Doctor Doctor Who Guide

Doctor Who isn't the perfect TV program. Every so often there is a story you won't like. Time and the Rani has vaguely decent acting and special effects, but an awful plot and dialogue. The Monster of Peladon manages to be the dullest piece of television ever, despite the fact half the cast are wearing badger afros and Alpha Centauri appears.

But The War Machines is the story that pissed me off. Here was a story I was not only embarassed about, but a story I despised. I wanted my money back when I got the video (coupled with the fact I was, genuinely ripped off - the special feature weren't on the tape). I watched it once, seethed, watched the repeat on television and my hate grew. Believe me, all those who enjoy and revere this story, I'm as surprised as you are. It's well made and directed, and is complete. The actors are good, the special effects reasonable, the cliffhangers exciting. I should like it. I should at least tolerate it.

In the first episode, we are treated to the first Doctor and Dodo. My problem lies with Dodo. Man, I know why she didn't last four episodes, and was brainwashed for most of the two she was in - she's awful. "Imagine," she gasps, "Scotland Yard whisked off into time and space!" Must I? You being whisked off in time and space was bad enough.

A policeman goes to check a police box. That wasn't there yesterday. But is out of order. With an old man and a young girl in front of it whispering. And the old man putting the sign marked OUT OF ORDER on the front. Yet does nothing.

The Doctor is a very well-travelled alien time traveler. Yet, he is stunned by the appearance of the Post Office Tower - and is convinced its alien design broods trouble. Unsurprisingly, he quickly changes his story when talking to the innocents working in it. Instead of being troubled by the architecture, he hastily changes his story and explains there is a "powerful magnetic field" around it which he can feel. Yet, a trained scientist does not question this or even comment.

Now, onto WOTAN. Why not call it "Woe-tann" but "Vow-tarn" - I mean, the Professor isn't foriegn, is he? He doesn't have an accent and "Brett" isn't the most exotic of names. And after designing this fabulous machine, Brett has no idea what it can do or what it knows - hasn't he even bothered to check? [I now know, however, that this pronounciation is from Wagner's ring cycle, but it doesn't excuse the fact this is never referred to in the story itself. With Dodo around, anything can be explained realistically to the audience]

"You've made a machine that can think of itself?" the Doctor boggles. "AND NEVER MAKES MISTAKES?" Um, Doc, that police box you fly around in also thinks for itself, remember? And those spaceships you muck about on in the future - do you think they might be descended from this marvellous machine? These devices that save lives every day and allow humanity to progress SCARE you? The first thing you ask this know-it-all is a square root question. It isn't a calculator, Doctor! Why not ask it one of those "fox-the-computer-logic-tricks"? Or the square root of minus three? Come on, you luddite, do something! Is he just worried that this sort of technology shouldn't be available yet? Because his reaction is more "Burn the heretic!" rather than "You've invented the internet 30 years early".

Dodo asks the computer what "Tardis" means. And it knows. Is the fugitive time traveller on the run at ALL worried about this? Nope. It also knows about a human called "Doctor Who". Now, I could cope with this if it was talking about Peter Cushing and the humans got confused, but, come on... A human? HUMAN? The "who" bit I can cope with, but "human"??? This computer knows everything but thinks humans have two hearts?? OK, he didn't (maybe) have two hearts then, but he's not a human being at any time!

WOTAN just bugs me. Why does it want to conquer the world? Um... it thinks it can do a better job than humanity. And how does it demonstrate this? By making weapons of mass destruction that slaughter everything in sight. Is this ironic? No, it's stupid. In X days, it will be connected in computers all over the planet and have a world wide web of fear and chaos which it can conquer humanity. Instead, it wants to take over London with an army of fridges.

This plan, it should be pointed out, is so freaking obvious a bit part character - Kitson - works it all out by the end of part one and is not impressed. The plan is also predicted by an American journalist, and the idea is dismissed. "It would have no reason to conquer the world," Grover insists. And he's right. It doesn't. But it's doing it anyway, wouldn't you know?

How does it become sentient? No one knows or cares. It seems to take days to create a telepathic hold on Brett, who complains about sensing someone watching him, yet takes minutes to conquer Dodo. OK, bad example - her brain isn't exactly amazingly deep and powerful - but in one night it takes over half a dozen scientists via a phone line. Why? It only uses them as slave labor anyone can do - Polly replaces a few with ease - and their disappearance simply causes suspicion. "Work like the machines!" roars that nutter at one point. Seriously. "Do not stop, do not waste time!" Has this guy ever used a machine? Then he decides to gun down a worker for target practise. One of the special, brainwashed workers that they need so badly. Why not use that tramp? Oh, no, the wonderful computer logic has decided to club him to death with spanners and dump his body right outside their workshop (admittedly, a very creepy and scary scene - but illogical and ultimately pointless). That should keep the authorities guessing.

It can communicate telepathically with Brett, but no one else, and relies on a print-out machine. Quite sensible, as its voice box sounds like a strangled pig. Why not get Brett to attach something it can actually work with? It has to send Polly to the others in order to relay the complicated message "Stop killing passers by and dumping their bodies in the street". I mean, get real: a computer doesn't realize that using its slaves for target practise will require replacements until the last minute, and then doesn't even hypnotize them?

