The War Machines
|(Doctor Who Story No. 27, starring William Hartnell)
- written by Ian Stuart Black, based on an Idea by Kit Pedler
- directed by Michael Ferguson
- produced by Innes Lloyd
- featuring library music
- 4 episodes @ 25 minutes each
Story: The Doctor and Dodo land in London near the
monumental Post Office tower just after its completion
in the 1960's. But the Doctor has ominous feelings about
the new WOTAN computer that Earth authorities are about
to hand control over to - a computer that soon exercises
hypnotic control over any human mind that comes too close.
Is it already too late for Dodo? What dangerous machines is WOTAN
having built in a disused factory? Ben Jackson and Polly
make their Doctor Who debuts.
DVD Extras include:
- Audio commentary with actress Anneke Wills (Polly)
and director Michael Ferguson.
- "Now and Then" Location featurette (7 min.)
- "WOTAN Assembly" restoration featurette (9 min. )
- Featurette on the Post Office Tower with Tony Benn. (7 min.)
- Compilation of related "Blue Peter" segments (16 min.)
(some of which also appear on the VHS release).
- DVD ROM - War Machine design plan .pdf and Radio Times billings
- Pop-up Production Note Subtitles
- Photo Gallery
In-Depth Analysis Review
by Martin Izsak
WARNING: This review contains "SPOILERS", and is intended for
those who have already seen the program. To avoid the spoilers, read
the Buyers' Guide version instead.
Season three turns out another winner, the best of its surviving
complete stories. The format of a monster menace confronted
by a heroic military in contemporary times is defined here for the
first time in Doctor Who, a format that will ultimately culminate in
the creation and perpetuation of UNIT and its commanding Brigadier.
It's very good to see that this type of story is handled just as
excellently by William Hartnell's Doctor as with many of the others -
too bad Hartnell didn't get more stories of this type.
The background information about the "new" Post Office Tower
in London from a contemporary "Blue Peter" broadcast,
detrimentally placed first on the VHS video version, does enhance the
Doctor Who story, however "Blue Peter's" introduction of the war
machines does more to take away from their sense of menace and
mystery. Thus throughout the first two episodes, I dreaded that
the machines would be a near total cinematic flop. However,
Michael Ferguson does some creative cinematic work in bringing
the menace in them to life. The machines work well within the
story, and would probably work better on the video for first
time viewers if their investigation by Blue Peter was NOT placed first.
The menace in the clip of the machine advancing on the phone booth
comes from the cries of the man inside, which is missing from it
during the Blue Peter version. Instead of building the machines
up, Blue Peter actually pulls them down.
Also weighing against the Blue Peter snippet are all the plot
spoilers needlessly thrown away. Would you rather experience
a fresh Who story by watching it, or by listening to it being blabbed
from the mouth of a Blue Peter presenter? The presenter should ask
the questions that will occupy the Doctor's mind, not give away all
the answers. His final comment that he is most interested in
tuning in to the adventure on Saturday is at last back on track
of getting us interested. It is question-oriented.
Let's hope the Blue Peter bit learns its rightful place amongst the rest
of the bonus featurettes on the DVD, and does not try to automatically
precede the actual episodes.
The TARDIS is done quite well coming and going, and the
dematerialization sound is even reversed for the landing once more,
although this is to feature the slowing whine descending over London.
The wheeze and groan of the Police Box as it appears is still the
wrong way around.
The Doctor is present and heavily involved throughout all four
episodes. The sudden easy cooperation of all of the guest characters
is unnatural however, especially as they are all strangers. This
is because scene two is missing, in which the Doctor presents himself
to Green, having forged some papers and dropped the familiar name of
science master Sir Ian Chesterton. One has to turn to the novelization
for that lovely bit, whereas on TV, one assumes that it simply happened
without having the cameras on hand to record it. As story structure
goes, episode one is a little too tight, while episodes two and three
have more breathing room than they actually require. Finding a way
to re-include the missing scene would have made the story that much
The contemporary setting works wonders in making the story much
more believable than many other science fiction offerings, and provides
strong viewer-familiarity with character motivations, official
procedures, sets and props, etc. The story can take good advantage
of not having to explain all this, and gives us a tighter plot with
a faster pace.
Also immediately noticeable is a larger quantity of location filming,
and sequences in the studio that are shot and edited on film as well.
The studio also appears to be larger than usual. There is a huge
lift here in what the show seems to be willing to spend and attempt
to put on screen, and the narrative grips in ways that would soon
become formula for many tales of the Patrick Troughton era and beyond....
Michael Ferguson's defining drawback seems to be in the editing
of sequences of shots, which again relies on the compositions of the
shots themselves. Ferguson's sequences always seem to be more
transitional than suspenseful, when his work is compared with that
of other directors. It's a far cry above Blue Peter, and Richard
Martin isn't even in the same league to be able to do transitional,
so this is a minor consideration that only seems to be noticeable
with repeat viewing - on the whole everything works in "The War
Machines", especially on first viewing.
