Tuesday, 31 May 2011

27: The War Machines - The Doctor's First Step Into The Here & Now.

Written By: Ian Stuart Black & Kit Pedler.
Companions: The Doctor, Dodo Chaplet.
Monsters/Villains: WOTAN, War Machines.
Brief Synopsis: At the top of the Post Office Tower, super computer WOTAN brainwashes humans to build War Machines in order to take over the world.
Rating: 9/10.

Now this is more like it! This present day (for the time), pre internet scare story really blazes the trail for future Doctor Who to come. Set in London, 1966 the Doctor saves earth from a super computer called WOTAN (Will Operating Thought ANalogue) that creates War Machines in order to take over the world. The architectural centre piece of the story is the Post Office (now BT) Tower. I guess this must have been appealing at the time. If they made this story today it would probably be the Gherkin.

The journey continues with the Doctor and Dodo. The story kicks off with a great opening shot of the TARDIS materialising at Fitzroy Square, London which was shot from the top of the Centre Point building. This story's got some great comic touches, like in order to keep any unsuspecting Bobbies away from the TARDIS, the Doctor hangs up an "out of order" sign. We get some great first time moments that will recur frequently in the future. Like the Doctor's modesty when he's introduced as a computer expert, he replies, "I dabble." The Doctor being able to sense danger or certain alien life forms. His disregard for authority in the form of Sir Charles, whom he describes as "The official mind [who] can only take in so much at a time." It's almost an early version of the relationship the Doctor will have with the Brigadier.

In many ways The War Machines is very ahead of it's time. It's 1966 so it's obviously pre-internet. However, here we have a super computer, WOTAN, connected to other computers all over the world. It's creator Professor Brett, it's chief engineer Professor Krimpton and Major Green claim that WOTAN knows everything and can answer any question posed to it. It even knows what T.A.R.D.I.S stands for and sounds like the early connection noise for the internet.

A scale model of WOTAN.
We are then introduced to the fabulous twiggy-esque Polly, played beautifully by Anneke Wills. Dodo is thrilled to be back on her home world and her home city and wants to go to the hotest night spot in town. So suddenly we're transported to the Swinging Sixties club: The Inferno; where we also meet down on his luck sailor Ben Jackson played by the vigorous Michael Craze.

The Doctor getting complimented on his "fab gear," with Polly & Ben.
There's a press conference scene which really reminds me of Jon Pertwee Who. People are starting to feel oddly. Brett feels like he's being watched and Dodo feels sick. WOTAN takes control of Brett, Major Green, Dodo, and Krimpton. I was particularly impressed with John Cater as Professor Krimpton. The last to succumb to WOTAN, his portrayal of a man fighting for control was performed with elan. 

John Cater as Professor Krimpton.
Then we hit the one huge glaring mistake with this story, WOTAN has decided that the Doctor is it's only threat and so should be captured, controlled and made to lead the invasion. If it wasn't for this one glaring error I'd give The War Machines a 10/10. As we reach the end of the first episode WOTAN declares: "Doctor Who is required... bring him here." 

A War Machine.
It gets serious fast as Brett suggests that War Machines must be built immediately, and they must enlist 'Doctor Who.' For anyone who hasn't worked out what I'm driving at here. His name isn't Doctor Who, it's the Doctor. The Show is called Doctor Who. This problem is easily solved by adding a comma. "The Doctor, Who is required, bring him here." And if you don't like that explanation, you can always just ignore it. 

I'm not particularly well-versed in it myself but apparently this story is quite heavily influenced by The Avengers which ran from 1961-69. The swinging sixties which has been fairly absent thus far smashes it's way on to the screen in this episode. There's tons of location shooting, including a fair amount in Covent Garden; which is where I work. It was a real treat to see Hartnell walking down streets I walk down everyday. They even have a genuine Covent Garden tramp. Who after attempting to doss in an "abandoned" warehouse ends up dead and somehow on the front page of the newspaper hours later.

WOTAN tries to control the Doctor over the phone but fails, Dodo is ordered to bring the Doctor to WOTAN, but the Doctor, Who realises that she is being controlled hypnotises her in order to break her conditioning. Dodo then gets sent away to the country to recover, never to be seen again. What a shame! I love how everyone just thought she was so rubbish they just ditched her in a really brief and unsubtle way.

Major Green and other brainwashed workers.
The Doctor asks for Ben's help to reconnoiter the area where the homeless man was last seen, but he is discovered by the War Machine. Polly gets taken over too and helps the rest of the brainwashed to capture Ben. Brainwashed Polly orders that Ben is to kept alive and used for labour. However her conditioning is clearly starting to break as she sees Ben escaping and doesn't try to stop him. 

