynamic between the TARDIS crew is much the same as it was in The Smugglers; Polly is upbeat while Ben’s brashness earns the occasional reprimand from the Doctor. Although, Ben’s “We’re still at sea” on realising that they haven’t returned to their own time made for a nice turn of phrase.  And these being a very modern day couple, 1960s referencing is never far away.

Polly: Hey, Doctor. You’ve got the most fantastic wardrobe... Where do you shop? Carnaby Street?
Ben: Who do you think you are? Nanook of the North?
The Doctor: Now, now. Stop being so flippant.

Polly looks adorable in her fab winter gear, and shows off a lovely muff. Discussion of the Arctic conditions gives us the first intimation that this is an adventure first, science much later approach. Which I’ve always thought ironic given Kit Pedler’s name is on the script (ditto The Moonbase). With the benefit of hindsight, the Doctor not worrying about the cold is one thing (The Seeds of Doom), but a 
line like,

Polly: The Doctor was right about this being the coldest place on Earth. I’m freezing already.

Feels like desperately trying to make up for a lack of verisimilitude.

Continuing from The Smugglers’ strong showing, Hartnell is on good form here and there’s a through line from the characterisation of the Doctor as someone who shows up, seems to be known and have respect (The War Machines) to this story, where he has an almost clairvoyant ability to predict what is happening with minimal information provided (not to mention the kind of insight due to prior experiences that would later become all-too-common), to the Troughton of Tomb  who displays similar faculties and discerning overview.

It seems fitting that Billy should be positioned as a font of all knowledge in his final story. He observes more, and understands more than those around him, which lends him an almost soothsaying edge. About Time construes the situation as the Doctor treating an alien attack like it’s any other historical event; he notes the date, and then writes on a piece of paper when he confirms it to himself. Tat Wood then tries to bluff explain the Doctor’s later offer of shelter on Earth as “Why the hell not?” (Why would he if he knew the outcome of events?) I’m not convinced of that reading; I prefer to see his knowledge as illustrative of the Doctor’s insight and deductive reasoning.

Ugg-ugg-ugg-ugg.

I particularly like the touch of having him write down his answer on a piece of paper before the crew of the base learn that he is correct. His interaction with General Cutler is also well scripted, the latter being such a cock that we’re all-the-more behind the Doctor.

Cutler: I haven’t got time to deal with these now.
The Doctor: I don’t like your tone, sir.
Cutler: And I don’t like your face, or your hair.

What a wanker. Cutler’s a bit too off-and-on with the TARDIS crew, dismissing them, then paying attention, according to the needs of the scene. When the Doctor begins to explain the appearance of the unnamed planet, Cutler cuts him off.

The Doctor: You see, millions of years ago, there was a twin...

But then he sends some men to break into the “hut”, fixing on the Doctor being somehow mixed up in what is going on in space. In short, he’s not displaying the level-headed temperament the situation requires. He also mentions penguins. Twice.

The Doctor: Pretty soon we will have visitors.
Ben: Who d’you think’ll be bringing them? Father Christmas on his sledge?
The Doctor: Oh, quiet, boy. Quiet.

Too right! Tell him to STFU. This isn’t the Doctor setting a plan in motion à la McCoy era, but thereis an air of omniscience to the way he imparts his understanding here.

Back to the appearance of the planet, and how convincing is it that it is only been detected when the astronauts sight it? Jodrell Bank gets a mention when data is requested, but shouldn’t they have been aware of it way earlier? Cape Canaveral also gets a oblique reference from Polly, and the Moon landings have taken place at an unspecified juncture in this 1986, but from the casual response Ben’s enquiry gets it’s probably a good number of years earlier. There’s also a condition known as Space Fatigue. No doubt it was first identified in a Terry Nation script and has spread like wildfire ever since.

It’s 10 minutes into the episode before the threat is identified, and less than five minutes from the end that the Cybermen’s spaceship lands. As such, it’s a very well-paced opener, setting the scene and then piling on the mystery. The incidental music is effectively eerie, too. 

Masters of disguise. They lose that ability in later appearances.

The Cybermen don’t speak in this episode, which is something of a blessing in terms of their impact.  Martinus frames them skilfully, first in long shot in the blizzard and then “revealing” them (because their parkas are a highly convincing disguise) proper at the cliffhanger. What’s most striking is how physically imposing they are; these aren’t skinny blokes in moon boots as per the ‘80s. They’re big bastards wearing expressionless stockings over their heads. I think it’s their size that really sells how sinister they are, because, in and of themselves, the costume elements are fairly rudimentary.


A superb scene-setter. Some of the performances and sets are variable, and some of the plot elements are already creaking, but Derek Martinus absolutely sells it. 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

You're waterboarding me.

