Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Serial 27: The War Machines

Doctor: William Hartnell (1st Doctor)
Companion: Dodo, Ben & Polly

Written by: Ian Stuart Black
Directed by: Michael Ferguson

Background & Significance: As William Hartnell's tenure came to a close, producer Innes Lloyd decided to scrap the idea of historical serials and decided instead to replace them with stories set on present or near-future Earth. This would save on production costs and also help emphasize the science fiction nature of the show.

"The War Machines" is inspired by an idea from Kit Pedler, the scientific advisor Lloyd brought on to the show to make the science more realistic and believable. Pedler, most famous for co-creating the Cybermen, came up with an idea for an evil computer trapped stationary in an office building, unable to escape. In order to work around this small hindrance, it would connect to the outside world via telephone and use machines to conduct business beyond the confines of its oppressive room.

So yeah. Basically he theorized the internet and then developed a proto-Skynet. Decades before James Cameron even got behind the camera to create his Terminator stories.

Wait. And it's The Doctor's job to stop this all? It's The Doctor vs. The Internet! Again!

Also, it's got the introduction of new companions Ben and Polly (who stick around for the next season and witness The Doctor's first regeneration) and also has what is easily the WORST companion departure of all time. No really. It's horrid. It made me laugh.

So let's get to it!


Part 1:

The Doctor and his companion Dodo arrive in modern London. Also, apparently her name is pronounced “CHAP-lit”. Which is weird because I thought it would be something French like “Sh’play”, but no. The British have to do a literal thing.

The Doctor hangs an “out of order sign” on the TARDIS to make sure it’s not bothered and they turn around and see the newly completed, very tall Post Office Tower. The Doctor senses something nasty, a weird tingling he hasn’t felt since The Daleks or whatever (which is funny cuz this threat is nowhere near the threat of the Daleks).

Regardless, they go off to investigate it.

In the Tower, The Doctor meets with Professor Brett and discovers WOTAN, the computer housed on the top level and Professor Brett’s life’s work.

He boasts that the machine is ten years ahead of its time and they’re about ready to link up this computer with computers all over the world, with WOTAN acting like a central intelligence.

So I’m going to spoil this right now. But WOTAN is the bad guy, and he’s apparently attempting to link up with all the other computers in the world. That makes him the progenitor of the internet.

So it’s The Doctor going up against the internet and trying to stop it from being created.

They’re also told about a press conference that will be taking place later that night and The Doctor is introduced to a lovely young girl, a secretary named Polly.

Also, it’s interesting to compare and contrast Dodo (who looks like a total square) and Polly (who’s what we like to call “60’s hot”). But we’ll get to that in a bit.

They continue to test the computer, asking it complex math problems and stuff and putting it through the ringer. Which it succeeds at with stunning ease.

I’m also really amused at how NOT OKAY Hartnell The Doctor is with the whole “This computer can think for itself” thing. It’s the whole “old dude not okay with the future” sorta thing and it just makes me laugh.

After a few questions, Dodo looks at the machine and gets entranced, but manages to snap out of it right away. So it’s okay. Polly takes her aside and the two gossip for a bit while The Doctor and Professor Brett look at the machine. Polly decides to take Dodo out on a night on the town.

And I think this dance club sequence is super interesting. Much of this episode is about cleaning out the old Doctor Who to make way for the arrival of Patrick Troughton in just two stories’ time.

A lot of that is contrasted between the boring straight-laced schoolgirl of Dodo and the eventual joining of the leggy blonde Polly to the TARDIS crew. Dodo represents the void left by Susan and Vicki, the girl The Doctor was set to teach lessons to. But now that Doctor Who was transitioning from an educative focus into one of adventure, the need for a Susan-Vicki-Dodo-like character sharply decreased, and they were phased out with little fanfare.

Also, it’s funny to watch 60’s dancing.

