The “Regeneration Marathon” begins with a story that not only has the first ever regeneration, but also has the first ever appearance of the Cybermen! That’s a hell of a double whammy when it comes to recurring features in Doctor Who! So, does the story do both justice? Well, given they didn’t know how significant either would be, it actually plays as a pretty standard base under siege, though with the attackers being rather pathetic… Let’s take a closer look, either way!
The Doctor’s TARDIS lands at the Snowcap space tracking station in Antarctica in December 1986. A routine space mission starts going wrong. When the base personnel’s suspicions are roused, the Doctor informs them that the space capsule is being affected by the gravitational pull of another planet — a tenth planet in the Solar system.
The loss of a routine space mission and the appearance of that planet in the sky herald the arrival of the Cybermen, who are intent on the destruction of the Earth and the conversion of all humans into Cybermen. Ben and Polly fight to save the world, but it is a battle that may be the Doctor’s very last.
Note: Full Spoilers From Here On Out!
Cast of Characters:
Yep, that’s the cast! … Well, apart from random soldier man in the background…
The Doctor (William Hartnell) – The Doctor is rapidly approaching the end of his first life, his body “wearing thin”, but he remains focused on both continuing to travel with his relatively new allies, and helping fight evil where ever they find it…
Polly Wright (Anneke Wills) – Polly is a more posh lady than her personality might lead you to believe. She takes great pleasure in teasing people, especially Ben, but somewhere in the back of her mind she wishes to be back home…
Ben Jackson (Michael Craze) – Ben was a part of the navy before he met The Doctor and Polly and ended up travelling across time and space. His cockney voice and casual demeanour may make him the opposite of Polly, but it’s clear even this early on that they do care for each other deeply.
General Cutler (Robert Beatty) – Cutler is the leader of Snowcap station and a high-ranking member of the US army. When the threat of the Cybermen and their planet begins to grow, so too does the safer options to deal with them diminish…
The Cybermen (Voices of Roy Skelton and Peter Hawkins) – The inhabitants of the planet Mondas, The Cybermen were once human until the conditions of their planet became inhospitable due to getting further and further away from the sun. They modified themselves to survive, and ended up no longer being human at all…
Well… despite this Cyberman wanting a Cyber-kiss, I can say that the animated Episode 4 is actually good, trust me…
The Tenth Planet is a hard one to talk about, as it has such big landmarks surrounding it, but when you watch it, it’s just a pretty standard Doctor Who serial, with an “unexpected” ending.
The Cybermen are a really enjoyable foe in this, not because they’re menacing (though I’ll always say the weird sock-faces and the sing-song voices were always far more creepy than the ones that came after) but because they’re so pathetic. A group of them invade the base at the end of Part 1, but are then all killed by the end of Part 2. Part 3 sees a new group try and re-invade but are kept at bay until finally a new group of them get into the base, only to be defeated two thirds of the way into Part 4. When you factor in that they were once just regular humans who turned themselves into these things to survive, it actually makes sense that they’re not an all-power military force and are instead just a group of desperate people trying to conquer but failing. It’s almost a shame they become more threatening later on, as this was a more interesting “villain”.
Although his health was on the down turn, Mr. Hartnall does get some good lines in, particularly in the first episode. He is actually written out of the third episode entirely, not that it was rare (in the past or in the 2nd Doctor era) but it is a shame that his final ever story has him missing for a quarter of it. Ben and Polly thankfully make a good duo, and hold the story together by being worried about the Cybermen and The Doctor’s health at the same time. Ben easily outsmarting a Cyberman when he was captured always makes me laugh, he literally gets the creature from Mondas to open his makeshift cell door by shouting “Oi! Come in here, you’re wanted!” (or something equally as simple) and then blinding him with a projector light and then stealing his weapon. Again, not the most threatening race ever!
I also have to mention the animated Part 4, which was good. As I’ll be saying with all these animated episodes when I get to them, the actual movement animation is often poor, but I really like the style of this one (and I believe they did the Moonbase animations as well).
Finally, we have the regeneration, which is obviously extremely low-key compared to future ones. The Doctor is literally drained and tired, presumably due to old age, and falls to floor and regenerates (including his clothes, mysteriously!) It’s still an interesting thing to watch (be it the existing clip or animated, I guess!) and has a good effect due to Ben and Polly’s reactions (though most of that is found in Power of the Daleks Episode 1 rather than here… which is now also animated!)
“Listen, no one is actually afraid of you, okay? Now just sod off!”
As mentioned above, it’s a shame that The Doctor’s first regeneration is somewhat hampered by him not even being around in the episode before it happens. Although he gets in some good lines, also as mentioned, it is also obvious that William Hartnall isn’t up for it, which is sad to see. It also goes without saying that Episode 4 no longer existing is a very big “Bad”, but that’s not the story’s fault…
The guest cast are pretty forgettable, with General Cutler being a pretty by the numbers American General, though his son being caught in space during this whole crisis was at least an interesting extra layer, I guess. I also still have to laugh at the threatening “Z-Bomb”, I guess because it’s so much more advanced and devastating than the “A-Bomb”…. Hmm. Well, I do actually kind of like the cheesiness, now that I think about it, maybe it shouldn’t be in the bad…
And there it is, the first regeneration!
Let’s get the obvious out of the way, this is the first time that The Doctor regenerates, and therefore the first ever on-screen regeneration, and the debut of Patrick Troughton as the Second Doctor. Regeneration becomes the norm for departing Doctors from now on, obviously, though it isn’t actually named until later on.
The other obvious thing: this is the debut of the Cybermen, who would soon return in the Second Doctor TV story “The Moonbase”, and then subsequently in a million other stories across all media. The actual cloth-faced Mondasian Cybermen have appeared in the classic Audio prequel to this story, “Spare Parts”, featuring the Fifth Doctor on Mondas itself during the conversion process, as well as the Eighth Doctor audio story “The Silver Turk”, a Fourth Doctor comic called “The Junkyard Demon”, and most recently they just returned to the TV series in the Twelfth Doctor two-parter “World Enough and Time / The Doctor Falls”.
The Twelfth Doctor’s regeneration story, “Twice Upon a Time”, features the First Doctor (played by David Bradley) from this very story meeting the Twelfth, who is also about to regenerate after conflict with the Mondasian Cybermen, which will bring this marathon into a nice complete circle!
The Tenth Planet is a good, albeit basic, Doctor Who serial, raised above averageness by virtue of being so significant. It’s great seeing the early Cybermen, and that first regeneration scene may not be exciting or even that sombre, but it’s still a fascinating watch. Recommended to all Who fans, especially those who are trying to watch as many important stories as they can. The animated Episode 4 on the DVD version is my preference, but otherwise I’m sure there are plenty of recons to watch out there…