We bid the Twelfth Doctor goodbye this Christmas, and welcome his replacement: Lucky Thirteen. What better way to prepare for this than with a stroll down memory lane? Come along, it’s time we visited The Tenth Planet.
William Hartnell’s swan song as the lead star, The Tenth Planet also introduces us to the Cybermen. A far stretch from their armored clanking successors, these original models were bulky monsters with sing-songy voices and terrifying blank faces. (Any of you who’ve seen the most recent series finale will be well familiar with them.)
The Doctor arrives with Ben and Polly at the South Pole. A momentous occasion, as a planet almost identical to Earth has drifted near and threatens catastrophe. A base at the South Pole monitors a rocket losing power, with personal stakes for the chief officer: General Cutwell’s son is on a second rocket attempting to rescue the ailing ship.
And then the Cybermen arrive. They’re practically unlike anything seen before on the show. Disturbingly inhuman, they manage to hike through the uncanny valley with no CGI required.
Fresh out of the gate the Cybermen are well-established, iconic figures. They’re here to take what they want and to assimilate as many people as they need. They’ve done away with pesky emotions, and have no interest in anything that doesn’t fulfill their agenda.
Sadly, the Cybermen here are also not much of a threat. They’re slow, clumsy things and vulnerable to radiation— something found in abundance at a rocket launch site.
Still. William Hartnell’s Doctor is cunning, playful, and willing to jump from one alliance to the next if it will buy him time. He’s already mastered the art of impressing his company with deft predictions. He uses it on the rocket scientists and the Cybermen alike.
Time running out is a recurring theme throughout the serial, and with good reason: Hartnell’s health was failing severely. The Doctor spends the entire third chapter unconscious in a bunk to give Hartnell time to recover for the finalé. Mondas is a doomed planet, it’s not long for this universe before it implodes. The astronauts trapped in space don’t have long, barring a miracle (which they receive). All of them, running out of time.
The day saved, the Doctor exits the station and hurries through the snow to his TARDIS. His last words on screen are those of caring advice. He’s come a long way from the grumpy old man who scowled at his companions. “Keep warm.”
What followed was unprecedented, and by now standard fare: Ben and Polly watch in fascination as their friend literally becomes a new man.
For decades, the final chapter of The Tenth Planet existed only as audio and still pictures. It has been painstakingly re-created in animation, and is a worthy conclusion to a story well worth watching.
Tune back in tomorrow for a visit with the Second Doctor, and another familiar foe!