The War Machines

Much like The Time Meddler closing the second season, Doctor Who’s third season ends with another significant step forward in the show’s evolution. For the first time, the setting is neither futuristic, alien or historical – we’re in contemporary London, and The Doctor is working with the military and the government to fight off an invasion. The Pertwee era has arrived already!

And despite the obvious fact that it was made twenty years before I was born, that sense of freshness and relevance that a contemporary setting provides still translates today. The threat seems real to me, even though it’s in my past. It also gives us the first ever celebrity cameo – Kenneth Kendall beating Huw “it’s hope and it’s love” Edwards to the punch by some forty years. One cultural reference has been rendered somewhat inappropriate by the ravages of time – a group of youngsters in a night club look at The Doctor’s long white hair and say “he looks like that disc jockey”.

This is all part of an overarching attempt to make the programme feel more trendy and relevant, hence the recruitment of swinging sixties types Ben and Polly to the TARDIS crew. They both make promising starts, although I could have done without Ben victim-blaming Polly when she was harrassed by some bloke in the nightclub. I would say “sixties attitude”, but that would imply that it’s not also a 21st century attitude. Still, not really his fault, and his character improved throughout the story.

On the downside of all these fresh changes – what the fuck kind of exit was that for poor old Dodo? She gets sent off to the countryside at the end of episode two, and that’s the last we see of her. She decides she’d rather just go home than travel with the Doctor, and this is only relayed via a message. She doesn’t even say goodbye – she “sends The Doctor her love”. In dramatic terms, this is bullshit. As a production decision, it’s also bullshit. I can see why they wanted rid of her – she’d hardly set the world alight in her handful of serials, and she seemed to be a completely different character from one week to the next. But come on – at least pay her for a complete serial so she can have a proper goodbye.

That aside, this was a great serial, full of imaginative and memorable details. I loved the special animated sequence for the episode title/writer credits, and the fact that WOTAN was credited as a guest star. I also liked that the War Machines’ test procedure was effectively a deadlier version of the Gauntlet round from early series of Robot Wars. Plus, the concept of computers communicating with each other via telephone lines is, you know, fairly prophetic. The only negative I could find in the finer details was that I found myself shouting “stop calling him ‘Doctor Who’” at one point.

RATING: 7

So, that’s another milestone reached…

SEASON AVERAGE RATING: 6.8

  • Seasons/Series watched: 3 of 34
  • Stories watched: 27 of 253
  • Individual episodes watched: 126 of 813

And I’m a little over a week away from completing one out of twelve/thirteen Doctors…

 

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The Savages

So long then, Steven. After a promising start, his development had kind of faltered for a while, and he was rarely as rugged or good-humoured as he had been at the start. Nevertheless, I liked him, and this episode at least gave him a chance to be the action hero once more, finally reaching Chesterton levels of ass-kicking for his last hurrah. His impromptu election as supreme leader of the planet he’d been on for about a day was a little sudden, but Dodo’s reaction and Steven’s hesitant exit gave it a good emotional punch.

Elsewhere, I enjoyed this serial a lot. It was a high-concept plot about a supposedly utopian society with a dirty secret, and while it was never too surprising, there were some good moments. The sight of The Doctor having his life force removed was a fairly stark image. (Well, I assume it was. Bloody missing episodes.)

It kicked up a gear when the leader of the baddies absorbed The Doctor’s knowledge, conscience and mannerisms, making for a bizarre early incarnation of The Doctor-Donna. The Doctor has very much moved on from the dubious junkyard-dweller we first met, to become the great moral compass of the universe that we know today.

It’s also notable that the elders recognise The Doctor when he arrives on the planet; his reputation as a notorious time traveller now preceding him. But for all the hype surrounding The Doctor’s character, you can really tell at this point that the production wanted rid of Hartnell. He spends an episode and a half either unconscious or catatonic, and it seems like a deliberate attempt to give him as little to do as possible. It’s not nice.

RATING: 8

The Gunfighters

At this stage in Who history (Whostory, if you will), there seems to be a willingness to play around with the format wherever possible, and to keep everything as different as possible from serial to serial. This sometimes works well, such as the big time hop in the middle of The Ark, and sometimes not so well, like the episodic riddles of The Celestial Toymaker.

To this end, The Gunfighters is interwoven with Nurse Gladys Emmanuel singing a hugely repetitive song about what’s just happened on screen. I quite like it in places, especially when it’s used to give important scenes a bit of breathing space. But it would have been far more effective if it had been used more sparingly – it did begin to grate by the end of the first episode.

And really, the story doesn’t need a gimmick – it’s nothing special, but it’s solid enough, and it really improves with the introduction of Johnny Ringo. His senseless murder of Charlie the barman caused me to utter an expletive that may have caused me to be arrested in 1966.

