Doctor Who 124 – The War Machines Part Two

Written by Ian Stewart Black
Directed by Michael Ferguson

Wotan implements the construction of War Machines to be used to subdue the human race.  Meanwhile, The Doctor discovers Dodo’s entrancement. 

Sadly, what ended up being a routine tramp killing turned in to front page news.

 “Doctor Who must be enlisted in our services tonight!”

Having been hypnotized by Wotan, Dodo hightails it back to The Inferno club to attempt to lure The Doctor to Wotan for hypnosis.  Unfortunately for her, the comedy forces are at work this night and through a series of near misses, Ben hails The Doctor a cab before Wotan’s other slaves (from a rapidly increasing slave force) can abduct him.  The Doctor, Dodo, and Polly depart in the cab as Ben heads for a nearby service base.

Meanwhile, the homeless tramp who had ridden in the cab that Ben hailed decides to bunk down for the evening in a warehouse that doesn’t turn out to be as abandoned as he remembered it being.  The make his evening worse, Wotan senses his presence, leading to the tramp’s swift demise.

The following day, The Doctor reads in the newspaper of a tramp’s body being found.  He makes the connection to the man from the night before.  The Doctor is quite taken by this information until he learns that top computer scientists in London are disappearing.  Dodo suggests they visit Professor Brett to inquire about this.  The Doctor makes a call to Brett’s office, and he is immediately connected to Wotan, who fails to hypnotize The Doctor.  Unfortunately for Dodo, she begins to reveal the plan before she checks to see if The Doctor was actually hypnotized.  The Doctor is a bit slow on the uptake, but eventually figures out that Dodo has been compromised.  He breaks her connection to Wotan and puts her to sleep.

Polly, distressed by these happenings, returns to the tower to check on the professor, and is quickly captured.  Ben, worried that Polly stood him up for lunch, checks on The Doctor, who recruits the young sailor to investigate the neighborhood where they last saw the tramp.  Ben discovers the war machine factory, complete with a fully armed and operational war machine.  Cue cliffhanger.

T.F.U.?

If I remember my lore correctly, I believe the war machines were meant to be the new Daleks.  And while the basic premise is sound, I believe, the failure is in the design.  Just as Wotan foresaw Skynet, the war machines seem to be an early form of Robot Wars, complete with steam gun and bashing arm.  As much as I enjoyed the episode, the design of the machines hasn’t aged as well as the story.  But the designers worked with what they had, and it works for the story.  However, I know that when I eventually loan this DVD out it is the design of the machines that will receive the critical comments.  But despite poor design, we have to keep in mind that this story took place in the 1966.  Wotan would have used the equipment available to him at the time.  Thus, the design is at least partially plausible.  The lack of actual guns, however . . . less plausible.

I’m also enjoying Hartnell in this story.  Granted, I enjoy him much of the time, but it is fun seeing him tackle the type of story that would come to dominate the show.  This is the type of story in which any Doctor could have appeared, yet it is distinctively different from other Hartnell stories.  It is fun to see his performance and to see him rise to an earth-bound threat.  But my favorite Hartnell moment in the story is yet to come.  That will be the cliffhanger to part three.

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Doctor Who 123 – The War Machines Part 1

Written by Ian Stuart Black
Directed by Michael Ferguson

Arriving in 1960s London, The Doctor senses evil surrounding a newly-developed supercomputer.

The new team

 “Wotan believes the Earth cannot develop further with mankind in charge.  Thus, humans must serve Wotan.”

And a bit of ground rules first, it is pronounced VO-tan, not WO-tan.  I’m not sure why, but it’s not important.

If I am remembering correctly, this is the first episode since An Unearthly Child where the adventure takes place in contemporary (well, 1960s) times.  Rather funny as Cymru Who seemed to be there every other episode for a while.  Regardless, this setting seems a bit odd after three years of adventures anywhere but.  There also seems to be a heightened sense of urgency, but that could be the pace of the episode because we don’t really waste a lot of time.  This episode introduces the threat, introduces Polly and Ben, and show the corruption of Dodo.  Quite a lot to accomplish in 25 minutes.

