Thoughts on “The War Machines”

“The War Games” is the last complete story to feature William Hartnell as the Doctor.  It was the tenth and final story of the third season (the 27th overall). It is also the final story for Dodo and the first story for William Hartnell’s final companions: Polly Wright and Ben Jackson (Anneke Willis and Michael Craze).

The brainwashed Dodo believes the Doctor is now under WOTAN’s control.

The Doctor and Dodo arrive back in present day London, just after the completion of the Post Office Tower.  The Doctor senses something is off about the tower and he and Dodo go to investigate.  They meet Professor Brett and his creation, WOTAN, the most advanced computer ever developed.  WOTAN can “think”(and mysteriously knows what a TARDIS is) and is about to be connected to all the other computers around the world, creating a centralized intelligence.

The travelers also meet Polly, the professor’s secretary, who offers to take Dodo to a hot new club, The Inferno.  While at the club, Dodo and Polly meet Ben, a sailor who is depressed because he’s been assigned to work on land.  In the meantime, the Doctor goes to the Royal Scientific Club to attend the WOTAN press conference.  Professor Brett arrives quite late and acts strangely, because, unbeknownst to the Doctor, he is now completely controlled by WOTAN.

Gradually more and more people are brought under the control of WOTAN, including Dodo, because WOTAN has decided that the human race have advanced as much as they can and it is time for computers to take over.  The people it has under its control are made to build war machines that are capable of taking over London, and eventually other major cities, after WOTAN’s influence grows. Dodo is used by WOTAN to try to trap the Doctor, whose intelligence it wants.  The Doctor has a close call over the telephone, but he is able to put the phone down before his mind is taken over. Dodo, however, thinks that he is with WOTAN now and reveals herself to the Doctor.  He uses a sort of counter hypnosis to bring Dodo from WOTAN’s control, before sending her to rest in the country.

The Doctor and his new companions, Ben and Polly, are able to thwart WOTAN and save London, but not before Polly falls under WOTAN’s control.  Ben goes to rescue her and ends up captured himself.  He, however, is not brainwashed or killed like the others (there is no real explanation for this except that to serve the plot, he has to escape to tell the Doctor what’s going on) and is forced to do manual labor on the war machine for WOTAN. Eventually, however, the Doctor figures out how to stop the war machines and sends one of them to destroy WOTAN (even though he is risking Polly’s life along with several other innocent bystanders). The episode ends with Polly and Ben finding their way into the TARDIS just before it dematerializes.

Dodo has one of the oddest, most unceremonious departures of a companion that I’ve seen so far.  She is a big part of the first half of the story and then she is simply sent off to the country, never to be seen again. Polly tells the Doctor that Dodo gave her a message for him: she decided to stay in London.  She doesn’t get a goodbye scene or even get to tell the Doctor herself that she is leaving.  Now, as anyone who has read this blog knows, I am not a big fan of Dodo, but this was a strange way to eliminate a character who had been with the Doctor on several adventures. However, I guess this is rather appropriate, given the inconsistencies of her character.  It always seemed like the writers couldn’t decide who Dodo was or give her any real, constant personality.  It seems like they didn’t really know how to get rid of her character either.

The Doctor says goodbye, not realizing that Polly and Ben are about to become his new companions.

The Post Office Tower is obviously celebrated in this story, and it is main focus of the special features on the DVD as well.  It was one of the first stories to be set in the present day, and the “swinging 60’s” (or as close as you’re going to get to them in a show meant for children) are definitely well represented.  Polly, and to a certain extent, Ben, are clearly representing the cool, “with-it” crowd for the first time on Doctor Who.  Polly wears designer clothes, knows the hottest clubs in London, and is outgoing and friendly.  Ben is less popular and fashion conscious, but they did meet in the hottest club in London, so clearly he must know what’s in as well. This is a bit of a change from the Doctor’s previous companions, who were mostly alone, with nowhere that they belonged, excepting, of course, Barbara and Ian. Susan was looking for a place to belong, since she didn’t really have a time and place of her own, Vicki was an orphan living on the relatively deserted planet where her spaceship had crashed, and Steven had been the only prisoner of the Mechanoids for quite some time before the Doctor and his companions came along.  And Dodo…well, I’m not really clear on her background either.

