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10 May 2013

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

Day 130: The War Machines, Episode Two

Dear diary,

When you think of companion pairings with the Doctor, there are two which only exist as an 'and'. You've got Ian and Barbara, and now Ben and Polly. Now, I've seen plenty of Ian and Bab's adventures before I embarked on this marathon, so those two have always had quite distinct personalities in my mind. Ben and Polly though have always seemed fused together in my mind - you can't have one without the other.

If I did have to pick the one that's more prominent, though, I think I'd go for Polly. I think it's simply because unlike Michael Craze, who plays Ben, Anneke Wills (Polly) is still with us. She's quite prominent in the Doctor Who world, providing linking narration for some of the soundtracks, turning up in Big Finish plays (and not always as Polly - in the days before the Companion Chronicles range allowed us new adventures with the first few Doctors, Wills played Lady Louisa Pollard, mother of Eighth Doctor companion Charley), on DVD commentaries and on special features. She makes hundreds of appearances at Doctor Who conventions, and is all-round a lovely person.

I've only met her the once, when running a signing with Terry Molloy about five years ago. A woman arrived at the desk to ask if she could cut in and say hello to her 'old friend' Terry. Imagine our surprise when we realised that it was Polly Wright! Still, the fact that she's so ubiquitous within Who means that she's always felt like the half of the 'and' pairing that's stronger.

So it's surprising to watch today's episode, in which Polly has little to do but general secretary things, and it's Ben who fulfills the role of the Doctor's companion more actively. He's sent off to scour the part of the city where the tramp has been killed, and to see if he can find anything out that may help them discover what's really going on. He even gets to take centre stage for the cliffhanger, as a War Machine advances on him.

It's good, too, because Ben's actually great, isn't he? Craze's accent if fantastic and refreshing (Dodo's was a bit of a shock to begin with, but it was firmly RP by the end), and I'm hoping they don't tune it down. It's also interesting to see Ben treating the Doctor with respect simply because he's an older gentleman, and that's what Ben has always been taught to do. I'm really pleased that he's breaking himself out of the 'Ben and Polly' mould so early, with a great opportunity to shine.

It's following Ben out to the warehouse in Covent garden that gives us today's opportunity to see how strange this story is. Forget alien planets, or the Wild West, this is where the series is most alien to me. Right in the heart of central London in the swinging sixties. There's a scene early on in the episode when the Doctor gets into a taxi with his companions, and it's bizarre. It's not what the show does at this point, so I really don't know how to take it! It's looking great, though.

Oh, but Dodo. Poor, poor Dodo. I knew that this was her last episode, and that she ends up turfed from the story with little more than a cursory wave of the hand, but how desperate does the Doctor sound to get rid of her? When he tells Ben that Dodo is feeling 'a little under the weather', the sailor hopes that she'll be ok. The Doctor cuts him off, though, proclaiming that she'll be fine, and he's more worried about Polly, anyway. There we are, then. I guess he's made his decision!

Jackie Lane doesn't even get much of a chance to do much in her goodbye. Apart from trying to tempt the Doctor off in the wrong direction, and some general 'hypnotised' acting, that's her lot, and she's off to the country. A real shame. Dodo's only been a short-term companion by comparison to some of the other's we've has, but it's a pity not to see her given a proper send off.

But the city is under attack, and Doctor Who is still required (see? It is his name in this point of the programme! Doctor Who is required)!

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