The Serial (3.5/5)
It is that time in the world of Doctor Who again, in roughly 7 weeks from now, on Christmas Day Matt Smith, the 11th Doctor will regenerate into the 12th Doctor played by the Thick of Itís Peter Capaldi. It is a concept we take for granted these days. It seems as soon as we have a new Doctor, we begin to wonder how long this one will last, will this one stay as long as Tom Baker did in the 70's (7 series), or will he just do one series like Christopher Eccleston in 2005? However, regeneration wasn't always a concept that could be taken for granted from 1963 to 1966 Doctor Who was simply the William Hartnell show. However, as age-related illnesses began to take a toll on the Hartnellís health, and the popularity of Doctor Who continued to grow something had to be devised to keep the show going, and that would be regeneration. No one knew if it would work, would anyone believe anyone to be the Doctor besides William Hartnell? The episode that would be the first regeneration episode, and the one to truly lead Doctor Who into the future would be the Tenth Planet.
The Tenth Planet if you've watched enough 60's Doctor Who follows the Base Under Siege template that would dominate a good majority of Patrick Troughton's era, and considering this is the first of this story type I can recall, I would have to assume this is the trendsetter of that template. The film sees the Doctor, Ben, and Polly land in the South Pole. The year is 1986, and the people of Earth have perfected some degree of interstellar travel. Soon after the Doctors arrival, the base, and the rest of the planet is attacked by the Cybermen who wish to drain the Earth of it's energy, and transfer it to their planet the Earth's twin, the dying planet, Mondas. Which the Cybermen have transported into the direct vicinity of Earth. It is up to the Doctor, Ben, Polly, and the military present at the base to come to the aid of Earth, and stop the invading Cybermen.
The Tenth Planet has a bit of a slow start. However, once things get going we get a tight little suspenseful Doctor Who serial that becomes less of the Doctor and crew Vs the Cybermen, then The Doctor and crew Vs. time, as we discover that the one thing that could potentially stop the Cybermen is the destruction of their own planet, by draining too much power from Earth. The performances across the board are quite good, although it feels that Anneke Wills ("Polly") tends to get pushed aside in many of these episodes as their isn't much for her to do, expect "watch over" the ailing Doctor. That's one other thing, this episode is William Hartnell's swansong as the Doctor, and he was sick and absent for 25% of it. In the third episode he spends the entirety of the episode in bed (actually in his cottage somewhere in rural England recovering from Bronchitis). He did appear quite ill through the other episodes, in a way his real life medical issues contributed to his performance as a dying Doctor.
The Cybermen have always been sort of an oddity to me personally as one of Who's most popular villains. They have always looked quite silly in execution, and yet are conceptually speaking quite terrifying, and I think it's the concept that really sells these cybernetic monstrosities. The Tenth Planet is the first appearance of these oft-reoccurring monsters, and I have to say I don't think they've ever looked sillier than they do in this episode. They sort of resemble Cybermen, if someone's 60's Dad decided to design them using a window set air conditioning unit as the central image. That being said the Cyber-voices being used are very bizarre and other worldly, and I found them disconcerting enough to find the horror in them.
The fourth episode, and the most significant of the 4 (as it contains the regeneration) was one of the episodes purged by the BBC during the 70's when they were in process of destroying episodes of episodic TV in order to reuse tapes, or simply to save storage room. That episode has been recreated by the animation specialists that were in charge of animating the Reign of Terror a while back. I have had mixed feelings about some of these animations, as they have had a sort of cheapness to their look, and some of them have looked slightly unnatural at times. That being said, the time they have had between The Reign of Terror, and The Tenth Planet has proven to be toward the animation studio's advantage, and this is truly their finest work. The characters move more fluidly, and look much more natural overall. The episodes also have an appearance that's more akin to the original 60's material than the previous animation work.
The regeneration of Hartnell to Troughton is a simple effect, that apparently was conceived on the fly during the first day of shooting. That being said it is probably one of the finest, and most unique regenerationís in the show's 50 year history. A simple facial whiteout effect is used to switch Hartnell over to Troughton, and take the show into the future. It helps end, an excellent suspenseful serial, and is a fine end to an era.
Doctor Who - The Tenth Planet has been presented by BBC Worldwide in it's original 1:33:1 aspect ratio. The transfer for the first 3 episodes are good for the most part, but are not up to par with some of the more recent episodes from the 60's released by BBC. There is certainly some print damage throughout, and softness throughout the image, although detail is good at points, and contrast is decent. It is certainly better than your decades old VHS tape, and is worthy of the upgrade on that front. The animated fourth episode looks amazing on all fronts, but it was made this year, and that is to be expected.
The audio is presented in a Dolby Digital Mono track in English in keeping with most of the DVD's in the Doctor Who range. The first 3 episodes have the best audio with dialogue coming through crisp and clear, music and FX are mixed nicely as well. As with other animated episodes in the range there are audio issues with the animated episode, the reason for this is, of course, the source material. The audio for these episodes is not BBC provided, but is actually from off-air recordings provided by 60's fans who audio recorded each episode from their TV's. There is some drop-out and other audio related issues in this episode, but it is passable.
BBC Worldwide have put together a fantastic slate of extras for their release of the Tenth Planet. The disc kicks off with a truly epic commentary track moderated by Toby Radoke, and featuring an absolute insane slate of actors from the episode including, but not limited too, Anneke Wills (Polly) Christopher Matthews (Radar Technician), Earl Cameron (Williams), and the designer William Kindred. We also get Frozen Out a 29 minute making of that details the episode from concept to creation, and details who Hartnell's regeneration came to be. We get a photo reconstruction of episode 4, for those that want to see that instead of (or as well as) the animated episode. The first disc contains an information subtitle track, in addition to the normal subtitle track.
The second disc kicks off with one of the true highlights of the range as far as rare extras are concerned, and it's only 3 minutes in length. An on-camera interview with William Hartnell who discusses his time on the show. This is a recently recovered interview that has been held back for this release, and it's addition is quite the boon to an already excellent package, as I can't think of many (or any) other instances we have of Hartnell on camera discussing his time on the show. This is followed with Doctor Who Stories: Anneke Wills a 13 minute interview with the actress who was Polly about her time on the show. The interview is quite in depth, interesting, and entertaining for so short a running time. We then get Boys! Boys! Boys! an interview with 3 of the limited number of male companions in Doctor Who in this case Peter Purves (Steven), Frazer Hines (Jame), and Mark Strickson (Turlough). It is a fun and entertaining segment, and another highlight of the set. We also get Companion Piece a 24 minute featurette that interviews companions from the recent (Arthur Darville), and goes back to the beginning (William Russell). The disc is rounded off with a Blue Peter Segment, and a 16 minute featurette called The Golden Age in which a historian attempts to discern if there was actually a "Golden Age" of Doctor Who. This is also a coming soon trailer, a photo gallery, and PDF materials included.
One of the most legendary episodes of Doctor Who comes to DVD with a fine restoration courtesy of those awesome folks at the Doctor Who restoration team. We also get a slew of extras that trumps what a whole season gets of most TV series, so basically Doctor Who The Tenth Planet comes HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.