Tag Archives: Phil Sandifer

The Tenth Planet

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Known to most as the first Doctor Who regeneration and the premiere appearance of the Cybermen, it has been persuasively argued by Phil Sandifer in Tardis Eruditorum  that The Tenth Planet  represents neither.  Rather than signalling the First Doctor’s end, Sandifer states that it is rather the demise of the Doctor, per se.  Save for his appearance in The Three Doctors, William Hartnell never played the role of the First Doctor.  He was always merely “the Doctor” – the original, and some may say, the best.   Killed by the energy draining force of the planet Mondas, the Doctor collapses to the floor in his terrifying end. Not only is it the death of the Doctor, but also the death of Doctor Who.  Sandifer explains it thus:

The Tardis Crew are ready to brave the cold.  Polly chooses a highly impractical mini skirt

The Tardis Crew are ready to brave the cold. Polly chooses a highly impractical mini skirt

“And this is part of being a Doctor Who fan.  You are absolutely guaranteed to see the show die in front of you, and then get replaced with a strange, different show using the same name.  Eventually, everything that Doctor Who is comes to a crashing halt and something new happens instead”.

The Doctor dies

The Doctor dies

The sense of the television series named Doctor Who dying would have been very real to viewers on 29 October 1966. Doctor Who was William Hartnell and William Hartnell was the Doctor. There was no precedent for the change of the lead character in such a radical fashion.  Certainly the actor playing a role in a show, whether it be on television or stage, may have changed, but the character remained roughly similar in respect of personality type and more often than not, physical appearance. The most frequently cited similarity, that of the film version of Ian Fleming’s James Bond, was still being played by the first actor to do so, Sean Connery. It would not be until 1969 that George Lazenby would have his one and only outing as 007. Incidentally, it was that very same year that the American series Bewitched saw the character of Darrin Stephens played by a different actor, also with the unfortunate name of Dick. Dick Sargent replaced Dick York, but as in the case of James Bond, Darrin remained ostensibly the same character.

The face of a stranger replaces the familiar form of The Doctor

The face of a stranger replaces the familiar form of The Doctor

Doctor Who was different, however. This wasn’t the case of a quick change of lead actor, with the series continuing unchanged.  This was actually the death of the lead.  Although the new lead actor played the role of a character bearing the same name, the Doctor, his personality was remarkably different. There was very much a sense of re-birth and complete renewal.  This was particularly evident in The Tenth Planet’s setting.  This was the first “base under siege” story, a genre which would come to dominate Patrick Troughton’s tenure as the Doctor.  A “base under siege” involves circumstances where the Doctor and his companions find themselves caught in a confined space or remote geographic location and are confronted by monsters that threaten everyone’s lives, the “base’s” existence, or both.  The Series Seven story Cold War, in which the Doctor and Clara find themselves on a Soviet era submarine confronted by an Ice Warrior, is a classic example of the “base under siege” genre.

The Series 7 episode Cold War is a classic example of a "Base under Siege" story

The Series 7 episode Cold War is a classic example of a “Base under Siege” story

From its very opening sequence, where a rocket is launched, it is apparent that The Tenth Planet is a very different story. The Doctor and his companions are not seen until more than three and a half minutes after episode one’s commencement.  Prior to that an array of international characters, not seen before in Doctor Who, are shown. Staffing the South Pole base are Americans, Italians and British, and manning the space shuttle are an Australian and a West Indian (or a resident of another Caribbean country).  There’s a sense of confinement and it’s twenty years in the future – 1986. Once inside the base the Doctor is quick to be able identify a hitherto unknown planet hurtling towards the earth as Mondas, the Earth’s upside down twin.  For the first time the Doctor shows that he knows not only the past’s history, but also its future. Five minutes before the episode’s conclusion we catch our first glimpse of a Mark 1 Cyberman and it’s on its harrowing features that the episode ends on a classic cliff hanger.

