Geekbat Tunes

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The 10th Doctor's Mistake

Alright, here we are- floating in the void between Doctors. Now, before we get to Patrick Troughton and his Second Doctor, I’m going to kick-start one more new tradition for this blog.

I’m fairly well-versed in the New Series of Doctor Who, having seen every episode, and most multiple times. But that, of course, is not what this blog is about- I’ve chosen to focus on Old Who… and after all, if you wanted New Who reviews, the internet is full to brimming with them.

However, every time we see a new Doctor appear, following a retrospective on that Doctor’s time, I think we’ll enter a brief New Series diversion before diving back in with the next Doctor’s era.

This first time, I’m going to talk about David Tennant’s 10th Doctor… and my unifying theory of the Whoniverse that suggests that everything bad that happened to him, he did to himself… with one single action on the day he was born.

I’ve spoken and posted on this topic often enough, I figure I may as well blog about it, get it down somewhere permanent. :-)

So, what one action could be responsible for his every woe- from the Loss of Rose to his death and regeneration? What single choice could have such catastrophic consequences that it would crush his youthful enthusiasm into the malaise of depression, self-pity, and arrogance that eventually led to his downfall? How could he pre-destin his death on the day of his birth?

Six little words: “Don’t you think she looks tired?”

That’s it. The spiteful toppling of Harriet Jones on Christmas day. Now, before we get into the why of Tennant’s woes, let’s take a look at the ‘why’ of ‘why was it wrong?’

When Harriet Jones is first encountered by the Ninth Doctor, he calls her brilliant. Says he likes her. She’s an unassuming woman who just wants to do what’s best for the people. And eventually, she’s revealed to be the architect of Britain’s Golden Age.

What changes?

She destroys a retreating Sycorax spacecraft with a ground-based energy weapon to send a message to the rest of the alien marauders not to mess with Earth. 10 is piqued, and declares he’ll end her reign.

First off… was this wrong of Harriet? Well, yes and no, by my reckoning.

Destroying a fleeing enemy, a retreating opponent? Not right. Very dishonorable.
However- the Sycorax were the aggressors, bent on Earth conquest. They had already committed murder. And yes, they had been turned away by the Doctor after he defeated their leader in single combat, ordered never to return, and to spread the message that Earth is protected.

However, the Sycorax leader had already demonstrated duplicity, and a lack of following through on his word, trying to stab the Doctor in the back after being defeated in single combat. The likelihood of the Sycorax double-crossing Earth and returning in force was high. And Harriet Jones, as an elected representative of the people (a distinction 9 loved because it freed him to act without accepting the moral consequences… but which 10 apparently ignored as her right once it became inconvenient to him), was tasked with making the choice for those people that she believed best defended Earth.

So, that brings us to Reason #1 why it was wrong of Tennant to dethrone her: He had no right. She was an elected official acting on behalf of the people, doing what she thought was best, just as she’d always done. This time, he just happened to disagree with what was best. He didn’t consult her on his defense of Earth- nor did she consult him on hers. She attacked an enemy with a high degree of duplicity already demonstrated, and with an ability to easily attack and ravage the Earth, were the Doctor not around. Agree with her choice or not, he had no right to remove her from power because he disagreed.

And that brings us to the second question in determining “Was this (the destruction of the Sycorax) wrong?” – Harriet’s reasoning; the Doctor is not always around to defend Earth, and a message needed to be sent. Was this right or wrong?

Well, first off- like shooting a retreating enemy, killing to prove a point is never right. (Again, I abrogate this with the fact that these were enemy combatants who had demonstrated a propensity for attacking after they were supposedly surrendered.)

Was Harriet right, though? Yes! While it previously seemed as if the Doctor was Earth’s continual savior, concurrent spinoffs Torchwood and the Sarah Jane Adventures have shown us that the Earth is indeed often threatened, several times with Earth-destroying menaces, in the Doctor’s absence. He is not always around to protect us- in this, Harriet is absolutely correct!

