My sabbatical from blogging has lasted rather longer than the initial month I had forecast! To that end, I am going to get back into reviews – and so I am turning to those Doctor Who serials that did not get an honorable mention in my countdown – my favourite topic, the infamous missing episodes of Doctor Who! And I kick off with a story I’d held off buying in audio form for many months, not least when rumours began circulating that the serial was set for release on DVD – The Wheel in Space.
And so we come to number one! My absolute favourite story from the whole classic series of Doctor Who. Along the way we have reviewed some sensational adventures that are deservedly mentioned in the same breath, and others that require slightly more effort to love. Some adventures were genuinely difficult to place; even now I find myself looking at the list and wondering if one should be higher than another. For all of my pondering however, there was never any doubt which story would come first … the earliest adventure from the Patrick Troughton era to survive in its entirety; The Tomb of the Cybermen.
Along with Planet of Evil, this was one of the very first Doctor Who adventures my dad bought on VHS, and therefore one of the ones most firmly imprinted upon my childhood. This adventure is justifiably the highlight of Peter Davison’s debut season; not only a well told story, but also one that brings back an old foe, and has the ultimate emotional twist.
Ladies and gentleman – I began writing this post in late August, with the intention of doing a full week of missing episode recreation content. As we know now, the BBC have made this somewhat superfluous by announcing that they are animating The Power of the Daleks to be released this November! Nevertheless, I am still publishing this post (more or less) as originally penned, which is still an accurate reflection of my enthusiasm for animating those episodes sadly missing from our DVD collections.
Of the (currently) 97 missing episodes of Doctor Who, nine have been recreated through the efforts of studio animators: episodes 4 and 5 of The Reign of Terror, episode 4 of The Tenth Planet, episodes 1 and 3 of The Moonbase, episodes 2 and 3 of The Ice Warriors, and episodes 1 and 4 of The Invasion. The animators have taken advantage of the unique enthusiasm fans had for Doctor Who, which led dedicated fans to record the audio of episodes as they were broadcast. An excellent feature explaining what this looked like is available as an extra on The Invasion DVD, and is well worth the watch – not least to demonstrate the varying quality between different bootleg home recordings!
We will return to the recordings for my review of The Macra Terror, but for now we will focus on the most recent animated release, Season Four adventure The Moonbase. This animation was certainly a leap into the unknown for BBC Worldwide. Until this point they had only released animated content where the vast majority of the story already existed – both The Reign of Terror and The Ice Warriors required one third of their episodes to be animated.
On paper The Moonbase is no different to previous animation projects, requiring only (!) two episodes in order to plug the gaps. In practice this was a significant jump, given that fully half the adventure was missing. The unspoken question was whether a release that was fifty percent animated would prove just as enjoyable to watch?
I must confess to two biases that influenced my judgement of the story. The first is that I have a particular fondness for the iteration of the Cybermen that featured in Tomb of the Cybermen, making this a story I have wanted to watch ever since Tomb was recovered in 1992. Secondly, before taking the plunge to buy the DVD, I permitted myself to buy the Kindle version of the Target novel Doctor Who and the Cybermen, which is a largely faithful recreation of the Moonbase.
You can look forward to my views on novelisations when I review The Abominable Snowmen, but suffice to say reading the novel of The Moonbase made me impatient to watch it! Indeed, despite my earlier reservations that I’d risk having to buy the story again if the BBC had indeed recovered the missing episodes, I enjoyed the story so much I took the plunge and bought the DVD.
