AUDIO DRAMA
Doctor Who
The Tenth Planet

Starring: William Hartnell
BBC Audio
RRP: 13.99
ISBN 0 563 52332 8
Available 09 January 2006


The year is 1986, and at the South Pole the crew of the Snowcap Base tracking station have detected a new planet. The arrival of the First Doctor, Ben and Polly coincides with another landing - that of a spaceship whose humanoid passengers have used cybernetics to replace their limbs and vital organs. They are called Cybermen...

Previously issued within the Cybermen tin in 2004, this two-disc release, like The Crusade and The Ice Warriors, contains little that hasn't already been released on video. Indeed, whereas as it could be argued that the lack of narration on the audio-only episodes of the aforementioned serials (presented in the Crusade/Space Museum video box set, The Ice Warriors Collection video box and the Lost in Time DVD collection) demanded their release, with narration, on CD, the same cannot be said of The Tenth Planet. When it was released on VHS as part of the Cybermen tin set (yes, another tin named after the metallic giants - how original!) with Attack of the Cybermen, the absent Episode 4 was presented in full with on-screen stills and explanatory captions. It could therefore be argued that The Tenth Planet is the least essential of BBC Audio's Who releases to date (except, of course, to visually impaired customers).

In terms of Doctor Who history, however, the serial could not be more essential. It sees not only the debut of the infamous Cybermen, and the first transformation of the Doctor into another actor (in this case William Hartnell to Patrick Troughton), but also marks the first use of the "base under siege" format, which would become a standard story structure for decades to come.

The Cybermen's voices would undergo several modifications over the years (as would their outward appearance), with perhaps the silliest being the unthreatening Revenge of the Cybermen versions in 1975. Here they speak with singsong voices, provided by Peter Hawkins and Roy Skelton, whose inflections place emphases on unnervingly inappropriate words. Though not to every fan's taste, for me the Tenth Planet Cyber-voices are eerily reminiscent of the automated collections of words you hear spoken over railway PA systems: "The next Cyber-invasion to arrive at planet Earth is the. nineteen... eighty-six invasion of the South Pole."

I also rather like the cloth-faced look of the Tenth Planet Cybermen, which bring to mind undead mummies. However, on audio we are mercifully spared the sight of their clunkier accoutrements, the sticky-tape that held their heads together, and their unconvincing "disguises" when they don parkas to sneak aboard the base! We also hear the first use of the famous "Cyber-theme", Martin Slavin's "Space Adventure", which would subsequently be reprised in several '60s Cyber-serials and also The Web of Fear.

This being William Hartnell's final story, it's a shame that he is absent during the third episode, due to ill health. Some of his dialogue is transferred to Michael Craze and Anneke Wills, as his companions Ben and Polly, both of whom play very effective roles in this serial. Hartnell makes a triumphant return in the fourth episode, which is also his last. There are distinct auras of sorrow and mystery as he claims that "this old body of mine is wearing a bit thin," but "it's far from being all over..."

Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis' plot is a little hokey in places. Why should Earth have a "twin" that looks just like it, even down to the shape of its continents? Where exactly is "the edge of space", where the Cybermen claim their planet drifted to? What a coincidence that the base commander's son is the one who happens to be placed in mortal danger on board the Zeus 5 spacecraft. However, the story is enjoyable in a good B-movie kind of way.

Ironically, given her character's impassioned pleas with the emotionless cyborgs during this serial, Anneke Wills' narration is rather dispassionate. She is far more emotive when she is interviewed about her work on the series at the end of the second disc.

With the Cybermen due to return in the 2006 series of Doctor Who, this double CD could be many a new fan's best chance to learn about the creatures' origins - though if you can get hold of the video version, I would recommend that more highly.

Richard McGinlay

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