CIPC #345: Doctor Who S15 E13, The sun makers part 1

Let’s revisit our recent jelly-baby-loving, bescarfed friend Tom Baker, the fourth doctor. We meet him at the beginning of a new story about a company that has taken over Pluto1 and is using its population as glorified slave labour. He is in the Tardis playing a nice game of chess against K9. Now K9, beside being possibly the cutest robot dog to ever appear on screen, has a variety of very impressive skills, like knocking people out with some kind of power beam, powering spaceships, or quickly and accurately analysing highly complicated situations. But it can’t move chessmen.

So Leela, the Doctor’s companion at this point, has to do that for it. She doesn’t seem too pleased about her role, potentially because she would rather be playing herself. The doctor, who incidentally can move his chessmen himself, is playing white. When we first see the game, it seems perfectly balanced, as things should be.

I know this, because there is a very clear shot of the board. The following reconstruction is therefore absolutely reliable:2

Doctor Who has white, so, in a very real sense, Who's on first.This is quite impressive. Not only did they set up the board correctly, the position even looks vaguely reasonable. White is a pawn down and perhaps his opponent’s pawn mass on the queen’s side looks a little scary, but he’s not in any serious trouble as he can liquidate to an endgame with opposite-coloured bishops by Qxc2, probably followed by axb4. But the doctor has different plans. Really, really stupid plans.

He goes Qd4. He may be a time lord, he may be able to break the laws of physics to give the innards of his Tardis an inappropriate size, but that doesn’t give him the right to expose his own king to a check. Pretty much immediately, K9 gives its move:

K9: Queen to knight 6.

Queen to knight 6, as any schoolboy should know, must mean Qb3 here. Leela, who is a savage the doctor has brought with him from a primitive culture of warriors and therefore unfamiliar with the old English notation, puts the queen on c3 instead. Incredibly, K9 confirms that she executed its move correctly.3 Then things change. After an illegal and a wrongly executed move, we now get a horribly stupid move! Believe it or not, the doctor takes on b4, leaving his queen up for grabs. K9 doesn’t take the queen, though: he plays Bd3+ instead, claiming:

K9: Machine mind computes mate in six moves.

Astonishingly, this is true! Bd3+ really starts a mate in six. Not a particularly pretty one, but an undeniable one.4 Surely it’s not just a happy coincidence that K9 announces claims mate in six when it really is mate in six, but how did the same director that messed up the first couple of moves so badly suddenly get to a correct mate in six?

Realism: 0/5 The position considered on its own would actually earn quite high marks, but the moves spoil it all.

Probable winner: Black. He has three major advantages: he can mate in six, he can take the queen, and he seems to know the rules.

1. [The (then still a) planet, not the dog, or the Greek god of hell.]
2. [The diagram makers, part 1.]
3. [Perhaps its afraid of upsetting her. Given her fiery character, that’s entirely understandable.]
4. [Finding it is left as an exercise to the interested reader.]