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Doctor Who story number 28

William Hartnell's health had been geting steadily worse over the years, he had arteriosclerosis, which was having physical and mental effects on him. Memorizing lines was difficult, and the inability to remember lines made an already cranky actor impossible to work with. His insistence on having control over the scripts and old-fashioned values tended to stifle the production, and the star quality the Head of Serials saw in Hartnell enabled him to keep up the behaviour. A previous attempt to remove him had been unsuccessful, and the way they were going to handle it was fanciful rubbish (see The Celestial Toymaker). Hartnell avoided that one by simply complaining to the head of serials about it - probably a good thing. However he eventually admitted he needed to stop working on the series - by some accounts the schedule was literally killing him.

So, how do you keep your series and title character but write out the lead actor? Way back with the first episode the idea had been that the Doctor was hundreds of years old and not from Earth, and so why not give him some other alien qualities. The idea was that he Doctor could, when his body wears out, be rejuvinated, changing his personality as well as his physical appearance. This would eventually be known as regeneration. As to who invented the idea.... I have found no less than five people with their names connected to it - often one person names someone else when asked - so the best answer to "who invented regeneration" is "a lot of people." The next step was to find an actor, and out of them all the favourite was Patrick Troughton. Even William Hartnell approved of Troughton and was able to leave feeling the show was in good hands.

How to handle the change onscreen? They were going to have Hartnell (more likely: A double wearing his wig shot from behind) fall down with his cloak over his face and have Troughton sit up afterwards. This is really subtle and would have been quite surprising. Those of you shaking your head should remember that you're used to special effects, and if something like this was done in a modern production you'd find it surprising precisely because there would be no effects used. However they got really lucky: Shirly Coward, a vision mixer, made them aware of the possibility of combining two feeds (how they didn't know.... thas how the title sequence was made), and she also came up with another trick.... The "flaring, glowing effect" was produced by using the faulty mixing bank at the studio where the episode was filmed, and via clever juggling, a lot of rehearsing and setting up and two tries she managed to use the technical fault of the machinery to produce a special effect. Clever.

Aside from all that, what's the plot like? Well the plot is "Missing planet floats back and the inhabitants want to destroy the Earth." Yes, it's drivel. The real plot is that the inhabitants of the planet are the Cybermen. These aliens grew out of Kit Pedler's discussion with his wife about the nature of spare part surgery and humanity, and where the line is drawn. They look pretty sad in this story if you're used to the flashier versions, but after a while you start to think they look more chilling than the fancy ones seen in later years. The nature of the Cybermen is highlighted best here - later stories just use them as generic villains with very little use of the opportunity to study the complex concepts these aliens offer writers. Here the Cybermen are not motivated by anything other than the survival of their race, no matter what the cost to themselves as individuals or the other peoples they encounter.

When the Cybermen speak the actor opens their mouth and a voiceover is played. This has been described as a "singsong" voice. In fact it's just rubbish, with the changing pitch for different words sounding quite silly. The voice effect is just run through a similar filter to the one used for the Daleks, and the actors can't keep their mouths still. If they just let their mouths fall open, and the changes in voice pitch were irregular instead of trying to have structure, then it might be a decent effect.

As for the other characters, well let's just say "weak." A General who places the safety of his son over the safety of the planet is highly unlikely (though that aspect of his characer runs parallel with the self-interest of the Cybermen), and most of the soldiers are standard cannon fodder. There's a small effort to show racial equality (diverse humans as opposed to the identical Cybermen) but all the important jobs are male (probably close to real life 1986 in that aspect). The Cybermen themselves don't even turn up until episode two. As for the regulars, this is the Ben and Polly show for one episode, as William Hartnell fell ill and was largely removed from episod three. The Doctor had been written to be in ill health for this story, so Hartnell's sickness presumably came through in the acting and would have added to the feel of things. Unfortunately most of the dialogue is actually other characers - I suspect Hartnell had trouble memorising all the lines.

Unfortunately lots of the science is rubbish and the Cybermen do some silly things. The Doctor is largely left out of things until the end, even Ben and Polly get little to do. Oh well....

The other important thing about this story is that it's the first one to use a new style of story: Base Under Seige. The problem with Doctor Who sets was that the set designers built lots of crappy ones for many different scenes - sometimes a coherent feel could be established by having a set that could be rebuilt to look like a different room in the same building, but if you wanted intricate sets for locations that were wildly different then things got expensive, time consuming and wobbly. With the "base under siege" plot you have one main area where most of the action takes place (in this case the main Snowcap control room) and the plot generally involves the monsters trying to break in, take over, blow it up or whatever. The plot twists are the only divergence from this basic idea, in fact most of the stories that use this plan are almost identical if you strip them down - it's a testament to the writers that they managed to hide it so well. In some cases.