Overall, I enjoyed the story.  I did, however, feel that the premise and set up were strong, but the ending was a bit disappointing.  The powerful war machines seem to do a lot of smashing and rolling over things, but for such high-tech machines, they don’t seem to do much else (I know they kill some people too, but more screen time is devoted to smashing and crashing through objects).  I wasn’t sorry to see Dodo go, and I’m curious to see what kind of companions Ben and Polly turn into, even though this is the only complete story of theirs that survives.

Thoughts on “The Gunfighters”

“The Gunfighters” is one of the last two complete stories featuring William Hartnell’s Doctor.  It is the eighth story of the third season (the 25th story overall).  The idea of the Doctor visiting the old west came from William Hartnell himself, and it was the first story to be set in the US (although the TARDIS did make a brief stop on the Empire State Building in “The Chase”). It was also the last of the purely historical stories, which feature no aliens whatsoever.  In this story, the Doctor’s companions are still Steven and Dodo.

The TARDIS materializes in the old West, much to the delight of Steven and Dodo. The Doctor is suffereing from a toothache, so the trio set out to find the local dentist, but before they do, Steven and Dodo put on some of the worst western wear possible. Steven in particular looks like he stepped out of a 1980’s Dolly Parton album cover. The trio have, of course, materialized in Tombstone, Az, so the local dentist is the famous Doc Holliday. I couldn’t help but wonder why the Doctor would choose to visit a dentist in the “wild” West, instead of simply getting back into the TARDIS and traveling to a more advanced time for dentistry.  I guess the answer to that is simply because the plot required him to stay.

Anyway, the Doctor and his companions are soon embroiled in the conflict Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday have with the Clantons.  The Clanton’s hear him being called Doctor and assume that he is Doc Holliday.  The confusion of the two “doctors” is perhaps the best part of the story.  This leads to the trio being separated as various factions pull them apart: Dodo ends up with Doc Holiday and his fiancee Kate, the Doctor with the Earps and Bat Masterson, and Steven with the Clantons and Johnny Ringo.

The whole time the viewer knows that the characters are being propelled to the famous showdown at the OK Corral, which occurs in the final episode of the story.  The problem is that you really can’t get that involved in the story because the characters are all pretty flat and one dimensional.  I actually had difficulty keeping track of who was who in the beginning.  My own knowledge of the events at the OK Corral was the only thing that helped me determine who everybody was and what their motivations were.  Doc, Kate, Wyatt, and Johnny Ringo (who actually had nothing to do with the OK Corral, so I’m not sure why he’s there) are the only characters who are given any personality, but even that’s pretty minimal.  And, while I’m on the subject of Johnny Ringo, he has the worst accent in the story.  Quite often he sounds like he’s a rare British gunslinger, just arrived in the Wild West from England.

The story is hampered by the awful, never-ending ballad that continues throughout the four episodes of the story.  It was okay at first, but by the end I never wanted to hear that damn melody again.  The first few stanzas are about the Last Chance Saloon (and, inexplicably, when Steven and Dodo are masquerading as part of a performance group, the Clantons make them sing it over and over for them), but it soon devolves into unnecessarily summarizing the events that the viewer has just seen.

Like a rhinestone cowboy…

 

Dodo thankfully, is not that important to the plot in this story, but she still manages to get into trouble, nearly causing Doc Holliday to be killed in the big showdown, and getting herself taken as a hostage.  Plus, is it just my hearing or did the Doctor continually call Wyatt Earp “Mr. Werp?”  I can’t imagine that that was deliberate, so I’m guessing it was another “Hartnellism,” like his constant changing of Ian’s last name.

I also noticed the Doctor’s negative attitude towards guns was already in place, even in Hartnell’s era.  Of course, this being the old West, there are guns aplenty, and lots of shooting, but the Doctor is reluctant to carry a gun.  He does ultimately, however, have one throughout, and he draws his gun in his first confrontation with the Clantons in the saloon.  However, I’m not sure that he ever draws his gun again in the story.  The first Doctor’s dislike of guns wasn’t a strong as it would become in the new series, but I found it interesting to see the seeds for it were planted as far back as the Hartnell era.

