Monday, 6 February 2012

DW50 Countdown: The First Doctor (Part Two)

As said in my previous blog post, in celebration of Doctor Who's oncoming 50th anniversary I'm going to review one story of each Doctor a month. However, each one I pick will be a story that is not usually seen as a classic episode of the series but I will aim to highlight how it is still brilliant TV! This month is dedicated to the First Doctor (see here.) and so the chosen adventure is one of his later efforts, 'The War Machines.' Hold onto your hula hoops, we're going back to the sixties...

When I sat down to watch the above-titled episdoe this weekend, I was coming to it more-or-less completely fresh. I had never seen the episode before (nor, if I'm honest a great deal of Hartnell's stories, something I aim to rectify) and knew fairly little about it. So it was with this open mind that I came to watch this piece of Doctor Who history - and I can honestly say I thought it was ace!

The opening shot is textbook Doctor Who - the wheezing, groaning timless noise of the TARDIS accompanying the machine itself fading into view. This shot is worked into the show's veins and must open 90% of episodes but is thrilling every single time. Wondering where the TARDIS will land is part of the magic of the show.
The destination this episode turns out to be swinging sixties London; a world that seems as alien to a young modern viewer like me as the dead planet of Skaro. It must have also suprised viewers at home as well, this being the virtually the only time the First Doctor went to present-day Earth other than the first ever story. The story waists little time before we are plunged right into this exciting new place to explore. Whilst the Doctor is off, erm, Doctoring, his companion Dodo, has some fun at ''the hottest joint in town'' 'the Inferno' with new Pal, Polly, where they meet cockney sailor, Ben Jackon. Both Ben and Polly are instantly likeable and riff off each other brilliantly; Polly oozes sixties chick and I actually cheered when Ben's raw cockney was heard amongst a sea of clipped received pronunciation.
Anyway, down to business. Whilst the cool kids are partying down (alright then I'll stop) the Doctor is investigating the funny feeling he's got about the newly-built Post Office Tower. Inside is housed an enormous computer, WOTAN, whose proud creator, Professor Brett, hopes will be the centrepiece of a worldwide network which connects all the world's computers together. Ha! Science fiction and it's madcap ideas, eh! As if!
However, as you may have guessed, things go wrong. It turns out WOTAN has designs of his own that include computerkind taking over the human race! Hypnotising scientists over the phone, he plans to build big, chunky computers on wheels called 'war machines' to perform his evil bidding.
Truth be told, WOTAN is a rather rubbish villain. He's largely silent and the idea of a giant computer now just isn't that impressive. I think this is the main reason for his dullness; in 2012, we've seen the 'computers-go-bad' idea done so many times it's a little hard to be excited by. In 1966 I'm sure WOTAN was a terrying notion. Talking about then and now, the quaintist scene in the whole story is surely the moment the Doctor is astounded that WOTAN can calculate a hard sum. Surely they have calculators on Gallifrey?
Also, after the superb first episode the pace does somewhat peter out. The fun of the nightclubs is shunned for the proper story about the construction of WOTAN's war machines whch means lots of time spent watching hypnotised workers marching around in warehouses. However, thing pick up int time by the end of episode three when one machine is let loose on London and the Doctor is forced to take desperate measures.
Overall, 'The War Machines' is great entertainment. With a rollocking first episode, fun new companions and a charming William Hartnell at it's heart, this is great slice of Doctor Who and proves that wherever you dip into its illustrious  history, you will always find something brilliant.

Oh, haven't I mentioned the five minute scene when several characters suddenly refer to our hero. who as fans insist is called 'The Doctor', as Doctor Who? I'm afraid it seems as if we've all been wrong all these years as it's here in (literally) black and white when WOTAN and Brett say things like 'Doctor Who is required' and 'we need Doctor Who.' There may not be another blog post on here for awhile, at least not until my frazzled fan-brain has recovered from the strain.

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