Episode four was lost in 1974 - both the original and the print intended for overseas use. The regeneration scene was recovered from a Blue Peter episode, and along with some 8mm film from a fan they managed to recover 78 seconds of the episode. Surprisingly, unlike the other stories with missing episodes there is no release of the audio track from the story. However you can buy the first three episodes on video (with a reconstruction of the final episode) as part of the Cyberman Boxed Set. Don't ask me why there's trees on the cover of a story set in Antarctica:

The Cybermen were the holy grail the production team was after - a monster comparable in popularity to the Daleks, able to draw viewers and sell merchandise (not to mention the easier licensing compared to the Daleks). The cliffhanger ending to the story proved to be a massive drawcard, and so the final First Doctor story was a success both in terms of providing a transition and entertaining people.

You can read the script here:

You can see a clip if the Cybermen here (Realplayer required):

Kit Pedler, Pat Dunlop and Gerry Davis

(the BBC site claims Pat Dunlop had nothing to do with it,
but I've included his name because 1: The BBC site might be
wrong (frankly, they lie about things); and 2: "maybe he didn't"
is better than "maybe he did")

This story has 4 episodes.

Plot Overview
We see the everyday work of a tracking station at the South Pole - Quite why there's a need for a tracking station here we do not know. The crew of a nearby guard post are quite surprised to find two men and a woman roaming around outside next to what seems to be a small blue hut and bring them in to the main tracking station for questioning. Ben and Polly consider the possibility of getting a free trip home, but the Doctor smugly points out a calendar on the wall: December, 1986 - half a world away from where they need to be and 20 years late.

Suddenly there's an error with the Zeus 4 atmospheric test capsule (save the laughter for later) - it's "now over south isle of New Zealand and reading a height of 1100 miles" - but they should only be 980 miles up! Quickly, "Take visual checks on Mars to establish position" - with a telescope. Riiiight. Not that looking at the bloody Earth would help, would it? It turns out that the astronaut looking for Mars gets a fix on something else - another planet orbiting beween Mars and Venus. And in the space of that small exchange they made it to a point over San Francisco (that was quick), started losing power and going out of control.

Back at Snowcap the Doctor has written down what Barclay finds when he tries to see what the men in the capsule saw (this mehod of establishing credentials fails). The Doctor gives the new planet a closer scrutiny and everyone is quite surprised to find that it has identical land masses to Earth - which he predicted. General Cutler refuses to believe anything the Doctor says and storms off to talk to the Geneva headquarters of International Space Command. The Doctor is expecting aliens to land, but gets the blame for the problems with the mission and the new planet appearing. The guards are sent to break into the TARDIS, but are killed by towering humanoid machines - with human hands.

After another miserable scene with lots of rubbish spaceship talk we see the Cybermen approaching the base disguised in the coats of the dead guards - the coats obviously the perfect disguise for people with a giant lamp on their heads and carrying huge accordions. The Doctor tries to get people's attention but they're too busy trying to deal with the Zeus 4 mission and it's decaying orbit. The Cybermen walk in and Cutler mistakes them for the guards. Once they take of the coats everyone realises they're not human (duh) and they kill someone who tries to attack them. Cutler tries to convince them to let the tracking station crew guide the orbiter down, but the leading Cyberman says it is pointless. Polly tries to reason with it but it simply does not care:

Cyberman: There is really no point. They could never reach Earth now.
Polly: But don't you care?
Cyberman: Care? No, why should I care?
Polly: Because they're people and they're going to die!
Cyberman: I do not understand you. There are people dying all over your world yet you do not care about them.

While Polly and Barclay argue ethics with the Cyberman Cutler triggers the alarm to warn Geneva and refuses to cover it up - the Cybermen knock him out by touching his head and then force Barclay to cancel the alert. Ben tries to escape and the Cybermen show him how useless it is - he can't shoot them and they simply take the gun, bend it in half and lock Ben up. The Zeus orbiter burns up on re-entry and the Cybermen tell everyone they are in danger, but it's alright - they will take the humans back to Mondas and convert them into Cybermen.

Ben uses the projector in the movie room he's locked up in to blind his guard and take it's weapon (basically a box that emits rays (lasers, radiaion or whatever) - they don't go in for ergonomics). The Cyberman doesn't accept his demands and he has to kill it - they have no sense of self-preservation - or metaphors, as Polly and the rest of the Snowcap staff are discovering:

Polly: But I can't make you understand, you're condemning us all to die, have you no heart?
Cyberman: No, that is one of the weaknesses that we have removed.

Ben comes in and the recovered Cutler takes the weapon and guns down the Cybermen, much to the Doctor's dismay - he's still trying to sort out what's going on. Cutler gets hold of Geneva and they tell him his son has been sent up to aid the now destroyed orbiter, so the General starts ordering everyone around - only to learn from the tracking crew there are hundreds of craft coming from Mondas. The Doctor collapses, and is taken to a room somewhere. Ben and Polly return to find Cutler more interested in getting his son down from orbit than dealing with the Cyberman fleet - or the power drain from Mondas. That last problem he plans to deal with in true military manner: blow it up.