In this scene we also meet a depressed sailor named Ben who totally wants to bang Polly. Turns out he's a bit of a rough and tumble who'll fight guys who want to dance with the girl he's trying to bang.

The Doctor breaks into the Royal Scientific Club (and by that I mean he just walks in) and listens as there’s a press conference meeting or whatever that discusses WOTAN, but it’s telling us stuff we already know, so whatever.

Everyone seems okay with this, though. So long as it’s not run by a single person who can control all of the military computers in the world or whatever. But this computer is better than a human being because it has no emotion and thusly no biases or whatever.

Strangely enough, the creator, Professor Brett, hasn’t shown up yet.

But he’s been brainwashed by the computer. So much for WOTAN being cool.

He bursts into the conference and demands to see a different Professor immediately. And he doesn’t take no for an answer. He marches the other Professor out the door with tons of reporters chasing after him for a quote.

The press conference fat man (Sir Charles) randomly starts talking to The Doctor about how strange that was, and leaves, leaving The Doctor with questions.

Back at WOTAN, WOTAN takes over Major Graff, who then calls the bar where Ben, Polly, and Dodo are having their groovy 60s time. The bartender (her name’s Kitty. I don’t think you have to know that, but whatever…) answers and calls over Dodo, who picks up the phone.

And she gets brainwashed, sets down the phone, and walks out of the bar, entranced.

Brett arrives with that other Professor guy and starts talking about how awesome it is that WOTAN is going to fix the world because humanity is broken. The other Professor calls him mad and tries to call for help, but he’s brainwashed before he can.

At the bar, Polly expresses her concerns about Dodo’s strange disappearance. She feels guilty I guess. Or something.

The Doctor shows up in this swingin’ bar and starts boozing it up. No, just kidding. He gets the status update from Polly, who has lost Dodo.

In the tower, the WOTAN select (professors and whatever) talk about a brain that WOTAN needs to lead everything or whatever. They bring in the fourth member of their select group.

It’s Dodo. What a shock.

She asks what WOTAN needs of her and WOTAN lets out in a raspy, creepy, where-did-it-get-the-software-to-generate-sound voice. “Doctor Who is required.”

Ugh. They really used the name “Doctor Who”. Lame.

Part 2:

So we get a status update on WOTAN and his plans. We find out that WOTAN is going to be taking over the world within the next few days (note that this is all without wireless, DSL, or even dial-up. So that is impressive and rather ambitious. Good on you WOTAN).

WOTAN designs plans for mind controlling a mass of skilled labour and creates plans for its War Machines, which will function as WOTAN’s arms beyond the main tower, where WOTAN is trapped.

Again, WOTAN, I question your ability to do all this without a feasible wireless network.

Back at the club, which is closed. Ben, Polly, and The Doctor sit around waiting for Dodo to show up again.

Which she does. And there is much rejoicing. She explains that she was out with some friends who called up. The Doctor gets REALLY angry that she has friends she never told him about, to which I say chill the frak out. People have friends besides you, Doctor!

They leave and Ben and Polly go to get Dodo and The Doctor a taxi (which they’ll pay with all The Doctor’s hobo money) and Dodo gets really angry and says they shouldn’t have done that.

So apparently WOTAN makes people turn into dicks.

Dodo tries to steer The Doctor towards the men in the shady corner, the men who have chloroform and a handkerchief. But Ben and Polly’s taxi shows up before The Doctor can get mugged.

There’s a funny bit with a bum who took a taxi giving the driver a lot of trouble, but Polly’s nice so she pays for it and then asks Ben out to lunch the next day. See? 60s hot chick being all feministic.

Ben offers the bum a place to stay for the night, but he tells him he’s going to squat in the warehouse (TMI) for the night. So Ben (who is dressed like a Donald Duck sailor) leaves him and the bum heads into the warehouse.

Turns out this warehouse is one of many warehouses WOTAN set up to be creation factories for his War Machines. With tons of skilled laborers welding and assembling these evil machines.