Ben gets back to the Doctor and tells him whats happening so Sir Charles calls a minister who gets the army involved. They're not quite UNIT but they're definitely laying the groundwork for their impending introduction. The army surround the Covent Garden warehouse but most are killed by the War Machine, with only a few men retreating. The soldiers guns won't fire. They seem to be magnetically jammed. It was only during this action sequence that I realised the near total lack of music throughout the story. This was apparently due to budgetary restrictions. It seems like all is lost as everyone takes cover from the War Machine, except the Doctor who slowly moves toward it. There's an odd moment of bad continuity for the "previously..." section of the last episode as not everyone is under cover. The Doctor survives as this particular War Machine is unfinished.

We then have another great first that will recur many times in the future in as far on as David Tennant's tenure as the Doctor. A television report. In this instance anchored by real life newsperson Kenneth Kendall. We also get a radio announcement. It's wonderful to see, this possible dystopia realised as the audience of the sixties would have experienced it through various medias.

Ken Kendall as himself.
The Doctor forms a plan to capture one of the War Machines. With the aid of Ben's bravery the Doctor creates a magnetic field around one neutralising it. The Doctor reprograms it to destroy WOTAN. He irresponsibly sends 'his' machine to take out WOTAN even though he knows Polly, Brett and Krimpton are there and might be in danger. Fortunately Ben goes to rescue Polly and manages to pull her from the room against her will before the re-programed war machine destroys WOTAN and Professor Krimpton in the process. With WOTAN's destruction all of the conditioning is broken.

By this point I have one question that has constantly niggled at me all the way through the whole of the story: Why is it pronounced VOTAN instead of WOTAN? Is it a German computer?

The Doctor leaves the scene in a hurry and back at the TARDIS he is just about to leave without Dodo; who we haven't seen since episode two when Polly and Ben show up with a message from Miss Chaplet, "She's feeling much better, she wants to stay here in London and she sends you her love." Ben and Polly bid their farewells - but at the last minute they go to give the Doctor back his key, and enter the TARDIS just as it dematerialises. I think we've got two new companions on our hands.

So long to the awful Dodo. Hello to the more promising Ben and Polly.
Aside from the terrible misjudging of the name of our protagonist, this has to be one of my favourite Hartnell stories. It's so much stronger than a lot of the other early stories, and although for most of Pertwee and a lot of Russell T Davis regime we were far too often earthbound it is a pleasant change for Hartnell to be defending the earth.

And that's the end or Season three. What a mad ride it's been. We met the Drahvins and the Rills, the Monoids, WOTAN and it's War Machines, the Celestial Toymaker, and once more the Meddling Monk and the Daleks. We went to ancient Greece, 16th Century France and the American Wild West. We lost 3 companions and gained 4. We saw just 17 out of 45 episodes with a whopping 28 missing ones. My favourite story from this season is this very story The War Machines, my least favourite is definitely The Celestial ToymakerOut of a possible 100 I scored this season 65/100. Giving it an average score of 65/100. With just one point less than season 1, things are clearly back on track after a bumpy season 2. But can season 4 prevail in besting season 1 for the top spot?

Join me next time for the start of Season 4 and Hartnell's penultimate story The Smugglers

Saturday, 28 May 2011

26: The Savages - A Genuine Moral Metaphor But Ultimately Forgettable.

Written By: Ian Stuart Black.
Companions: The Doctor, Steven Taylor & Dodo Chaplet.
Monsters/Villains: Jano, The Elders.
Brief Synopsis: The ruthless Elders are sucking the life force from the helpless Savages.
Rating: 7/10.

Maybe I was having an off day when I listened to The Savages but I was rather underwhelmed. I had read mainly good things about the story, and although I though it posed an interesting question it was ultimately forgettable. Having perused the internet for images, I have to say that the story fails to stand out as it lacks a strong visual hook. The Savages is the first story to have an overall title. I will miss each episode having an individual title, it must have always been a nice clue as to what was going to happen next week. With the current series of Doctor Who, I am so excited to discover what will happen in saturday's adventure, The Almost People. It must have been much the same for an audience back in 1966, except much bigger as there were only three channels to choose from. What an event it must have been each saturday!

I'm also sad to be saying goodbye to the wonderful Peter Purves. He has been such a strong figure in Doctor Who for a while at this point and although his departure is handled fittingly, it's a shame he goes out on a fairly unmemorable story.

