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9 May 2013

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 129: The War Machines, Episode One

Dear diary,

The War Machines is one of those strange Doctor Who stories that I always think of being very fond of, but don't think I've actually ever watched all the way through. If I have seen it right to the end, then I doubt that I was paying proper attention to it. I was probably using it for background noise.

And yet, this one has always had an effect on me. Whenever I go to London, I always keep an eye out for the BT tower, and i think my fascination with it comes partly from this story. The rest of my interest comes from a general love of the 1960s as a decade. It's easy enough to look back on it with rose-tinted glasses, but there's a lot about that age that I really love, and it gets summed up perfectly by Tony Benn in a special feature about the tower on this DVD: 'confidence was so high, people really did believe that they could do anything'.

1960s London, in particular, is a magical place. People talk of 'Swinging London', and it's really an image that's stuck, fifty years on. It's a decade that's symbolised by freedom and fashion. I think that's why I've got a bit of an affinity towards this story, because The War Machines takes Doctor Who - another icon of the 60's, along with the Beatles - and places it right in the heart of the city, just as the decade is about to explode. England won the World Cup mere weeks after this story went out.

Right from the start, when the Doctor and Dodo step out of the TARDIS and onto a London street, it feels vibrant and new. I said yesterday that the arrival of Jenna-Louise Coleman to the new series had given it a new lease of life, and this story seems to be doing the same thing for Season Three. Steven has gone, and by the end of this story, Dodo will have departed, too. We're off onto a new phase of the programme.

Ben and Polly signify this perfectly - the pair of them light up the screen from the moment they start sharing it. It's telling that I'd forgotten Polly was ever Professor Brett's assistant in this story, I thought she came ready made as a companion pair with Ben at the nightclub. It adds something to it, though, seeing them meet for the first time, knowing that they're about to share a number of adventures in time and space.

Dodo doesn't fare quite so well, sadly. She's good fun to begin with, having a laugh with the Doctor (there's a really wonderful moment early on, when the Doctor has set off for the tower, and she chases after him up the street. As she catches up with him, they link arms and smile at each other. Never has the idea of Dodo as a replacement granddaughter felt more suitable), and being excited to be back in her own time and place.

There's an element of Rose Tyler to her, here. In The End of the World, having returned to Earth to be reassured by the Doctor that everything is ok, all Rose can think about is how much she wants some chips. It's nice! It's normal! All those adventures, out among the stars, they're fantastic. There's nothing like getting back home, though. It's that same feeling you get after a long holiday away. Dodo really did just stumble into the TARDIS the last time it landed here (is that why the Doctor made that 'out of order' sign?), and she's seen so much since then, but now she's back. Lovely.

In some ways, it feels obvious that she'll be leaving in this story. She's back home in her own time, her own city… There's a couple of obvious replacements hanging out with her down at the Inferno club. It's a shame I know she's not going to get the exit she deserves. And it looks like she's not going to get a chance to shine too much as a character before she goes, either. She spends parts of this episode complaining about a headache, before being taken under the control of Wotan, and sent off to do his bidding. A shame, yes, but it's good fun to watch. We've never had a companion hypnotised like this before, and Jackie Lane is making the most of it, doing it brilliantly.

…Hm? Sorry? What? Oh, no, it's ok. We don't have to talk about that bit of the story. It's fine.

Oh, all right, then. You know the bit. “Doctor Who is required”. It's a moment that causes a fair bit of controversy among fans who scream as loud as possible that his name isn't 'Doctor Who' (it doesn't half wind up my other half when I tell her that's his name). The thing is, at this point in the programme, it is his name! There's no getting away from it!

For as long as Gerry Davies is sitting in the script editor's chair, the lead character in this programme is called 'Doctor Who', and there's nothing we can do about it. I can't say it particularly bothers me, but I'm interested to know what others think. Leave a comment, or a tweet, or pop over to the 50 Year Diary Facebook page and let me know what you think.

Is it his name? At least for now? Does it drive you mad when people call him 'Doctor Who'? I'm genuinely interested to know!

Is it his name? At least for now? Does it drive you mad when people call him 'Doctor Who'? I'm genuinely interested to know! 
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