Here's where it all begins. No, it's not the first Doctor Who story, but it is one of the most important installments of the program and the one that moves the show from a fairly standard SF adventure to a classic. This is the story where the main character dies, and is replaced by himself. Oh yeah, it also has the first appearance of the Cybermen, and this set includes a rich assortment of extras including a very rare interview with William Hartnell where fans can get a glimpse of his personality when he's not on stage.
The Doctor, Polly, and Ben land in the cold of Antarctic in the far off year of 1986, right on top of Snowcap Base, an underground tracking station that aids spaceships orbiting the Earth and travelling to the moon that is run by the military. The trio quickly discovered in the snowy wasteland and brought inside. Just as they appeared however, the spaceship that was orbiting the Earth, Zeus IV, started loosing power. Not just the ship however, but the astronauts too. They became as week as kittens, but only for a short while. Soon both the ship and the pilots regain their energy. But the same pattern occurs every few minutes. It's clear that Zeus IV only has another orbit until they end up loosing too much power, but can Snowcap Base figure out a landing vector in time?
The Doctor predicts that next event that occurs: the discovery of a new planet, right near Earth's orbit. It looks just like Earth, only the continents are reversed, with South America at the north end. The Doctor's next prediction also comes true: that Snowcap Base will be invaded by aliens.
The sparsely populated base is easily overrun when three Cybermen arrive from the new planet, Mondas. Their leader explains that Mondas used to be a twin planet of Earth's but millions of years ago it left the orbit of the sun. Over the years the inhabitants, who used to be exactly like humans, started to grow weak and their life spans were becoming shorter. Their scientists started replacing their organs and limbs, one by one, to increase their life spans until hardly anything was left of the original organism, save the brain which had been scrubbed of useless things like emotions.
Mondas has now returned and is sucking the energy out of the Earth. It will continue to do so until the Earth is an uninhabitable, dead rock in space. The Earthlings don't have to worry however: The Cybermen are planning and relocating them to Mondas where they will be turned into Cybermen too.
Before the Doctor can do much to thwart their plans, he passes out and is very ill. It's up to Polly and Ben to convince the military that The Doctor knows how to defeat this menace: by letting Mondas suck up energy until it can't take any more... then it will die. The general in charge of Snowcap has another idea. He wants to use an experimental bomb to destroy Mondas, even though it might fatally harm the Earth too. But with a fleet of Cybermen on their way to Snowcap, it doesn't look like there's much they can do.
An all around excellent story, The Tenth Planet is an adventure were everything went right, although nothing really did behind the camera and it was almost a disaster. First of all, the lead actor had decided to leave the popular show. He was the only consistent character who had been with the program since the first episode, so how could the show go on without him? In a stroke of genius, it was decided that since The Doctor was an alien, he'd die... and then revive with a different face and body (and be played by a different actor). It was a very daring twist, especially for 1966. Would the audience accept another actor in the lead roll or would they think it was a gimmick and stop tuning in? Of course, it worked wonderfully and that's plot device conceived in desperation is one of the large reasons why the show is on the air 50 years later.
Viewers who found it odd that William Hartnell's last story would find the actor lying in bed for the entire third episode were right... that's not how the original script went. Unfortunately, Hartnell became very ill to film at one point and the script had to be rewritten at the last minute. They gave most of The Doctor's lines to Ben, and while it does come across as odd in places, (Ben insisting that The Doctor's plan is correct even though he never stated it on camera for example) it doesn't really bog down the plot at all and the story continues at a good pace.
Hartnell was in top form for this story. He doesn't make any mistakes at all in the first episode, which is a bit unusual, and plays his role very well. He's arrogant and dismissive of authority in a way that makes it seem like he knows something that no one else does... which is exactly the case.
The Cybermen are absolutely wonderful villains, ones I much prefer over the silly Daleks, and they come across as horrific as well as dangerous. One of the brilliant things about them in this story is their voices. The actor's dialog was fed through some electronics so it came out as a metallic sing-song sort of sound. It served to reinforce that the creatures were mechanical and also made them menacing. It went a long way towards making viewers forget that they were really guys with stocking over their heads.