Also, that’s FAST. I mean, I guess it took Dodo like an hour to get back from the tower and this is twenty minutes after that, MAYBE? And WOTAN already has an army through evil brainwashing phone calls? Hell with War Machines. Maybe he should just do robo-calls and wipe people’s brains.

Oh wait…

Professor Brett (who happens to be overseeing this warehouse) takes note of the bum’s entrance and sends a batch of laborers out to kill him. Which they apparently do.

We also get our first look at a War Machine. But we’ll talk about that a little later.

The next day in the morning paper, The Doctor finds a news story about the dead bum, complete with picture and obit (okay maybe not that last part, but there is a picture, I swear).

That is some fast news considering he was found just a few hours ago. Maybe WOTAN coulda just hid the body somewhere instead of making it a big deal. He’s a bum, I know, but even bums get noticed.

The Doctor shows this news to Sir Charles. Apparently The Doctor’s staying here? Even though Sir Charles and he only shared like… three lines of dialogue in the last episode? That’s some trust, Sir Charles. Good on you.

Sir Charles relates to The Doctor that two well respected scientists have gone missing since the night before and no one has heard anything and that is most peculiar.


Polly arrives, saying Professor Brett sent her to be Sir Charles’s secretary for the day as Charles’s secretary is mind controlled by WOTAN ill. Which makes no sense. Shouldn’t WOTAN be recruiting and brainwashing everyone it can? Why not brainwash Polly or that bum? That makes no sense! LEARN TO THINK, WOTAN.

Polly leaves to go start working like a secretary (remember that bit I said about the feministic 60s woman? So much for that) and Dodo enters, acting SO NOT SUBTLE AT ALL. She’s all about taking The Doctor to meet Professor Brett (WHOM HE ALREADY MET).

For some reason The Doctor agrees to go hang out with Professor Brett, but decides to be courteous and call ahead first. When the call goes through to the WOTAN lab, WOTAN sends out his 60s spiral signals and starts to brain zap The Doctor.

The Doctor throws down the phone, but he’s totally spooked. Sir Charles races off to go fetch him water and Dodo takes the opportunity to ease The Doctor into his new brainwash state, telling him all the details of WOTAN’s plans.

But The Doctor has no idea what she’s talking about.
Wow. That’s tactless. WOTAN/Dodo sucks at this whole thing.

Sir Charles and Polly enter and Dodo tries to escape, but The Doctor stops her and realizes she’s been hypnotized. He sends her into a trance and knocks her out for forty eight hours, at the end of which, she will wake up and have no memory of anything.

Ummmmm… Hey Doctor? Before you did that, maybe you shoulda found out what she knew? Just saying.

But they send her off to Sir Charles’ house in the country where his wife will take care of her for the time being. And let’s remember this. Dodo leaves about three fourths of the way through this episode.

And then Polly randomly goes to visit Professor Brett but she gets all scared cuz he looks menacing or whatever. And Ben shows up at Sir Charles’s house cuz Polly and him were supposed to have lunch and he heard she was here.

The Doctor freaks out because Polly’s gone missing (really, dude. It’s okay) and tells Ben to go out looking for her.

And he stumbles right out of that and into our next youtube, which is Ben stumbling right onto this test of the War Machines. Which is TOTALLY hilarious because the War Machines are just magical. And it’s a decent cliffhanger.

Also, they’re hilarious.

Part 3:

Ben manages to escape from the pursuing War Machine seconds before it tells one of the WOTAN select that there’s an intruder in the warehouse. The select member manages to have the warehouse sealed before Ben can escape.

Ben runs into a dead-eyed, brainwashed Polly and starts gushing about everything he’s seen, but she’s all cold and heartless and not very helpful.

She locks Ben in the warehouse and calls for help. He’s carted away screaming and brought before one of the war machines.