The other contentious point in The Savages is that of 'blacking up.' The leader of the Elders, Jano, played by German born white actor Frederick Jaeger who blacked up for this role. Being a story that has none of it's episodes available in the archives, this issue obviously didn't bother me greatly. I don't think it's necessary to get into this one in great depth, the character didn't need to black, things were different back in the 1960's, it was an odd choice. 

However it's not all bad, we get the rather unusual choice to have the main players of the story not just knowing who the Doctor is but they've been expecting him. The Elders know of the Doctor, calling him 'The Traveller From Beyond Time'. They say they have watched his progress through Time and Space and awaited his arrival. The planet, run along similar lines to the Capitol, could be a Gallifreyan colony, similar to Minyos (Underworld), Dronid (Shada), or the planet of Mawdryn (Mawdryn Undead). 

When the Doctor arrives they offer him the position of high elder, and present Steven with a ceremonial dagger and Dodo with a diamond encrusted mirror (sexist presents?). I like the ironic statement Dodo gives, saying "the Doctor has no idea of time." The Elders claim to have granted all of their people greater energy, intellect and talent with just one simple discovery. They have discovered how to transfer the energy of life directly, like recharging their batteries. They do this by absorbing a special type of animal energy which turns out to be the life force of the Savages. They don't kill people, because they take their power from the living. The Elders use light guns which capture their prey and enables them to effect their movements like a puppeteer.

Once the Doctor learns of this barbaric process he commands them to stop. They take him to the laboratory to transfer him and take the Doctor's life force. Jano decides that he will take the doctors intransference. Steven and Dodo join with the Savages and rescue the Doctor. Jano starts to sound and behave like the Doctor.

Along with his life force, Jano received the Doctors conscience and wants to put an end to the evil that has been done. Jano smashes the control panel destroying all the machinery, ending the energy transference process forever. Steven elects to stay behind to help rebuild the civilisation. The Doctor and a tearful Dodo depart as the TARDIS Dematerialises.

It's odd that this story didn't grasp me. The music throughout is very atmospheric. It presents an interesting point. The Leader of the Elders Jano asks the Doctor, 'How can you condemn this great, artistic and scientific civilisation because of a few wretched savages?' In our society today there is a large part of the population who work in order to make the country a better place. They are poorer, less healthy and have fewer privileges, but the country and those closer to the top of the economical hierarchy would crumble without them. The Savages presents this dilemma at a critical and exaggerated level. Is it wrong to cause a few lower-class 'savages' to suffer (but not die) in order to maintain a "great, artistic and scientific civilisation?" The Savages (a story in which nobody dies) plays intelligent games with witless science fiction clichés and whilst not aspiring to greatness it does create an effective atmosphere. 

After some reflection I feel I have been quite harsh on this story, it did a lot and has a valid place in the Whoniverse.

Join me next time for a story that will define a whole new era of Doctor Who: The War Machines

As for the Hartnell era it's 26 down and 3 to go.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Hidden Clues in the BBC Doctor Who Website 2!

Hello faithful bloggers.

Here's the latest Fourth Dimension Clue for last night's episode.

This might have a connection to the hidden video we found from last week's clue. That appeared to be a "message" left by the Doctor which certainly was "interrupted." It's a short one this week, maybe because it's a two parter. Hopefully we'll get a better grasp on what's going on the more messages we decipher.

Stay tuned fellow code crackers! Any ideas of theories please leave a comment!

Thursday, 19 May 2011

25: The Gunfighters - The Ballad Of The Last Chance Saloon.

Written by: Donald Cotton.
Companions: The Doctor, Steven Taylor, Dodo Chaplet.
Monsters/Villains: Johnny Ringo.
Brief Synopsis: Arriving in Tombstone, Arizona in 1881, the Doctor and his companions get caught up in the infamous gunfight at the O.K Corral.
Rating: 7/10.

Hello faithful blog-o-teers! I really quite enjoyed The Gunfighters and I thought what better way to express my feelings for it than through the medium of song. I herby present for your reading pleasure:

The Ballad of The Last Chance Saloon

We start off our story,
The Doctor, he got an ache.
His tooth is a hurting,
It's a pain he can't take.
The Tardis, it's arrived,
Where? I'll tell ya soon.
In Tombstone, Arizona,
At the Last Chance Saloon.

Steven and Dodo,
Wearing Cowboy clothes and hats,
The Doctor dons a Stetson,
Matt Smith just did that.
The crew meet some locals,
What a happy fortune.
Doc Holliday's the Dentist,
Near The Last Chance Saloon.

