The Tenth Planet – Story #029

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Jael’s Judgment:

Since this was the last adventure that we go on with first Doctor, it was sad to have so little of him in the story.

As far as the rest of the characters go Ben is alright. He seems resilient and energetic enough despite the melancholy we witnessed upon our first encounter with him. Polly on the other hand… I am not a fan of Polly. She offers to help in a stressful and dire situation, and all she can come up with to be useful is to make coffee. I mean, I guess coffee would help some people. It just doesn’t seem all that effective. I don’t even know how to make coffee. I would be a useless woman in the 60s. (I like that I can say “would be” since we are talking time travel and I am not restricted to “would have been.”) I miss Barbara. She wasn’t a great feminist, but she seemed more sensible and a bit tougher.

I have been having trouble relating to the TARDIS crew lately. This may be because of its high turnover rate recently. What didn’t change from the last adventure seems to be the accents. Just as I was wondering if the actor playing Cutler also played a pirate in the previous adventure, Tony speaks up asking why they are talking like pirates in the future.

The last appearance of William Hartnell brought with it the first appearance of the Cybermen. I did not realize that they came from a twin planet of earth. I guess I didn’t really know that much about them. I often forget how old this particular foe is, especially when their appearance has changed so much throughout the years. Unfortunately we do not get this first visual of the Cybermen since this is an audio only story. What I can tell you, is that they sound a little like K9.

Best, yet most bittersweet moment of this adventure? We witness the first regeneration! (Oddly enough, I do not remember anyone actually using the word regeneration.) Although this was audio only, we watched some of the footage of the regeneration. I think it was pretty good effects for back then. And even though the special effects have changed over the years, I think the subsequent regenerations have kept in pretty good tradition with this first.

  • Story Grade: C

 

Tony’s Take:

Why, oh why, does the lone episode that is missing have to be the one containing the regeneration?!  Come on BBC!  If I could go back in time to save one lone episode, I am 90% certain it’d be episode 4 of The Tenth Planet.  The good news is that the BBC and restoration team recently announced that this story would finally see a release on DVD with the last part being animated!

Since it hasn’t come out on DVD yet, this first brush with the Cybermen was all in audio form.  Audio-only stories always lack the complete feeling for me, and rightfully so, as this is a television show, not audio-drama.  Even though it was locked in to this confining medium, the story was not all bad.  Coming off a dud like The Smugglers in the story prior, this one actually got me engaged.  Maybe it’s because of such a classic “monster” like the Cybermen, maybe it’s because the story is not a historical, or maybe *gasp* it was a decent story(!).

As there are 3 episodes still remaining and there are backup telesnaps of some of the scenes, we know what the first incarnation of the Cybermen look like…

Cyberman Greendale Human Being

Exactly like a robotic version of the Greendale Human Being!!  (check out the TV show Community if you haven’t already)

By the way, the name “The Tenth Planet” is now very much out of date, since Pluto was demoted and we have 8 planets in our solar system.  Even though those in charge decided to kick Pluto out of our planet-party, I still recognize you, Pluto!  As much as scientists of today would say that this story title is wrong, I will secretly think it is right.

I have tried to tell myself not to get too long-winded, unless I have great things to say or if I can make it a great read.  As i don’t have much more, without just describing the story itself, I’ll cut myself off now.  Before I dismiss you so you can look at the generic closing of the post, heed this advice: Watch this story when it comes out on DVD!  This is historical stuff!  The end of a period (Hartnell-era) is just the epoch of a much longer era – The Great Age of Doctor Who.

(Now, don’t get me wrong, Doctor Who started at An Unearthly Child, but without this regeneration, it could have easily ended when Hartnell collapsed.)

  • Story Grade: B+
  • The costumes are fantastically terrible, a truly defining characteristic of Classic Who.  I cannot wait to revisit this story when it’s finally on video.

