We have been putting this off for a very long time, but we can’t actually hold off any longer on our review of 1966’s four part story … The War Machines.
The War Machines harkens from an era where evil scientists ran amok and computers were going to take over the world. It also shares many of the same plot characteristics of the Terminator movies… or at least the set up of the Terminator movies.
This story stars William Hartnel, during his Phoning it IN stage of his role and Jackie Lane as Dodo Chaplet. We are also introduced to Michael Craze (Ben Jackson) and Anneke Wills (Polly – No last Name). Written by Ian Stuart Black and Kit Pedler The War Machines was directed by Michael Ferguson and produced by Innes Lloyd.
The Doctor and Dodo land in contemporary London to find out that the Post Office Tower which now that it is complete bugs the hell out of the Doctor’s Spidey Sense. Turns out that the mega genius computer WOTAN is held up in the tower and all of mankind is willing to hand over control of every computer in the world to it, then again there were only 3 computers and one Tandy TRS-80 in the world at the time so this isn’t nearly such a feat as what you would think.
Telegraphing the plot point that “what if WOTAN decides it doesn’t need us” Dodo unwittingly spoils the next three episodes. Turns out that WOTAN doesn’t need people and decides to build giant War Machines (hence the title) to destroy and subjugate mankind using hypnotic control, a trait that it has used to great success on loads of humans including Dodo and Polly.
Turns out that WOTAN’s big plan is to build twelve smaller, mobile versions of itself to enslave mankind and get stuck in velvet rope queue lines. Well the Doctor thwarts this evil plan and programs one of the War Machines to destroy WOTAN. The plot progresses and England is saved.
Dodo leaves her adventures in the TARDIS, deciding to stay in London and Ben and Polly get whisked away by the Doctor. If you want more explanation go read the Wikipedia entry.
What to like
- There is eye candy galore in this story with Dodo and Polly pulling the weight of this humdrum story. They are both incredibly fetching lasses, for British girls that is.
- The story is timeless and has been rehashed so often, but at the time it was fresh… sort of. The idea that giving control off all the worlds computers will result in the death/enslavement of mankind dates back to Metropolis, the very first science fiction movie, in a strange sort of way (although Metropolis is a much better story and production).
- This is the Doctors first stab at a contemporary story, even though you could argue that Planet of the Giants is contemporary but is difficult to tell. It is a good example of what Doctor Who would learn to do very well during the Third Doctors run, which is to say make up some completely ludicrous scenario for the Doctor to defeat.
What not to like
- This story is so very dated, it is obviously a product of its time; right down to the insistence that computers will rule our thoughts and have the ability to hypnotize us. We would go into more detail but our iPad is telling us that if we do it will have to delete our facebook profile.
- WOTAN refers to the Doctor as Doctor Whooooooooooo, although it took a number of listens to actually here what the Intellivoice was trying to say. For those of you unfamiliar with the Intellivoice it was an add on that permitted the Intellivision to emulate human speech. That’s right computers and video game systems couldn’t always speak.
- In an attempt to be cool this story has an additional title sequence in which the title, one word at a time, scrolls upwards – “THE”, “WAR”, “MACH”, “INES” – with a final flash displaying the complete title on two lines. Another flash reveals the writer, the next flash reveals the word “EPISODE”, and the final flash shows the actual episode number. All of the lettering displayed in this titling sequence is shown in a retro-computer font. We don’t like when they eff with the title sequence.
- WOTAN taking ten minutes to deliver the line “Doctor Who is required” in a deep raspy voice that wouldn’t be so funny if not for the fact that it reminds us of so many early porn dialers.
- The BBC was too cheap to actually let Jackie Lane finish this story and when her contract ran out half way through production they just quietly wrote Dodo off the show with Ben and Polly explaining that she was staying.
- WOTAN got a credit in the closing sequence. That’s like crediting the Sonic Screwdriver, for it too is just as filled with plot holes and assumptions as the computer WOTAN. Unless there was some strange ass British law that required that since the Computer hissed out a few lines it needed to be credited, there is no explanation for giving the computer a line in the credits. Our iPhone has informed us to shut up and that the mighty WOTAN is a huge star in computer circles.
- The War Machines are not at all intimidating as they are deterred by a velvet rope, proving once and for all that they were in fact designed and built in England. No other culture respects the sanctity of the queue rope.
- the War Machines are not the Daleks despite how heavy they try to hammer the Doctor’s spidey sense into us. We are personally insulted at how stupid they think we are, Damn you Kit Pedler
We know we slaged this story but it is in fact fairly well made and production values are high all things considered. We give The War Mahcine 3 out of 5 giant rolling tank computers.