With no anesthetic,
Holliday takes the tooth.
A rap on the head or whisky,
That won't help! It's the truth!
It's Miss Dodo Dupont,
And Steven Regret,
It's Doctor Caligari,
They're the best names they can get.
The Doctor gets mistaken,
For Doc Holliday.
Then the Clanton Brothers gang,
Make Steven and Dodo sing and play.
Guess which song they choose?
You'll recognise this tune,
It's maybe getting old now.
Yes, The Last Chance Saloon.

To break up the hubbub,
In comes Wyatt Earp,
He arrests the Doctor,
The authority, he'll usurp.
The Clantons form a Lynch Mob.
Doc Holliday is their prey.
For killing their brother,
They sure will make him pay.
They're about to hang Steven,
He's going to his doom.
This is really meant for kids?
Yes! The Last Chance Saloon.

Johnny Ringo he's in Tombstone,
He too's after the Doc.
He murders poor Charlie,
The last tick of his clock.
The Clanton's come to rescue,
Their poor brother from the jail.
They kill Warren Earp,
Then they all turn tail.
Earps: Wyatt and Virgil,
'll send the Clantons to their Tomb.
They'll all have their shootout,
At The Last Chance Saloon.

Holliday joins the Earps,
The Clantons they get Ringo.
Thanks to Dodo's intervention
Holliday kills him dead as a dingo.
Then bang, bang, bang,
Three dead Clantons at high noon.
Once more, where did it go down?
Duh! The Last Chance Saloon!

Back in the Tardis,
A new planet or a city?
The Doctor knows where they are:
"An age of peace and prosperity!"
They've gone to the future.
But what an afternoon!
Neither of us will soon forget,
The Last Chance Saloon!

I really couldn't agree more that this story is unfairly judged. I'm not hugely into Western stuff, but I still really enjoyed this one. Like a lot of early Who it's oddly violent in places. The Doctor certainly challenges Wyatt Earp's necessity for violence when it comes to law enforcement, but doesn't do a huge amount to stop it. The Sheriff asks the Doctor to go and speak to the Clantons and persuade them not to fight and to promise them a fair trial for killing Warren Earp. They refuse and the Doctor can do nothing but let history play out and see Ringo and the Clantons get killed. I can't help but feel like this isn't a battle of good triumphing over evil but merely rough justice. All of my problems in that vaine can be solved with the simple solution that they are attempting to show how things really were in the wild west in the 1880's.

After the TARDIS departs at the end of the story the Doctor gives a fairly bold statement, "I know where we are: The future. An age of peace and prosperity." Ironically the next story is titled The Savages.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Hidden Clues in the BBC Doctor Who Website!!!

Here's something wonderful for fans of new Who! I just discovered this and it is amazing and exciting!!

For each new episode of Doctor Who the BBC website has a section called "The Fourth Dimension" (good name) which contains little bits of trivia for each episode. Within the text there are some words that are in italics. The use of italics seemed somewhat random and out of place. I noted each word, and discovered that they formed a legible sentence. I checked over each episode and sure enough, there were the italic words again. I've noted each of these sentences for your reading pleasure.

The Doctor's Wife sentence was a clue. The spot beyond the Doctor's home planet is the full stop/period after the last word in the text: Gallifrey.

When you click on this you are taken to a hidden page and this video titled: Analysis Lessons. Which happens to be an anagram of Lonely Assassins... I'm not sure if this has any reference but it is so crazy cool exciting!! My inner fan is going wild right now.

I hope you enjoy this and I shall certainly be on the lookout for future episode clues which I'll post here...

Saturday, 7 May 2011

24: The Celestial Toymaker - A Growingly Absent Doctor & Certainly "Nothing Is Just For Fun."


Written by: Brian Hayles & Donald Tosh.
Companions: The Doctor, Steven Taylor, Dodo Chaplet.

Monsters/Villains: The Celestial Toymaker.

Brief Synopsis: The TARDIS lands in the domain of the malevolent Celestial Toymaker.
Rating: 4/10.

Right, so this story is basically the same episode 4 times. The TARDIS materialises in the centre of an empty octagonal room. In the room is a man dressed in the robes of a chinese mandarin. The features of the room are both ultra modern and ornate. In the room are a large desk with a control panel and an elegant triangular gaming table. This is the Celestial Toymaker and we are in his domain. The Doctor describes it saying "this place is a hidden menace, nothing is just for fun." Oh, Doctor you couldn't be more right!