And why does it start this plan all over a few days instead of before the story starts? Does it need the Doctor? Why? The plan works fine without him and, in fact, hits snags becuase they want to capture the Doctor. Dodo, despite being controlled by a logical, computerized mind, cannot come up with a convincing cover story and her attempts to capture the Doctor ("Let's go down into this dark alley, Doctor!") aren't exactly subtle. How can Dodo act like Dodo "convincingly" but Brett cannot? Surely, the best thing to do would be to go to a press conference, smooth out all the wrinkles ASAP and then return with Kitson. No, instead he appears robotic, stares blankly into the distance, and acts suspiciously. Kitson, however, acts true to himself, showing a bit of sadism and, oddly enough, total stupidity. WOTAN presumably designed the War Machines and - if it actually was a genius - would fit it with an off-switch. Or, at the very least, have some idea what to do if it attacked him, so why doesn't Kitson try to reprogram the War Machine instead of just diving in front of its poison gas jets? The controls are on the OUTSIDE for heaven's sake!

The original title for this story was The Computers. Odd, because there's only one computer involved. This story is called The War Machines. We see two and only one plays any role in the story. It does not wage war, but runs downtown and attacks phone boxes. Thank god the military are using easily jammed weapons like machine guns and grenades that, like every one knows, can be frozen by a "magnetic field". Yes, should have thought of that. A bit of magnetism stops a thermo-nuclear reaction in a grenade, huh?

The Doctor walks in and out of situations in this story like he owns the place. Now, I can believe that. Seriously. The Doctor can bluff his way through a variety of situations and this is no exception. But we don't see him bluffing. One minute, he walks through a street, the next, he's been allowed to the top floor of the GPO tower, into the most important part of the structure with a computer. And they don't even know his name. Bit of an explanation would help. Some say he is in fact being respected because he is a mate of Ian Chesterton. Sigh. Ian Chesterton? The bit-part science teacher who eloped with a history teacher for two years before arriving back in mysterious circumstances with a tan? He had that much respect in the scientific community? Look, I had a science teacher called Hillyer who took two years off because he snapped his Achilles tendon. I don't think I could wander into someone's office, house and home with that kind of name drop. I don't think the Doctor could, either. Why DIDN'T they explain that bit at the time. Would have been so difficult?

Finally, when the Doctor de-programs Dodo and sends her to the country to recover. After the disaster, he waits outside the TARDIS for her. Why? Why not pick her up from the country house? The only reason he'd be waiting was if he got a message from her telling him to - so why does she apparently change her mind? And why does she tell Ben and Polly? My head hurts. Who Killed Kennedy comes up with a complicated explanation that Dodo was captured by the CIA and brainwashed. Fair enough. That's the explanation in 1996. What excuse did they have at the time, huh?

However, I cannot leave the review unfinished. Every story has a good side. So, I should do the positive elements in this story, for, yes, there are some. That crash-zoom at the start of the story as we see the TARDIS appear on a street corner. Very nice. Ben and Polly are magnificent in this story and it is a damn pity there isn't another complete one with them in. The Doctor being mistaken for a DJ - how cool is that? And it's great to see the First Doctor getting on so well with just about everyone. This guy really HAS been everywhere. No complaining about the noise, the fashions, the drinks... That noise WOTAN and the War Machine makes manages to keep on the side of freaky and not become irritating. Kitson's little speech about humanity, though rather corny and delivered at the wrong time, is very good - no matter what, a human life is more important than any machine. Sorry, K9. The bit where a baddie explains that Dodo has failed to capture the Doctor is surely cutting edge; in any other story, she would have been punished or killed for her failure. The blank roboticness of the brainwashed people are very creepy. And Polly... Jeez, I'm still impressed at her total lack of blinking. She does have big eyes, doesn't she? Another point in The War Machine's favor - a note of subtext. Just as WOTAN (for want of a better word) rebels against the humans, one of his war machines rebels against him. Nice irony, that.

The cliffhangers are pretty good, all in all. The Doctor standing up to the War Machine is very good - though, I wonder what the hell he was going to do if the bloody thing wasn't impressed by his Tiannamen Square tactic. And Ben getting caught in the spotlight's pretty freaky. Am I wrong, or does that W for Wotan appear in the end credits all the time? Nice corporate logo - no alien invader should be without one (and I'm looking at you, Daleks). The Doctor ducking out when no one notices is cool, too. And isn't this the first time in the show someone is hypnotized for GOOD reasons?

A lot of plot details don't make sense, but here is an explanation:

WOTAN isn't Y2K compliant. In fact, he's so badly designed that he went doodally 34 years early. This whole plan goes to pieces because WOTAN is utterly insane. Thus, all his followers are, as well. You know, the story makes a lot of sense all of a sudden.

That is why I think this story is worst. Any good potential is wasted in this. A plot that doesn't make sense on the first viewing, is full of ridiculous cliched dialogue and pointless action sequences and a pathetic Dalek substitute. People say this is a template for the Jon Pertwee era. I think they're being very rude.

Nevertheless, think I can forgive The War Machines. But its faults are numerous and it seems written for something that isn't Doctor Who.

If only Kitty had been in more of the story.

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