Monday, June 17, 2013

Animation Domination: The Tenth Planet Animated Episode 4 Review!

Although The Tenth Planet is 47 years old, I appreciate not everyone has seen it and is waiting for the DVD to come out.  Please note that this article reveals some plot points and spoilers that may ruin the enjoyment of the episode/story. If you do not want to be spoiled please do not read further or read at your own risk.

It is a well-established fact that The Tenth Planet is one of my favourite stories of Doctor Who. I am a massive fan of the Cybermen and I am a massive fan of the Innes Lloyd/Gerry Davis era of Doctor Who. When I get around to writing a 50WHO article on the first Doctor, I will focus that article on The Tenth Planet and why I love it. This article is to look at something different; something I never expected to see in my lifetime, an animated Episode 4 of The Tenth Planet.

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The full bells & whistle release of The Tenth Planet will be released as a 2-Disc DVD set in November. Not only will we get all four episodes but a host of other extras. It is a release I am really excited to get in my hands. On June 24th, the BBC in the UK will release a 6 DVD boxset simply titled Doctor Who: Regeneration. This boxset has the final story of each Doctor. To be more accurate, it will focus on the story the Doctor regenerates in. This is unfortunate for the likes of Colin Baker who shows up at the very end of The Caves of Androzani and is played by Sylvester McCoy at the very beginning of Time and the Rani. In fact, Sylvester McCoy basically regenerates into himself. What I am going to focus on are the four (out of nine) episodes of Disc 1. To be more accurate, I am just focusing on one of the episodes.
As fans of Doctor Who on DVD, we have simply been blessed and this year in particular has been pretty sweet. We have seen a steady release of stories re-released as Special Editions. The picture on these have been vastly improved which is very important to me. Inferno is a great example of this. One of the most amazing releases I could ever hope for was a full colour version of The Mind of Evil. I dreamed of such things as a child but that truly was fantasy and now it is a reality. I have probably watched it about 10 times since it was released. Why? Maybe I am afraid I will wake up and it was all just a dream after all. Something else we got was a dream for many fans….missing episode animations.

In 2006, we got the release of The Invasion with the animation work for Episodes 1 & 4 going to Cosgrove Hall. It was really good and was a lot of fun to watch these episodes “move”. I think my favourite part of these animations were the backgrounds. They looked great. Often they were photos from the actual sets and given a treatment so they could blend better with the animated characters. After The Invasion, animated versions of missing episodes seemed to have died. Slowly word started to spread that more episodes would come on the horizon and I think the choice that was made to restart this was perhaps a little surprising.
In January of 2013 the BBC released The Reign of Terror with The Tyrant of France and A Bargain of Necessity animated by Thetamation which is now Planet 55. I was not a huge fan of the animation for various reasons. To see my reaction, please check out my review. To sum it up, the pacing and energy of the story did not match the episodes around it. I thought that was a problem. There were too many extreme close-ups that are anachronistic to how the episodes were originally made. I felt that the character designs were inconsistent and varied greatly from shot to shot. To find out that Planet 55 was going to animate the final episode of my favourite story worried me.

The Tenth Planet on the Regeneration set has been fully restored. I had thought about jumping straight to the animated episode but the clarity of the other 3 episodes caught my eye. The films always looked in rough shape but here a lot of work had gone into it. Remember, for Episodes 1 & 2 16mm negatives exist and for Episode 3 only a 16mm positive print exists which, according to Wiped!, a 16mm duplicate film negative was made from this print. The funny thing is I could tell that Episode 3 was lesser quality than the previous 2 episodes. That being said, it all looks good. I could see it before, but the VIDfire on the episodes really shows up the eyes in the Cybermen costumes. It is a fantastic feature of this earliest version of the Cybermen. I love all Cybermen but what they are here is really true to their concept. They really are corpses being kept alive through artificial means and their planet Mondas.
I will go into more detail of the first 3 episodes at a later date but the real question is, how did Planet 55 do on animating Episode 4 of The Tenth Planet? I think there is a significant improvement over the two episodes of The Reign of Terror. Is it perfect? No but it’s good enough to actually complete the story for me.

As I mentioned above, there are 9 episodes on Disc 1. Yes, 9 Episodes. That is a lot of content. Episodes 1-3 look great but Episode 4 starts off with a very compressed opening credits. There are a lot of artifact gradients in it. I was wondering if it was going to affect the rest of the episode but it didn’t. To me, it looks like Episode 4 was given the lowest bit-rate on the disc because it is animation.
Unlike the two episodes of The Reign of Terror, I feel that this animation is more sympathetic to the flow of the rest of the story. I love the direction of Derek Martinus. All you need to do is see some of the crane shots he employs in Galaxy Four: Airlock and it is easy to see how imaginative of a director he was for the series. The animation employs shots like those too. There are shots looking down on the Cybermen and other characters of the Snowcap control room. Perhaps it was a little high up of a shot for a 1960s television production but I don’t care because it looks great. It’s a shot that Derek Martinus would try and achieve. It never feels out of place for me.