The Toymaker needs to play games constantly, he describes himself and his intentions for the Doctor thus: "I'm bored. I love to play games but there's no-one to play against. The beings who call here have no minds, and so they become my toys. But you will become my perpetual opponent. We shall play endless games together, your brain against mine."

The Doctor and the Toymaker.
We left off at the end of The Ark with the Doctor vanishing. This seemed to be an exciting cliffhanger, but once we learn the true reason for this conceit it is painfully dull. Hartnell barely appears in this story at all. The Doctor "misbehaves" so the Toymaker dematerialises the Doctor's physical being except for his hand. He then makes the Doctor 'dumb,' taking away his power of speech until he finishes the penultimate move in his game. Hartnell was absent from the second and third episodes and at one point someone else actually voices the Doctor, with a pretty terrible William Hartnell impression. I couldn't believe it! 

We also learn that the Doctor has met the Toymaker before. Although, sadly, we don't really find out any more about his origins; apart from the Toymakers rather ambiguous line "I've been waiting for you a long time." He could be a god, or another time lord? He's got the same kind of title.

The Toymaker then takes away the TARDIS and separates the Doctor from Steven and Dodo. For the rest of the story the Doctor will be playing the Tri-Logic game. He will have 1023 moves to recreate a pyramid pattern from point A to point C moving only one piece at a time and a large piece cannot go on top of a small piece.

The Tri-Logic game.
Right! So, little introduction out of the way lets do the first episode. The Toymaker selects a pair of clowns from a victorian dolls house, one happy and one sad, grows them to human size and brings them to life. He plops Joey the sad clown (Campbell Singer) and Clara the happy clown (Carmen Silvera) into the room with Dodo and Steven. Singer and Silvera give somewhat inconsistent performances in their many guises. The clowns mock the companions as Joey gives Steven a handshake and the clown's fake hand comes away in Steven's. Then Clara gives Dodo some flowers and squirts her in the face. The Toymaker explains that the pair of companions must win all their games before the Doctor does. After each game, if they win, they will find a TARDIS, which may or may not be the real one. If they loose they stay here forever as his 'guests.' So Dodo Steven set off on: The Hunt for the TARDIS.

First Game


Game: Blind Man's Buff. 
Parts/Board: A sort of snakes and ladders like obstacle course. 
Objective: To cross the obstacles, blindfolded and without falling down. If a player gets 'home' they win.
Roles: One player from each team will direct the other using a series of beeps as commands. The other must traverse the obstacle course. 
Additional Rules: If both teams make it 'home' they play again until one team looses.

Joey completes the obstacle course by using a fake blindfold that he can see through. Steven completes the course with a real blindfold and even with Joey trying to distract him. When Steven learns the clowns have cheated he makes Joey play again with a real blindfold and this time he falls over. A TARDIS reappears, but it's a fake. There is a riddle on the door.

Riddle One: "Four legs, no feet; Of arms no lack; It carries no burden on its back; Six deadly sisters, seven for choice; Call the servants without voice." 

The Toymaker forces the Doctors game onward by ordering it to skip to a later move. Steven and Dodo discover an exit through a door in the back of the fake TARDIS and just before they pass through it they turn back to see the two clowns have turned back into small wooden dolls.

In the second story we have an almost identical set up but with a different game and a different group of opponents played by the same actors. This time Dodo and Steven face off against The King (Singer), Queen (Silvera), and Nave (Jack) of Hearts (Peter Stevens).

Second Game

Game: Musical Chairs.
Parts: Seven Numbered Thrones.
Objective: One of the thrones is safe, the other six are deadly. Find the safe chair.
Roles: Each team takes turns placing a doll on a chair until the safe chair is found.

The unsafe chairs grab and shake to pieces, electrocute, saw in half, vanish, freeze, eject their occupants. Dodo sits in the wrong chair and gets frozen. Steven manages to free her. The Hearts sit in a chair together and fall though it. And just when Dodo and Steven think they've won the TARDIS back, it's another fake. They find another riddle.

Riddle Two: 'Hunt the key, to fit the door; That leads out on the dancing floor. Then escape the rhythmic beat; Or you'll forever tap your feet.'

Again the Toymaker order's the Doctor's moves to skip ahead and also again Dodo and Steven exit through a door in the fake TARDIS but not before glancing back to see that all that remains of the Hearts are a couple of playing cards.

And here we go again in the third story. New game and "opponents:" Sgt. Rugg and Mrs. Wiggs (Singer and Silvera again).