On the other hand, she sent her message… and aliens still came. Less than might have otherwise? Perhaps. But we’ll never know.
This one, I’m calling a draw.

So, to wrap up, here’s Reason #2- unrelated- that the Doctor’s actions were wrong.
His moral outrage and fit of pique cost Britain its entire Golden Age. Just who the heck does he think he is- redirecting an entire civilization from a period of unparalleled prosperity simply because he’s angry at a single person? This is inexcusable, even if the people of Britain will never know what it cost them. But it will cost the Doctor something as well…

So, back to the thesis of this episode. How did the Doctor cause all of his own woes through this?

Well, to understand that, I first need to clarify something in temporal mechanics 101. Remember that, to a time traveler, time is subjective. If you go to 2010, then come back to 2005, and change history, 2010 will now be different. But you, as a time traveler, will remember 2010 as it was when you visited it, even though that 2010 no longer exists, and if you visit it again, it will be a new, different 2010 that came from the new, different 2005 that you altered. You visited it before you changed the timeline, so you remember it the way that it was- but now it will only exist that way in your memory.

Got it?


Okay, so here’s my postulation. The Doctor clearly changed time in The Christmas Invasion, altering the timeline to preclude Harriet Jones’ multiple terms, and erasing Britain’s Golden age. This means that the timeline shifted. Season 1- the 9th Doctor years- are Timeline A- the future as it would have occurred. But everything in Season 2-onwards exists in timeline B… 2006-forwards have now been re-written. They are a new timeline without Harriet Jones’ Prime Minister-hood.

So, what’s different in Timeline B?


Here’s my central conceit- Harriet Jones would have kept control of Torchwood. She clearly had control of them in the Christmas Invasion!

And if Harriet did keep control of Torchwood, what would have happened? First off, no Army of Ghosts. With those experiments put a stop to… no Cybermen. The Cult of Skarro would have also remained in the void. No Daleks. No Cybermen. No loss of Rose. Martha Jones would never have become a companion. Donna Noble would have been a one-time companion. No Daleks in Manhattan. No Dalek rescuing Davros. No Stolen Earth. No Victory of the Daleks. No Cyberking. And that’s not all…

No Mister Saxxon, because there was no power void for the Master to fill. Likely, the trip to the future would still have occurred, but the Master would have arrived back in an entirely different manner- never becoming Prime Minister. Entirely likely that there would be no Year-that-never-was (redundantly). No Master-cult created while he was Saxxon. Thus, no resurrection, no Vivoci/Master/Time Lord endgame. Maybe even no encounter with Wilf. And thus… no regeneration into Matt Smith.

So, in short, the Doctor unleashed the Daleks and Cybermen onto the universe anew, lost Rose, and gave the Master a position of power from which to launch the schemes that ultimately caused both of their deaths. (Apparently.)

Now, I call this a pretty compelling and ironclad scenario…But, you ask, where’s my proof?


In this Season One episode- taking place in 2012- no one had ever heard of Daleks or knew what they were, despite their multiple invasions. But remember, this was the 2012 of Timeline A, witnessed subjectively BEFORE changing the timeline in the Christmas Invasion. This implies that no Daleks were ever witnessed by Earth in the 2000s… and since all Daleks in Tennant’s era date back to the Cult of Skarro, it’s clear that they were never released in that time period, because Harriet Jones kept Torchwood under control. (It’s also supported by logic, that a period labeled a ‘Golden Age’ would probably not have multiple genocidal invasions in it.)

More than likely, with Harriet ousted and timeline B in place, if the Doctor revisited 2012 (or gets there on his own, eventually) the events with Van Staten would not occur- or at least not in the same way- as everyone would know about Daleks.