I have read one comment from someone who says that Planet 55 doesn’t know how to direct an episode because character’s faces get cut-off on screen. I disagree. There are some great half face shots of the Cybermen that are chilling and look really atmospheric. No, shots like that were not originally done on The Tenth Planet with the Cybermen but it still does not look out of place here. There is a shot of Hartnell where he takes up the whole screen but we know that is exactly how it looked from the actual episode as we see it in the 8mm clips. Even in The Tomb of the Cybermen, the cliffhanger for Episode 2 is an extreme close-up of the Cybercontroller. It takes up most of the screen and it looks great so there is precedent for that. This is a very stark turnaround from The Reign of Terror as the close-ups in those episodes were just bizarre. I can also report there are no crotch shots in Episode 4 of The Tenth Planet unlike The Reign of Terror.
The animation helps explains the story for me better than ever before when I watched it. It just goes to show how visual of a person I am. I watched this with my friend Robert who was part of a team who did brilliant reconstructions and even he felt some plot points were made clearer from this animated version. I thought the scene at the beginning of the episode with Cutler threatening to kill the Doctor, Ben, Polly and Barclay was very tense. While he is threatening to kill them, his technicians are warning him that the Cybermen have returned in their spaceship and are approaching the base. Cutler ignores them and up until they return, the action continues to escalate resulting in Cutler’s death. I really thought that was well-done. I love the scene with Geneva calling Snowcap with the Doctor answering. The episode is bleak and tense yet we have this wonderful scene proving to us all, once again, that William Hartnell could do brilliant comedy one last time for the series. Finally, when the Cybermen make one final push to get Ben, Barclay and Dyson out of the chamber where they are working on the Z bomb, the Cybermen are going to gas them. I have seen the reconstruction many times plus listened to the audio but it never hit me that they were going to gas them. It is great and the scene before with the Cybermen in the control room planning their strategy, one has a gas container attached to its back. It’s really brilliant stuff.

This is a very straight forward presentation of the episode which is what I wanted to see. Maybe a little too straight forward since every off-hand sound has a visual such as a wrench being nudged. That’s hardly a big deal at all. It’s really nice to see movement to scenes I have always wanted to experience. This includes when the Doctor leaves the Cybership to go back to the TARDIS. Before he leaves, he softly tells his two companions to “keep warm”. There is no music or sounds to accompany this scene. It is just a sweet moment and I feel like William Hartnell is telling all of us that. It’s his final goodbye to us the viewer. There are a lot of visual questions answered or at least addressed in this episode that I will let you see for yourself such as how they deal with the destruction of Mondas.
Here are some comparison shots between the telesnaps and how Planet 55 realised those shots:

The improvement between The Reign of Terror and The Tenth Planet is immense. After I saw the animation for The Reign of Terror, I didn’t want these guys to touch Doctor Who again. Now, with the Tenth Planet Episode 4, the character designs are great. The way they handled the clothed-faced Cybermen is perfect and I am not disappointed at all. I am a fan and I look forward to what they have for us next! To paraphrase a wonderful character in this episode, in terms of Planet 55 animating more Doctor Who, I really hope it is “far from being all over!” OK, that was cheesy.
Here are some more cool pics from the episode:

Next week: Did you like this article? If so, please let more people know about it and this site. If you like missing episodes, my next article talks more about them.  I look at one of the most incredible and improbable missing episode finds of all time. Many fans dreams came true when it was announced all of The Tomb of the Cybermen had been found. It was announced to the world in January of 1992. How did I know about it in November of 1991?

Have a great week!
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Unknown said...

Great review! It's wonderful to see the telesnap comparisons. :D

Greg said...

Thank you for reading my review. I'm glad you liked it.

Take care,

Anonymous said...

What about the regeneration scene at the end? How is that?

Greg said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Greg said...

It pretty much the same as the footage that already exists from the 8mm off-air footage and the existing clip sourced from Blue Peter . When the Doctor actually regenerates, there is a little different slight light effect but it is generally the same.

Take care,

Unknown said...

where did you get the tele-snaps from because they are not available on the official BBC classic doctor who website.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Greg said...

I had them for years as part of my collection of tele-snaps. A set is also in an issue of DWM from I think 1993.

Unknown said...

is there a chance of you posting all the telesnaps you have of The Tenth Planet episode 4 online anywhere? because for some reason they are not available on the BBC classic Doctor Who site where almost all the other Tele-Snaps are available!