Overall, this story had a premise that had potential, but was poorly executed.  To say this story is not one of my favorites, would be an understatement.  Although I am usually a fan of the historical episodes, I felt that this one missed the mark (and don’t even get me started on all the historical inaccuracies). This story was definitely one of my least favorites of the Hartnell era.  Now if only I could stop “The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon” from playing on a loop in my head…

Thoughts on “The Ark”

I have finally reached the section of Doctor Who’s history in which there are more lost episodes than complete ones.  “The Ark” is the sixth story of the third season (26th overall), and features William Hartnell’s Doctor, who is traveling with Steven Taylor and a new companion, Dodo Chaplet.

The story begins with the TARDIS materializing in what appears to be some kind of nature park/zoo.  Dodo is convinced that they are in London, but they soon notice that there is no sky above this park; they are, in fact on a gigantic spaceship.  They are soon captured by strange-looking, one-eyed creatures (called Monoids) and taken to the humans who seem to run the ship.  From the commander of the ark, they learn that they have travelled about ten million years into the future, to the point where the earth is about to be destroyed by the expansion of the sun (I couldn’t help picturing them running into the ninth Doctor and Rose, as they watched the end of the world).  The “ark” contains all that is left of life on earth: the humans, plants, and animals.

Before I continue with my thoughts on the story, there’s something I need to discuss: I think Dodo might be my least favorite companion so far.  I wish I could explain exactly why I find her to be so annoying, but it’s more of an overall dislike (although seriously, who goes by the name Dodo?).  I don’t feel like she adds anything to the story.  She’s kind of silly and extremely opinionated for someone who really doesn’t seem to know anything.  I know she was supposed to allow the Doctor to show his grandfatherly side again, but I felt that Vicki was the best at bringing that side of him out.  Even Susan was a better companion than Dodo.  Steven is okay, but he’s kind of a nondescript companion for me.  There’s nothing I dislike about him, but there’s not much that I particularly like either.  So, basically, I kept thinking about how much better this story would have been if it had been done during Barbara and Ian’s time.

It might be surprising then, when I admit that I really enjoyed this story.  I was surprised at the strength of the story.  The first half was very clever and unusual for this era of Doctor Who.  Very rarely does the show look at the effect that the travelers have on their environment in a realistic way. The spread of Dodo’s cold, however, was an interesting ramification of having people from millions of years ago suddenly interacting with people who have never faced that kind of illness before.  This echoed what happened when the Native Americans first encountered the Europeans.

The second half, unfortunately, turns into a more traditional first Doctor story, with the travelers helping rebels overthrow an oppressive force that is in power. Even this had a unique twist in that the travelers saw how the same place had changed over the years.  I loved the time jump of 7,000 years, and I thought that showing the completed statue with a Monoid head was an effective and striking way to show that time had passed.  It was an interesting idea to show that the Monoids had now overthrown the humans, who, when we last saw them, had been using the Monoids like servants.

Still the story was not perfect.  I think it would have been more effective if the humans had oppressed the monoids a bit more in the first half.  I know they were treated as servants, but they didn’t seem to be mistreated in any way.  In fact, it seemed nice of the humans to take them along on the journey in the first place.  Maybe we were supposed to infer that things got worse in the later generations, but there really wasn’t any evidence to support that idea. It seemed like the imbalance of power could have been corrected when the Monoids gained the power of speech.

I found the aliens to be interesting in this story, both the invisable Refusians and the Monoids.  I know the Monoids were not the best looking of the aliens created for Doctor Who, but I enjoyed them.  Logically, there are many problems with them, of course, such as: how can they eat with no mouth or how can they ever develop speech? Still, I thought that they were a distinctive and memorable race. Admittedly, though, the actors were forced to over used their hands to try and show which Monoid was talking, and the feet and legs weren’t really well thought out.

Overall, I enjoyed this story.  I thought it was clever and it held my interest.  All the characters that the travelers met in this story were distinctive and it was a nice change of pace from some of the more formulaic stories.  I would have like different companions, but I guess you can’t have everything.