The main thing you take from The Gunfighters, though, is utter disbelief at how terrible all those American accents were. Those stuck-up sixties actors simply couldn’t be anything but plummy in front of a microphone. They tried to fight it, but to no avail. A shame, as it does overshadow the whole production somewhat.

According to the “next time” caption, it’s Dr. Who and the Savages up next. I’m going to miss having individual titles for each episode – presumably cliffhangers will go straight into the credits, rather than having a “next time” slate from now on. This is just the kind of exciting development that makes this project worthwhile.

RATING: 6

The Celestial Toymaker

That was… unusual. Doctor Who as an adventure game show. A really, really cheap adventure game show. Michael Gough is entertaining as the eponymous Toymaker, but there’s a really odd atmosphere in this story. The Doctor states that he’s met the Toymaker before and knows all about him, but doesn’t choose to share any pertinent information with either his companions or the audience. It feels like you’re watching a sequel to a story that was never made.

I’m usually a fan of these anthology type serials, but this one was just too repetitive. Steven and Dodo have to do exactly the same thing for four weeks in a row, namely playing giant-sized board games in order to get to the TARDIS, which is then revealed to be a fake (except in the last episode). Meanwhile, The Doctor has to beat a logic game, despite having been made invisible and mute. This just struck me as a convenient way to give Hartnell another holiday, so I was startled to discover afterwards that the original intention was to use the invisibility as a means of recasting the lead. I mean, I know it’s going to happen soonish anyway, but imagine how different the following 50 years would be if this had have been how.

The games themselves are a mixture of The Adventure Game and 3-2-1. It was a nice touch to have the riddles appear as captions just before the credits each week, but let’s face it, they were largely rubbish. The last one was basically just “you have to win the game”.

Elsewhere, the small supporting cast, each playing a series of ever changing comedy grotesques, were good value. However, the main thing I’ll remember from this story is the moment in episode two where The King of Hearts does an “Eeny Meeny Miney Mo”, and I had to rewind to check that he’d just said what I thought he’d said. He had. He did the full Clarkson version. Wasn’t expecting that from any era of Doctor Who.

RATING: 5

The Ark

I really enjoyed this one. The first couple of episodes contain some pretty standard sci-fi tropes – humanity being in the process of relocating, a long term mission designed to be completed by multiple generations of the crew, future civilisations being wiped out by the common cold – but it’s all executed very well, even if it’s not spectacular.

But oh boy, that fake-out ending to episode two, where you think the whole story’s wrapped up, only for the TARDIS to return after 700 years and discover that everything’s gone to shit. A brilliant bit of storytelling, and it introduces a much better concept for the second half of the story – regaining control back from the Monoids.

The Monoids themselves are a bit cheap looking, but they do have beautiful hair. They sometimes have a habit of explaining all their plans out loud for no good reason, but other than that they’re a decent enough monster. I spent the whole of episode three thinking how much one of them sounded like Zippy, then saw the credits and discovered that it was Zippy! Oh, and there’s the Refusians too – good use of invisible aliens to stretch the budget. Again.

Dodo seems like a promising companion by the end of the serial, but she was all over the place at the start – giddy and reckless, in quite an annoying manner. Her accent took a while to settle down, which I’ve since read was because the powers that be decided half way through the recording that they didn’t want a character that didn’t have R.P. Maybe the Doctor’s digs about her mid-60s slang was a reference to this fuddy-duddiness?

Next up – The Celestial Toymaker. I’m aware that this is a famous one, but I know very little about it, and am not sure whether it’s famously good or famously shit…

RATING: 7

The Massacre of St. Bartholemew’s Eve

Well, that was rubbish. After the high-concept and high-octane of Master Plan, we’re given a painfully slow and straightforward historical, where our heroes do precisely nothing of any consequence. It’s reminiscent of Reign of Terror, but lacking even the fleeting excitement of a big fire.

The Doctor is barely in it, due to a combination of Hartnell being on holiday for a week and him playing a different character for two episodes. I like Steven, but he’s not smart or interesting enough to carry a story on his own. I’m still pining for Chesterton. But still, I spent the whole of parts two and three looking forward to the explanation of whether The Doctor is posing as The Abbot, or whether it’s some kind of clone or double. If the latter, why and how?

Well, it was the latter, but we weren’t treated to the why and how. And there was also no explanation for what The Doctor had been doing off-screen for all this time, while Steven had been busy running back and forth between the city and an abandoned shop, for no reason. What a swizz.

