Doctor Who #126: The War Machines Part 3

"You see the official mind can only take in so much at a time."TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jul.9 1966.

IN THIS ONE... A hypnotized Polly puts Ben to work, and war breaks out between the British army and the war machines.

REVIEW: This serial really does look like they've abandoned the "record as live" format, but I'm assured they haven't. It's not just that there's a lot of location stuff shot on film, but director Michael Ferguson makes other sequences match with lots of close-ups and inserts. Of course, it's not all roses. The battle between the army and the war machines goes on wayyyyyy too long and tests our patience by making the same point - that whatever gas the machines fire prevent guns from working - over and over again. However, it's a sort of pilot for the UNIT era, still years away, as beret-clad soldiers fire ineffectually at the monsters. The War Machines is ahead of its time. It's really a Pertwee story.

Polly got grabbed at the end of the previous episode, so here she's under WOTAN's control. It still doesn't prevent her from saving Ben's life and later letting him escape. Polly's got a lot more resolve than your average companion, and her fairly recent bond to Ben is enough to help her break the spell. It's also of interest to note that WOTAN isn't exerting direct control over its pawns. Polly, as a more recent convert, can update the others' orders, acting as a patch on their programming. I am, of course, making more computer sense than the episode does.

Forget the perhaps-companions and the smoking war machines though, the real character to watch is the Doctor, off-model though he may be. Hartnell is sharp and precise in both word and gesture throughout the episode, another reason why it doesn't feel like the usual "as live" Doctor Who of this era. His standing there, in the machine's spotlight, holding his ground as the soldiers all run, is a great cliffhanger and a wonderful moment. Especially after we've seen the machines bulldozing tired workers like something out of concentration camp horror. Machines as the new master race, or WOTAN's Internet as Stalinist communism? Both are evoked.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - The Doctor's great as is the direction, unless you count the endless fighting and mayhem in the alleyways of London (and yet, some of that looks cool too).


LiamKav said...

Is Hartnell's Doctor the one with the most different "interpretations"? He seems to have 3 distinct phases: The initial antagonistic anti-hero, the middle wanderer who does good, and the late "turn up and fix the issues forcibly" version that has started appearing over the last few versions?

The only other Doctor I can think who changes this much is the Seventh.

Siskoid said...

Maybe this project will highlight others. The 1st Doctor didn't have a template, either for the actor or for the writers, so it makes sense that even three years in, they're still experimenting with the character. One regeneration becomes a thing, character renewal is built-in, so you don't need to fiddle with the portrayal, you just change actors.


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