The Upside (2017)
(SPOILERS) The list of US remakes of foreign-language films really ought to be considered a hiding to nothing, given the ratio of flops to unqualified successes. There’s always that chance, though, of a proven property (elsewhere) hitting the jackpot, and every exec hopes, in the case of French originals, for another The Birdcage, Three Men and a Baby, True Lies or Down and Out in Beverly Hills. Even a Nine Months, Sommersby or Unfaithful will do. Rather than EdTV. Or Sorcerer. Or Eye of the Beholder. Or Brick Mansions. Or Chloe. Or Intersection (Richard Gere is clearly a Francophile). Or Just Visiting. Or The Man with One Red Shoe. Or Mixed Nuts. Or Original Sin. Or Oscar. Or Point of No Return. Or Quick Change. Or Return to Paradise. Or Under Suspicion. Or Wicker Park. Or Father’s Day.

What about the meaningless line of indifference?

The Lion King (2019)
(SPOILERS) And so the Disney “live-action” remake train thunders on regardless (I wonder how long the live-action claim would last if there was a slim hope of a Best Animated Feature Oscar nod?) I know I keep repeating myself, but the early ‘90s Disney animation renaissance didn’t mean very much to me; I found their pictures during that period fine, but none of them blew me away as they did critics and audiences generally. As such, I have scant nostalgia to bring to bear on the prospect of a remake, which I’m sure can work both ways. Aladdin proved to be a lot of fun. Beauty and the Beast entirely tepid. The Lion King, well, it isn’t a badfilm, but it’s wearying its slavish respectfulness towards the original and so diligent in doing it justice, you’d think it was some kind of religious artefact. As a result, it is, ironically, for the most part, dramatically dead in the water.

Would you like Smiley Sauce with that?

American Beauty (1999)
(SPOILERS) As is often the case with the Best Picture Oscar, a backlash against a deemed undeserved reward has grown steadily in the years since American Beauty’s win. The film is now often identified as symptomatic of a strain of cinematic indulgence focussing on the affluent middle classes’ first world problems. Worse, it showcases a problematic protagonist with a Lolita-fixation towards his daughter’s best friend (imagine its chances of getting made, let alone getting near the podium in the #MeToo era). Some have even suggested it “mercifully” represents a world that no longer exists (as a pre-9/11 movie), as if such hyperbole has any bearing other than as gormless clickbait; you’d have to believe its world of carefully manicured caricatures existed in the first place to swallow such a notion. American Beauty must own up to some of these charges, but they don’t prevent it from retaining a flawed allure. It’s a satirical take on Americana that, if it pulls its p…

You know what I think? I think he just wants to see one cook up close.

The Green Mile (1999)
(SPOILERS) There’s something very satisfying about the unhurried confidence of the storytelling in Frank Darabont’s two prison-set Stephen King adaptations (I’m less beholden to supermarket sweep The Mist); it’s sure, measured and precise, certain that the journey you’re being take on justifies the (indulgent) time spent, without the need for flashy visuals or ornate twists (the twists there are feel entirely germane – with a notable exception – as if they could only be that way). But. The Green Mile has rightly come under scrutiny for its reliance on – or to be more precise, building its foundation on – the “Magical Negro” trope, served with a mild sprinkling of idiot savant (so in respect of the latter, a Best Supporting Actor nomination was virtually guaranteed). One might argue that Stephen King’s magical realist narrative flourishes well-worn narrative ploys and characterisations at every stage – such that John Coffey’s initials are announcement enough of his …

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

Kindly behove me no ill behoves!

The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990)
(SPOILERS) It’s often the case that industry-shaking flops aren’t nearly the travesties they appeared to be before the dust had settled, and so it is with The Bonfire of the Vanities. The adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s ultra-cynical bestseller is still the largely toothless, apologetically broad-brush comedy – I’d hesitate to call it a satire in its reconfigured form – it was when first savaged by critics nearly thirty years ago, but taken for what it is, that is, removed from the long shadow of Wolfe’s novel, it’s actually fairly serviceable star-stuffed affair that doesn’t seem so woefully different to any number of rather blunt-edged comedies of the era.

Is CBS Corporate telling CBS News "Do not air this story"?

The Insider (1999)
(SPOILERS) The Insider was the 1999 Best Picture Oscar nominee that didn’t. Do any business, that is. Which is, more often than not, a major mark against it getting the big prize. It can happen (2009, and there was a string of them from 2014-2016), but aside from brief, self-congratulatory “we care about art first” vibes, it generally does nothing for the ceremony’s profile, or the confidence of the industry that is its bread and butter. The Insider lacked the easy accessibility of the other nominees – supernatural affairs, wafer-thin melodramas or middle-class suburbanite satires. It didn’t even brandish a truly headlines-shattering nail-biter in its conspiracy-related true story, as earlier contenders All the President’s Men and JFK could boast. But none of those black marks prevented The Insider from being the cream of the year’s crop.