TV Club: Doctor Who, “The War Machines”

“The War Machines” (season 3, episodes 42-45. Originally aired June 25-July 16, 1966)

“The War Machines” closed out Doctor Who’s third season in 1966, but like “The Time Meddler” the year before, it doesn’t quite have the feel of a modern season finale—it doesn’t feel like the endpoint of some larger storyline in the series, though it does see an important cast change as the Doctor’s companion Dodo leaves in favor of newcomers Ben and Polly. But especially in hindsight, “The War Machines” did help set the stage for the truly seismic changes that were looming just over the horizon for Doctor Who. Two serials later, in “The Tenth Planet,” the series would undergo the single most important cast change in its history, when William Hartnell collapsed on the floor of the TARDIS and got up as Patrick Troughton—the first regeneration. It wasn’t just the lead actor that would change, but the style of the show itself—and while “The War Machines” didn’t anticipate the regeneration itself (I’m not sure if that idea had even been thought of yet), it did mark a bold step toward the kind of action-driven thrillers that would be the hallmark of the Second Doctor era.

In terms of the plot itself, “War Machines” is pretty good if not a classic, with an appealing B-movie sensibility—this feels like a better, if equally cheaply made, version of the kind of movie featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000. (The War Machines themselves strike me as oversized versions of the homemade battletanks you see on Robot Wars, but like so many things with this series, you have to be willing to take the idea behind the actual effect seriously if you’re going to be able to enjoy Doctor Who the way it ought to be enjoyed.) The Doctor lands in London with his current companion, Dodo, and is immediately swept up in an attempted takeover of the world by WOTAN, a highly advanced computer that (like Skynet in The Terminator) has achieved sentience and thinks it can do better than the imperfect humans who created it. Using mind control, WOTAN assembles an army of humans to do its bidding, and eventually builds a fleet of self-propelled robot tanks—one of which is captured and reprogrammed by the Doctor, who sends it home to kill its papa. Along the way, Dodo befriends Polly, the assistant to the scientist who built WOTAN, and later Ben, a lonely and disconsolate sailor who’s at loose ends due to six months’ shore leave and doesn’t know what to do with himself. Both Dodo and Polly are snared in WOTAN’s web. After the Doctor snaps her out of her WOTAN-induced brainwashing, Dodo winds up disappearing almost entirely from the story in favor of her replacements, in what might be the cruelest ditching of a companion in the entire series. More on that in a moment.

Originally published April 29, 2012 on Read the complete article.

TV Club: Doctor Who, “Genesis Of The Daleks”

“Genesis Of The Daleks” (season 12, episodes 11-16. Originally aired March 8-April 12, 1975)

If you have to boil down to one single factor why “Genesis Of The Daleks” is so deeply influential on the later history of Doctor Who, it wouldn’t be the one implied in the title. Sure, this is the story that gave the Doctor’s most persistent enemies an origin. But what was more important was that with the introduction of Davros, their insane creator, the Daleks were finally given a face.

This had always been a problem with the Daleks. Despite their ongoing popularity, distinctive design, and iconic status as the original Doctor Who monster, it was hard to make effective characters out of creatures that had been designed on purpose to have so little individuality. Although they weren’t robots, it was easy to forget that distinction since every Dalek looked alike—a mechanistic melange of an insect and an armored tank, with only the occasional color variation to mark those of different rank. And they all had the same hostile and aggressive personality, which they could only express by shouting and shooting at things. None even had individual names. The whole point of a Dalek is that it’s a fascist, conformist bully that wants to eliminate anything that isn’t a Dalek. It’s the Nazi ideology taken to its logical extreme.

Originally published April 15, 2012 on Read the complete article.

A guide to the 2012 Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival

Sure, taking a trip around the world sounds awesome, but there are also many potential hassles: losing your passport, drinking strange water, and maybe even being kidnapped by pirates. Better to let the world come to you, as it does every spring with the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival, an always-reliable showcase of not-often-seen indie films and foreign cinematic gems. Opening with the hit French buddy comedy The Intouchables on April 12, the festival will show more than 250 films from 60 countries through May 3. The festival will also offer plenty of chances to hobnob with visiting filmmakers at screenings, parties, and other events celebrating the 50th anniversary of the fest’s parent organization, the Film Society Of Minneapolis-St. Paul. All films screen at the St. Anthony Main Theatre; for a complete, up-to-date schedule, visit the festival’s website at Here’s a taste of what this year’s festival has to offer.

Originally published April 11, 2012 on Read the complete article.

TV Club: Doctor Who, “The Curse of Peladon”

“The Curse Of Peladon” (season 9, episodes 5-8. Originally aired Jan. 29-Feb. 19, 1972)

It’s hard to see it if you’re watching Doctor Who out of chronological order like we’re doing in this TV Club series, but “The Curse Of Peladon” was an unusually old-fashioned sort of story for where the series was in 1972, even while it also pointed toward Doctor Who’s future. The heart of the issue comes up as soon as the Doctor makes his appearance: The TARDIS lands on a remote planet and he and his companion get out, having no idea where they are, and immediately get embroiled in an adventure. But what’s weird about that, right? That describes the opening five minutes of almost every Doctor Who story since the very beginning. It’s been the basic format of the show since 1963, and it’s still true today. Ah, but—it wasn’t true in 1972. Because for a couple of years, the Doctor wasn’t a wanderer through time and space, but a convicted criminal sentenced by his people to exile on Earth, where he served as the reluctant employee of a military organization whose job description didn’t involve randomly popping around to anywhere more than 50 miles away from London.

There was a good reason why that had happened. Two years before, when Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor was replaced by Jon Pertwee’s Third, Doctor Who also made the biggest stylistic shift in its history, making a radical change in format to regain declining viewership and compete with the smart, sophisticated sci-fi shows of the era like Star Trek, The Avengers, and The Prisoner. The show became slicker and smarter itself, most importantly by boosting the sophistication of its writing, with a concerted effort at political and social relevance and a distinct sense that Doctor Who was trying hard not to be seen as just a children’s show anymore. It was a necessary move, and it worked on both the popularity and artistic fronts: Ratings went up, the show wasn’t cancelled, and as a group, season seven’s four stories are easily among the finest Doctor Who ever did.

Originally published April 1, 2012 on Read the complete article.

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