How to blow up a planet? Well there's always the Z-Bomb - a doomsday weapon, placed at a few positions around the globe for just such an emergency (obviously, as the head of Inernational Space Command can authorize it's use). Of course the chances of dangerous levels of radiation reaching the Earth don't matter to Cutler, so when Wigner refuses authorization Cutler asks for "authority to take any action necessary against the Cybermen" - and when he gets it he signs off and has his men prime the Z-Bomb. Everyone protests, and Cutler has Ben locked up - Polly convinces Culer that she's not going to interfere (by offering to make coffee for people, bwahahaha!) and she convinces Barclay to sabotage the missile.

While the Cybermen (all ten) attack the Snowcap base and get shot to peices by THREE humans Barclay and Polly go to Ben, send him through the vents to sabotage the missile. Cutler notices Barclay is missing and catches Ben before he can finish what he was doing. They try to launch it: Cutlers throbbing missile starts to fire but then limply sputters out at the beginning of the next episode - Lamest. Cliffhanger. Ever. The Doctor wakes up just in time to get threatened with a gun by the increasingly deranged Cutler. Cutler's son comes through on the radio and tells them all that Mondas is pulsing with light, which the Docor concludes is the planet going critical. The Cyberman forces land. Cutler now only wants to kill the Doctor - but the Cyberman force arrives and they kill the General.

The Doctor thanks Krang (some Cybermen from Mondas retain shreds of individuality in their names - they must be the original Cybermen) and offers the Cybermen a home on Earth, playing for time. The Cybermen will not negotiate while the missile is armed, and they insist that the warhead be taken underground away from the missile. Dyson, Barclay and Ben are sent to remove the warhead, Polly is taken to one of he Cyberman craft, and the Doctor is left at mission control answering a call from Geneva - but before Wigner can say anyhing of use the Geneva base is stormed by Cybermen - they have a plan, but they need time to evacuate.... The Doctor realises what they're up to and tries to warn the three men moving the warhead: They will use the Z-Bomb to destroy the Earth.

Down in the Radiation Room Ben suddenly has a significant thought: Why do the Cybermen need three humans to shift the warhead when a lone Cybrman could carry it? They realise it's because of the radiation and try to test this thoery: everyone plays dead and when one of the Cybermen comes in to check it dies (okay this is supid, they die if exposed to extreme radiation yet they're dumb enough to walk into this old trick). With the door locked there's nothing the Cybermen can do - except torture the hostages. Ben insists via intercom that the Cybermen release the Doctor and Polly, bargaining with an offer of assistance when Mondas disintegrates. The Cyberman response is to take the Doctor to Mondas and order that they prime the warhead.

With the Doctor and Polly gone Ben tries to find a portable source of radiation - they eventually settle on some reactor rods - they have an hour to kill the Cybermen and start the reactor again before the emergency power runs out - If they can't get it started they freeze to death. The Cybermen try to gas the humans (which is stupid as they are wearing radiation suits) but Ben shoots one. Somehow Dyson and someone else who wasn't present before have gotten out and they kill the other two Cybermen. While the technicians look busy Ben uses a signal device to try and get the rest of the Cybermen at the south pole to attack in the hopes that this will keep the Doctor and Polly on the Earth.

As a full platoon of Cybermen arrive Mondas finally breaks up, and the Cybermen all die - they were dependant on power from their planet (more realistic reason: without control signals the systems of the less advanced Mondas Cybermen can't function). Cutler's son turns out to be okay (who cares) and Geneva wants a report. Ben slips out and goes to rescue the Doctor and Polly. Polly is fine but the Doctor is staring at nothing - he dazedly says he must return to the TARDIS. He staggers across the snow into the craft and Ben and Polly enter to see him dematerialize the ship and then collapse on the floor.

As they try to help him his face changes....

Main Cast

  • Robert Beatty - General Cutler
  • Dudley Jones - Dyson
  • David Dodimead - Barclay
  • Alan White - Shultz
  • Earl Cameron - Williams
  • Shane Shelton - Tito
  • John Brandon - Sergeant
  • Steve Plytas - Wigner
  • Christopher Matthews - Radar Technician
  • Ellen Cullen - Technician
  • Glenn Beck - Announcer
  • Callen Angelo - Terry Cutler
  • Sheila Knight - Secretary
  • Alec Coleman - Corporal
  • Chrisopher Dunham, Nicholas Edwards - R/T Technicians
  • Harry Brooks - Krang, Talon
  • Reg Whitehead - Jarl, Krail
  • Greg Palmer - Gern, Shav
  • Peter Hawkins, Roy Skelton - Cyberman Voices
  • Bruce Wells, John Haines, John Knott - Cybermen
  • Notes

    • Doctor Who continuity: In 1986 there are still trips to the Moon happening, Woomera has a launch facility, there doesn't seem to be any need for a space shuttle (because with all the thwarted alien invasions we've nicked heaps of cool technology) but they still use rockets.
    • Michael Craze met his wife on the set of his story - she threw some polystyrene "snow" into his face, hurting his nose (which he had broken the night he went out to celebrate getting the role of Ben)
    • The opening titles are here in a ticker tape style, one of about five times they've been changed for individual stories

    Come to Mondas and you will have no need of emotions. You will become like us. - Krail

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