The Doctor and his companions find themselves in a base under siege

The Doctor and his companions find themselves in a base under siege

These are not the metal villains that the Cybermen are later portrayed as, but rather a far more frightening creation.  A race of humanoids whose body parts have been replaced as they wear out, they still retain the vestiges of a human form.  Their hands are human  and ungloved, and their faces almost mummified in a cloth stocking.  Instead of moving their lips as they speak, their featureless mouths open and their sing-song voices spew forth.  There is no hint of the monotone voices of the later Cybermen, nor is there a predilection to shout one word threats such as “delete”.  The Cybermen in The Tenth Planet are almost gentlemanly in their manners and until the fourth episode not intent on causing havoc to the Earth.  Devoid of all emotions, they are entirely logical and see their transformation to Cybermen as a great advance.  They are free from illness, heat and cold and wish the humans to travel to their home planet, Mondas,  where “You will become like us”.  The Cybermen are concerned only for survival, and a race for survival it is as Mondas careers towards the Earth.  Only one planet can survive, but which will it be?

The Tenth Planet – A Cyberman extols the virtues of their form

Created by Kit Pedler, an unofficial scientific adviser to Doctor Who, the Cybermen arose from Pedler’s fear of humans being artificially transformed.  A medical scientist by profession, Pedler wrote The Tenth Planet  more than a year prior to the first heart transplant in December 1967.  As displayed in the clip above, the Cybermen have their hearts removed.  When Polly questions whether they have a heart at all, the response is entirely literal. That humans may one day become like the Cybermen was a genuine fear held by Pedler.

The Cybermen are at their frightening best as their humanoid antecedents are still evident

The Cybermen are at their frightening best as their humanoid antecedents are still evident

Cybermen through the ages

Cybermen through the ages

The selfish concern of American General Cutler for the well being of his astronaut son, Terry, is a particularly frightening aspect of The Tenth Planet. Cutler is prepared to detonate the Z Bomb and destroy Mondas merely to save his son’s life. Terry has been sent on a rescue mission by Geneva for the space shuttle which unbeknownst to the United Nations, has already disintegrated.  The deaths of all on Mondas, and the possibility of immense radioactive damage to Earth, is of absolutely no concern to Cutler.  The loud and bullying American makes the Cybermen and their quiet extolling of Mondas’  virtues  appear almost palatable.

The American, General Cutler

The American, General Cutler

Unfortunately illness caused William Hartnell to be absent for episode three.  A stand-in faked his collapse to the floor and for the whole of the episode the Doctor is confined, unconscious, to quarters.  Given his death in episode four, the Doctor’s absence in episode three  provided a sense of continuity to the serial’s conclusion.   Quite shocking and unexpected, the Doctor’s collapse upon his return to the Tardis otherwise bears very little reference to the rest of the story.  In retrospect fans have read the events of previous serials into the Doctor’s weakening, although given the nature of Hartnell’s departure it’s just as likely that these “signs” were unintentional.

Polly tries unsuccessfully to reason with a Cyberman.  The Doctor looks on

Polly tries unsuccessfully to reason with a Cyberman. The Doctor looks on

You may recall that the Doctor was subjected to the Daleks’ Time Destructor in episode 12 of The Daleks’ Master Plan.   Although Sarah Kingdom aged quickly and died, the effects on the Doctor were not so great.  He nonetheless suffered the Time Destructor’s effects to some degree, although these were reversed when Steven accidently discovered the means of reversing the Destructor.   In The Celestial Toymaker the Doctor was rendered incorporeal by the Toymaker and in The Gunfighters he had a tooth removed by Doc Holliday. Finally in The War Machines an unsuccessful attempt was made to hypnotise him.  Did these events precipitate the Doctor’s decline?  It’s a question that is unlikely to be answered, although Phil Sandifer, whom we opened with, is adamant that the cause is without doubt the energy draining forces of the planet Mondas.  When Polly asked the Doctor at the opening of episode four what had happened to him he responded by saying, “Oh, I’m not sure, my dear.  Comes from an outside influence.  Unless this old body of mine is wearing a bit thin”.  It’s usually only the latter part of this answer that is remembered, rather than the “outside influence”.