So, what happens?  Upon arrival in London, The Doctor senses an evil coming from the recently built Post Office Tower, although the story itself doesn’t refer to the tower as such.  This evil sends chills throughout The Doctor’s body, reminding him of The Daleks.  This seems a bit heavy-handed to me.  Apparently they were trying to create a new, popular enemy for the show, and hopes were that The War Machines would be that enemy. This explains the real-world reason why The Daleks would be invoked in this scene, but from a story perspective, it serves to quickly, and somewhat clumsily, set up dread.  But that only seems one misstep in an otherwise good episode, so we can overlook it.

Inside the tower is the computer Wotan.  It has artificial intelligence and can solve problems.  According to the developer, it never makes mistakes.  Indeed, it solves the math problem set to it by The Doctor then, more inexplicably, correctly figures out the acronym TARDIS.  We also learn that Wotan is mere days away from being connected to other supercomputers located around the world.  Essentially, Wotan is the forerunner to the internet.  No wonder The Doctor sensed great evil.  While The Doctor ponders these omens, Polly, the developer’s secretary, takes Dodo to The Inferno Club, which we are told is London’s most-happening night spot.  Ah, the sixties.

At The Inferno Club we meet Ben, a navy sailor who has a bit of bunk time in London while his ship is off in other parts of the world.  Ben is rather upset because he would rather be traveling.  The bartender asks Polly to work her magic on Ben to cheer him up since his vibe is dousing the atmosphere or something.  Polly flirts with him, but fails to perk him up.  The man next to Ben, however, is quite interested and offers to hang with Polly because he “knows her type.”  Ben comes to Polly’s rescue, although this happens after Ben is insulted.  The man is soundly beaten, thus establishing Ben as the new alpha male and Polly as a flirt and possible tease.  Basically, a 60s girl.

Meanwhile, Wotan begins taking control of his developer (okay, his name is Professor Brett, according to the internet.  Sorry, bad with names) and Major Green, the security officer of the Wotan project.  Wotan bends them to its will and they quickly capture and convert Professor Krimpton, the hardware expert on the project.  Wotan has reached the conclusion that the Earth can no longer progress with humanity in charge, thus humans must serve Wotan or die.  But there is one more thing Wotan needs.  It had recently been in contact with a powerful human brain.  Wotan needs The Doctor’s brain, and it has a new servant in the form of Dodo to lure The Doctor back to the tower.

All in all, this was a fast-paced episode.  All the actors do well to convey being controlled, alternating creepy and emotionless.  Dodo’s control comes as quite the surprise and makes the situation quite personal.  The contemporary setting is new and interesting and not yet done to death.  What I also find fascinating is that this episode was written before The Terminator films or The Matrix films.  We have a supercomputer that can think and judges humanity to be a liability.  Quite a forward thinking episode.

Doctor Who 122 – The Savages Part 4

Written by Ian Stuart Black
Directed by Christopher Barry

The Doctor, Jano, Steven, Dodo, and the savages make their move to end the oppression by The City, and Steven finds himself faced with an amazing opportunity.

“No man easily gives up the means that give him power.”

It is all pretty much a downhill ride from here.  Jano meets with the savages and convinces them that he has had a change of heart.  The machine is evil and it must be destroyed.  But he is also convinced that reason will not win out against the people of The City, so he devises a plan by which he can lead his new allies into the laboratory and destroy the equipment that has been oppressing the savages for so long.  Even Exorse, who had been taken prisoner by Steven and the savages in the previous episode, joins in the destruction at the end.  Again, experiencing the oppression of the savages has awakened a new perspective for Jano and Exorse.

Now that The City’s power has been destroyed, both Jano and the savages find themselves at the beginning of a new peace or a new war, depending on how the next few days and weeks progress.  The people of The City will most-likely go into a type of withdrawal now that their power and energy is gone.  The savages probably still won’t trust the people of The City for some time.  Thus, Steven is chosen by the savages to be their new leader.  They trust him, and so does Jano.  It is hoped that Steven can reconcile both peoples to each other and find peace.  Steven’s departure is rather abrupt and isn’t really foreshadowed at all, but at least it is a decent end.  He gets to usher in a new age of peace as a leader.  As exits go, it isn’t that bad.  Just ask Adric or Dodo.  But I’m jumping ahead a bit.