Originally, I noted that there might be one ‘crack’ in my proof, relating to Matt Smith's first year...
However, everything we have come to understand about the Big Bang 2.0 and the cracks in the Universe suggest that the effects were not retroactive to the series to this point- and that Van Staten and the results of Dalek were NOT due to the cracks in the universe- everything we were seeing was, in essence, Universe 1.0 during that time. And while we still don't know if Universe 2.0 is lacking the Cyberking, Dalek Invasions, etc. and everything that Amy didn't remember... Universe 1.0 clearly did. So, no Cracks scapegoat to explain a Dalek-less 2012 (and indeed, unless the events of Waters of mars were also greatly altered, it appears that future memories of the Dalek invasions are fairly crucial to the future, so one can assume that they were, indeed, restored.) As I noted in the previous draft of this article, one would think that the Universe 2.0 would have major gaps if it only contained things Amy knew about.

Either way, cracks or no, regardless of the events in Dalek, I stand by my theory and reasoning- the Tenth Doctor made the WRONG choice, and all of his suffering was because of it. Themeatically, this is appropriate to the themes of the melancholoy, legacy-tarnishing, major-mistake Gap Year... the Tenth Doctor's arrogance and self-righteousness ultimately proving to be his undoing... with the thematic groundwork laid for his eventual fall in his very first adventure. (Note from Sarah: I think you have a sound argument...but unfortunately most people, since he is 10, hold him beyond reproach. I am afraid your argument will fall on a lot of deaf eyes. :-D)

That’s my thesis. 

And now, after that self-indulgence… back to Classic Who with Patrick Troughton and the Second Doctor! 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

William Hartnell

Ah, William Hartnel. The First Doctor. THE Doctor. Famous for his crusty, grandfatherly manner. Even more famous for his repeatedly flubbed lines. Due to an illness. That was undiagnosed. And probably killed him.

So it's not so funny to laugh at anymore.

(Due also to the BBC not having the time or money to do multiple takes, so it was recorded practically as if it were live.)

He was funny, at times endearing. He was grumpy, at times block-headed. He had a funny little cackle, and a very particular pursing of the lips. He was my Halloween costume last year. He often claimed to be human. He had a mysterious signature signet ring, along with a monocle- possibly the most awesome accessories a sonic-screwdriver-less Doctor could have. He had power over hypnosis and the ability to mimic voices flawlessly.

He was my favorite.

Don't get me wrong, I still love David Tennant's Tenth Doctor, and if he hadn't gone through his manic-depressive-emo phase (I.E. The Gap Year) he might still retain that spot. But as of now, having viewed the First, Second, Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh Doctors, I think it's safe to call him my current favorite. That may change, admittedly... but he will always hold a high ranking in my estimation.

He was the first, without whom there would be no other Doctors.

He was the original, the authority, the one that held it all together.

He was the Doctor.

And he will be missed.

My Top 10 Favorite First Doctor Moments
10. Trouncing an assassin (The Romans):
The Doctor takes to impersonating a musician that the group finds dead (for his own safety), not realizing that the dead man was the target of an assassination, and the group he’s fallen in with are determined to keep trying, believing that their initial attempt failed and the Doctor is their still-living target. A mute assassin is sent to stab the Doctor in his sleep as the group stops at a tavern for the night- and the Doctor handily thrashes him, throwing the man around the room with an almost carefree and disinterested ease, not even for a moment concerned for himself. This physical display, and the extreme confidence accompanying it, suggesting this to be merely the tip of the iceberg of the feats that the Doctor is physically capable of, is as surprising to the audience as it is to the assassin, and Hartnell’s bravado through it all really makes it stick in your memory.

9. Resigned Trojan horse proposal (The Myth Makers)
Captured by the Greek armies and coerced into finding a way to breach the unbreachable walls of Troy, the Doctor steadfastly refuses to consider the Trojan Horse as an option, believing it to be a historical myth- here, he has an opportunity to craft, and discover, how Troy really fell. After a series of far-fetched proposals, Steven again suggests the well-known horse, and the Doctor soundly rejects the notion, instead briefing the commander on his final proposal: catapult-launched hang-gliders. The skeptical general agrees, but informs the Doctor that Hartnell will be the one made to test, he will be the first launched on the ridiculous contraptions. Faced with the prospect of riding on his own lethally-absurd creation, the Doctor calls the general back and, ever so reluctantly and with great resignation, suggests a giant wooden horse instead. Hartnell’s performance- from stubborn refusal to begrudging acceptance, makes this one of the most hilarious of Myth Maker’s many laugh-riot scenes, even through the stills of a reconstruction.