The planet Mondas is the Earth's twin

The planet Mondas is the Earth’s twin

I will really miss the irascible old Doctor as Who continues Season four with Patrick Troughton at the helm.  Join me for my next review as Doctor Who enters a new era with The Power of the Daleks.

The Doctor collapsed on the floor of the Tardis

The Doctor collapsed on the floor of the Tardis

The Tenth Planet was originally broadcast in the UK between 8 October and 29 October 1966.  The DVD of the three episodes held in the BBC Archives, together with an animation of missing episode four, is to released by the BBC in November 2013

The Tenth Planet was originally broadcast in the UK between 8 October and 29 October 1966. The DVD of the three episodes held in the BBC Archives, together with an animation of missing episode four, is to released by the BBC in November 2013

Vivien Fleming

©Vivien Fleming, 2013.

 

REFERENCE:

Phil Sandifer, Tardis Eruditorum Volume 1: William Hartnell. Self published, 2011.

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The Gunfighters

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Recently released to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Doctor WhoCelebrate Regenerate is a fan produced chronicle of every broadcast episode of Who.  Available as a free PDF download from http://celebrateregenerate.weebly.com/ this mighty tome features a page long article on every serial.  The authors of The Gunfighters article, Mike Greaves and Andrew Boland, succinctly summarize received fan wisdom on this Western adventure. Dreadful, terrible, boring, and badly made are some of the words and phrases used by Greaves and Boland to describe the average fan’s dismissal of this tale.  So convinced were they that the viewing experience would be tortuous and entirely unenjoyable that once viewed, they questioned whether  they’d watched the right serial.  Were there two 1960s Doctor Who Westerns, they wondered.   There was indeed only one and clearly there was something peculiar going on. Greaves and Boland had actually thoroughly enjoyed The Gunfighters.

Edited by Lewis Christian, Celebrate Regenerate is a fan produced chronicle of every Doctor Who episode

Edited by Lewis Christian, Celebrate Regenerate is a fan produced chronicle of every Doctor Who episode

Phil Sandifer in his book Tardis Eruditorum Volume 1: William Hartnell examines this received wisdom in depth and identifies three distinct stages of fan criticism.  The first he describes as 1980s fandom; the second as the Great Re-evaluation of the 1990s; and the third, the Reconstructionist era beginning in 2002. The first era occurred in a time when there was neither video releases of Doctor Who nor the internet.  Fan opinion was derived from memories of the programmes when originally broadcast and a limited number of books, the most notable of which was Peter Haining’s 1983 Doctor Who: A Celebration. This coffee table book was almost seen as the Bible of Who and its critical analysis of episodes taken as Gospel.   Haining’s review of The Gunfighters was scathingly negative and it is most probably from this source that received fan wisdom grew.

The Doctor and his companions visit Tombstone, Arizona

The Doctor and his companions visit Tombstone, Arizona

The Great Re-evaluation that followed the release of stories on VHS cassette was not so much a detailed reappraisal of stories, but rather discussions to produce a general consensus on the relative merits of each story.  It was not until all existing stories had been released on VHS, and Loose Cannon had completed their reconstructions, that what Sandifer describes as the democratization of fan criticism began.  The ordinary Who fan was now in a position to access the stories for themselves and with the re-launch of Who in 2005, new fans had little concern for what the Classic Series critics of old said. With the pervasiveness of the internet and instant access to television programming everyone had become a media critic.