Dodo's role in this story is more interesting than much of what
she did during "the dregs" of season three (stories 22-25:
"The Celestial Toymaker",
even though she disappears after the first
half. Even with the side-switching angle keeping her performance
fresh and interesting, the parts that are still pure Dodo offer a better
look into her character than most other stories have managed so far.
Her on-screen exit would have been in disgrace had it been focused on;
instead she disappears quietly, and makes her good-byes much more
agreeably through a message sent via Polly at the end of the story.
Polly's entrance is a tad strange, as we are mostly looking at
the back of her head, interrupted by a brief close-up of a sarcastic
face-wrenching expression from her,
but Anneke Wills soon gives a worthy performance to a wide-ranging
role. Ben Jackson is a likeable character, and proves to be an
excellent sidekick for the Doctor from episode two onwards. His
rescue of Polly in the first episode is perhaps more out of principle
than any interest in her, as evidenced by his remarks immediately after,
but whatever his motives are, he's a refreshing change from Sir Ian.
By episode four, his motives seem to be much more personal. His accent
is also entertaining. Michael Craze puts a lot into the performance,
and it is very enjoyable. Ben's background as a sailor seems to serve
this story and the next one exceptionally well, but afterwards it seems
to leave Ben a bit at sea in general science fiction settings.
Episode three contains a frustrating scene. As the Doctor, Ben,
and Sir Charles attempt to come up with a plan of action, the Doctor
continually leads the others down many various aisles of thought,
then obstructively shoots down the natural conclusion of each one.
What exactly he has in mind is very unclear, and the first Doctor's
skills in working in a group leave much to be desired at this time.
Why can't the Doctor just come to the point? At least direction
is arrived at eventually.
Library music tracks:
"Asyndeton" is available on:
Computer knowledge is accurate enough for its day, even managing
a foreshadowing of a type of internet, but it all becomes farfetched
in terms of a global desire to give up responsibility for making
choices to a machine, or in terms of the programmers' lack of
responsibility and ability to control the decision-making process.
If IBM or Microsoft were to take control of computers everywhere
today, you could be certain there would be people behind it all pulling
the strings. The strangest bit in all of this is that Sir Charles
feels he needs to explain what programming is to a fellow official.
Were they really about to hand over their power in such ignorance?
Kit Pedler must have been more of a cyberman than we know to base
his ideas on these premises.
Ian Stuart Black, on the other hand, balances this with more
esoteric considerations. As in
"The Savages" (story no. 26),
a sixth sense is at
work in the Doctor, drawing him to investigate the tower with more
than just simple curiosity. Brett also senses Wotan's presence
in the computer room. Is there holographic memory at work, allowing
some power-hungry soul to inhabit Wotan and power its intelligence?
Are the powerful electro-magnetic fields present as a mere product of
electronic circuits, or are they by-product expressions of a more
insidious consciousness that has unwittingly been given solid
manifestation through electronics? (Say hello to the Yeti in
later years.) If Wotan has something comparable to a soul, as Ian
Stuart Black begins to hint at, and its electronic brain channels
this `soul' in a similar way to our own organic brains, the
power-hungry computer idea now becomes much more believable.....
The two philosophies merge further as the Doctor devises
a powerful electromagnetic coil. This would indeed scramble
electronic circuits and cut the war machine off from its control
source. Be careful though! Too much power could also scramble
the human brain and cut it off from a person's controlling
conscious mind and soul, as it did the crew of the USS Eldridge during
the Philadelphia Experiment!
More power and you could begin to
bend space and time, or even punch a hole in it and dematerialize the
war machine altogether..... The Doctor seems to know what he's
doing though, as this is his area of expertise, and Kit Pedler's
scientific angle lends much credibility to William Hartnell's most
fascinating appearance on location for Doctor Who. Fear of the War
Machine itself pales in comparison to fear of stepping unprotected
into a strong electro-magnetic disruption field. The brave old Doctor
may well have inherited an immunity in his brain structure, evolved
in his people after millennia of familiarity with time-space
experimentation and travel. I enjoy all this because I bring much
of this knowledge with me into the viewing experience - unfortunately
the script cannot capitalize on it and bring this to all viewers
regardless of their background, and explaining what programming is
just doesn't hold the same fascination.
Episode Four can at least boast the spectacle of these scenes
and a whole lot more, as it is packed tight with action and an
This story is somewhat lacking in both moral themes
and recurring guest characters, but it very healthily satisfies in
other ways. Previously adept at teaching some history and fantasizing
about science, Doctor Who is now at last capable of demonstrating and
exploring science in ways even it does not fully realize.
This story has become available on DVD and VHS video.
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