Caveats noted, I have no hesitation in saying that I thoroughly enjoyed watching The Moonbase and did not feel at all that the animation detracted from the story-telling. While it makes one sad that the originals are lost, it nevertheless enables you to appreciate what is a rather good adventure. The Cybermen live up to every inch of their imagined menace, and it’s not hard to imagine viewers of the time being completely enraptured by the episode 3 cliffhanger, which the BBC have kindly shared on youtube:
This particular scene benefited from being able to lift several scenes directly from episode four, and you can see similar tricks elsewhere – most notably that any time a Cyberman is killed by the ‘Polly Cocktail’ (a mixture of different solvents that cause the Cybermen’s plastic organs to dissolve) the animators have lifted the death throes of the Cyberman killed by Toberman in Tomb of the Cybermen episode 4. That can be forgiven however for enabling the story to be told, and it certainly progresses at a good rate of knots, enabling one to enjoy the story despite the absent episodes. The regular TARDIS crew are on top form, and you are able to see what Anneke Wills means when she explains that this was the first story in which you see Patrick Troughton learn to be the ‘serious Doctor’, after thoroughly clowning around in the preceding adventure The Underwater Menace. They are complemented by a stellar supporting cast, giving me no hesitation in saying that a complete Moonbase would easily be one of my favourite adventures.
I am still inclined to the view that the animation from The Invasion is the best that has been done in the classic series release – but The Moonbase isn’t at all far behind, and demonstrates that even when a story is 50 per cent animated it can work really well at plugging the gaps. It begs the question of why The Crusades and The Underwater Menace have not been animated, as they also fulfill the twofold criteria of only lacking half their material, and only requiring two animated episodes. It is an even more striking question given that the BBC have made the not insignificant investment to animate all six missing episodes of The Power of the Daleks – a much more substantial investment than a mere two, and a brave step to release a serial with no surviving content.
I therefore return to an observation I made in my very first post relating to the Moonbase – that we need closure on the omnirumour sooner rather than later, so that fans can be freed up to re-create those episodes which will never be found. The uncertainty surrounding the fate of those episodes lives us in limbo, when The Moonbase DVD demonstrates that we now have the capacity to get a feel for what these episodes must once have been like.
In summary: I have really enjoyed the animations of missing episodes thus far, and each story I have watched to date has been enhanced by them. If many of the 97 episodes are indeed lost for all time, I for one would welcome either the BBC or a dedicated group of fans animating the lost material.
The Moonbase is available to buy on DVD from Amazon by clicking on the image below:
This review really needs no introduction. To long-time fans of Doctor Who, this is quite possibly the most important surviving story, even surpassing An Unearthly Child or The Daleks. While these first two stories ensured that Doctor Who even became the hit that it did, The Tenth Planet was the means by which Doctor Who ensured it could continue to be a family favourite for decades to come.
The story behind The Tenth Planet is best represented in the 50th Anniversary docu-drama An Adventure in Space and Time. It shows how Doctor Who had become a massive success, but the health of lead actor William Hartnell was growing increasingly frail. At this point, the producers had a dilemma – while they had successfully replaced the supporting cast twice over (with new companions Ben and Polly replacing the Season 3 pairing of Steven and Vikki/Dodo) could they really replace the lead actor?
It came to a head in Season 4. While the season began with (currently missing) The Smugglers, this had in fact been recorded in the Season 3 block, and held over until the new season, making The Tenth Planet the effective first story in Season 4. The producers meanwhile took the bold decision not only to recast the role of the Doctor, but to completely change his character. Hartnell, to his infinite credit, consented to appear in one more recorded story before passing the baton on to Patrick Troughton, an actor who would interpret the role completely differently to Hartnell before him.
All of this would have been for naught but for a great story – and The Tenth Planet is indeed a great story. Fans of the Troughton era will recognise the genesis of the ‘Base-Under-Seige’ style stories that would typify Seasons 4 and 5, but at the time this was a relatively new development. The story also benefits from the introduction of a foe who would go on to rival the Daleks for popularity – the eerie and unnerving Cybermen. While appearing in a guise that would not be resurrected for their return in The Moonbase, the Cybermen very quickly establish themselves as a significant menace, and many fans deem these Cybermen most scary for their distinct similarity to mankind.