 

Thank you, William Hartnell.  Your time as The Doctor made for a foundation that was so strongly built that the legacy is still carried on 50 years later.  Sure, there were some duds in there, but it’s a 1960s sci-fi show in it’s infancy.  The Doctor has changed drastically over the years, but even so, there is always a small piece of Hartnell’s Doctor that lives on (maybe it’s the quirkiness, the scolding, the crankiness, or just the need to explore).

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Marco Polo – Story #004

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Jael’s Judgment:

We have only the audio for this story. To be perfectly honest, this affected my opinion of this story in a very positive way. I absolutely love being read to!

Aside from the ridiculous accents and bits of racism, I found myself very intrigued. I wanted to be part of the adventure. (Mind you I will never get to go on an adventure with the Doctor, due to a forced promise I made to a certain *ahem* someone.) I most enjoyed the friendship between Susan and Peng-Cho. There are not many individuals with whom I have had experiences that have facilitated such quick, easy, and yet lasting friendships as the one that they instantly formed. But they are some of my most treasured friendships and I can appreciate the one portrayed between the young women.

Ian took quite the leadership role in this story. Wielding a sword, gallivanting off to save Peng-Cho, being a man of his word. I’d be swooning if the women’s roles had not been quite so depressingly helpless. At least Barbara and Susan attempt in some ways to be independent.

  • Story Grade: B

 

Tony’s Take:

Wait, so there was a famous dude by this name?!  I thought it was just a fun game to play in the pool!  I kid, I kid.  Like I said on Twitter, I find it very fitting (almost so much so that it becomes ironic) that this story is the first to be lost to the grips of time, Marco is tough to find in the pool and even tougher to find at the BBC.

Below is an excerpt from my notes taken while watching the episode (yes, Jael and I both take notes using our iPhones, it’s cute to the point of being sad):

Doctor – Crabby from the get go, more so than previous episodes… especially coming off of his “I need you” speech to Barbara.
No one believes in creature even though there are prints and possible sightings (Barbara).  YOU’RE ON WHAT COULD BE AN ALIEN PLANET, TRAVELING IN A SPACESHIP THROUGH TIME AND SPACE!!  I guess that only seeing can lead to believe.
I forget that the British had a strong presence in Asia, especially China, both in the past and at the current time (1960s), makes sense why one of the first semi-historical stories is set there.
The TARDIS ‘breaks down’ and therefore the crew is forced go along this adventure.  Very loose if you ask me.
The half a minute of The Doctor laughing in episode one sounds hilarious, if only we could see this.
“Difficult and bad-tempered.” -Marco Polo on The Doctor.
Oh no!  A sandstorm!  Who would have thought that a plot-twist like this could happen?!
The first two episodes are running quite long for such a small amount actually happening.
It’s not often that The Doctor’s adventures last numerous days without interruption or travel in the TARDIS.
Wait, is The Doctor even in this story?  He has a very limited number of lines.
Logic tells me that Ian and The Doctor are all growing beards, as they would not waste rationed water for shaving.  Maybe it was a REAL 1960s hippie trip.
Episode 3: …And no one suspects Tegana yet.  WOW!
And the mention of hashish just reinforces my “REAL 1960s hippie trip” name.
The racist Chinese accents are cringe-worthy, thank god we can’t see the taped-back eyes.
I’m glad the Susan is making a friend with Peng-Cho.  She is a character you root for, probably because she has been locked up with her cranky (and at times mean) grandfather, for reasons unknown.
The Doctor in a sword fight?!  Why can’t this be on film?!
Marco Polo just will not trust Ian, it is too hard for him to comprehend time travel, though he says he can believe all else.
The Doctor loses at backgammon, and so he loses his chance to win back the TARDIS.
This story is just too long!  The number of plot-extensions is ridiculous.
I told you, my notes/reviews will not be summarized by just one typical format, whether this is good or bad, well, that’s up to you to decide.  At least one thing is consistent, and that is giving the episode a grade and a short summary, which is next…
  • Story Grade: D+
  • The terrible stereotypes that are made by the actors portraying the Mongols and any other Asian people is just sad.  Couple this cringe-worthy performance with an incredibly LONG story and you have a dud.