The fourth and final episode of this story is sadly missing. It's incredibly fortunate that the audio track is still in tact however, along with the shooting script. Using these episode four has been animated and it looks really good. I was left cold by the animation that was done on The Ice Warriors, and so didn't go in with high expectations. This time they got it right however. The animation is smoother than on the recent Troughton release, and there's good use of shadows that give the characters a three dimensional feel.
The one thing that I was disappointed in is that the regeneration sequence, that still exists, was not included at the end of episode four. A copy of that sequence was used in the children's show Blue Peter to celebrate Doctor Who's tenth anniversary in 1973. Luckily that episode has been archived and so the important sequence is still with us. (It's included in this two-disc set both in the VHS telesnap reconstruction of episode four and in the Blue Peter tribute to The Doctor's 10th birthday.)
This show comes with the original mono soundtrack that fits the show just fine. The dynamic range is nothing to write home about, but the dialog is generally crisp and clear and there is no background noise, tape hiss, distortion or dropouts. There are optional subtitles in English.
The Restoration Team has done some amazing work on Doctor Who in the past, but they are limited by the quality of the prints that they have to work with. In this case the original video that survives was pretty rough. After putting it through the VIDFire process and using all the tools at their disposal this story looks pretty good actually. It's not great, the definition isn't as sharp and the backgrounds are often a bit grainy, but it generally is pleasing to the eye.
This double disc release has some really great extras, including one that, though a seemingly minor bit, turns out to be one of the more important items to be included on any Doctor Who release.
The set starts off with a commentary track featuring Anneke Wills (Polly) along with actors Donald van der Maaten, Christopher Matthews, Christopher Dunham, Allan White and Earl Cameron, and designer Peter Kindred. It's moderated by Toby Hadoke who always does a great job. The track is chatty and informal, but also includes a lot of solid information along with several amusing anecdotes. Others should take note... this is the way to do a TV series commentary.
The video extras begin with Frozen Out, the making-of featurette for this story. As always, it's informative and entertaining. They cover all aspects of the production, from the 'when' and 'where' to discussions about what went on behind the scenes. All of the actors said nice things about William Hartnell, all while mentioning that he was hard to work with, had quite a temper, and was a racist (he didn't like the fact that a black man was cast as an astronaut). Another nice bit is the original episode four reconstruction that was originally released on VHS year and years ago. It was created with telesnaps and hard scrolling subtitles to describe the action, along with one special bit of video: The actual regeneration. It's quiet good and gives a different feel than the animation. Continuing on, there's another installment of Doctor Who Stories, this time with Anneke Wills who played Polly. She's fun and bubbly and I really enjoyed some of her stories. Three actors who played companions at one time, Peter Purves, Frazer Hines and Mark Strickson, get together and talk about their time on the show in the appropriately titled, Boys, Boys, Boys, which segues nicely into the next bonus item, Companion Piece, a 24-minute look at what it means to be a companion.
Blue Peter celebrated Doctor Who's tenth anniversary with a short piece on the show that is included here, and there's also a short featurette entitled The Golden Age that's a bit muddled piece but is apparently trying to make the case that someone always criticized the show all through the original run. Not that it's going to come as much of a surprise to anyone.
The really important bonus item is a rare, short 3-minute interview with William Hartnel from 1966. Any fan who has spent much time reading about the man who played the first Doctor has heard about how unpleasant he is, but it's another thing to see it first hand. In this interview he's in his dressing room before a pantomime show in which he's appearing. The interviewer asks him if, after playing Doctor Who, he is considering branching out into pantomime and he gives a very strong "no." He states that the type of show he's performing in is not legitimate theater, and basically that people who do make a career of it aren't real actors. Hartnell is so unpleasant that the interviewer finally ask him "'Why do you think children like you? Because you're rather a grumpy sort of person." It's a very interesting look at the man once he's left the stage.
In addition there is a pop-up informational text option which is very informative as always. It does give some dry statistics, like how many people viewed each episode, but there are also some interesting notes such as script changes that were made and background information on the supporting characters. The extras are rounded off with, a couple of photo galleries, and the listings from the Radio Times in .pdf format.
This is an excellent story featuring the first appearance (and origin) of a major Doctor Who villain, the very first regeneration, and an impressive selection of extras. It's really a must-buy title for even the casual fan of the classic show. It comes very Highly Recommended.