Sunday, October 13, 2013

DVD REVIEW: The Tenth Planet

 
THE TENTH PLANET
Starring William Hartnell

2 Disc DVD - details HERE

UK - Oct 14
N. America - Nov 19
Aus & NZ - Nov 20

 
STORY
William Hartnell's time as The First Doctor (also sometimes known as "Dr. Who"), comes to a close with this eerie and, at times, exciting adventure with the first appearance of the Cybermen in The Tenth Planet. And although Billy H doesn't even appear in one of the episodes (due to illness), it's not a bad way to go for the original, and some would say, the best Doctor.

It's a cracking first episode (like so many in the Whoeuvre) with some beautiful shots of the South Pole whilst the Cybermen are an impressive and very otherly bunch; still human (note the eyes and the hands) but very much a "robot". They're shot and positioned extremely well here with a number of excellent close-ups shots (ending of Episode One, for example) and the brutality of their actions in the second installment is well-handled.

Best of all is their return in the third part where a great number of them are attacked. It's not often in Who when it actually looks like there's a great number but they do it well here and, again, the camera's framing is dynamic and certainly adds to their threat and the drama of the situation. It's a great opening for the Cybermen, sad they weren't always given this formidable treatment.

Plaudits should also go to the set designs, which work the claustrophobic feel of the story very nicely indeed. One appreciates the small touches such as the television screens in the background still relaying pictures from the pilots (even though they're not interacting at that point). Even better is the constant sound of the future in the background (set in 1986, fact fans), with computers beeping and various machines buzzing, thoroughly adding to the vibrancy of the proceedings. The rocket set, though obviously small, is neatly observed and the South Pole set is an absolute treat, evoking chills and more.

On the downside, there's the cast; who, very sadly, aren't the most compelling or engaging of bunches. David Dodimead (bearded bespectacled Barclay) and Earl Cameron (pilot Williams) fare the best but Robert Beatty plays General Cutler with no panache at all and has one default setting throughout - grumpy shoutist. Granted, he's not meant to be liked but his antics are tedious, much like companion Ben (played by Michael Craze) who becomes intensely irritating quite early on with his heightened and reactionary performance (and also the number of times he has a conversation with himself). Polly isn't treated much better with her infamous, "I can make some coffee or something?" making for a decidedly telling quote. Some may say, "Hey man, it was the Sixties!", but there are plenty of other Who stories from this time with excellent casts (and scripts).

The final moments, though, of The Tenth Planet are exquisite. There's quite an abruptness to the defeat of the Cybermen and immediately we know something is wrong with the Doctor's wish to get back to the TARDIS. It's an eerie return to the time machine with its console noises whirring away and Ben and Polly trying to get back in. The Doctor's desperateness really shines through, making for a remarkable ending to a stoutly-produced adventure - not to mention one of the best regeneration scenes in Doctor Who.

ANIMATION
Episode Four of The Tenth Planet is currently "missing" so it's been reproduced through animation, and what a wonderful job they do too. Stylistically very different to the last animated DVD, The Ice Warriors (review HERE), this is a flashier job with more details on the characters and a much more dynamic and vibrant take on the visuals. The use of light and shade is very eye catching and adds greatly to the feel of the piece.

In particular, the Cybermen attack as they re-enter the base is very fluid and has a vitality to the proceedings (probably even more so than the original actual live-action version). I wouldn't normally quote someone else in my own review, but my flatmate (who pretty much loathes Doctor Who) was mightily impressed with the animation and was surprised at its high quality (so much so he watched it intently for a while). Great job.

EXTRAS
Heading the special features here is a fascinating interview with The First Doctor himself, William Hartnell. And to call it nothing less than extraordinary is still selling it short. From 1966, this Points West interview finds Hartnell preparing backstage for pantomime and if you thought that his portrayal of the Doctor was "irascible" then get ready to recalibrate your grump-o-meter.

Billy reveals an utter disdain for pantomime, saying "I'm not a pantomimic artist in that respect. It's never appealed to me, I don't want it," and as if to remind his interviewer, and the audience, of his credentials he blasts, "I'm legitimate. I'm a legitimate character actor. Of the theatre and films."

Most people would realise they'd touched a nerve but our intrepid interview puts forward (somewhat hilariously), "You're rather a grumpy sort of person." It's eyebrow-raising in the extreme. Really because we've never seen Hartnell as himself. For some it will be shocking to see just how unpleasant he is, and will somewhat diminish their view of the man (a bit like finding out Santa isn't real). Like Terror of the Zygons and its deleted scene extra, this is is one of the most essential features ever included on a Doctor Who DVD.

Taking a back seat to this, is the superb making-of documentary, Frozen Out. But disabuse yourself of any notion that this is a celebratory look back at Hartnell's final outing. Good lord, no. Leading some very frank and open discussions on their leading actor is Anneke Wills (companion Polly) who reveals much about the ill actor's outlook on his fellow co-stars, especially those of a different ethnic background to his.