 

It is hard to think of a list of thank yous, especially after such a racist and bad story.  I guess I have to thank the viewers for sticking with the show, even through a bad story like this.  Also, thank you, civil rights movements around the world.  The advancement, though not complete, makes for checks and balances to be put in place to ensure that an episode like this would not be made in earnest.  I think we are to the point where the only way this could be made would be by highlighting how horribly stereotypical the acting is and doing so to be tongue-in-cheek in order to highlight how un-PC it is.

The Edge of Destruction – Story #003

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Jael’s Judgment:

The TARDIS makes it’s first real appearance as its own character!!!! Love it!

The creepiness in the beginning reminds me of my personal aversion to horrible loud noises. I once tore off headphones, just as Barbara throws her watch, because I though they (or some sort of demons) were attacking me.

Pretty intense episode for a stuck switch.  (<– Spoilers. Highlight to view.)

  • Story Grade: C+

 

Tony’s Take:

The last story of The Beginning box-set is a fun and short little adventure all encapsulated in the TARDIS. If you read about the history of the show you will find out why it was only a 2-parter and more info about this serial, so why explain it here (that’s why you have Radio Free Skaro, they share the production info).

If I were in charge of the show for all of its entire history, I would make EVERY Doctor have one story in which they are confined to only their TARDIS. When you trap a traveler such as The Doctor, you find out what his true colors are. You learn about their personality and you find out about about their devloping relationship with their unreliable, yet longest-running companion, the TARDIS.

In this story The Doctor is crabbier than ever and then, as if he were bi-polar, he becomes instantly cooperative… but this is only to be manipulative. William Hartnell is again in the perfect role, as it seems that he does not have to act, his age and personality mesh well and make it a believable performance.

I also liked the fact that Susan got more lines and delivered a very creepy performance. We could really do without the shrill screams, though.

The semi-psychological games that are played in this episode make this story intriguing, though it falls flat because of the age of the story.  Not many television episodes were playing mind games with people, the medium was new, and rather than upset viewers, TV episodes would often be easily digestible for the masses.  Further Doctor Who episodes and totally separate TV series would cover similar mind games with much more mystery and suspense, but good for the writers for trying.

Now how about those humanly habits often ignored in the future series of Doctor Who?  I am talking about eating/drinking and sleeping, functions that are basic in human nature, but make for lousy TV (And does The Doctor really need to do these things?  Do Time Lords get hungry or sleepy?). I find it quirky that the Doctor makes tea and mentions that people need their sleep while on the TARDIS.  then there is Ian, who fetches a BAG of water from the automatic food machine and pours it on a washcloth for Susan.  Nothing says alien and futuristic like a BAG OF WATER!  I cannot lie, I would love to walk around with bags of water, drinking them like flavorless Capri-Suns.  Plus, when under attack, I am sure that some monsters could be defeated via water balloon.

At one point in the show The Doctor talks about the birth of a solar system, this is very odd coming from an old man on a 1960s TV show.  If you were to apply this speech to a kid’s show today, it would be unthinkable.  What The Doctor describes would be far too educational for a kid’s show, unless we are talking flat-out Bill Nye type of kid’s shows.  For this speech alone, the episode is a bit ahead of its time, even if its teachings are rudimentary and not 100% correct.

When the viewer finally learns what is going on with the TARDIS towards the end of the story, it is surprising to see how little The Doctor knows about his stubborn friend, the TARDIS and it’s ever changing console.  Although it can be explained as either this Doctor’s personality (old age/memory loss) or that he is new to traveling (despite his old appearance), I think it’s apparent that the writers could not even start to comprehend how much life and depth the TARDIS would be given in the future.

When the story is all said and done, it’s easy to see that The Doctor is much like an old stubborn grandfather that most of us can relate to or imagine.  The Doctor never really apologizes for anything, but in his own way he recognizes the need for his ‘companions’.  He tells people that they are important in an old-school, patriarchal way; its semi-sweet given the times, but also semi-sour as it did nothing to show advancement.

