Deus Ex Machina

This week Whovian Leap digs out his dusty Latin dictionary and recollects a favourite computer game. 

‘Deus ex machina’ – maybe critics of RTD’s era are familiar with this Latin term. Others might not be. It is an expression meaning “God out of machine”. We aren’t actually referring to the good Doctor himself coming out of the Tardis, but a contrived plot device used by writers who have “painted themselves into a corner”.

RTD arguably made use of this technique to tie up Series One, making Rose all powerful to save the universe from the Daleks. He did so again in the finale of Series Three having the world “pray everything better”. 

However RTD is in illustrious company. In “The Lord of the Flies” William Golding had a navy officer turn up out of the blue to save the boys who had been abandoned on a desert island. J.R.R. Tolkien himself used the Great Eagles who flew out of nowhere to save Bilbo and the dwarves when they had got themselves into a pickle with some goblins.

‘Deus ex Machina’ is also the name of a computer game from the 1980’s which featured the 3rd Doctor actor himself. In the days when computers had rubber keys looking like pieces of chewing gum and their graphics and audio were woefully bad, Automata UK’s game ‘Deus Ex Machina’ seemed to be paving the way to better things. “Zx Spectrum” computers weren’t really capable of music or human voices, but would happily beep away like the most embarassing of latter day mobile phones. ‘Deus’ would change this.

At the beginning of the game, there was a countdown. At ‘zero’ you would start playing the game but also press play on your cassette recorder to initiate the taped audio, saving your ears from the bleeping Spectrum’s offerings. You would hear real songs and human game commentary. Did I forget to explain Jon Pertwee? It was the great man himself who voiced the initial countdown and he featured throughout the whole game.

Peter Davison isn’t the only Doctor to have his name famously misspelt!

‘Deus’ also has other Doctor Who connections. Ian Dury sang some of the game’s songs, including the very catchy “Fertiliser Agent”. “Ian Dury and the Blockheads” are of course famous for the song “Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick” which the Doctor and Rose “crashed to” at the beginning of 2006’s “Tooth and Claw”. Another famous household name who voiced ‘Deus’ was “Carry On” comedian Frankie Howerd some of whose 60’s films were produced by the Moff’s mum in law Beryl Vertue. What’s more, Dalek creator Terry Nation wrote Howerd’s never released film “The House in Nightmare Park”. 


Deus Ex Machina” graphics. A girl possessed by Daleks, Bad Wolf style?

‘Deus ex Machina’ was included in the 2010 book “1001 video games you must play before you die” and follows the life of a “defect” formed in “the machine”, in its conception, growth, evolution and eventually death. It is loosely based on “The Seven Ages of Man” from Shakespeare’s “As You Like It”. 

Let’s conclude with another ‘Deus ex machina’. The War Doctor had to press a big red button to end the Time War. I wish I had one too, to wind up this article, my very own ‘Deus ex machina’!


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