As a fan of Hartnell, it's deeply sad to hear these recounts but their honesty is to be applauded and congratulations to Chris Chapman for eliciting such a veracious response from the interviewees. It's not all doom and gloom, however, with some lovely recollections of the the regeneration itself and the various issues on set with the Cybermen. And kudos for the excellent and tasty-looking animation produced for the docco, very stylish indeed (pictured left).

Letting the side down, somewhat, is The Golden Age - a documentary which purports to be searching for the "golden age" of Doctor Who but is ramshackle and scattershot in direction. Curiously, it kicks off my referring to the current behind-the-scenes production problems (a story which will no doubt be told in about twenty years or so time) which was a brave move but the basic gist of the feature seems to be that we all like different things about Doctor Who. Quelle surprise.

It does, on the bright side, feature a young Chris Chibnall on BBC viewer feedback show Open Air but, if like me, and you're paying attention, you'll be slightly infuriated at Army of Ghosts being referred to onscreen (in text) as "Army od Ghosts" whilst they also manage to misspell Russell T Davies (some of us are paying attention to such things). The Golden Age veers in topic from ratings to the scare factor without, seemingly, any sense of argument being made (successfully). It's fun in tone and doesn't take itself seriously but parts of it are pretty patronising (specifically when talking about opinions).

Doctor Who Stories gets another installment, and this time it's the turn of Anneke Wills who makes for a wonderful guest with cracking lines like, "My eyelashes were longer than my skirt!" Though, after watching Frozen Out, some Hartnell fans may not want to see any more from her, just in case.

Boys! Boys! Boys! brings together Peter Purves (Steven Taylor), Frazer Hines (Jamie McCrimmon) and, through the power of technology, Mark Strickson (one of my favourites, Turlough). Whilst the former two are sitting together in a "studio", the latter is Hartnell-esque in the fact that he's on a screen and not physically interacting with his fellow chums. It's a lot of fun and all three have got great stories to tell though it's a real shame they couldn't have been brought together in the same space.

More companion fun is to be had in Companion Piece which asks various former companions (Louise Jameson, Arthur Darvill, Nicola Bryant to name but a few) about their roles and the place the "companion" has in Doctor Who. There's also some writers, lovely Joe Lidster (Torchwood, The Sarah Jane Adventures), for example, and pyschologist Dr Tomas Charmorro-Premuzic on board to guide us through the mental arena of those who travel with the Doctor (just in case you needed some academic opinion on the matter). It works, but it's doubtful you'll return for a repeat viewing.

There's a lovely Blue Peter feature celebrating ten years of Doctor Who (ah, the old times) and the Episode Four reconstruction (using telesnaps and clips), originally released on The Tenth Planet VHS back in 2000, which makes for quite a good watch (though the animation is a much better option). The commentary makes for a surprisingly lively affair with some excellent recollections from those behind and in front of the camera.

And, as always, there are the always fascinating Production Notes Subtitles, Photo Gallery and Radio Times feature and listings. These often overlooked extras are, for me, essential and really enhance the all round experience of getting to grips with a Doctor Who story.

Whilst I wouldn't want to bandy around the word "controversial" regarding this release, one feels compelled to do so. Though you will delight in seeing Billy H's last proper outing as Dr. Who, some may come away with a lesser opinion of the man who brought so much joy to millions of people's lives. Regardless, The Tenth Planet makes for a terrific DVD set and one every fan should have in their collection.

BLOGTOR RATING 8/10
Thanks to BBC Worldwide


 Check out more Doctor Who DVD reviews HERE.

4 comments:

Adam said...

I have mine on order. Hopefully it should arrive in the next week or so.

I am really looking forward to it - I always love some Hartnell. The features look great, but that typo could really spoil it for me :/

John said...

A lesser opinion of the man? Perhaps through your 21st century politically correct-tinted glasses. Try realising that Hartnell is from a different era.

Cameron McEwan said...

John:

Try reading the article correctly. I said "some may come away with a lesser opinion of the man who brought so much joy to millions of people's lives." Note "some".

Also, I am acutely aware of the "different era" he's from. Though some of his co-stars weren't so happy with his outlook on life. Which you'll see in the documentary.

Anonymous said...

I have been waiting for this release since my tape version of this broke. BBC using cheap VHS's *shakes fist*.
I am glad to hear the animation is much improved form the Ice warriors as whilst the Ice warrior animation did its job it felt that was it. it was considered 'good enough'. So yes that is good news.

And yes many folsk from back then say Bill Hartnell was not the happiest or friendlist of people. bare in mind later on he was in quite a bit of pain i imagine and up until Dr who he had played very unfriendly characters. Maybe that was closer to his real personality. I mean some folks are grumpy. I do love this story though and really am looking forwards to seeing the improved animated segments.