Written by Kit Pedler
Directed by Derek Martinus
The TARDIS materializes at the South Pole in 1986 and witness a space expedition that is about to go horribly wrong.
I wish I could view this episode free from the knowledge of what is coming. Unfortunately, I cannot, which makes me wonder if the growing sense of dread is effective direction or anticipation. It feels like a season finale, like when I would watch The X-Files and know that this episode will have some sort of big cliffhanger. The Tenth Planet is a huge story, not because of anything that is particularly done in the primary plot, but because it introduces two firsts to Doctor Who: The Cybermen and regeneration. But unlike many regeneration stories, the story doesn’t seem to have a “funereal” tone or the weight of premonition. It seems like any other adventure and the audience should have every expectation that things will work out as normal.
The Tenth Planet begins a formula that we are about to see again and again: The Base Under Siege. The elements are present here: a remote scientific outpost, an international crew, The Doctor and companions arriving just before or at the beginning of a mystery and getting caught up in the action and suspicion. It is a formula that continues to be used by the show, recent examples being Waters of Mars and The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People. Here we have The South Pole International Space Command, headed by General Cutler. Cutler is a well-realized character. He is a hard-nosed American general. He doesn’t have time for flippancy and he seems to spend most of his time angry. The head scientist seems to be Dr. Barclay, a man who is more open to The Doctor’s thoughts and theories. The SPISC is overseeing the return of a space expedition, The Zeus 4. But the return is complicated when a new planet appears and this planet seems to be moving toward the earth. The Zeus 4’s energy systems begin to drain and the new gravity disruption from this tenth planet affects re-entry to the Earth’s atmosphere. The astronauts of Zeus 4 are in serious danger.
The Doctor figures out pretty quick what the new planet is. It appears identical to Earth, and he tries to explain to Cutler and Barclay, the former stomping out of the room when The Doctor mentions a twin planet. This leads me to wonder, has The Doctor arrived at a time that he is familiar with, or is he working the situation out from the clues? Basically, is this a so-called “fixed point” in time? The Doctor mentions to Ben and Polly that the base is about to have visitors. And he turns out to be correct. Soldiers are ordered out into the snow to break in to the TARDIS and they are killed by what we will eventually learn are Cybermen. Here, they are creatures in form-fitting suits with mechanical equipment stuck on. Yes, I know they are wetsuits, but just go with the illusion in the episode. What is particularly striking about The Cybermen so far is the emotionless face. This is possibly the most chilling moment in Doctor Who since the cliffhanger for part one of The Sensorites.
So, The Doctor, Ben, and Polly are prisoners of The SPISC until Cutler can deal with their intrusion, The Cybermen are outside the base and ready to infiltrate, and the Zeus 4 is in serious danger of being destroyed. And there is a new planet in Solar System. Looks like a good beginning to me.