I leave you with two fun quotes:

“One man’s law is another man’s crime.” – The Doctor

“A machine that can think for itself?!” – Ian Chesterton (regarding the TARDIS)

  • Story Grade: B-
  • This short little story was a fun mind-game, a necessary change of pace from the overly long story that came before (The Daleks).  Trapped in the TARDIS can be quite fun!

 

Thank you, TARDIS, for trapping the crew.  I enjoy either science heavy or psychological heavy stories, so it was nice to have one early on in Doctor Who’s run.  Kudos to Carole Ann Ford for a great performance!

The Daleks – Story #002

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Jael’s Judgment:

These early episodes are clearly a product of the times. With Neutron bombs and fear of radiation poisoning.

We learn a little bit more about our relatable characters. There are the sweet stories of affection. Ian trying to be chivalrous, comforting Barbara. But in the end Barbara is just charmed by the chivalry (or come-ons) of the locals.

I continue to enjoy Susan. She finds drawing to be soothing, which indeed it is. And I too would be delighted by a petrified flower, of course not one that oozes radiation… Her hysterics, in particular her running through the woods continue to be ridiculous. She is extremely difficult to understand when she becomes hysterical. That is a bit annoying.

However, the silly effects or unbelievable (not in a good way) acting are some of the reasons I find these early episodes charming. I enjoy chuckling with my hubby when Susan runs in place or Ian suggests, “let’s split up.” These qualities are endearing.

On a less endearing note we meet the Daleks. Their first appearance, yeah it’s kind of scary despite the corniness. My favorite quality of the Daleks is how they express the panic we all feel in certain situations. With their increasingly high and loud voices, repeating and repeating. Man, I sometimes hear that same voice in my head.

And then there are the Thals. With their white hair, tall statutes, and command of “do not be afraid” like angels.

I find serenity in the fun flirting, the petrified flowers, the smiles I share with my husband, the “other-worldly” Thals, and the fact that we all have our Dalek-esque moments.

  • Story Grade: B-

 

Tony’s Take:

First things first, I think that the only way that I am going to be “consistent” on this blog is the scale in which I grade the episodes (school grades: A+ down to F).  My motives and criteria for grading will not even be consistent; how could it be?!  Opinions are nothing more than subjective “me think”.  The format in which I lay out my ideas will vary widely, and with that, so too will the length.  So without further adieu, here is my review for “THE DALEKS!”  (Hey, they deserve to have their lead story told in all caps, it’s how they speak… and the exclamation point cannot hurt.)

Views on “The Doctor”:

  • He seems to be more focused on science in this story.
  • Calls Ian by only his last name, “Chesterton!”, more often than not.  I love this!  It’s a dynamic that plays to the viewer quite easily, as if The Doctor knows he is being viewed as second-fiddle, the non-hero of the story.  His way of ‘setting things straight’ is by being rather formal and not calling Ian by his first name, like a friend would, but by his surname in order to sound like a teacher or superior.
  • “Old fool!”  Words spoken by Ian, which sum up the lies and shiftiness of The Doctor quite perfectly.
  • It’s hard to draw the line between “The Doctor” and “William Hartnell”.  I wonder how much of tiredness and weakness is actually The Doctor or the old man playing the role.
  • “No, no, they won’t be suspicious at all!” says The Doctor to Ian as he is climbing into a Dalek’s casing!  Oh the simplicity of television of old.  I love how blatantly this statement is made.

Quick bit on the TARDIS:

  • Bring back the automatic food dispenser!  This is one area where British television did things right, they were able to offer a bit of fluff and fun WITHOUT using a corporate sponsor (like Cadbury or some other food/drink company wishing to push their product).  I guess that’s due to how the BBC is a publicly owned entity and cannot sponsor privately held corporations… Good on you!