FOUR HOURS LATER, The Doctor starts to fret and worry while the WOTAN select is still passing judgment on Ben. The select orders him killed, but Polly protests, saying WOTAN needs all the skill labour it can get. They can kill him later.

See? There you go. Maybe the machine is waking up to realty.

Back in the Post Office Tower, Professor Brett and that other professor dude discuss the plans for tomorrow and how the War Machines will attack at noon and kill all noncompliant humans.

In the factory, the dude in charge starts yelling at the hard-working humans to work harder, telling them the machines would work harder than them and they must be worthy. AND THEN HE KARATE-CHOP-KNOCKOUTS ONE OF THE WORKERS FOR NO REASON AND THEN YELLS AT HIM FOR TAKING A NAP.

I’m sorry, but that’s really bad managerial skills, don’t you think? I’m just thinking about how I’d be if my boss started yelling up and down my hard-working department to work harder, and then he karate chopped one of us. That’d just kill productivity and lower morale. That’s not even taking into account the whole HR issue of that. I mean, it’s not like the guy even had a good reason.

Anyways, Ben and Polly are doing some heavy lifting and Polly reveals the War Machines whole plan to Ben, who has still not been brainwashed.

Honest to god. I mean, I like Ben. But frakking brainwash him already. Jesus.

He finds out about the noon thing and also about the lack of guards on the door. Why place guards when no one wants to escape? (because you’re trying to keep people out?) And this gives Ben incentive to basically walk right out without anyone really noticing.

Except for Polly.

But she lets him go free for some reason, and then she gets scolded for letting Ben go, and she gets sent off to WOTAN for re-processing.

Ben races back to Sir Charles’ house and tells The Doctor everything he knows. Sir Charles thinks it’s poppycock, but The Doctor manages to convince him to at least consider it. Sir Charles phones the Minister and somehow manages to get insane military force to investigate this War Machine problem.

Which is insane. How did he do that? Does he have something on The Minister?

So this military action is our next youtube. It’s totally silly and really epic and it has one of my favourite Hartnell moments at the end. And did I mention I friggin love The War Machines because they’re just so insane?

Part 4:

So with that one War Machine coming straight for The Doctor and The Doctor standing it down in some Time Lord vs. War Machine chicken, Ben yells at The Doctor to get out of the way, but The Doctor continues to do his stare down thing and The War Machine glides right past him.

The Doctor explains to Sir Charles and the Minister that by taking such amazingly strong military force so early on, they were able to catch the not-completely-programmed War Machine by surprise, tricking it into acting like a fool.

Ben expresses his worry that Polly is still missing because she wasn’t in the warehouse, but The Doctor is too busy attempting to disassemble the for-some-reason-deactivated War Machine to worry too much about Polly. So he pimps away because he’s sick of not being able to see that sweet Polly ass.

Major Green shows up (he was the one who was in charge of this warehouse and he claims to not know anything (A LIKELY STORY)) and gets carted away.

But then, they receive word that one of the War Machines (and The Doctor says there are eleven plus the one they disabled) is running around London, killing people, bumping into cars, and driving just slighty over the speed limit in residential areas.

The Doctor realizes the War Machine is electromagnetic (no kidding, it’s a computer) and that gives him an idea on how to stop it.

Oh, also, Polly gets to go hang out with WOTAN, working for him and waiting for him to kill her as punishment because she let Ben go. So that’s where Polly is.
So this is the last youtube. It’s silly. And it’s how The Doctor manages to trap The War Machine. And it’s funny. Seriously, I cannot get over how silly these things look.

Also, hilarious.

With the War Machine captured, The Doctor re-programs the War Machine with new protocols that make it take off for the Post Office Tower to go attempt to take down WOTAN.

Ben realizes Polly is there and races off to try to beat the War Machine so Polly isn’t accidentally killed. Now realizing that Ben is throwing himself in harm’s way, The Doctor races after him too, to try to make sure he’s not killed.