Third Game

Game: Hunt The Key. 
Parts/Board: A Key and a Kitchen.
Objective: Find the Key.

Regardless of the distraction of their opponents, Dodo and Steven find the key in one of Mrs. Wiggs pies and go though into a room with a dance floor. They discover that if you step on to the dance floor, music plays and one cannot help but dance. 

Steven steps on to the dance floor and can't stop dancing. Dodo does the same. Somehow, I'm not actually sure how, they manage to escape the beat, jump off and get to the TARDIS. And it's the real one.... Oh no wait it's another fake! And oh look another riddle! What a surprise...

Riddle Three: 'Lady luck will show the way; Win the game, or here you'll stay.'

The dance floor.
Once more the Toymaker speeds up the Doctor's game, by ordering to skip to an even later move and we go on to game number four. This time Steven and Dodo will take on the Toymakers most deadly toy, the fearfully terrible, the chillingly evil, the fat jolly Schoolboy: Cyril? 

Cyril (Peter Stevens again) who is known to his friends as Billy (obviously implying the children's TV character Billy Bunter) gives Steven a shock with a hand buzzer and gives Dodo some sweets, which she pockets for later.

Fourth Game

Game: TARDIS Hopscotch.
Parts/Board: A number of raised Triangles. A Die for each player.
Objective: Roll your die to get to the TARDIS. 
Dangers: If you fall off your triangle you will be electrocuted by the floor.
Additional Rules: If you land on the same triangle as another player, that player must return to the start.

Jackie Lane as Dodo gives a really odd and obviously unsure delivery of the line: "I think I'm going to enjoy this game," as if she's not sure. Cyril tries to cheat by putting slippery powder on one of the triangles to get Dodo to fall but forgets and slips on it himself. Falling and getting electrocuted to death. Steven and Dodo finish the game and finally get to the real TARDIS.

And the endless cycle of regurgitation is finally over. The Doctor is made visible again with only one move left to make but leaves to meet Dodo and Steven at the TARDIS. The Doctor knows that if he wins and makes his last move, the place and everyone there would vanish, including himself. The only place the Doctor and his companions are safe is inside the TARDIS. The Toymaker is immortal, when he loses, his world ceases to be but he goes on forever. Steven bravely offers to make the final move for him, but the Doctor won't let him. Then Steven says "We can't just sit here and talk our way out if this." Which gives the Doctor his "ingenious"idea of how to defeat the Toymaker and survive. "That's exactly what we'll do."

"Masterfully" (please sense the ironic tone) the Doctor perfectly impersonates the Toymakers voice saying "skip to move 1023." The Final move is made from within the TARDIS but before the world disappears the doors are closed and the TARDIS dematerialises. Well wasn't that clever?

The Doctor promises, "Their will be other battles." And there was actually a plan to bring back the Toymaker during Colin Bakers tenure as the Doctor but it got cancelled (it was however, successfully made into a Big Finish Audio called The Nightmare Fair). The story ends back in the TARDIS with Dodo offering the Doctor one of Cyril's sweets and when he takes a bite of the 'joke' sweet he screams in agony.

Michael Gough as the Celestial Toymaker.
The only real saving grace of this story is Michael Gough as the Toymaker. He is fantastically mysterious and whole-heartedly beguiling. He also manges to do very well with a poor script and a bum story. The way his character jumps around, appearing and disappearing, suddenly showing up so quietly and subtly is very creepy. I must also concede that the story also succeeds in making an ordinary thing scary. This is such a staple Doctor Who meme. The Auton's being made of plastic, the Vashta Nerada as being afraid of the Dark, etc. I'll never be able to look at a doll or a playing card in the same way again.

After an almost entirely un-Hartnell-ed story due to his absence or vacation time, we get the unintentionally funniest moment in the whole piece right at the very end of the last episode as we glance the title for the next episode:

"A Holiday for the Doctor."

Join me next time for a much maligned story, The Gunfighters.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

23: The Ark - A Game Of Two Halves!

Written by: Paul Erickson.
Companions: The Doctor, Steven Taylor, Dodo Chaplet.
Monsters/Villains: Monoids, Refusians.
Brief Synopsis: Aboard a giant space ark, Dodo's cold nearly kills the entire human race and their servants the Monoids. Returning 700 years later the TARDIS crew arrive to find that things have changed somewhat. 
Rating: 7/10.

