Saturday, 26 February 2011

Attack on the Cybermen - 01 - Tenth Planet

My brain is repeatedly telling itself that the reason I've watched Tenth Planet is not because of the story but because I want to understand the popularity of the cybermen.  When I had the idea of doing these articles I also told myself that I was to concentrate on the cyber aspects of the story but that's gone out the window with the viewing of the story.  So I've revised my plan already and I'm going to allow myself to vent about the stories as well.  Just see it as web based therapy. When it comes to Tenth Planet, oh man do I need to vent.  There's going to be a tag on these posts that crops up on a regular basis, badscience, and it's fairly likely that the entries on the cybermen will have quite a high percentage of the tags.  This story REALLY doesn't make sense on the science front.  Planets that move (and either really REALLY quickly or have cloaking devices), planets that suck energy and cybermen that melt when their planet explodes.

All this, and more, from a story written by a scientist.

Okay, in no particular order, here are the things to consider:

Kinetic energy (the energy associated with something due to its motion) is given by multiplying the mass of the object by the square of its velocity (oh yes, then dividing by two but, on the scale of planetary motion that doesn't really seem too vital).  The mass of the earth is 6 times ten to the power 24*.  For those of you not too acquainted with standard form, that's 6,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000kg.  I'm not typing that out again.  Ever.  But basically it's a large number.  The planet's arrival seems to take everyone by surprise so it can't have been headed towards us very slowly.  So we're talking about a large mass multiplied by a pretty big speed squared. (Yes, for future ones I'll type it out in equation form). Basically, it's a LOT of kinetic energy. One of the fundamental laws of the universe is that energy isn't ever destroyed, it's just converted to other forms.  So the planet has a LOT of kinetic energy and then parks itself in orbit near us.  So that energy had to go somewhere.  Mondas is lacking energy (otherwise why would it need to pinch it from us) so it can't be internalised.... so major problem number one is that Mondas seems to magically make energy disappear.

Next up, gravity.  If an object has mass (and yes, science thinks there are massless particles out there but, do you know what, I'm not even going there yet) then it creates a gravitational pull.  So put two planets near each other, even separated by a few tens of thousands of kilometers, should exert quite a tug on each other.  Put it this way, the moon is much smaller than Mondas and it's responsible for the tides.  A planet that close to us would probably do more damage to the earth than just cause a few extra news broadcasts.  Still, not like it's Gallifrey appearing in the Earth's atmosphere or anything.

Back to energy.  Mondas is drawing energy from us, to the extent that it eventually goes bang (an event that  doesn't do the earth any harm apparently).  This means that there must be quite a drain of energy.  Except there don't appear to be any effects on the Earth other than the Doctor collapsing and eventually regenerating. Perhaps he's the only source of energy they raid, in which case it's just as well it was Hartnell that turned up rather than the hyper Tennant.  The reality, in my mind, is that there should be a lot of very tired and cold people on the planet.

I'm going to hold back, you'll be pleased to hear, on the radiation in this story.  I'm saving that for a whole other article.

So the planet should have boiled itself when it parked in orbit, it should have pulled away the oceans in doing so and then deep frozen the leftovers.  On the science front, this story... well, it's really not very good in the slightest.  See, I can keep it polite. If I want.

Thinking of my blood pressure and how much damage I do by gritting my teeth, I'll mention a few other things about the story that I really don't like and THEN I'll get onto the cybermen, I promise.  Firstly, the Doctor and friends do very little.  They pretty much turn up, watch things happen, get captured a bit and then leave.  The scientists are concerned about launching the Z bomb as it might turn Mondas supernova, yet it's a weapon the earth never ever mentions again, perhaps they decided it was too risky as it clearly would do more than just wipe out the enemy. The accents are pure pantomime and Cutler's clearly a nutjob who wouldn't have passed the psychoanalysis to get the job.  It's amazing how a short rapid vent can get so much out of the system.

Now, for something rare, there are things about Tenth Planet that I really appreciate.  So much so, that I wish there hadn't been another cyber story to ruin the legacy.  Cybermen are our first contact and deeply significant in Earth's history.  Thinking back to other stories there have been so far, the Doctor didn't know about the dalek invasion in the 22nd century which, you would think, would be a fairly major historical note.  But before the cybermen even turn up, he knows exactly what's going to happen.  I'm betting he even knows that Mondas goes pop.  They land all over the world, they're on the International Television News and we're told that there are reports from all over the world.  There's no escaping it (unless you're a fan author of the 90s onwards), this is first contact.  It's almost confirmed in future stories.  The cybermen are also quite "realistic" in that they're clothed in bandages and still have a few humanoid style traits such as opening their mouths to speak.  They've had emotions removed for some reason though and I think this is where my lack of understanding comes in.  I don't see this as a big advantage.  Not entirely sure why, I think it's because I see the need to survive as a vaguely emotional thing.  If the cybermen are controlled by "logic" (and I don't actually remember the cybermen being described as beings of pure logic in this one) then I don't really see any logic in the need to keep going.  That, to me, is a definite emotional need.  Their massive susceptibility to radiation really should have been sorted (and yes, that's definitely in a future post).

From this story, and this story alone, I can see why the cybermen were memorable.  But then again I can see why Zarbi were and they never came back (outside of the printed page).  My main issue with Tenth Planet is simply that it's a bloody awful story with some utterly abysmal science in it and very little Doctor Who.  It's possibly the first Doctor-lite plot.  I wonder if it's where a certain RTD got the idea.  Anyway, I'll concede that the cybermen ARE impressive in this one.  Just a shame they're about the only memorable thing in the story.  Well, apart from the obvious of course.

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