So, finally, I reach the last William Hartnell story. I have now officially seen every single episode with him as the Doctor (including the reconstructions).
Not only is this the last Hartnell story, I didn’t realise it’s also the first Cybermen story. The place is a space probe monitoring station in the Antarctic; the time is twenty years in the future (1986!!!!), and the appearance of a strange new planet in the sky, an upside-down duplicate of Earth that has drifted back into the solar system after millions of years. Apparently, the Doctor explains, Earth originally had a twin, Mondas, and now it has returned.
The people of Mondas experimented with combining technology with biology, and purged emotion in an effort to improve their race. The result, cybernetic men (and women, presumably). Unlike the Daleks, whose design is basically identical fifty years later, the Cybermen look a lot different from how I know them. They’re not exactly armour-plated – instead their costumes are mostly fabric, with big chunks of machinery attached to them, and their faces look like they’re covered with a balaclava, only eye and mouth holes remaining. Combined with their disjointed monotone speech (in decidedly British accents, of course), it’s somewhat freaky.
Totally impassionate, they attempt to destroy the Earth once they’ve “recharged” Mondas with its “energy”. The base’s commanding officer gets a bit crazy and attempts to launch an atomic weapon at Mondas, which would not only destroy it, but probably irradiate the Earth too. As luck would have it, the Cybermen seem to miscalculate, and their world overloads with excess energy and melts away into space, safely. The Doctor, Ben and Polly’s part in the whole thing is little more than stalling for time, but it seems to work.
Unfortunately, the whole ordeal is too much for the Doctor, whose body is growing weak and weary from age and exertion. In fact, in part 3 (of 4), he’s almost completely absent, having collapsed. I suspect this was Hartnell’s body double and Hartnell himself wasn’t available for whatever reason. I admit, I’m not aware of the reason he left the show. He returns for his last performance in episode 4, which is a good reconstruction, and the final regeneration scene is intact.
Hartnell gives probably his best performance when minutes from death, his ‘giggling old man’ persona slips away, replaced with a more sober performance, a vague realisation of what is about to happen to him, accepting his fate and finishing what needs to be done. As the Tardis dematerialises from the South Pole, the Doctor collapses inside, and Ben and Polly observe a bright light covering his face, which begins to change… into that of another man.