The Elephant!
It's a lovely day here at the Ark Stadium, the birds are squawking, the lizards are... sitting there, and... oh my god there's an elephant on the pitch. Is that a mascot? If you've just joined us, we've got a wonderful line up today as the mighty Guardians FC take on the giants of Monoids United. Both teams vying for the coveted Refusis II cup. Surely only one of these teams can go home with this sought after new home planet. But which team will it be? One thing that both of these teams have in common is incredibly unfortunate kits. The Guardians in their thin split-stip hula style kits and the Monoids in their umm.. dresses. And that's the whistle, and oh boy the Guardians are really giving the Monoids a run-around, they're treating them like their slaves! And, oh my goodness, it's only two minutes after kick-off and what's that on the pitch? It's a 1960's Police Telephone Box. It just appeared out of nowhere!

The Guardians FC.
It's genuinely wonderful to be actually watching an episode again. I really didn't appreciate it's predecessors enough and after quite a few episodes with only audio for company The Ark is a real treat. The Monoids may not be one of Doctor Who's best monsters; their single eye was achieved with a ping-pong ball painted like an eye held in the actors mouth, the rest of their face was covered by a 'Beatle' wig. They also wore a sort of skirt effectively giving them a single leg. Their feet have just two great toes. They clearly didn't have the staying power of the Daleks or the Cybermen, but there is a soft spot in my heart for them. The Ark was the first black and white Who I can remember actually enjoying. I though the story was neat and I liked the split narrative. It's great to get to see years later how the Doctor has effected one of the places he visits. The only real downside to The Ark is Jackie Lane as Dodo, but she doesn't actually have much to do in this story apart from start all the problems in the first place.

Monoids United.
And what's happening now? A girl has stepped out of the blue box she's wear a very classic kit from the time of the Crusade and oh no! She's got the common cold. Both teams aren't going to like that! And look at that, our first booking of the match. One of the Guardians has made a bad boo-boo so he's off to be miniaturised to be reconstituted in 700 years time! What a shame! Well, at least it wasn't expulsion. 

The Guardians are the remnants of the human race. They departed just prior to the Earth's imminent destruction and are on a 700 year journey to what they hope will become a new home for their race: the planet Refusis II. They have miniaturised and stored all of the human race in what look like ice trays in a giant fridge, only a few people have elected to stay and act as 'guardians' over the human race. The Commander of the Guardians describes the origins of the Monoids as "obscure." In other words lazy writing. Apparently they offered their "invaluable services" basically acting as slaves in return for passage on the journey. The Guardians are building a giant statue of Man by hand. They elect to do so, so that the construction can be completed gradually, culminating at their arrival at Refusis II 700 years on.

Oh no! One of the Monoids has be taken ill and is being stretchered off the pitch. That cold virus is starting to rear it's ugly head. And oh my god, I can't believe it the Commander, the captain of the Guardians has been taken ill also. That's gonna be a real upset for the Guardians. And, yes, I've just heard that the deputy commander Zentos will take over as team captain. And Zentos is close to the goal, one of the Monoids has shuffled off his mortal coil and.... GOAL!!!! That's 1-0 to the Guardians.

The Guardians and Monoids have never experienced the common cold, it was wiped out long before they were born so they have no resistance to it. The Doctor and co are put on trial for bringing the cold virus to the Ark. Bloody Dodo! (Plus what kind of a name is Dodo? I know it's short for Dorothea but really? Dodo?) Also, I do have to question why it's so much more worse when a Guardian dies than a Monoid?

The Doctor and Steven, with Dodo in somewhat odd attire.
Oh my goodness, what an upset, another Monoid bites the dust and it's another goal for the Guardians. That cold virus really is deadly. 2-0. Wow, just seconds later a Guardian expires, making it 2-1 with everything to play for. They are going at it hammer and tongs.

The Doctor and co loose the trial and it is decided that they will be ejected into space and that the Monoids will do this as they were the first to loose one of their own to the virus. The commander changes the verdict and allows the Doctor to experiment to discover the cure. Jackie Lane as Dodo occasionally slips into the cockney accent in which she rehearsed the story. The production team were instructed by their superiors that it was unacceptable for a regular character to have any other accent than BBC English. The Doctor actually chastises Dodo for saying "okay."

There's a Doctor is in the dugout and, Yes, I have confirmation he has acquired the needed animal membranes and yes he has cured the common cold. Back of the net! He's cured the Commander and he's back on the pitch as Captain just in time for the whistle and that marks the end of the first half and what a match we've had so far. Rejoin us in 700 years time for the culmination of this apocalyptic battle between these two titan teams.