There are so many scenes without Steven or The Doctor that it feels like you’re watching a documentary that’s just bookended by the characters arriving and departing. But then the “departing” bookend takes you by surprise. The last ten minutes are great, with a big old discussion about the morality of time travel, which culminates in Steven going off in a huff. The highlight is The Doctor’s solemn speech when he’s left alone, remembering his past companions and lamenting his lack of a home. It’s brief, but it’s amongst Hartnell’s best and most emotional performances so far.

In the end, Steven comes back, and in all the confusion, The Doctor accidentally kidnaps another confused passer-by. I’m looking forward to seeing Dodo in action, even though she has a stupid name, but I’m even more excited about getting to see a full serial of actual episodes.

RATING: 6

The Daleks’ Master Plan

Well, where do I start? I feel like I’ve been watching this story for about as long as I spent watching all previous ones. It was a bit tough to get through, and I’m quite glad it’s over, but there was certainly a lot to enjoy.

Mavic Chen is a great villain, and it seems like a revolution to give the Daleks allies; while it’s not at all surprising that they eventually turn on and destroy the individual members of the alliance, it’s quite disconcerting to note that you’re on their side as they do so! Chen is such a massive shit that you’re begging for an extermination towards the end.

The Daleks themselves are quite low key compared to their previous appearances – we go for long periods without seeing them, which I’d guess was done to prevent them outstaying their welcome. They were doing much more talking than they were exterminating, but the action sequences were suitably epic when they did arrive.

Really though, this serial was all about the companions, and of course, their deaths. Traveling with The Doctor will never be the same again now that the series has shown that it’s not something that everyone will survive. I’ve no intention of getting into a debate about who qualifies as a companion and who doesn’t, but what I will say is that if Sara Kingdom counts, then so does Bret Vyon.

All the deaths – including Bret’s – were truly startling and grim. Katarina’s in particular, comes out of nowhere, and it’s very bleak. Bret’s is more touching than it perhaps would have been on first broadcast, simply because it’s Nicholas Courtney, who’s just as brilliant here as he would be as the Brig.

I get why they wanted rid of Katarina – being from the past was a bit too much of an obstacle – but it’s a shame we never got more of Sara Kingdom. Jean Marsh is fantastic, and the character had a lot of potential. Her death is quite visceral, while Purves and Hartnell are great at conveying the sense of loss and disbelief.

Overall though, this definitely felt like two stories tacked together. The first involves the Doctor learning of the Daleks’ plans, stealing the terranium, escaping, making a duplicate and tricking them into taking the dud. Then it’s Christmas, and everything goes weird. Then there’s another story, where it turns back into The Chase for a bit, with the Daleks pursuing The Doctor, The Monk getting involved, Chen getting the real terranium back, The Daleks readying the Time Destructor and The Doctor thwarting them once more. I can’t help but feel that it might have made better viewing to split these two distinct parts, with another serial or two in the middle.

Like I say, though, lots to enjoy. I made the following brief notes during the last twelve days:

– The planet of invisible monsters must have been very cost-efficient.

– Are the mice who were beamed to said planet classed as dead companions too?

– The Feast of Steven is batshit mental. Kind of glad it exists, but it utterly destroys the momentum of the story.

– Great to see The Monk again – the first recurring villain, Daleks aside. He gets properly morally ambiguous towards the end of his section – definitely a proto-Master.

– The stuff at the cricket match is great; so much better than any of the film set bollocks in The Feast of Steven.

– I’m detecting a deliberate injection of mystery into The Doctor’s background during this story, what with the delegates not knowing how he can time travel, mentions of distant galaxies, and The Doctor himself being deliberately vague about his magic ring. I might be reading too much into it, but could this reaffirmation of his alien-ness be a prelude to the forthcoming regeneration?

One last thing. I’m now coming up to a run of episodes that I know very little about. I went into this one knowing that Katarina and Sara would snuff it, but I don’t even know who the next companion is. Or even whether there will be one – will it just be The Doctor and Steven for a bit? How long’s Steven going to be around for anyway? I genuinely know nothing about any forthcoming serial until The Tenth Planet – none of the titles mean anything to me. So between now and the regeneration, everything will be fresh, surprising and completely new. This is exciting.

RATING: 8

The Myth Makers

Oh man. I didn’t know this was Vicki’s last episode. Bah. I really liked her, and it feels like we didn’t get enough of her. I suppose I should have seen it coming when she was conspicuously nicknamed “Cressida” and then met a bloke called Troilus. She’s inevitably become the second in a long line of young female companions who immediately shack up with a bloke they’ve only just met, but this one is made a little bit icky by the fact that she was his prisoner earlier in the story. Stockholm Syndrome, much?