Thoughts on “The Time Meddler”

“The Time Meddler” begins as it should, with the Doctor and Vicki still feeling the lost of Barbara and Ian, who returned home using the Dalek time machine at the end of “The Chase.” It is the first episode of Doctor Who to not feature Barbara and Ian, making William Hartnell the only remaining original cast member.  Vicki is still traveling with him, and this episode is the first story to feature Steven as a companion, although he was introduced in the final section of “The Chase.” It was the last story of season 2 (ninth for the year, seventeenth overall).

The Doctor, Vicki, and Steven find a Viking helmet (or is it a helmet for a cow?).

The story begins with the Doctor and Vicki on the TARDIS.  They soon discover that they are not alone.  Steven, who they met at the end of their previous adventure managed to escape the destroyed Mechanoid city and make his way to the TARDIS before they took off, so the Doctor now has a new companion.  Steven did not see much about the “ship” he escaped into, so he does not believe that he is traveling through time, as well as space.

The TARDIS finally materializes on a beach near some cliffs.  When they leave the TARDIS, they find a Viking helmet on the beach, which leads the Doctor to believe that they are in the tenth or eleventh century.  Steven remains skeptical, however, leading the Doctor to reply sarcastically something to the effect of: What do you think it is, a space helmet for a cow? I have to admit, that thanks to that description, I may never look at a Viking helmet the same way again!

A mysterious monk is seen taking great interest in the TARDIS.  He even attempts to open the doors, only to find them locked.  There are also some locals who have noticed the box, but by the time they return high tide has come and hidden the TARDIS from view.

The Doctor goes off to explore having told Vicki and Steven to remain with the TARDIS (and we all know how well that usually works out).  He finds a village and learns that it is 1066, right before the Viking invasion and the Battle of Hastings. Steven and Vicki soon leave the TARDIS to follow the Doctor and much of the story revolves around the two companions and the Doctor just missing each other at the monastery.

It soon becomes clear from the anachronistic items that keep turning up (like wristwatches and gramophones) that something is not quite right.  Eventually, it is revealed that the Monk is a Time Lord (although the name Time Lord wouldn’t be used until the end of Patrick Troughton’s era), just like the Doctor; he even has his own Mark IV TARDIS, a newer model than the Doctors and one with a working chameleon circuit.

The Monk’s plan is to use his atomic cannons to destroy the Viking Fleet, thus allowing King Harold to have the troops he needs to defeat William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings.  Since this goes against the Time Lords non-interference policy, the Doctor puts a stop to his plan and maroons him in 1066.

“The Time Meddler” is the first story to establish what would eventually become the format for the Doctor’s historical adventures: a settling in the past with an alien life form causing a problem. This was a departure from the traditional historical episodes, in which the travelers simply traveled to a particular time and experience what life was like (and of course, always ended up in some kind of trouble). Due to the historical setting, I also thought it was a nice touch to have the Doctor remark on how he wished Barbara were there to fill him in on the time period, since she was, seemingly ,the world’s most knowledgeable history teacher.

My thoughts on Steven as a companion are mixed.  I have always found Steven to be a companion without a lot of personality, but that’s not really the case in this story.  I think he was much better when paired with Vicki, than later in the series when he is traveling with Dodo.  I enjoyed his interactions with Vicki.  Steven very clearly wanted to believe that he knew more that her, but he ends up doing what she says just about every time. It was also interesting to see a companion who had such a difficult time believing in the concept of time travel.  He is wrong so often because he can’t believe that they are, in fact, in 1066.  Still, the way that Peter Purves plays Steven, he doesn’t come across as arrogant or obnoxious, he just isn’t as experienced at traveling with the Doctor as Vicki.

The Doctor and the Monk

Overall, I felt that this was one of the best of the first Doctor stories.  Maybe it’s partially due to the different approach, but it felt like it had more energy than some of the other stories from this era.  The Monk was an interesting villain and this episode really gave William Hartnell a chance to shine.  There is also a nice comedic touch to this story, but it doesn’t get quite as farcical as “The Romans,” which was another of Dennis Spooner’s stories.  Hartnell wasn’t always given the opportunity to play comedy, but he does it well.  As much as he knows he must stop the Monk, he seems a bit amused by the Monk’s efforts and enjoys outwitting him.  With Barbara and Ian gone, the Doctor has to be more of a leader than he was in the past, and this leads to one of the best adventures of William Hartnell’s Doctor.