March 5: The War Machines Episode 4 / Daleks' Invasion Earth 2150 A.D.

(The War Machines episode 4 & the second Peter Cushing film)

On to the fourth and final episode, and I haven't even mentioned the special title graphics for this story, in that 60s "computer" font that denoted futuristic.  It's certainly different, the way the titles show up, one syllable at a time, on their own title card (as opposed to superimposed over the action, as has usually been the case in Doctor Who); it's as if, now that they've decided each serial gets its own title and they don't have individual episode names anymore, they have to do something different to make up for it.  Or it could be the new production team trying things out to put their own stamp on the show.

And one other thing to note (just to jump ahead slightly): the use of real BBC newsreaders (albeit not quite in their normal roles) helps sell the immediacy of this story, as we see a few random citizens' reactions to the news -- showing the threat isn't just isolated to a small area.  It's a nice little tactic that hasn't been used in Doctor Who before, but which adds some verisimilitude.

The Doctor examines the captured War Machine. (The War
Episode 4) ©BBC
But the action continues as the Doctor stares down the oncoming War Machine, which decides not to attack him -- apparently because its programming is incomplete.  "This is a computer, and this computer hasn't been completely programmed," the Doctor tells the Minister (presumably of Defence).  "Can you make that a little clearer, Doctor?" the Minister asks, baffled.  Yes, clearly things have moved on since 1966.  Oh, and while we're here, as Toby Hadoke rightly points out in Running Through Corridors, it's not the case that the Doctor's cloak knocks off the end of the War Machine's gun; it's the Doctor's key that falls out of his cloak, and Ben reaches down to pick it up and starts to give it to him before deciding he'll do it later (which is why he has a key at the end of the episode).

And this is really Ben's chance to shine, isn't it?  He helps the Doctor trap the War Machine by running the cable that traps it, he goes up to the GPO Tower to rescue Polly before the converted War Machine attacks, and he generally gets to act heroic while still aiding the Doctor.  Michael Craze won't have a chance to be quite as good on Doctor Who again.

The action concludes when the Doctor, having reprogrammed the captured War Machine, sends it off to the GPO Tower to destroy WOTAN (presumably people can't do that because WOTAN would just hypnotize them).  There's an amazing shot where we see the top part of a War Machine as a back projection moves swiftly behind it -- it looks like it's taking a fun jaunt down the streets of London.  But the War Machine arrives at the top of the GPO Tower and smashes WOTAN, ending the threat.

It's not the most perfect story ever, but The War Machines is trying something different, setting its story in the present day and in a recognizable city.  It's occasionally awkward, but there's a charm and style to it -- certainly Michael Ferguson's direction is quite dynamic, shooting at different angles and often through bits of foreground scenery, which helps things no end.  But we also get to see Hartnell in charge of the authorities in a way we've never seen before.  He's helped out leaders and such previously, but he's never had such a commanding role before.  Here he's less an advisor and more a leader, and it's interesting to see how comfortably Hartnell-as-the-Doctor slips into said role.  The War Machines is really something quite special, presenting as it does a new way of doing Doctor Who.

But then that's been the remit of season 3 in a nutshell.  Season 2 was about seeing how far they could go.  Season 3 has been about expanding the boundaries of the show even further, but in different ways.  Season 2 experimented with different styles, increased humor, and more ambition, whereas season 3 has tried for different experiments that it (largely) pulls off.  We get a 12-part Dalek epic, but one that's played deadly straight, and any humor introduced comes naturally (and here I'm thinking of the Meddling Monk) rather than grafted onto the story.  We've had a story in the unbelievably far future, an historical tragedy with some doppelgänger action thrown in, a somewhat surreal tale with weirdly different tones from moment to moment...we've even had a comedy Western thrown in!  Season 3 showed us a new take on Doctor Who, with two new production teams, and it demonstrated that there's still plenty of life left in the format.

