Nathan Browne looks book at that first regeneration, and William Hartnell's finale episode, part 4 of The Tenth Planet, which was broadcast 50 years ago today on October 29th 1966 and is currently sadly missing from the BBC archive.
Like many others I purchased The Tenth Planet when it was released on DVD a few years back. The newly animated episode 4 is a vast improvement from the still images used in the VHS release, but I still find it hard to get to grips with just how this pivotal episode of Doctor Who - of television in general - was destroyed by the BBC all those years ago. It's one thing not understanding how important the debut Cybermen story is, but another thing to truly not grasp the significance of the very first regeneration scene.
It is such a genius idea, and one that would make Doctor Who completely unique. It has never been properly explained how James Bond changes his features (although their are many theories), shows like Star Trek create new generations of Captains to continue the series, sometimes characters are just recast with no explanation at all & we are just supposed to go with it, and other times on many long running franchises we're just given reboots or remakes with brand new cast members altogether. But regeneration is possibly the single most important aspect of Doctor Who, because it allows the show to continue and build up an incredibly large continuity without having to reboot completely.
William Hartnell was almost 'regenerated' during The Celestial Toymaker (another partially missing story). Disagreements with producer John Wiles, and Hartnell's deteriorating health, had led Wiles to come up with the idea of replacing Hartnell during this story. The idea was Hartnell would film Part 1, then the Doctor would be absent for the next two episodes (Hartnell was actually on vacation), but when the Doctor returned in Part 4 he would be played by a new actor (ironically episode 4 is the only episode from that story in existence). I'm not sure if the new casting was even going to be explained, but the idea was vetoed by the BBC so it didn't matter, it did lead to John Wiles quitting the show though.
However, it was clear that Hartnell couldn't continue much longer. Unlike today where our new Doctors are announced a year in advance, Hartnell along with the BBC and new producer Innis Lloyd, only made the decision after The Smugglers had been recorded - meaning in just 4 weeks time there would be a new face behind the Type 40 console.
Innis Lloyd and his script editor Gerry Davis (co-creator of the Cybermen) came up with the idea of regeneration, at that time referred to as 'renewal', their reasoning was as the Doctor was an alien, why not? It was Lloyd who conceived that it could be a regular thing, as the Doctor ages he could continually renew into a younger man - making it very handy for future recasting.
Gerry Davis and Kit Pedler had already written the script for The Tenth Planet and it was about to start production. The regeneration scene was quickly added to part four and the Doctor was given a line stating his body was "wearing a bit thin". That wasn't the only re-writing that needed doing. If you've watched the DVD you'll know that William Hartnell is completely absent for part 3 of The Tenth Planet, he was too ill to work that week and so his lines were given to other cast members, mainly Ben (Michael Craze). This makes it doubly sad that part 4 is no longer with us.
The Doctor's final words should have been "No... no, I simply will not give in!", but as with many episodes of 1960s Doctor Who, time was not on their side. The swift turnaround and budget did not allow for extensions or many retakes and the production was running over. In the end Hartnell's lines were never shot and so his final words spoken as the Doctor were "Ah! Yes. Thank you. That's good, keep warm."
The actual regeneration scene was conceived to be like an LSD trip, and with The Beatles releasing Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds shortly after it was only right that as the Doctor 'came down' from his 'trip' he had a mop-top and wouldn't look out of place with The Fab Four.
If it wasn't for that mop-top man then it's possible that the junking of all those Doctor Who episodes in the 1970s would not be as big a deal to so many as it is today. After all, the BBC wiped thousands of television shows from the 1950s and 1960s, many of them well loved, but arguably none as loved as Doctor Who. Patrick Troughton could've bombed, the public might not have warmed to him and the BBC may have pulled the plug before the decade was out. But they didn't, because Troughton was remarkable and they knew they had something spectacular and unique in Doctor Who.
Which brings me back to my argument, how could the BBC be so dumb as to destroy the very first regeneration episode? I had been under the impression that part 4 of The Tenth Planet was finally 'lost' when loaned to Blue Peter for their Doctor Who tenth anniversary item in 1973 (I knew there was a reason I never liked Blue Peter!). But even though many years later the only short clip of the regeneration was indeed found in that Blue Peter episode, BBC Enterprises was still offering the whole story to foreign television stations until 1974. That's when they destroyed their copy - the only one left in existence, apparently.
Rumours have persisted that it's out there. In 1992, someone claimed to have part 4 on a videotape and he offered to sell it to the BBC for £500. Bargain, I'll have two please. But it was a hoax. A few years back it had been rumoured that this episode had been discovered in Africa, along with nearly all the other missing episodes of Doctor Who. It was most definitely sold abroad but it didn't turn up among that discovery. Maybe one day in the future it will be found? I really do hope so, because as good as the animation is it will never rival the joy that I, and I'm sure millions of others, would experience whilst watching The Tenth Planet complete once again.
Nathan is getting too old too quickly and is rapidly approaching his pipe and slippers phase.