In the end The Savages is a decent story.  It may not be the most compelling, but what it lacks in gripping drama (something that may actually be lacking as the story is video is lost) it makes up for in great mood music and thought-provoking thematic material.  One can look at the conflict in The Savages and come up with quite a few different interpretations.  It can be a technological cautionary tale.  It can be a metaphor for the United States civil rights movement (even down to some of the language used).  It can be a warning about progress and class struggle.  But even though this is most-definitely a moral tale, the story isn’t quick to cast the people involved as necessarily evil.  In many later Doctor Who stories, the society that does the oppressing is generally considered evil, and their lack of compassion for the oppressed is treated as vile and this is supposed to justify their eventual death and destruction.  Look at the oppression of The Ood in Planet of the Ood for example.  And while the oppression in The Savages is not portrayed as innocent by any means, the door is left wide open for hope and redemption.  Jano wisely understands that while the machine exists it creates the potential for relapse.  By destroying the machine, both sides are now on a level playing ground.  Both sides must now choose to get along.  It comes down to the individual choice for change, the individual choice to create a new, beneficial society.  It is quite telling that no one is killed in the finale.  Even the main voices against the destruction of the machine are left alive.  There is always a chance for redemption, and I think this is one of the strongest and most noble aspects of this story.  It reinforces that you can be in a system, you may even feel caught in it, but you can choose to escape.  You can choose to change yourself and influence those around you.  You don’t always need to beat down and destroy your enemies.  Perhaps this is why in so many Doctor Who stories, The Doctor fights monsters.  Monsters are not people.  They do not have humanity and they are not sympathetic.  They act as archetypes for various forms of evil.  The moment they cease being one-dimensional, the moment they become nuanced, they cease to be monsters and perhaps it is wrong to destroy them when it would be better to convert them to a new point of view.  It is wrong to kill people, but it is perfectly fine to kill monsters.

Doctor Who 121 – The Savages Part 3

Written by Ian Stuart Black
Directed by Christopher Barry

Steven and Dodo are pursued by The City guards as The Doctor has his life essence drained by Jano.

“The strangers are gods!”

Now that the general world-building has been completed, the story moves toward how The Doctor and his friends will tear down civilization.  Honestly, it seems that it won’t be too difficult as the City guards have grown complacent.  They have lived with little to no resistence, so they have grown a bit careless.  Steven is able to get the light gun from one, allowing the savages to take a guard prisoner.  This act of defiance awes the savages.  Steven and Dodo return to the City to find The Doctor.

As indicated by the cliffhanger, The Doctor has been put into the machine and his life essence is being drained.  It is rather interesting that while the life essence is a substance that allows prolonged youth, it also seems to drain away creativity.  Perhaps this is why the savages have no will to resist.  Is resistence linked to creativity, to the ability to think and desire a different way of life?  I suppose this is why some dictators discourage literacy.  But with The Doctor, something more has transferred.  Jano rightly uses caution.  Since The Doctor is a being unlike any they have tried in the machine before, he volunteers to be the first recipient of The Doctor’s essence, just in case something goes wrong.  After the transfer, Jano begins to adopt characteristics and mannerisms of The Doctor.  He even begins to see the lab and the machinery with a critical eye.  The Doctor’s morality has been transferred to Jano.

There seems to be a subtle message at work here.  Yes the whole “progress at the expense of the downtrodden” idea is a bit obvious, but it is the solution that seems more subtle.  By taking on the life essence of The Doctor, Jano is essentially “walking a mile” in The Doctor’s shoes.  He is seeing life with a new set of eyes, filtered through a new perspective.  This is usually one of the best ways to end a type of prejudice, to put a human face on the victim.  To see the life of the victim, to see the hopes, dreams, fears, and worries of the victim.  Despite being an alien, The Doctor’s essence is humanizing Jano.  Based on the performance and the progression of the character, I don’t think Jano is evil in the traditional way of good versus evil.  I think he is just a man who has been brought up under a specific paradigm and has had no reason to challenge the status quo.  So while the use of the machine is evil, the actions on the part of Jano and the scientists in the City aren’t necessarily malicious.  They are just indifferent.  That doesn’t, however, mean that the people in The City, including Jano, are free from blame.  Their indifference and self-centeredness is still oppressing a lesser class, and this is wrong.  I look forward to seeing how this ends.  Okay, yes, I’ve seen it before, but still . . . .

