The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

“Doctor Who is Required”?: The War Machines

Yeah, to those of us fans who, as adolescents watched Tom Baker and Peter Davison, insisting that the character was known simply as "The Doctor," the traditional billing was a problem, but this--The War Machines is a death blow. WOTAN, the super-computer that has possessed its creators, and means to forward progress on Earth through culling humans and focusing on mechanical evolution--well, WOTAN says, as you can see above, "Doctor Who is required." As does the (admittedly possessed) Professor Brett. So that would appear to be that. Debate over.

More to the point, the new creative team--Innes Lloyd, Gerry Davis, and Kit Pedler--are ready to put their own stamp on the program. Where the interval from Verity Lambert's departure through The Savages has had some classic episodes, frankly it feels like pastiche--they were still trying to make Verity Lambert's program without her. There was no distinctive vision or voice, and so the show overall felt increasingly fusty, despite the fact that many stories, taken on their own worked, and quite well.

But this--this story marks the birth of a new show. A show much more like the one we know today than Verity's Pandemonium Carnival was. The War Machines represents a first in many ways--it's the first time that the Doctor comes to the aid of the present day (at time of airing, 25 June-16 July, 1966, in this case) UK Government (as pompous as that of the UNIT era) and is set entirely in a menaced London of the present day. Without the need to be bound to cheap sci-fi sets, this story feels free, roaming through real landscapes and using real details. (Although the designers of the War Machines lack Ray Cusick's flair, and rather lamely model the weaponry on the Dalek guns Cusick designed.)

Even the "modern" graphics labelling each episode by number marks a declaration of freedom from Verity's style. (That special "computer" font used to turn up on book covers and other media as late as the 1970s, as my own memories of school books and other books I read as a child attests.) And we get the first of many scenes, the Doctor calmly confronting the alien menace, challenging it to come for him. Hartnell, looking iconic in his seldom-worn cloak and fur hat, stares down the War Machine in a way very similar to what we'd expect from David Tennant, or Matt Smith:

Ok, not quite--Tennant or Smith would have had an awesome speech of awesomeness to deliver, but Hartnell's stoic, poised courage in the face of the destructive machine rumbling toward him? Yeah, that's as modern as Peter Capaldi.

Polly and Ben are introduced much more naturally than Dodo was. Alas, poor Dodo! Banished without an onscreen farewell! Still, if it makes you feel better, Jackie Lane got her revenge:
“I think (Innes Lloyd) had definite plans for the series which neither Steven nor Dodo really fitted, and half way through my first year I was told that Dodo was to be written out. I would have liked a dramatic ending and my farewell just two episodes into ‘The War Machines’, and not even on camera but in reported speech, was a bit of an anti-climax. Still, I got my revenge. I now run a voice-over agency and Innes Lloyd once asked me to find him work. I reminded him that he had once sacked me from ‘Doctor Who’ and said a very firm ‘no’!”
Can't say I blame her, really.

Despite the unceremonious dumping of Dodo, the story does the job well. But more to the point, this Doctor Who is breaking loose in a new direction. And it needs to. Striking out with a new vision of Doctor Who is the salvation of the show. But it may very well be the death of the Doctor. At least this version.


Vinnie Bartilucci said...

The Computer Gone Amok would return to Doctor Who so many times, and its success here is surely the reason. BOSS from The Green Death is probably the most successful example after this.

Anglocat said...

Very good point, Vinnie! (I quite liked the cast credit “And Wotan” in eps 1-3)