March 9: The Tenth Planet Episodes 3 & 4

The credit gremlins are back; having previously called Kit Pedler "Kitt" in Episode 1, now Gerry Davis becomes "Gerry Davies" in Episode 3...

This is the first episode of The Tenth Planet credited to both Pedler and Davis; it's also the episode in which we suddenly learn that Snowcap Base has a doomsday device called the Z-Bomb (and note that's an American "Zee-Bomb", rather than a British "Zed-Bomb") that General Cutler wants to fire at Mondas, even though it might mean also destroying the side of the Earth that happens to be facing Mondas at the time.  You can tell Cutler's coming unhinged (which wasn't the case in episode 2, aka five minutes earlier from the story's point-of-view), particularly because the following conversation takes place:
CUTLER: Request permission, sir, to take defensive action against this planet... The Z-Bomb, sir.  Mounted in the warhead of a Demeter rocket and fired at Mondas, it could destroy it.
WIGNER: We can't take the risk.  This might have disastrous effects, both on Earth and the atmosphere.  We would have to consult our top scientists.
CUTLER: But there isn't time for consultation.  This is an emergency! ...
WIGNER: No, General.  You must take no precipitous action.  This is quite out of the question.
CUTLER: Yes, sir.  But do you do give me authority to take any action necessary against the Cybermen?
WIGNER: Yes, of course.  You must do all you can.
CUTLER: Yes, sir.  Thank you, sir.
This is apparently grounds for Cutler to go ahead and use the Z-Bomb, despite being specifically told not to.  And so the rest of the episode consists of Ben and Polly trying to stop Cutler from launching the Demeter rocket -- which he apparently only wants to do to save his son from Mondas's power drain (his son having been sent up to rescue Zeus 4 at the end of episode 2).  It feels more like the story is marking time than actually advancing forward -- and again, note that this is the first episode of the serial for which Gerry Davis receives a co-writer's credit.

Of course, that could also be because William Hartnell has taken suddenly ill with bronchitis, and so the episode has had to be hurriedly rewritten around the Doctor's absence.  This does also mean that, as the next episode is currently missing from the archives, the last existing Hartnell episode is one that Hartnell's not actually in.  Of course, the Doctor's been playing such a limited role in the story that his absence doesn't derail things too much; his important lines of dialogue are redistributed (noticeably with Ben's comment that "He said eventually it [Mondas] would absorb too much energy and burn itself out -- well, shrivel up to nothing.  So all we've got to do is wait!" -- referring to a conversation that we never witness), and everything seems to proceed as normal.  As I said, marking time.  There's some stuff with sabotaging the rocket, and that's about it.

William Hartnell changes into Patrick Troughton. (The Tenth
Episode 4) ©BBC
Episode 4, as I mentioned earlier, is missing from the archives (and in fact marks the beginning of the longest stretch of missing episodes: 12 episodes in a row, from The Tenth Planet episode 4 to The Underwater Menace episode 1 inclusive, currently no longer exist).  However, the DVD has a telesnap reconstruction of the fourth episode which I've viewed instead.28  It turns out that Ben's sabotage was successful, and the Earth is temporarily saved from General Cutler's madness.  But the Cybermen have returned, and they are intent on destroying the Earth before Mondas absorbs too much energy.  The Doctor is back to stand against them, but Ben is the one who actually works out how to fight them: he figures out that the Cybermen are weak against radiation, and so he's able to help fend off the Cybermen before they use the Z-Bomb on Earth to destroy it.  Because apparently Mondas's power sucking device doesn't have an off-switch?  Anyway.

The Cybermen are unsuccessful in their efforts, and when Mondas ends up melting away, the Cybermen go with them, shriveling away into empty suits.  But, as the Doctor says, "It's far from being all over."  The Doctor has been taken to the Cybership, where Ben rescues him and Polly after Mondas is destroyed, but the Doctor isn't himself.  He seems worn out and humorless; none of his usual vocal tics are present (the "hmm"s and "eh"s), and he's much more concerned with getting to the TARDIS.  And it's a good thing, too; when we head back inside the Ship, things are going crazy, with controls moving by themselves and flashing lights everywhere.  And then the Doctor collapses to the floor and changes...

The Tenth Planet isn't a terrible story.  It has a reputation for not being very good, but this is a bit unfair.  As I said before, much of what it's doing simply hasn't been done before, and while there will soon be plenty of opportunities for them to refine the basic plot structure, here we see their first effort at it, and there's nothing really wrong with it.  It does admittedly lose its way in episode 3 and doesn't really regain its focus until Cutler is killed early in episode 4, but everything else is done in a convincing manner, and you can see the effort that's gone into the production, both with the casting and the design (seriously, the design of the control room in the Snowcap base is really something wonderful).  It feels important and memorable, even before the climactic final scene.

But that scene is important for a reason, and so it's with a heavy heart that we bid farewell to William Hartnell.  He may have occasionally been lumbered with some awkward scripts, but he himself always found a way to make the most of the material, and I don't think it's too much of a stretch to say that, regardless of the Daleks cementing the show's popularity, Doctor Who would never have survived without William Hartnell and his key role in making the Doctor an odd yet relatable figure.  You can't help but feel a little bad for him, forced out of a role he loved so much, and you know that the show will never be the same without him, as the final person to be there since the beginning moves on.  So hooray for William Hartnell, one of the finest and most underrated actors to ever play the Doctor.  He shall be missed.

28 Actually, there's also an animated reconstruction on the disc, which is leaps and bounds ahead of the animation on The Reign of Terror -- but it obviously doesn't include any of the existing clips from episode 4, which is why I decided to go with the telesnap version.