I’ve been watching a lot of the William Hartnell episodes lately. There are several I’d like to review, but if I don’t get on with it I’ll never make it to any of the later Doctors. So I’ve decided to skip ahead to this final Hartnell story and may go back to earlier episodes later.
As described in my review of An Adventure in Space and Time, William Hartnell’s health was affecting his ability to carry on the demanding work required as the main character on a weekly series. During 1966, this problem had become such threat to both the actor’s wellbeing and the show’s continued success that the producers decided to replace him. Instead of pulling a Darrin Stevens and bringing in another, similar actor, they did it in an innovative way that not only changed the nature of the Doctor’s character, but became as an essential a part of the very long-running series as the Tardis.
But that event is still three episodes in the future.
Part 1 starts off with a rocket blasting into space. The United Nations Polar Base at Antarctica is monitoring and chatting with the two astronauts aboard the capsule.
A couple of interesting things about the actors playing the astronauts.
First, I recognized them right away; both Alan White and Earl Cameron would appear in episodes of The Prisoner soon after this–White as No. 6’s doomed friend Roland Dutton in “Dance of the Dead,” and Cameron as one of the Village Supervisors, No. 106 (an age Mr. Cameron, still alive today, is coming close to attaining). Second, Star Trek made its debut a couple of months before this aired, and much has been made of the interracial casting of the Enterprise crew 200 years in the future; this Doctor Who, set only 22 years ahead, gives us TV’s first black astronaut.
The base is underground. The Antarctic surface above it is, not surprisingly, a snowy landscape (and a pretty impressive set for the show). The Tardis appears, its usual wheezy, groaning landing noise drowned out by the fierce winds.
Inside the Tardis, the Doctor and his two latest companions, Polly and Ben, are getting into heavy-weather coats, hats, and gloves before they venture out into the blizzard. The trio exit the Tardis; the Doctor remains in the background (disguising the fact that it’s a stand-in for William Hartnell on this set with so much fake snow being blasted around), while the two young people make note of the aerials and other man-made objects jutting out of snow-covered ground. One of these items is a periscope.
In the base below, a sergeant is observing them. Oddly, the periscope seems to be in the middle of the soldiers’ bunkroom.
“I can see people!” he announces.
The team on the U.N base is international. The sergeant is American. Tito, the soldier he’s talking to, is an Italian guy with a collage of girlie pictures covering the wall over his bunk.
Tito pays no attention, until the American sergeant adds, “And there’s a woman!” then he hastens over to have a look.
“Mama Mia!” Tito exclaims stereotypically at the sight of Polly in her fluffy coat and hat. At least he doesn’t call her “one spicy meatball.” The sergeant then sends Tito and a couple of other guys up through the hatch at the top of the base to go and get the unexpected visitors and bring them down for questioning.
The sergeant wants to know who these people are and how they got to Antarctica, but doesn’t believe it when the trio say that they arrived in that “hut” that’s also suddenly appeared out of nowhere.
Polly and Ben ask if they’re on Earth. Once the soldiers confirm that this is indeed Earth, the pair think this means that they can get a lift home to England, until the Doctor points out the year on a nearby wall calendar. It’s December 1986, which explains the space flights and the international flavor of the organization behind them. In the mid-’60s, this was The Future.
The sergeant phones to summon the base commander, General Cutler, who’s already on his way. The General is another American (or Canadian; the actor Robert Beatty is from Canada), one of those brash, impatient loudmouths who turn up in science fiction movies of the ’50s and ’60s. He doesn’t like the look of the newcomers, and makes a crack about the Doctor’s hair–“I don’t like your face, and I don’t like your hair!”–before he has them all escorted under guard to the rather cool-looking, multi-level control room downstairs. This large and elaborate set and the Antarctic surface set with its matching miniature model tell me that the show’s budget improved notably since the earliest days.
The base team is too busy to deal with the intruders right now. The capsule has gone off course and is out of its correct trajectory by 100 miles. The two astronauts are told to recheck their instruments and attempt to fix their position relative to Mars. Only the planet they’re looking at isn’t Mars.
They are the first to see the new, 10th planet that’s inside the martian orbit and rapidly approaching Earth. It looks familiar, they say, although we don’t get a look at it just yet.
The Doctor hears all this and tells the General what he’s going to see; he tries to hand the information to him written down on a slip of paper. The General refuses to take the note, but the Doctor makes a new friend in the base’s science advisor, Dr. Barclay (David Dodimead), who does accept it but doesn’t read it yet.
The capsule experiences a power loss. The gravity pull of the new planet is affecting it, and the astronauts are now in serious trouble. They need the base’s assistance to return safely to Earth.
The new planet appears on the control room’s monitoring screens and, yeah, I’ve seen something like that before–although everyone seeing it at the base takes several minutes to recognize the familiar, inverted, land masses. It’s Polly who first points out the peninsula that looks exactly like Malaysia.
Dr. Barclay now looks at the note the Doctor gave him. He doesn’t read it out loud but it must say something like “The planet looks just like Earth but upside-down to our relative orientation,” since Barclay declares that the Doctor is right. He wants to knows how the Doctor could know this before the planet appeared on their screens.
The Doctor starts to talk about a twin planet to Earth that broke away millions of years ago, but the General impatiently interrupts and calls it nonsense. He doesn’t want to hear it and shoos the trio out of the way while his team is busying trying to help the astronauts.
Once they’re alone, Ben asks the Doctor what he knows about this twin planet. The Doctor replies, “I know what that planet is and what it means to Earth… Pretty soon we’ll be having visitors.”
As a matter of fact, a spaceship is landing practically on top of them, just a few hundred yards from the Tardis. Not that anyone notices this.
The General has sent a couple of men out to break into the “hut” and check it out.
The soldiers can’t get the Tardis door to open. One goes back down into the base to get tools and more men. The other one is on the surface alone when a line of clumsy-looking metallic figures come at him from out of the snowstorm. He shoot at them, but it does no good.
When more men come up to the surface, they find someone standing at the Tardis door, back to them, head and shoulders hidden beneath a cloak… but when this person turns around, he’s not the lone soldier.
The Antarctic isn’t a safe place for human beings to venture. Never mind the extreme cold–there are worse dangers to be met with: Hapless Norwegian scientists discovering an ancient spaceship under the ice and letting loose a shape-shifting horror on themselves and then then the American base nearby. Elder Beings thawing out to slaughter a Miskatonic University Expedition and taking a specimen man and dog back to their eons-old city near the South Pole. And here it’s the very first Cybermen!
The rest of the soldiers get clobbered before they have chance to put up much of a fight, and the Cybermen take the cloaks from their fallen bodies.