8. “DO… NOT… KILL!”/The Double Fight (The Dalek Master Plan):
The strange clearly-not-identical-doppelganger-stunt-double plot comes to a head in the penultimate chapter of the Dalek Master Plan, as the Doctor and his double fight- itself a rare and exciting fight-scene moment for Hartnell, its memorability is enhanced by his unique solution- another use of his vocal mimicry skills to imitate the Daleks’ halting speech and order the robot not to kill, causing it to hesitate long enough to defeat it (admittedly, I find it memorable especially because I didn’t understand what he was doing, and found his odd-cadenced yell to be oddly hilarious)- a scene enhanced by Hartnell’s double-duty roles, and the way that the imposter is discovered- referring to Vicki as ‘Susan’ (recently departed) because the robot’s programmed information was out of date. Definitely one of the Doctor’s most memorable confrontations.

7. Beating the Toymaker (The Celestial Toymaker):
Coming at the climax of a serial in which the Doctor is seldom seen, the titular villainous Toymaker has put the Doctor and his companions through their paces in his sinister games, and they have triumphed. There, on the stage of his final defeat, the Toymaker appears and admits that he is a sore loser- one game has yet to be completed, until which time the TARDIS crew cannot leave- and making the final move will instantly destroy the world which they inhabit, leaving them the choice of eternal imprisonment, or perishing in a pyrrhic victory. Yet the canny Doctor, who has managed to irritate and confound the far-more-powerful Toymaker at every turn, has a trick up his sleeve, turning the Toymaker’s own voice-command system back on him to complete the final move (after a false-start in which his first attempt fails, leading the overconfident Toymaker to smirk in derision) from the safety of the TARDIS, dematerializing it at the last second. It’s a brilliant and well-written gambit, the solution of which had been hinted at, like the great murder mysteries, subtly throughout the serial for those that had been paying attention. It’s a great use of the First Doctor’s unique voice mimicking capabilities. It’s a brilliant and very satisfying comeback as the Doctor utilizes the tool used to intimidate and bully him throughout the serial to have his cake and eat it, too. And his look of victory as he begins his escape makes it all the better.

6. Accidental engagement (The Aztecs):
The Doctor has been growing close to the elderly retiree, Cameca- a closeness that means more to the kind and gentle Aztec woman than it does to the oblivious Doctor. When she offers him a cup of cocoa and he accepts- ignorant of its cultural significance and simply finding the prospect of some Hot Chocolate delightful- he finds a little more than he bargained for when she exclaims with joy about their new betrothal. The expression on the Doctor’s face simply has to be seen to be believed- and the comedy of the scene and wonderful character created in Cameca makes their eventual parting all the more tragic.

5. Farewell speech to Susan (The Dalek Invasion of Earth):
It’s shown at the beginning of specials for a reason. This was the first companion departure, a resolute but sad forced-departure of the Doctor’s own flesh and blood. Hartnell is tender and wistful as he makes the decision, but puts on a brave face for Susan, urging her to go forward and claim the life that she deserves. He gives the speech all the gravitas, regret, tender care, and loving, grandfatherly wisdom that such a moment deserves, and the result is mesmerizing. “One day I shall come back. Yes, I shall come back. Until then, there must be no regrets, no tears, no anxieties. Just go forward in all your beliefs, and prove to me that I am not mistaken in mine. Goodbye, Susan.

4. Failed Interrogation (The Space Museum):
The conquering authorities are trying to sweat the Doctor out in an interrogation, but he doesn’t seem to be worried in the slightest. The authorities, greedy for the secret of the TARDIS, haul out their big guns: a mind-reading device. They hook Hartnell up to it and fire away their question once again: “How did you get here?” There’s no way out of it this time! But the Doctor proves that he still easily has the upper hand, as the screen lights up with a picture of an old-timey giant-wheeled bike. Then, as the interrogators stare in shocked disbelief, he cackles with delight; though he’s in handcuffs, captured, and being interrogated, Hartnell is still firmly in control.

