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…

 

Advertisements

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