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

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…

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

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…

Must the duck be here?

The Favourite (2018)
(SPOILERS) In my review of The Killing of a Sacred Deer, I suggested The Favourite might be a Yorgos Lanthimos movie for those who don’t like Yorgos Lanthimos movies. At least, that’s what I’d heard. And certainly, it’s more accessible than either of his previous pictures, the first two thirds resembling a kind of Carry On Up the Greenaway, but despite these broader, more slapstick elements and abundant caustic humour, there’s a prevailing detachment on the part of the director, a distancing oversight that rather suggests he doesn’t feel very much for his subjects, no matter how much they emote, suffer or connive. Or pratfall.

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.

Whoever comes, I'll kill them. I'll kill them all.

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) There’s no guessing he’s back. John Wick’s return is most definite and demonstrable, in a sequel that does what sequels ought in all the right ways, upping the ante while never losing sight of the ingredients that made the original so formidable. John Wick: Chapter 2 finds the minimalist, stripped-back vehicle and character of the first instalment furnished with an elaborate colour palette and even more idiosyncrasies around the fringes, rather like Mad Max in that sense, and director Chad Stahleski (this time without the collaboration of David Leitch, but to no discernible deficit) ensures the action is filled to overflowing, but with an even stronger narrative drive that makes the most of changes of gear, scenery and motivation.

The result is a giddily hilarious, edge-of-the-seat thrill ride (don’t believe The New York Times review: it is not “altogether more solemn” I can only guess Jeannette Catsoulis didn’t revisit the original in the interven…

I don’t know if what is happening is fair, but it’s the only thing I can think of that’s close to justice.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)
(SPOILERS) I think I knew I wasn’t going to like The Killing of a Sacred Deer in the first five minutes. And that was without the unedifying sight of open-heart surgery that takes up the first four. Yorgos Lanthimos is something of a Marmite director, and my responses to this and his previous The Lobster (which I merely thought was “okay” after exhausting its thin premise) haven’t induced me to check out his earlier work. Of course, he has now come out with a film that, reputedly, even his naysayers will like, awards-darling The Favourite

Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

So there’s nothing terribly wrong with Ghostbusters, but aside from …

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.

Can you float through the air when you smell a delicious pie?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
(SPOILERS) Ironically, given the source material, think I probably fell into the category of many who weren't overly disposed to give this big screen Spider-Man a go on the grounds that it was an animation. After all, if it wasn’t "good enough" for live-action, why should I give it my time? Not even Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's pedigree wholly persuaded me; they'd had their stumble of late, although admittedly in that live-action arena. As such, it was only the near-unanimous critics' approval that swayed me, suggesting I'd have been missing out. They – not always the most reliable arbiters of such populist fare, which made the vote of confidence all the more notable – were right. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a first-rate Spider-Man movie, it's a fresh, playful and (perhaps) surprisingly heartfelt origins story.