Ben manages to get there first and wrestle Polly out of the room, and not a moment too soon, because…


Seriously, okay. Come on. Really? Somehow The War Machine got in the elevator and took it all the way to the top floor? And before you say “it took the stairs” think about that for a minute. There’s no way this thing got up the stairs.

I wish they’d had the guts to do the shot of the War Machine in the elevator with some elevator music playing, or perhaps The War Machine making a multi-point turn as it attempts to turn itself around while the elevator ascends.

Anyways, the War Machine starts to shoot its magic gas at the computer (it’ll work! It has to!) and the professors attempt to take it down, but he gets gassed in the bum (no really).

And the War Machine manages to explode WOTAN, undoing all the brainwashedness and shutting down the War Machines for good (although not really, cuz the War Machines were on their own network. DON’T QUESTION IT) setting everything right.

The Doctor, Sir Charles, and the Minister enter and survey the damage and The Doctor drops some science on everyone before pimping away like Batman.

Later on (a few days later, I guess), The Doctor waits at the TARDIS, growing increasingly more and more impatient as he waits. He gets fed up and is about to enter when Ben and Polly show up with some news.

Turns out they have a message from Sir Charles from Dodo. So Polly gives him the message from Dodo: that she is feeling much better and she’s decided to stay in London.

Lemme repeat that. She has decided to stay in London.

Fun fact, we haven’t seen Dodo in TWO FRAKKIN EPISODES, and this is how she gets a sendoff. An offscreen departure and a farewell from her REPLACEMENT.

Pathetic. Horribly pathetic. Now I know I haven’t seen that much of Dodo, but this is totally not okay. Can you imagine if they pulled this off today? My god. There’d be anger. Offscreen departure FROM TWO EPISODES AGO. And that’s it. That’s it for Dodo.

Honestly. They should be ashamed. All the Dodo fans in the world must be pissed. All seven of them. I’d be pissed. Amazing. AMAZING.

So Hartnell gets pissed at Dodo’s brushing aside of their adventures (OFF SCREEN! TWO EPISODES AGO!) and he starts rambling and tells them to leave and heads into the TARDIS.

Ben and Polly walk away, but turn to watch him head inside. And that’s when Ben remembers that he still has that one key from that one time (I guess it was from Dodo?) and they race for the TARDIS, making it inside, just as it takes off on The Doctor’s next great adventure.

Final Thoughts?: I think the most interesting thing about The War Machines is what it accomplishes rather than its story. Truth be told, its story has REALLY not aged well, but the way in which this story propels and subtly shifts the Doctor Who narrative is inescapable.

In that, I really appreciate this episode. I also appreciate it for its story that makes little to no sense in a lot of places, with characters who act like morons and silly gargantuan machines that just... Guh. They're so ridiculous. SO ridiculous.

It's also awful in the way that they just discard Dodo because her contract ran up halfway through this serial and they had no desire to renew it. But in that, Dodo becomes a legendary how-not-to in Companioning. And really, it's a horrible treatment of a "beloved" character.

More than that, I really don't know what to say other than this story is totally ridiculous and wonderful to poke fun at, but not much more beyond that. Hartnell turns in a decent performance, but, if I may be honest, he's easily my least favourite Doctor. His small chuckles and quick-to-angerness and "I AM THE WRATH OF GOD" have started to grate on me, but he is charming to watch, and he definitely does play it like a very young and inexperienced version of The Doctor, still starting to grow accustomed to his place in the universe.

That's not to say he's bad. I think he's a perfectly fine Doctor, but not necessarily for me when compared to the other Doctors history has to offer.

Also, this story was crazy. Did I mention that?

Next Time!: 3rd Doctor! More Master! Atlantis! (I guess?) A giant sheet-flapping-wing-dude-thing! Really, really boring UNIT! Some half-assed mythology! And the daisiest daisy! Cassandra guest-blogs "The Time Monster"! Coming next Tuesday!

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