Doctor Doctor Who Guide

Following his interesting little story “The Savages,” Ian Stuart Black pulls a double-header with “The War Machines” - Doctor Who’s first real ‘contemporary invasion’ story. New producer Innes Lloyd had decided that he wanted to strive for greater realism within the series, and as such it was scientist Doctor Kit Pedler (who would go on to co-create the Cybermen) who pitched the idea for “The War Machines”, which for the first time sees the Doctor in the unfamiliar position (at least thus far) of liasing with the proper authorities to stop a self-aware computer, WOTAN, from taking over the world. 

Kit Pedler’s input to the storyline is evident throughout, the concept of ‘techno fear’ that runs throughout much of his work forming the backbone of this story. Whereas Pedler’s Cybermen would seek to replace their organs (and ultimately their very souls) with technology, WOTAN (pronounced VOTAN, apparently. Very German!) simply decides that mankind cannot progress any further and should be wiped out. The Post Office Tower makes a very good setting for this story, and is another example of how much more disturbing a story is when it is set somewhere familiar. In the previous season, the Daleks in the centre of London really helped raise the fear factor, and the production team had obviously taken that on board and even taken it a step further, setting the story in the present day – something that would be backbone of the series in years to come. The eponymous ‘War Machines’ themselves are the mechanical servants of WOTAN, which look like the sort of little tanks that you might come across in Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers. They may look quite imposing on Blue Peter, but in the story come across as utterly feeble - defeated by everyday things like rope!

Also in line with Lloyd’s desire for realism, this serial introduces two new companions who are very much in tune with the ‘swinging sixties’ – seaman Ben Jackson (Michael Craze) and fun-loving secretary Polly Wright (Anneke Wills). Best of all, the second episode of this story sees Jackie Lane makes her final appearance as the dreadful Dodo. Appropriately, she isn’t given a decent send-off. In fact, she isn’t given a send of at all! After being brainwashed by WOTAN, she takes off somewhere to recuperate and then at the end of the story, when she’s no more than a bad memory in the minds of viewers, Polly passes a message to the Doctor that Dodo has decided to stay in 1966! In marked contrast to my feelings about Dodo, I am a huge fan of both Ben and Polly – two very underrated companions. Polly is introduced very early on and is cheeky, sexy and forward – a totally different breed of companion to the likes of Susan, Vicki and Dodo. In the Inferno Club that she takes Dodo to, we also meet Ben who at first seems to be the complete opposite of Polly – sullen, boring and withdrawn. Polly tries to cheer him up, and in the end he ends up rescuing her from a sleazy guy who won’t take no for an answer and hey presto, a very rocky friendship is born. He thinks she’s stuck up and christens her ‘Duchess,’ and she thinks that e has no sense of humour. How these two never got together on screen I have no idea… they’re the perfect match!

On the whole, I enjoyed “The War Machines” a great deal. Some of it has dated very badly, for example the Doctor ‘testing’ WOTAN by asking him to work out the square root of a massive number; a modern calculator could do it in seconds! There’s also some cringe worthy stuff, like WOTAN addressing the Doctor as ‘Doctor Who’ (perhaps he picked up some of those ‘Doctor Who Discovers…’ books à la “The Kingmaker”!) and the Doctor frequenting a nightclub, but on the whole “The War Machines” entertains throughout. After a very varied season in terms of quality, this story represents a definite step in the right direction for Doctor Who.

Moreover, from watching the VHS release of the story I couldn’t tell that there were still several minutes of footage missing; the Restoration Team did an absolutely first class job in restoring this one. The DVD-style bonus ‘Blue Peter’ clip was also a nice little touch, though it made ‘Totally Doctor Who’ seem positively grown-up!

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