The story sees the Doctor, Ben and Polly arrive at Snow Cap Base at the South Pole just as a new planet appears in Earth’s orbit, that bears a striking resemblance to earth. The inhabitants of the titular Tenth Planet (back in the days when Pluto was still a planet …) are the Cybermen, who explain that their planet of Mondas went on a journey into space and has returned. In the interim, they sacrificed their humanity by replacing all of their essential body parts with plastic and metallic alternatives, and have now returned to make Earth like Mondas.
The story is superbly paced and a crescendo of suspense and tension with neat flourishes of action. It all builds to a head in the final (sadly missing) episode, in which the Cybermen are defeated when Mondas absorbs too much energy and explodes, depriving the Cybermen of the power sources they rely upon for survival. The most significant moment however, is when the increasingly frail Doctor collapses upon the floor of the TARDIS at the end of episode 4, and his features transform into those of a younger man. It is this scene, more than anything else, that makes The Tenth Planet so crucial for Doctor Who. This first regeneration paved the way for an actor to serve as the Doctor, and then pass the torch on to the next Doctor. It paved the way for the show to be continuously re-imagined, re-thought, and re-created. Put simply – without The Tenth Planet, Doctor Who would not be around today.
The Tenth Planet is not just a crucial story in Doctor Who’s history, but also a personal favourite – one I was very glad to watch on VHS when it first came out, even if I was somewhat confused when it changed to tele-snaps for the final episode! Indeed, that is my only regret for this story – that we are not able to see the original part four, nor able to see Pat Troughton take his first steps in the following serial, The Power of the Daleks.
Tom Baker’s first season as the Doctor was simply stellar. Not merely a breath of fresh air after Jon Pertwee had spent five years in the role, Baker was blessed with excellent companions in Sarah-Jane and Harry, and a strong set of stories.
As readers will have worked out by logical deduction (very fitting for this particular foe) there can only be one candidate for top villain in my countdown – the villainous silver menaces from Mondas. Immediately of course we step into a wave of controversy. Unlike the Daleks who (bar the horrific but mercifully short-lived ‘new-paradigm’) have largely remained the same, the Cybermen have constantly evolved during their time on the show – in truth partly due to the fact that it’s significantly easier to create more modern designs with modern modern materials! The consequence however is that fans tend to only like ‘their’ Cybermen – whether the incarnation they first encountered, or the incarnation they most like.
So let’s start with the abstract rather than the specific. The Cybermen are genuinely frightening – unlike the Daleks, who are a little pantomime with their battle cries and pedantic in their reasoning, the Cybermen are usually portrayed as coldly logical – Daleks are motivated by hate, where Cybermen are motivated by reason, devoid of any kind of emotion. They frighten us because it is so shockingly unhuman, and yet so eerily akin to what humans become when they suppress any kind of emotion or moral conscience. As humanity progresses even further in technical skill, it is not difficult to imagine humanity choosing to upgrade itself – Rise of the Cybermen was scarily accurate in that regard.
The pity is, that they ought to be unstoppable – in actual fact, I greatly enjoyed Nightmare in Silver because it returned that sense of ominous doom to Cybermen. In a weird way, we do not feel afraid of an utter madman, however powerful, because being unhinged there is the possibility they might do something foolish. The coldly rational Cybermen do everything with a reason, and will not do something without a reason – which will include killing you if there is no need to keep you alive.
The last reason is personal to myself, but I would be curious to see if it is true for anybody else. None of the other villains in Doctor Who give me nightmares – and that includes some pretty bad-ass dudes like Sutekh the Destroyer. One of my occasional recurring nightmares is to be caught in Tomb of the Cybermen – not necessarily in the ice tombs of Telos, but certainly in an enclosed environment, with no means of escape, and the Cybermen slowly but purposefully coming after those trapped inside. Is my preference for this enemy coloured by my appreciation of that serial? Perhaps, but I was equally thrilled by The Tenth Planet, and The Moonbase, and The Invasion. Even the slightly unhinged Cybermen from Revenge of the Cybermen onwards still evoke a strong sense of dread. Properly used, there is no recurring enemy to beat them.