Doctor Who 120 – The Savages Part 2

Written by Ian Stuart Black
Directed by Christopher Barry

Dodo discovers the dark secret to The City’s progress, a secret that The Doctor is quick to condemn . . . to his peril.

Not a lot of compelling images in this one.

As suspected in the previous episode, we learn in part 2 that the scientific progress in The City, especially the health and well-being of the inhabitants, are the result of transference of life energy from the savages to those who live in The City.  Dodo stumbles upon the laboratory where all this occurs.  Her curiosity confirms what The Doctor suspected.  Feigning the need to return to The TARDIS, The Doctor, Dodo, and Steven leave The City and consult in the forest.  It is there they discover a savage who had been recently-drained.  The Doctor sends Steven and Dodo for medicine, and while they are gone, he is found by one of the City guards and makes his feelings on the matter quite clear.  The Doctor is captured and sentenced to transference.

Meanwhile, Steven and Dodo discover that The Doctor is missing.  They help the savage who then vouches for them when his people arrive.  Our party is now split up in typical Hartnell Era fashion, The Doctor in The City, Steven and Dodo with the savages.

The Doctor is quick to denounce Jano and the experiments.  Honestly, as a character The Doctor has come a long way since we first met him.  He has started to take moral stands against injustice, something that he would shy away from in the past.  He is now a character who would denounce his previous actions.  And unlike more recent incarnations of The Doctor, The First Doctor seems to have no concern or guilt over his past.  Where the Ninth Doctor lived in constant guilt over his actions in the Time War or the Eleventh Doctor would say that “good men don’t have rules.  You don’t want to find out why I have rules”, the First Doctor seems to not spend any further time reflecting on his past instead living constantly in the moment.  And I think this is rather striking because many of the early incarnations seem to live free of guilt.  They don’t even seem to agonize over the deaths of people who die for a cause.  I don’t recall the Fourth Doctor ever lamenting that there should be another way.  No, the early Doctors seem to come from a position of moral authority, and give very little thought to whether or not they were correct.

I’m also starting to think that reviewing reconstructions or audio versions of Doctor Who stories is quite difficult, especially holding to the episodic format.  It is hard for me to focus on the individual parts.

A Game of Thrones – A Novel by George R. R. Martin

It seems almost foolish for me to add my voice of praise to all those who have written before me.  Yet there are so few books that capture my attention as this one did.  Often, I am constantly aware of time as I read.  Of late it seems the thought of reading more than one chapter at a time is excessive.  But as I approached the end of A Game of Thrones, I spent the last two days reading the final two hundred pages in a mad rush to find out just how George R. R. Martin was going to arrive at some sort of conclusion.  No, I didn’t expect the end of the story.  That won’t come until book seven and it hasn’t been written yet.  But I hoped to find how Martin would choose to end this novel.  Why did he pick the ending he did?  And this book truly did feel like the first act in what will be a seven act story.  The initial conflicts have been set up, the story is moving into a second part that will have roots in the first, but be significantly different.

Still . . . looks cool, don't it?

My first encounter with A Game of Thrones was the HBO adaptation.  I watched five episodes before abandoning the series because I couldn’t justify watching pornography with fantasy trappings.  It’s a shame, really, because HBO put quite a bit of money into the series.  The cast is excellent and the show looks good.  And while the adaptation is largely faithful, most scenes of exposition seem to occur during throws of passion or lurid displays.  It seems as if the writers and directors feel that the audience may not have the patience for the exposition, so they threw in some breasts and moans to hold the attention.  This seems like poor storytelling to me.  Especially since many of these scenes were added.  The exposition was done in narration in the book, so I acknowledge the need for finding more compelling and practical ways to do this, but to add a sex scene to almost every line of exposition seems lazy.  In addition, the two sex scenes that could have “reasonably” been included both involved Daenerys and Drogo, and even these scene were cast as rape rather than consentual.  In the book, Daenerys, despite being afraid of her arranged husband, did try to learn and be a good wife.  Their wedding night showed a gentle and understanding Drogo, whereas the HBO version showed a cruel, uncaring Drogo who only wanted to sate his pleasure.  To show Daenerys’ movement toward a strong and admired wife, HBO created a character arc where she learned to use her sexuality to win and control him.  While sexuality was a strong part of their relationship in the book, it was always portrayed as her attempt to be a good and strong wife to him, not to control or dominate him.  I think there was an extremely subtle distinction between the two versions of this story.

