Doctor Who #127: The War Machines Part 4

"Oh, it sounds as though you've changed its character, Doctor."TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jul.16 1966.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor defeats a couple of war machines, and reprograms one to destroy WOTAN. Polly and Ben take off in the TARDIS at the end.

REVIEW: I'm afraid it's not always clear how the Doctor defeats his enemies in the final chapter of The War Machines. He corrals #3 easily (and on faith) because, according to him, it was activated before its programming was completed. He uses electromagnetism to immobilize #9, fair enough, but then seems to have the same effect on the robot as he did #3. So here... confused by the EM field? Hard to say because the science isn't properly explained. (I do like his pacifying of the creature with "temper, temper".) And what should we think of the Doctor's ruthlessness in this episode? Though Ben keeps saying they have to save Polly, the Doctor's always more concerned with the big picture. Again, fair enough, but he does send a killer robot into the Post Office Tower (it must have great big lifts) where it might well have killed Polly instead of Krimpton. And though yes, Krimpton is a bit of a creep, that's only because he's under WOTAN's control. He really didn't deserve to die, or for the Doctor to act so proud of himself around his corpse.

And it's all very ordinary as a plot, isn't it? Though the Doctor leads us to believe he's sending a Trojan horse in with a counter-program to WOTAN's mind control, perhaps a virus , he's really just sending it to blow up the sentient computer. Not that WOTAN does much better. I mean, what was its plan exactly? If "C-Day" was going to connect it to every computer around the world, why jeopardize that kind of global foothold by building killer robots that only draw attention to themselves? WOTAN would have done better playing a longer game.

For all that, there's a dynamic contemporariness to the serial, with its robots gliding down real streets filled with 60s cars, its many extras huddled around televisions and radios as if this were a real state of emergency, and its use of actual TV presenters of the day to tell us to stay home. It's so contemporary, "C-Day" (the day the episode takes place on) is stated to be July 16th. Go on, check out when Part 4 actually aired, above. Don't these sound like a lot of the tricks the new series is always pulling?

And of course, we've got a change of companions at the end. Dodo's true exit is through a message delivered by Polly (imagine if she were still under WOTAN's control, delivering false news about Dodo who's just running late, and then boarding the TARDIS on purpose...). The Doctor thinks her an ingrate, making her the first companion to leave on a bitter note. Everybody else got eulogies and well wishes, but Dodo gets an insult. As for the new couple, a spare TARDIS key luckily fell out of the Doctor's cloak earlier so they can get into the police box to give it back. Well, there have been ways to get aboard that have seemed more forced (see previous guest room occupant).

VERSIONS: In the Target books novelization, one of the war machines gets a name - Valk. It should also be noted that The War Machines as seen on DVD (or VHS) is not the same as what was seen on TV in the summer of 1966. Some elements are still missing from the archives, so the episodes were re-edited to cover the off-air recording as well as possible, reusing certain shots, for example.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Some action, some location filming, and a good change of companions. Not bad, though the plot lacks any real depth.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: Medium - The War Machine succeeds as a slick new way to tell a Doctor Who story, and many of the "contemporary Earth" stories to come will have to acknowledge one debt or other to this serial. The counter-argument is that to tell its story, it has to reinvent the Doctor's role, callously gets rid of yet another companion (but the show's better for it, Ben and Polly are already excellent characters), and of course, its evil computer and killer robots look pretty silly.

3 comments:

snell said...

It is striking just how dark Season 3 was as a whole, especially for the times. Dark comedies turning on a dime into slaughters, massacres, companions dying or being dismissed at a stunning pace...

Siskoid said...

Did the system eat Snell's comment to this post? Got this via email:

It is striking just how dark Season 3 was as a whole, especially for the times. Dark comedies turning on a dime into slaughters, massacres, companions dying or being dismissed at a stunning pace...

It wouldn't be half as dark if the companions stayed put, but yeah, it's pretty dreary. The darkEST ever? Possibly!

snell said...

Yeah, I noticed that my comment vanished. I blame my Kindle...

Darkest •ever•? RTD got downright funeral at the end...

 

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