‘THE WAR MACHINES’
Please feel free to comment on my review.
This is a thrilling and exciting story from the William Hartnell era of ‘Doctor Who’!
‘The War Machines’ is the final story in William Hartnell’s third season as the Doctor. I immensely enjoyed this story when I purchased the DVD in August, 2008 whilst on holiday in Scotland. William Hartnell is at his best in this story! It could have been his final adventure before he left ‘Doctor Who’!
This four-part story by Ian Stuart Black was based on an idea by scientific advisor Kit Pedler (who would later co-create the Cybermen). The story was inspired by focusing on the newly-built Post Office Tower in 1966. This is a story full of swinging sixties atmosphere and fab nostalgia throughout!
The TARDIS arrives in London in the 1960s and the Doctor and Dodo visit the Post Office Tower. Inside is housed a powerful computer called WOTAN that intends to take over the world. The Doctor intends to stop WOTAN and the War Machines with the help of his latest companions Ben and Polly.
This story was the first time I became aware of the Post Office Tower in London (now called the BT Tower). A month after I saw ‘The War Machines’, I visited London on a day trip and saw the BT Tower on a bus tour. I took photos of the tower with a camera and was impressed by how tall it was.
I like that this story is set in contemporary London on Earth during the 1960s when this was made. It brings a sense of familiarity and earthbound atmosphere to the story. The Doctor would be brought back to modern Earth on more than on occasion especially during the 1970s and in the 21st century.
This story is heavily influenced by a science-fiction concept about a supercomputer in the Post Office Tower taking over humanity in London. It’s clear that ‘Doctor Who’ was moving away from the William Hartnell era into the Patrick Troughton era, but it’s still exciting and very enjoyable to watch.
William Hartnell delivers a brilliant performance as the Doctor. The Doctor is at his best here, as he instantly becomes curious about the Post Office Tower and WOTAN. He clearly suspects something goes wrong with WOTAN and is clearly concerned about his companions when they get into trouble.
I liked it when the Doctor gets on well with Sir Charles Summer and he has more scenes in the story’s action when dealing with the War Machines and working out how to stop them. The scene where the Doctor stands before a War Machine that approaches towards him was so inspirational to watch.
This story sadly features the last appearance of Jackie Lane as Dodo Chaplet, who I feel has been badly treated in her exit. I didn’t know Dodo that well and wasn’t aware of how unpopular her character was in the series. Dodo doesn’t get a proper farewell scene with the Doctor, which is sad.
Dodo has a bad time, as she gets taken over by WOTAN’s influence and is used to bring the Doctor to the Post Office Tower. This she fails in and the Doctor soon discovers Dodo has been hypnotised. I liked the scene where the Doctor breaks Dodo out of her trance and sends her to sleep and makes her forget.
Going back to the Doctor, there’s a moment when WOTAN tries to take over his mind when he calls the Post Office Tower on the phone. William Hartnell delivers an amazing performance when he’s resisting the computer’s influence. It transpires that he hasn’t been affected, since he’s not human.
This story introduces two new companions to the series: Anneke Wills as Polly Wright and Michael Craze as Ben Jackson. I’m pleased I’ve seen this, their first story together, as most of their TV stories are wiped from the BBC Archives. This is a shame as I really like their introduction into ‘Doctor Who’.
Polly is a young blonde girl of the swinging sixties and who Ben calls ‘Duchess’. She’s a secretary to Professor Brett at the Post Office Tower. Polly has a cheeky and bubbly attitude; but is really very friendly and gets on well with Dodo. She takes her to the Inferno nightclub where they first met Ben.
Ben is a young cockney sailor that Polly and Dodo meet at the Inferno nightclub. Ben is cheered up by Polly out of his sour mood and the two become good friends. Ben also turns out to be very reliable, as he helps the Doctor when saving Polly and stopping the War Machines attacking London.
The story’s guest cast includes William Mervyn as Sir Charles Summer. I’ve seen William Mervyn in the BBC sitcom ‘All Gas and Gaiters’. It was a delight to see him in this ‘Doctor Who’ story and to play a serious character. Sir Charles helps the Doctor when dealing with WOTAN and their War Machines.
There’s also John Harvey as Professor Brett; who is in charge of the WOTAN computer. There’s John Cater as Professor Krimpton who helps Brett with WOTAN; Alan Curtis as Major Green, Brett’s chief of security at the Post Office Tower and Sandra Bryant as Kitty, the owner of the Inferno nightclub.
Of course, the main guest star is WOTAN itself. WOTAN stands for Will Operating Through ANalogue. I don’t understand the logic of how WOTAN comes to take over people’s minds and knowing what TARDIS stands for. WOTAN is a super-intelligent and ginormous computer when taking over humans.
In certain parts of the story, WOTAN and characters like Brett and Krimpton refer to the Doctor as Dr. Who. This is odd as the Doctor isn’t called Dr. Who in all of his stories and is simply referred to as the Doctor. When WOTAN demands, “DOC…TOR…WHO…IS…RE…QUIRED”, it’s got this creepy voice.
There are also the War Machines built by the humans under orders from WOTAN. These machines are supposed to take over London and the whole world by destroying humanity. I found these War Machines rather clunky; huge and laughable at times and didn’t match to the menace of the Daleks.
At the end of the story, the Doctor defeats WOTAN and the War Machines at the Post Office Tower. After Ben and Polly tell him that Dodo is staying on Earth; the Doctor heads off into his TARDIS. But Ben and Polly follow him inside since they’ve got the TARDIS key. What will happen next, I wonder?
The DVD special features are as follows. There is a ‘Now and Then’ featurette looking at the locations featured in ‘The War Machines’. There is also a ‘Blue Peter’ compilation of clips that I really enjoyed. There is also ‘One Foot in the Past’ with politician Tony Benn at the BT Tower which was interesting. There’s also a ‘WOTAN Assembly’ featurette focusing on the re-mastering and restoration of ‘The War Machines’ story on DVD from various footage and clips, narrated by Anneke Wills. There’s also a ‘coming soon’ trailer for ‘Battlefield’ with Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred. There’s also a commentary with Anneke Wills and director Michael Ferguson. There is an info-text commentary option; a photo gallery and PDF materials including a ‘Radio Times Listings’ of the story and a War Machine Design Plan. There is also an Easter Egg special feature to look out for on this DVD.
‘The War Machines’ is definitely an enjoyable adventure of ‘Doctor Who’. It features a good introduction to Ben and Polly and William Hartnell is at his best as the Doctor. It’s a shame that this tale couldn’t have been his swansong, as there are some terrific scenes that make his Doctor heroic.
‘The War Machines’ rating – 8/10
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