Like Susan, she’s been left to rebuild an utterly destroyed society, but unlike Susan, we didn’t get to see the Doctor say goodbye. His quiet “I’ll miss her” moment didn’t feel as real as it did with Ian and Barbara a few serials ago. Of course, Katarina is there as an instant replacement, but I’m afraid I already know what her fate will be…

Meanwhile, another myth being made by our heroes comes about when The Doctor invents the Trojan Horse. It’s a little odd that he doesn’t seem concerned about changing history at any point – all three of the regulars are perfectly happy to meddle with the course of events throughout the story.

But still, this is a bloody good serial – it invokes The Aztecs a lot, what with The Doctor and Vicki being mistaken for a god and a sorceress, but it does an even better job of creating intrigue right from the start. It’s funny too – nothing major, but there’s a much more subtle style of humour than we got in The Romans, and it’s a lot more successful as a result. Both the Greeks and the Trojans act like sit-com families at times, and I’m all in favour of that.

The hook into the next serial is great – Steven is seriously wounded and there’s a mad-eyed Trojan on board. You’ve got the sense that they’ll all be in danger right from the off, and the next episode slide popping up with “The Nightmare Begins” certainly helps.

Oh, and that reminds me: “Small Prophet, Quick Return” and “The Horse of Destruction” are silly titles for episodes. Although, I read that one of them had the working title of “Is There A Doctor In The Horse?”, which is much better.

The Daleks’ Master Plan next, then. Looking forward to it, especially the episodes that actually exist – it will have been over a week since I’ve been able to actually watch anything properly. As it’s such a long one, I might do a mini-update halfway through, or maybe just one or two short tweet-length posts if anything occurs to me.

(PS. I was intending to change the header image on this blog every time the line-up of regulars changed. This will usually happen at the end of the first serial with the new cast, but as I know that Katarina won’t make it past the end of her first serial, I thought I’d make an exception…)

RATING: 8

Mission to the Unknown

I knew in advance that this was the one that didn’t include any of the regular cast, and that served as a teaser for The Daleks’ Master Plan, but I didn’t know anything about its actual content. It actually manages to squeeze quite a lot of elements into its single episode – the crashed ship, the Little Shop of Horrors-style evil plants and of course the Daleks forming their almighty alliance.

I suspect that this is also Terry Nation’s Master Plan – showcasing the Daleks in a context that doesn’t involve The Doctor, whilst also introducing a bunch of other races that could team up with the Daleks in whatever lucrative spin-off he was dreaming about at the time.

I enjoyed it, but I imagine I’d be a little pissed off if I’d sat down to watch this in 1965, spending the whole episode wondering when the TARDIS was going to materialise. But then, if this was 1965, Dalekmania would be so strong that I’d be too pre-occupied by imagining how amazing their invasion of The Solar System was going to be.

But next up, I’ve got an entirely missing four-parter to get through first…

RATING: 7

Galaxy 4

Aaaaand, now we’re up to date – this is the first entry to be written directly after finishing the serial in question, and without having watched any more since. Hooray!

After the luxury of only eleven missing episodes in the whole of the first two seasons, the missing ones are in the majority throughout the next two. Looking at the spreadsheet, I’ve got a huge block of red to get through, and I must admit it’s a little daunting.

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Galaxy 4 kicks off this poor run of form, and I found it a little tough going – very hard to get into, which wasn’t helped by the stop-start nature of how I had to watch it. You see, the special edition DVD of The Aztecs features all the existent material from Galaxy 4 – a six minute chunk of the first episode, and the whole of the third, with recreations filling in the gaps. Brilliant… except the recreations are truncated, with the original soundtracks edited down. This is quite annoying – surely the target audience for this feature wants to see the most complete version available? I had to keep switching between the DVD and unofficial recreations in order to see the most complete version of the story that I could. Irritating.

But anyway. This is somewhat of a standard “choosing between two rival factions” story, but with a nice little twist in that the crew pick the wrong side at first, and have to defect when it turns out that the Drahvins are complete shits.

The Chumblies are pretty good; for some reason they reminded me of Bertha. Odd that the Rill wouldn’t have thought to fit them with cameras or something to prevent them from being blind.

1960s Attitude Watch: I detected a slight whiff of anti-feminism in the portrayal of the all-female Drahvins as heartless and clinical bastards. However, there was a nice anti-fascist message in the way The Doctor treated the Rill, the moral being that it doesn’t matter what people look like at the outside, it’s the inside that counts.

I managed to get into it a little better towards the end, and enjoyed the last couple of episodes. It was a bit odd that the Drahvins were just left to die on the exploding planet. They had it coming to them, but I feel that nowadays The Doctor would have rescued them regardless, and then enacted a proper punishment.

The set-up for Mission to the Unknown is a little cheesey – The Doctor pretty much says “fuck it, let’s have a week off” – but I’m really looking forward to it…

RATING: 6