3. The Unintentional Hold-up (The Gunfighters):
Seldom has the Doctor (mistaken for Doc Holliday by vengeful Clantons) been so out of his element- believed to be a crack-shot (an illusion aided by an unseen shooter and bolstered by a deceptive saloon girl), the Doctor ends up in a Stetson, six-shooter in hand, holding up the three Clantons he’d just been trying to talk down. You can see written on his face the simultaneous excitement (really getting into being a cowboy, and loving it), and complete fish-out-of-water bafflement and fear; now that he’s got ‘em, he has no idea what to do with ‘em, and has to ask the Saloon girl what’s next. It’s one of Hartnell’s funniest scenes.

2. “I am that man!” (Keys of Marinus):
After a prolonged actor-vacation absence, the Doctor made his entrance into the courtroom drama of the final Key location just as Ian was bemoaning the need for a man that could stand with him, against the potential of sharing his punishment, to defend him at trial. With this pronouncement, the Doctor made his first truly heroic entrance, a save-the-day moment for the Doctor like those we’ve come to know and love, and finally started to demonstrate care and solidarity for the companions that he had, up until this time, treated more like unwanted baggage.

1. Confronting Koquillion (The Rescue):
In a fantastic moment that (even as of the Fourth Doctor’s second season) has been rarely matched, the Doctor has a true showdown with the villain of the piece, one-on-one. He confronts Koquillion in a dark, atmospheric ruined temple, fragmentary remnants of the society upon which he had committed genocide- keeping his back turned as Koquillion enters, the Doctor will not even look at him as he spins the tale he’s managed to work out, reconstructing the events of the past there in the moody, misty remains of a once-proud civilization. The resulting fight- with explosions about and dangerous chasm-edge battles- is cinematic and epic, yet very personal; this is a classic finale, brilliantly filmed with fantastic cinematography, and feels worthy of a major motion picture Doctor debut.
(As a side note, I am so proud of myself- it’s been a year since I’ve seen this, and I spelled Koquillion right from memory!) :-)

Also, here are a few honorable mentions that didn’t quite make my top 10 list, but I feel are worthy of notation for their distinctiveness:
The Backgammon matches from Marco Polo (notably the first time we really see the Doctor taking center stage and trying to save the day), outsmarting the chain gang in Reign of Terror (a great comedic scene), confronting the Monk (I always love seeing those two together), and the grueling Time Destructor standoff/march (another of the Doctor’s most memorable confrontations, and an incredibly powerful finale) in Dalek Master Plan, and facing down the oncoming War Machine in The War Machines.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Doctor Who: The Tenth Planet

Serial Title: The Tenth Planet
Series: 4
Episodes: 4
Doctor: William Hartnell
Companions: Ben Jackson (Michael Craze), Polly Wright (Anneke Wills)

It is 1986 (the future, at the time) and the International Space Command is trying to manage an orbital launch of the Zeus II capsule and its astronauts from the Antarctica ‘Snowcap’ base… when a Police Box appears out of nowhere, expelling three passengers, and sending the secure military base into an uproar. General Cutler, the commanding officer, interrogates the newcomers, but is soon distracted as an unknown force is buffeting the Zeus II, heralding the arrival of a new bright point in the sky… the planet Mondas, which appears to be nearly identical to Earth, except for being upside-down (which is 60s hokum, since up and down are rather meaningless in space anyway). The Doctor has predicted these events in advance, for he already knows what occurs on this historical date…