Two cents on Barbara:

  • Barbara seems like she is the go-to person for Susan, almost like Susan is reaching out for a mother or at the very least another female with which to relate.  Barbara is caring, but either it is the times or the fact that she is only Susan’s teacher, not her mother, that keep her from really owning that role as a full on mentor or guardian.
  • Barbara, when she does assume the care-taking role, does so because she sees just how inept and cold The Doctor can be.

…And now my thoughts on the unsung hero of early Who, Ian:

  • Ian is much more the hero in this show for many reasons, the first of which is that he is easily relatable since he is human.
  • Ian can also be a hero because he is also a science teacher, so he isn’t always totally overshadowed by The Doctor’s reasoning or understanding (like future companions sometimes are).
  • Age is on Ian’s side.  it’s true, he is the typical male role, since he is relatively young and in shape.  The Doctor cannot compete with Ian when it comes to anything physical.
  • Ian is also forced to be the level-headed one more often than not.  With the writers making the women in this show sound like banshees (is this not accurate given the screams of Susan and even Barbara at times?), Ian has to stay focused and keep everyone on track.  The Doctor is often cold and careless, Susan and Barbara are damsels in distress, so Ian is the glue.
  • “Why don’t we separate…?” says Ian.  This statement, meant to be a plot-driver, is one that is often followed in Doctor Who, but rarely said out-loud  especially in such a direct way.  Anyone who has ever watched a horror, action, or drama film/show can tell you that this idea NEVER works.

Overall:

As a story, this is where the long history of cheapness in Classic Who really gets its start.  The thrift of design on the costumes and monsters, the cheesiness of the sets, and the exquisitely bad model shots all make for terribly out-of-date and yet close to the heart television.  The model-shots of Skaro, though bad by many people’s standards, are not a complete failure… the black and white hid what could have been excruciating in color.  Another classic piece of the puzzle is the separation of companions and The Doctor, as described above.  I hope you enjoy this formula, because you have 25 more years of this in the Classic Who catalog.

“What about the Daleks, Tony?!”

Yes, yes, dear reader, I am getting there.  To see your first Dalek is magical, and the way they were teased at the end of the first episode was great… they only show a plunger at the end of a camera while it is threatening a companion.  **SLOW CLAPS**  Now THAT’S iconic, BBC!!  Another piece of classic Doctor Who would be corridors, and thanks to the Dalek city, there are plenty of corridors to get lost in.

The Daleks themselves appear nearly identical to future versions (slight updates are made here and there, but a classic monster needs little revision), and speaking of identical, how about their voices?  Yes, we have two people voicing the Daleks, but the trouble is that between the shouting and numerous Daleks on camera at one time, it’s hard to keep them straight.  Now, you could argue that you don’t have to keep them straight, which is true, but merely relying on blinking lights on a black and white story is a tough task for those who seek clarity.

Lastly, we come to the Thals.  The Thals are a race of alien that had fought against the Daleks for 500 years and become pacifists because of they tired of the constant fighting.  Though i do enjoy the Thals, and like my wife said above, they have a certain aura of peace and humanity about them, the second plot, which drove this story to 7 parts, was a bit unnecessary.  Seven episodes is LONG!  Either revise the script and make it more compact, or eliminate the number of plots that need solving.

I often wonder what the Thals would be like if they were reintroduced to New Who.  I think that they would still be peaceful, but there is still much that we do not know about the Thal people and their history (or what they would become, or who they evolve to be).

  • Story Grade: C
  • While the magic of revealing such a historic nemesis makes this story a delight, the 7 episodes make this way too long for its own good.  If condensed into a 4 part episode, easily in the B range or higher.

 

This post’s thanks go out to Verity Lambert, Terry Nation, Raymond Cusick, and everyone else involved in the creation of these storied adversaries of The Doctor.  Please do yourself a favor and watch the special features on the DVDs.  The story about the creation of the Daleks at the BBC and subsequent rousing make for a fun, yet educational, watch.