The Dalek saucer in London. (Daleks' Invasion Earth 2150 A.D.)
©AARU Productions
And now, just as there was a special event between seasons 2 and 3, the break between seasons 3 and 4 saw a second Doctor Who movie: this one based on The Dalek Invasion of Earth.  But where Dr. Who and the Daleks saw a very faithful (one might say too faithful) adaption of the first Dalek serial, Daleks' Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. follows the basic plot beats of the second Dalek story without slavishly following every moment.  This means that, while the overall storyline is the same, the film moves much more quickly, cutting parts that aren't needed (for instance, the Slyther is missing entirely, and there's no David Campbell romance -- obviously partly because Susie Who is only 12 years old, but there's no romance with Dr. Who's niece Louise either) and streamlining other parts.  And here we note that David Whitaker received an "additional material" credit: one wonders how much influence he had on the scripts.

So the fact that the source material has been treated a little more loosely is actually a strength for this movie.  It means that we don't spend time retreading old ground (admittedly, not as much of a problem back when these movies were initially released and the original episodes couldn't be reseen) but instead getting to the action.  Roy Castle, who played Ian in the first movie, is gone; in his place is Police Constable Tom Campbell, as played by Bernard Cribbins.  This is an improvement; no disrespect to Roy Castle, but he always seemed slightly ill at ease in Dr. Who and the Daleks.  Bernard Cribbins, meanwhile, is immediately at home in his role, playing both action and comedy with such a sympathetic bent that you can't help but cheer him on.  And Jennie Linden's Barbara is also absent, so in her place we get Jill Curzon's Louise, who gets just about as much to do as Barbara had in the first one (which is to say, not much).  But Roberta Tovey's back as Susan, albeit a less irritating version, which is also welcome.  (And side note to say that it's probably not Tovey's fault, but Susan has quite appalling grammar: the note she leaves includes the phrase, "We heading for Watford.")

Brockley (Philip Madoc) betrays Dr. Who to the Daleks.
(Daleks' Invasion Earth 2150 A.D.) ©AARU Productions
But once again it's Peter Cushing's performance as Dr. Who which steals the show.  Sadly, he's not present quite as much as in the last movie, but he lights up the screen with his portrayal.  He's just as curious and energetic as before, and he's a delight to watch.

And of course the supporting cast is also well chosen.  Ray Brooks as David and Andrew Keir as Wyler are both marvelous, with Keir just getting the edge as a gruff freedom fighter who's nevertheless charged with protecting a young girl.  He pulls it off with aplomb.  Godfrey Quigley's Dortmun also gets some nice moments, and his death attempting to bury the Daleks under a ton of rubble is at least more heroic-looking than his TV counterpart's demise.

But it's the collaborators who steal the show.  You really learn to dislike Eileen Way and Sheila Steafel as the two who betray Wyler and Susan to the Daleks in exchange for a bit more food; Steafel in particular looks wonderfully underhanded and devious in her scenes.  But the one who really wins the award is Philip Madoc as the black marketeer Brockley.  He has such an air of self-interest about him, calculating and cold, that even when he's helping our heroes (for payment, naturally) you can't help but love to hate him.  His final fate inside a shack destroyed by Daleks is a great moment.

Dr. Who, Wyler, and Susan in the Dalek control centre.
(Daleks' Invasion Earth 2150 A.D.) ©AARU Productions
So the story is good, the cast is excellent, and the design is also great.  One of the places where The Dalek Invasion of Earth was let down was in its rather cheap-looking design: they tried, they really did, but in a lot of cases they couldn't quite stretch the resources to achieve what they needed.  No such problem here.  The Dalek saucer is really a spectacular design well realized, but it's not just the saucer: the Robomen uniforms are really great (perhaps losing a bit of that "zombie-fied" look that the originals had, but the images of secret police that these Robomen conjure up more than make up the difference), and the interior of Tardis also appears to have had an upgrade.  There are less loose wires hanging about and odd bits of technology scattered about haphazardly, in favor of computer banks and more sophisticated equipment.

As you've no doubt worked out, this is a movie with a lot to love.  The kinks present in the first film have been ironed out, and this stands as an exciting adaptation of a story that wasn't itself nearly as successful (or as much fun) as this is.  Daleks' Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. would prove to be the final Peter Cushing film, but at least Dr. Who went out on a high note.

(Oh, and the final tag scene, with Tom arriving back in contemporary London just before he left, so that he can apprehend the criminals he was chasing at the beginning of the film, is wonderfully charming.)