The base is invaded by Cybermen, metallic beings from Mondas- cyborgs who have transferred their living minds into machines- losing their emotions and humanity in the process- in order to survive harsh conditions. They take captive all of the humans, who are forced to watch helplessly as the Zeus IV is destroyed by the gravitational forces of Mondas and Earth’s interaction. (Note from Sarah: I get that it's all about survival, but I do think it's funny the lengths people will go to survive in Sci-fi when they won't even realize they are surviving in the first place really, I just wonder what the point is.) Ben is imprisoned in the projection room for the base’s theater, and the Cybermen reveal their intentions- Mondas is dying, having left its orbit and flown all around the galaxy, expending its energy… now, they have returned to their solar system of origin, and they intend to leach the energy from their compatible sister planet (Mondas once shared our orbit, on the other side of the Sun from us), destroying Earth in the process. But the Cybermen are not entirely heartless (Well… yes, they are, actually, in every sense of the word…), and offer the humans survival via coming to Mondas and being made into Cybermen.

Ben uses the projector in his room to blind and overpower a Cyberman, stealing his weapon (which is also, ironically, a light. Say, you don’t think Steven’s bright idea to replace the life-force-draining-of-cavemen was Cybernetic implants, do you? We never learned the time or place of The Savages… it could well have been pre-historic Mondas!) and is forced to kill him with it when the Cyberman attacks, a decision he deeply regrets. It does, however, earn him kudos from General Cutler- using the stolen weapon, they slay the occupying Cybermen. Cutler has bigger concerns, though- before the Zeus IV’s destruction, a rescue capsule was launched… the volunteer being Cutler’s son, Lieutenant Terry Cutler, whose capsule, the Zeus V, is now threatened with the same destruction that the Zeus IV fell to.

Cutler plans to launch the powerful and deadly Z–bomb at Mondas, hoping that the doomsday weapon could obliterate Mondas with its incredible explosive power- millions of times that of an atomic bomb. However, the resulting radiation at this range would likely sterilize whichever half of the Earth was facing it, killing untold billions. The Doctor urges patience, insisting that Mondas is not prepared for the power it is draining, and will overload itself and burn out, returning the energy to Earth- they will cause their own destruction. However, as he tries to press the issue, the Doctor collapses of exhaustion- the energy drain from Mondas also slowly draining away his life-force (NFS: Why...exactly does it do that? How is he connected to Mondas...that's silly.). As Polly looks after the Doctor, Ben looks towards stopping the launch of the Z-bomb, which Cutler- disobeying orders and slowly descending into madness out of fear for his son- intends to launch, needlessly (if the Doctor is correct) killing billions. Sympathetic Doctor Barclay, another member of the Antarctic base who does not want global genocide, helps Ben, telling him how to disable the Z-bomb rocket, which is housed on-base (!). Ben is found by Cutler, attacked, and imprisoned before he can complete his task.

More Cybermen land, and are annihilated by the captured weapons. The countdown for the Z-bomb commences as the Doctor and Ben awaken, and can only watch in trepidation… (This was an excellent cliffhanger, by the by!)

The Rocket fails to launch- Ben’s sabotage was far enough along to prevent it before he was interrupted. (NFS: COP...out.) Cutler goes insane- also believing his son to be dead- and prepares to kill the ‘traitors’- but a third Cybermen invasion hits the base, and Cutler is killed. The Doctor and Polly are taken prisoner, led to the Cybership to be converted into Cybermen themselves…

Mondas gorges itself and doesn’t feel so hot afterwards, breaking up and burning out, just as the Doctor predicted. The Cybermen, deprived of the energy provided by Mondas that powers them, collapse, inert and dead. The Zeus V is guided home (where Lieutenant Terry Cutler will find out that his mission failed, his colleagues died in space, and his father was just killed… poor kid! Like Spider-man’s John Jameson, it’s not his fault that his dad’s a jerk, but life keeps sucking for him because he acts heroically… And don’t even get me started on what Mary Jane does to him in Spider-man 2…!)

