Goodbye William Hartnell

My Netflixing of William Hartnell’s tenure as the First Doctor is now done.
DOCTOR WHO: The War Machines is the last intact serial from the Hartnell era (one of the special features details what it took to reassemble it), and the first contemporary-set story. Very contemporary, in fact, not only shot on location in London but focusing on the Post Office Tower, the newest, tallest building in London at the time (I remember it being a very big deal back in the day—some of the other special features go into that).
The plot, for the time, was very contemporary too: A big computer set up in the tower decides (as computers in those days invariably did) to take over the world from those inefficient humans and run it better. To that end it mind-controls scientists and politicians, tries taking over the Doctor (referred to as “Doctor Who” for the only time in the series) and unleashes the war machines, remote-controlled tanks, on the streets of London.
The War Machines, designed with flame-thrower/gas guns and hammer arms for smashing obstacles, are a striking design: They look entirely plausible, the sort of thing someone would design as an urban tank. That practical look does, however, lack the special charm the show gave the Daleks.
This introduces two suitably contemporary companions: Polly, a blonde who likes hanging out in swinging night spots, and Ben, a sailor (working class heroes were becoming trendy at the time). Dodo gets enslaved by the computer and shuffled off mid-story.
Watching Doctor Who as an adult it’s easy to spot some of the moments where Hartnell lost track of the script, but there are no problems here. He’s in top form, whether it’s chuckling over hanging an “out of order” sign on the TARDIS or staring down an onrushing war machine.
The Lost Years is a DVD of the remaining fragments of the era: Two episodes of the historical drama The Crusades, three of The Dalek Master Plan and the final episode of The Celestial Toymaker. The Crusades is routine, though well-performed, but Dalek Master Plan looks like a much stronger one. Of them all, Celestial Toymaker is the one I’d most like to see. The serial starred Michael Gough as a cosmic entity who traps the Doctor, Dodo and Steven in a world of toys, pitting them against his dolls in deadly games, with the price of defeat being turned into dolls himself. And as we learn this episode, even if they win, they lose.
It’s weird and eerie, although dressing Gough up in a mandarin’s robe is an odd choice (he’s “celestial” in the sense that he’s apparently Chinese, though not done in yellowface). Even so, I’d love it if this one shows up someday.
And last but not least, one of the few bits preserved from the Cybermen’s debut, The Tenth Planet, is the Doctor’s first regeneration. At the time, this was absolutely mind-blowing—the Doctor we knew and loved turning into someone else? WTF?
At the time I didn’t much care for Second Doctor Patrick Troughton, never seeing him as anything but an imposter. I’m curious to see if my view changes now, nine Doctors later.
(#SFWApro)

2 Comments

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2 responses to “Goodbye William Hartnell

  1. Pingback: Doctor Who Tenth Planet DVD Announced | The Consulting Detective

  2. Pingback: Goodbye Jo, Goodbye Jackanapes: Doctor Who, Season Ten (#SFWApro) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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