Another hilarious offering from the Monoids are their unfortunately slow transports that are even slower than walking. At the end of the second episode the TARDIS dematerialises and then rematerialises in the same place. The TARDIS has travelled no distance in space but 700 years in time. The ship's journey is very nearly complete and the giant statue has been finished. In place of where the human head should be there is a Monoids.

The Monoid headed statue.
And I haven't seen a game like this since Planet of the Apes. This really is a game of two halves. The Monoids have really turned this around and are clearly on the offensive, lets see what happens in the second half. Where are the Guardians their presence on the pitch is practically nonexistent.

In the 700 years the TARDIS crew have been away the Guardians helped to develop a voice box machine and heat prods for the Monoids, who have revolted and taken power, turning their previous masters into slaves themselves. Armed with the ability to speak and using the heat prods as weapons, they have even numbered themselves in place of names.

I just can't believe this upset. What a change, can we please get an instant replay of when the Police Box departed. The Doctor clearly controlled the immediate impact of the fever but a mutation has developed  sapping the will of the human Guardians.

We then get possibly the funniest line in Doctor Who history. After the Doctor and co are captured, Monoid 1 orders another Monoid to "Take them away to the security kitchen!" We learn that when Dodo referred to the ship as being "like Noah's Ark," she unwittingly named the ship. I can't help but think that making the Monoids "evil" diminishes the story. The Guardians may have used the Monoids as slaves but they didn't plan to leave them behind to die.

Sadly this moment never happens in the story.
And a new player for the Guardians Steven Taylor has tried to trap a Monoid, but it's failed and oh my god, a Monoid just used his heat prod and killed a Guardian and it's a Goal. It's tied up at 2-2.

The Doctor, Dodo, Monoid 2 and a Guardian make the first landing on Refusis II. Initially it seems there are no Refusians and just to prove how rubbish the Monoids really are as monsters Monoid 2 smashes a vase and throws some flowers on the floor to get the Refusians attention. Petty much? We then learn that the Refusians are invisible. There was a giant solar flare, so they no longer have a 'being' one can see or recognise. Monoid 2 also manages to give the game away, just (as I have discussed before) as all traitors do in early Who. A while after they leave, the Monoids plan to use a fission device (which is a bomb for those laymens out there) to destroy the Guardians and the Ark, but a Guardian witnesses this plan on a monitor.

Oh my and another Guardian kicks the bucket. 2-3 to the Monoids. And oh yes it's a red card for Monoid 2. The Refusian ref, who has been oddly absent from the game thus far makes a fair call. So it's goodbye to Monoid 2 as the Ref-usian destroys the launcher before he can report to Monoid 1. You can really tell that this is causing some dissention in the ranks and Monoid 4 is clearly starting to doubt the leadership of Monoid 1.

We learn that the bomb is in the head of the statue. The Monoids all abandon the Ark and arrive on the planet leaving the bomb timed to explode in 12 hours. The Doctor and Dodo contact the Guardians from one of the landed launchers and a Refusian returns one of the launchers to the Ark.

Oh my goodness the crowd is going wild. A fight has broken out on the pitch. Monoid numbers 4, 5, 21 and 63 are getting right up in the faces of 1, 9, 10, 52 & 77. They're on the same team but right now you'd never guess it. Oh my god and they're shooting each other. One, two, three, four of them dead. That's an own goal. It's neck and neck at 3-3. This is intense!

The Guardians discover that the bomb is in the head of the statue. But it's only with help from the Refusian who lifts the whole statue into the launcher bay, that they are able to launch it into space just seconds before it explodes. The Refusians promise to help the Guardians colonise the planet but only if they make peace with the Monoids. The Doctor says the Monoids were treated like slaves so it's no wonder they returned the favour. Yes they were slaves, which was clearly wrong but the Guardians weren't planning to commit genocide and kill all the Monoids.

And that's it, full time. 700 years on. And it's a tie. 3-3. Who'd have thought after all we've been through with these teams that we'd get that result. So they're gonna have to share the Refusis II cup. I have to say in all my years commentating I have never seen anything quite like this. What a match!

I must admit that although I don't think The Ark is one of the best stories ever, I do have a guilty pleasure for it. After everything has settled, we return to the TARDIS, where both Dodo and Steven have changed clothes; Dodo in to something less crusade and more swinging sixties. Suddenly the Doctor sneezes and starts to vanish. Is it the refusians? Is it Dodo's cold/annoying accent? No, it's more serious. This is some kind of attack.

Join me next time for the whimsical, Celestial Toymaker.