Ben leaves the base to go and rescue the Doctor and Polly, but the Doctor is weak to the point of collapse again, babbling and feverish, his life leached away by Mondas and his old body failing him… he stumbles into the TARDIS one last time, de-materializing the ship, and collapses to the floor. As Ben and Polly watch, his features glow, then emit a blinding light… and fade away to reveal the features of a younger, different face. (NFS: Plus hotter. :-D)

You can't be this stupid on purpose. It takes effort to fail so heavily. The one missing episode of this serial IS THE FIRST EVER REGENERATION EPISODE?!?!?! 

That said, this is an interesting serial with an interesting set of guest characters. While the future predictions are problematic (yup, we just landed a man on the moon for the first time... in 1986! Hardly Star Trek’s prophetic Moon Landing date prediction, here…) and the sci-fi plot is questionable (see, the upside-down Earth duplicate that used to share our orbit flew off into space, ran out of energy, converted its people into emotionless cyborgs, and now it's back to somehow suck our energy into them, only they botched it and it's gonna blow up their planet anyway, we just have to wait for it... what, why are you looking at me like that?), the story- and the setting- remain interesting, more a thriller about a doomsday missile launch a la Crimson Tide (with bookending Cybermen-invade-the-base opening and closing) than anything, with Mondas and all of its questionable backstory as one great big inhabitable Macguffin.

Okay, so the general was a little nutso- but as the Tenth Doctor's (and probably many others) era would prove, if Who is going to show the military (except in WWII, because even hippie-peacenick-military-haters can't badmouth WWII), they're going to be stereotyped blood-hungry, violent cardboard cutouts that kill because THEY ENJOY IT.

By that standard, this guy is practically nuanced.

Meanwhile, the lead scientist is a multi-dimensional character and sometime-ally with fears and foibles all his own.

The Cybermen are well-played, with a good design (well, minus those ski-masks), an excellent voice, and a good, very chilling, efficient, emotionless characterization- going about their pre-planned business even as everyone around them is asking agitated questions- pausing just long enough to answer and then returning to their business. While a few times they slipped and seemed a little too 'human'- such as the Cyberman lured into to Ben's projector trap- overall, they came across very strongly, making an excellent first impression (one that would sadly not last, as they were rather a joke by the 7th Doctor's time, I think- now considered second-fiddled low-rent alternatives to the Daleks- which their inferior physical strength vs. the Daleks in the new series hasn't helped. However, at this time of their introduction, they are quite the equal to the Deadly Pepperpots, and... dare I say it? ...A good deal more nuanced, better characterized, and to me, more menacing than their more famous, less limbed, extermination-obsessed cousins in villainy. (NFS: Plus they have a cooler backstory)) and a strong villain- even if, surprisingly, this story is really more about the human villains and a prolonged battle of wits- with the Cybermen serving more as the driving force than the primary antagonist, save for bookending invasions.

The notion of a planet on the other side of the sun, exactly in our orbit but always with the sun in between us and them so that neither knows the other exists, has been a part of science fiction since it was first written by Sir Philip of Bristolshire in the trenches of the third crusade in 1188 A.D. (though all film portrayals of Sir Philip since the 1990s have, of course, portrayed Philip as a condescending, ignorant war-monger who stole the concept from the noble and peace-loving Turks and their advanced culture.) Regardless, it’s yet another sci-fi convention that has been around since before the dawn of sci-fi, is older than dirt, and yet again is used by Doctor Who as a setting for their story instead of the story itself. This is a talent of Doctor Who (as I will again note in 'The Macra Terror' when we get there)- they take hoary old sci-fi clichés, but they don’t use them as a story, they just use them as an element of the story, a familiar convention that’s been done to death a backdrop for the story to play out against, building on it and expanding upon it. And at least this planet-on-the-other-side-of-the-sun story is FAR less depressing than “The Planet On The Other Side Of The Sun”- even WITH the rampant deaths and the loss of Hartnell.

Man, that was one depressing movie.

As for the characters…
Polly... makes coffee. In fact, she isn't even told to by some condescending military man who doesn't realize what she has to contribute to the situation... she offers to.
That's about it. (NFS: wellll....she looks after the Doctor too...I mean...that's something right?)

