Return of the 10th Planet

The BBC announced this week that the series 10 finale will feature not just Cybermen, but the original incarnations of the Cybermen. Other photos from the filming on location revealed other incarnations in the mix, too. My initial excitement was incredible to say the least. I have long been a fan of the original 10th Planet Cybermen and to see their return is something I’ve long hoped for. Their pale, fabric faces, their fleshy hands, and their haunting voices are all pure nightmare fuel.

However, my enjoyment and excitement soon gave way to trepidation and worry. I was reminded of a similar feeling from just a few years ago.

Do you remember Asylum of the Daleks?

Back in 2012, series 7 of Doctor Who opened with an episode bringing back the Daleks. All of them. The episode promised the return of all the old favourites, including my personal love and joy – the special weapons Dalek – which I love for its over the top ridiculousness. I even went to a special big screen showing in Manchester to watch, and sure enough, tucked away in a corer, was the special weapons dalek.

I walked away from the episode feeling slightly cheated. The episode was not what I had hoped – which is fine, that happens from time to time, they can’t all be winners. But the inclusion of old favourites felt like it had been a cheap trick. Perhaps it’s my own liking for the silly little daleks of the past, but seeing them unceremoniously scattered in a dingy set was a bit of a let down.

Bringing Back the Boys

Cyberman from The Tenth Planet

Doctor Who is no stranger to bringing back old stars, old monsters, and old characters. Multi-Doctor stories do this with aplomb, and then there are stories like Mawdryn Undead which brought back the Brigadier (though it was originally supposed to be Ian Chesterton). Indeed, the revival of the show itself in 2005 was a the biggest ‘bringing something back’ event. It even had the Autons.

So why am I feeling so worried about this? The show can clearly do this sort of thing well. I liked the Autons in Rose, and when other classics like the Daleks and Cybermen came along, it was all to the good. The new designs felt right to me – recognisable as who and what they were, but up-to-date. The Daleks looked like little tanks; they looked like they’d really hurt if you kicked them. The Cybermen were big, bulky, and a little cheesy, but I was willing to give them a go and grew to like them.

I do admire Doctor Who for having the audacity to insist that the 50 year history all happened as seen. That the production limitations of the past were capturing the truth of this universe.

Why do it at all?

It can’t have escaped the production team’s attention that viewing figures and enthusiasm for Doctor Who has been waning to say the least. The show has just taken a well needed break, and with a new Doctor on the way, this series needs something to really bring the viewers back.

Indeed, bringing back an old favourite is an age old trick used to bring back an audience. This isn’t about bringing new viewers in, but enticing those who once watched to come back into the fold. “Hey, remember this thing? Yeah, well, guess what? It’s back! Now you can come back too! It’s just like you remember it!”

Will this work? Time will tell, but pandering to old nerds has a somewhat mixed history of success. Sometimes cynicism gets the better of people and they see through a ploy, other times it’s just nice to see the things you wanted to see.

Back the right way

The crux of the matter will be in the story, of course. What let Asylum of the Daleks down for me, more than the clumsy juxtapositions, was the writing. I’ve been something of a critic of Steven Moffat for some time, but have given him more of a pass in more recent series. I’m cautiously optimistic at the moment, but the caution grows.

There is a certain skill to bringing something back from the past and having it fit in with the present, though. Seeing the Daleks of the 60s, 70s and 80s sat next to the Daleks of today made them look smaller, and a little sillier. On the one hand, it’s nice to see the old being acknowledged, but it needs to be done right. With the right script and the right director, we might get the return of the 10th Planet we always wanted!