Steven and Dodo enjoy dressing up as Cowboys and Cowgirls

Steven and Dodo enjoy dressing up as Cowboys and Cowgirls

It is from this new position of fan criticism that The Gunfighters has been reappraised.  That the story is unique cannot be denied.  It is the only Doctor Who story with a sung narration, in the form of The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon. Sung by Lynda Baron, the Ballad is heard at times of climatic tension throughout the serial.  The lyrics change to reflect the action and it’s also sung by Steven and Doc Holliday’s girlfriend, Kate, in the saloon.  It’s the latter renditions that are posted below for your viewing pleasure.

The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon

Written by Donald Cotton, the author of The Myth Makers, the serial has a similar comedy format to Cotton’s previous Who outing.  Again it mirrors the events in Troy when episode four descends into tragedy. The Gunfighters  is set in 1881 America and follows the film The Gunfight at the OK Corral  as one of its primary sources.  Doctor Who would not return to the American Wild West until the Eleventh Doctor’s 2012 adventure A Town Called Mercy. Having broken a tooth eating one of the Cyril’s lollies in The Celestial Toyroom, the Doctor uses his unexpected arrival in the American mid-west to procure the services of the local dentist, Doc Holliday. He is immediately mistaken for Holliday by the town’s residents and hunted down by the Clanton family. Throw into the mix the Earp brothers, Virgil and Warren, and add Johnny Ringo (who historically wasn’t involved in these Tombstone, Arizona events), and you have a ripping good yarn.

The Doctor has a tooth extracted by Doc Holliday

The Doctor has a tooth extracted by Doc Holliday

William Hartnell absolutely shines in The Gunfighters, undoubtedly because it was a comedy and the genre in which he most enjoyed to act. The Doctor is given some fabulous lines and rarely does he stumble on them.  Except, of course, when he refers to Steven as a “she”!  Peter Purves does a superb job, as always, and Jackie Lane, as Dodo, is at last afforded the opportunity to act.  Her scene with Doc Holliday when she threatens him with a gun is just fabulous.  The set work was superb even if the stair railings did wobble when Ike Clanton fell to his death. The Doctor Who production team must have recently found the services of an animal wrangler.  Less than two months earlier they’d had an elephant in the studio for The Ark and this time a horse.  I wonder what the cleaners thought at the end of the day’s filming!

The Doctor in Doc Holliday's dentist chair.  Beside the Doctor is Kate, Doc's girlfriend

The Doctor in Doc Holliday’s dentist chair. Beside the Doctor is Kate, Holliday’s girlfriend

There are a couple of interesting facts to note in this serial.  The original working title was The Gunslingers, and as anyone who has viewed the Series 7 episode, A Town Called Mercy, would be aware,  there’s a character by that very same name. The Gunfighters  also stared the Thunderbirds voice artists, David Graham (Brains) and Shane Rimmer (Alan Tracey). Graham played the unfortunate barman, Charlie, and Rimmer the character of Seth Harper.  Lynda Baron, the off camera singer of The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon appeared in the Series 6 story Closing Time as Val.

The working title of The Gunfighters was The Gunslingers.  That name was not forgotten and the character, The Gunslinger, appeared in 2012's A Town Called Mercy

The working title of The Gunfighters was The Gunslingers. That name was not forgotten and the character, The Gunslinger, appeared in 2012’s A Town Called Mercy

Guess which two Thunderbirds voice artists appeared in The Gunfighters

Guess which two Thunderbirds voice artists appeared in The Gunfighters

The Gunfighters was originally broadcast in the UK between 30 April and 21 May 1966

The Gunfighters was originally broadcast in the UK between 30 April and 21 May 1966

The Gunfighters DVD was released with the Fifth Doctor adventure The Awakening in the Earth Story Box Set

The Gunfighters DVD was released with the Fifth Doctor adventure The Awakening in the Earth Story Box Set

Vivien Fleming

©Vivien Fleming, 2013.

REFERENCES:

Lewis Christian (ed), Celebrate, Regeneratehttp://celebrateregenerate.weebly.com/, 2013.

Phil Sandifer, Tardis Eruditorum Volume 1: William Hartnell. Self published, 2011.