Ben is pretty much the protagonist. An active, kicking-tail-and-taking-names, bomb-sabotaging, gun-stealing, film-projector-weaponizing type of protagonist who really has an extremely strong showing- and his military training and youthful energy are contrasted well with his remorse for having been forced to kill... if that had been an attempt to show a 3-dimensional military man instead of the more likely oh-yeah-we-forgot-he-was-in-the-navy-this-is-just-what-companions-do scenario, I'd be impressed. Either way, Ben gets about as much action and development in this serial as some companions got in their whole run- heck, more-so than Susan or Dodo! (NFS: Was that supposed to be a joke??? A dead Quark gets more action than Susan or Dodo!)

The Doctor doesn't have much to do, at times- an intentional writing bit to account for Hartnell's failing health and the possibility of his unavailability- one seen in action by his collapse and absence from the third episode... which, factoring the forthcoming regeneration, could have been more smoothly incorporated as foreshadowing. Regardless, this sudden 3rd-episode-absence renders the story a bit uneven and confused. Even so, the Doctor remains strong and principled, and a stalwart presence in his final serial, even if he is less of an active story component than usual.

And that brings us to the regeneration itself. For the first time, the Doctor has regenerated- and the face that we, Ben, and Polly know and love will never- save for crossovers- be seen again.

The foreshadowing is not there the way it ought to be, and the reasoning (since clarified to be the energy drain from Mondas affecting him coupled with weakening by exposure to the Time Destructor (The Daleks Master Plan) and a life-force drain (The Savages)) is not especially clear. And the loss- due to filming schedules- of Hartnell's dramatic final line- "I shall not give in... I shall never give in!" is unfortunate. (NFS: that's how they explain him losing energy-okay) It would have been a GREAT line.

Yet, for all of those flaws... it is a powerful moment! A throbbing, powerful soundtrack that doesn't descend into cacophony, a building inter-cutting of shots that comes through even in the stills version, and a sense of mystery, coupled with the tragic-yet-hopeful (to those of us in retrospect that know what's happening, of course!) prone form of Hartnell on the TARDIS floor all combine to make the first regeneration a tour-de-force powerhouse even in its fragmentary state, a testament to the excellent work that went into crafting this historic television moment! It is a worthy handoff, a sterling sendoff, and a tragic farewell to a beloved actor all at the same time- it exceeded my expectations, and was all that anyone could ever ask for to usher in the era of Patrick Troughton. And it is also farewell to the first, the original, the only William Hartnell, the Doctor, a beloved figure and an iconic originator.

And as to the reconstruction... much as its necessity galls me, it is very well-constructed, shrunk to 3/4 screen size and shown atop an ever-moving radar screen (an element from the episode) that gradually and subtly changes color- it gives a needed sense of motion and variety which helps to spice up the plentiful stills. The regeneration itself exists as video only for the face-fading shot itself (a happy accident of overexposure inspiring the video editor to use this technique- otherwise, we would have had the far less powerful, ultra-cheesy, not-fitting-at-all ending of Hartnell collapsing face-down with his cloak over him, and the cloak being lifted to reveal Troughton at the beginning of the next serial)- but again, the reconstruction is expertly edited- along with the soundtrack, while the loss of motion video is unfortunate... you hardly miss it.

Though it doesn't feature the photo-trickery or CGI Daleks or manipulated elements that some other reconstructions have had, this one's style makes it top-notch.
(As an aside, for those interested there is also an excellent 3D-model reconstruction available on Youtube.)

Great moments:
The Regeneration Рa clich̩ choice, but oh-so-true! The first appearance of the Cybermen is pretty classic, too.

4 out of 5 Deadman's Keys to this serial- lowered to 3 by the uneven tone, but raised to 4 simply on the strength of that fantastic regeneration and the excellent Cyberman origin episode- and 5 out of 5 for the polished reconstruction.
(NFS: Can I just say I am so excited to be going into the Patrick Troughton era??? I will probably have a lot more to say on those!)