So, abandoning the HBO version, I sought out the novel in the hopes it would be less pornographic.  Martin doesn’t shy away from human sexuality, but he treats it less luridly in the book.  And while I enjoyed many other aspects of the HBO version, reading the novel has helped me to gain an appreciation for Martin’s ability to tell extremely complex stories and hold to an astounding attention to details.  The sheer number of characters and plot lines is staggering.  Martin is a master world-builder and he seems to have a firm grasp of fairytale and mythic storytelling.  Often, if you are familiar with these genres, you can see the foreshadowing, but you still don’t know how events will play out.  In the opening chapters, when The Starks come upon a direwolf killed by a stag, you know that this foreshadows a major Stark death (The Stark sigil being the direwolf) at the hands of the Baratheons (their sigil being the crowned stag).  What you don’t know is who (although you have a strong guess) and whether it is a literal or symbolic death.  Likewise, you don’t know how the death will occur.  Martin handles the foreshadowing expertly.

The characters are compelling and fully human.  This isn’t a story full of noble heroes and dire villains (although some of the villains are thoroughly villainous).  But every character is flawed, even if that flaw is their own good intentions.  There were a couple of scenes where I actually felt tears, and I have very rarely cried over a book (Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book being the only example I can think of).  I truly felt invested in the characters, and that is something that occasionally suffers in fantasy, which is often more concerned with world-building or high adventure.  Martin has a firm grasp over every aspect of his craft, and I truly admire him for it.  I eagerly await a chance to read book two.

Content Warning: There is some strong language in this book.  There are also sex scenes, and while they are descriptive, they are not overly so.  Nor do they depict the entire act.  I’ve seen more graphic, but I’ve also seen less.

Even though I think the HBO series is more pornographic than anything else, the series still looks good.  Here is the opening title sequence, which is just breathtaking visually and musically inspiring!

Doctor Who 119 – The Savages Part 1

Written by Ian Stuart Black
Directed by Christopher Barry

The Doctor, Steven, and Dodo arrive on a planet with a utopian city surrounded by a vast wilderness.

Oh! Pardon me, my boy, you gave me a start. For a moment I thought you were a Robo Man.

Once more I have to praise the sheer variety of the Hartnell era.  For the last four days, we have had an amusing, fun western.  Today, we have a darker science fiction story.  The dramatic shift in tone from one story to the next continually refreshes the show for me.  And with the run of four parters in this part of the season, that means that no story outstays its welcome.

At first it appears that, in spite of The Doctor’s proclamation that this is an advanced planet, our heroes have arrived in Iron Age Earth.  But we soon discover this story has less in common with The Doctor’s adventures with The Tribe of Gum and more with stories like Logan’s Run.  There is a vast city that houses a highly advanced race.  The people of the city want for nothing and seem quite content with the status quo.  Curiosity, however, seems discouraged.  This is bad for Dodo.  The Doctor is quickly taken in by these people as they have heard of him before.  Forget your Cymru Who “On Coming Storm”, this is one of the first stories to portray The Doctor’s reputation preceding him.  According to city leader Jano, The Doctor’s adventures have been followed by the people of the city with great interest.  They had even determined he would arrive in the city one day.  They should be count themselves lucky that they ended up with The First Doctor.  I’d hate to see what Nine or Ten would have done to their society.

The people of the city, as you might expect, have a dark secret.  The power that fuels the city and the essence that improves the abilities and lifespan of the people is actually taken from “a high level of animal life”.  The implications seem obvious.  In the wilderness outside the city are tribes of savages.  Human life would be considered a high level.  Thus, this story follows the tropes of many utopian society stories.  Progress comes at a dark price.  Connected to that is prejudice and fear of “the other”.  This utopian society that admires The Doctor is actually sustaining itself with actions that he will find atrocious.

Adding to the darker tone is the music.  Instead of electronica or ballad we have a string quartet providing some extremely effective atmosphere.  There are few classic era soundtracks that I would really be interested in, but The Savages is potentially enjoyable without the accompanying narrative.