The Man in the Velvet Mask
The Web of Fear
The War Machines
|Dates||Jun. 25, 1966 -
Jul. 16, 1966
With William Hartnell, Jackie Lane, Michael Craze, Anneke Wills.
Written by Ian Stuart Black (based on an idea by Kit Pedler).
Script-edited by Gerry Davis.
Directed by Michael Ferguson. Produced by Innes Lloyd.
|Synopsis: The Doctor, Dodo, Polly, and Ben attempt to halt the efforts of a supercomputer called WOTAN to seize control of humanity.|
A Review by Geoffrey Glass 8/2/98
When I first saw The War Machines, I was looking forward to an improvement over The Gunfighters. Seeing it again, I would have to say that The Gunfighters is vastly more entertaining. The War Machines is a prototype for the later UNIT stories, being the first of that class of present-day invasion of Earth tales. Unfortunately, it is also probably the worst.
The story is simple and cliched: a computer figures humans have had their day and decides to build war machines to take over the world. This is the first result of Kit Peddler's scientific advice, and its attempts at scientific accuracy only make the absurdity of the whole thing more dated. But that is a small thing, easily forgiven in Doctor Who. The real problem is that a realistic computer-- with no personality-- makes an awfully dull opponent. It possesses people (through the rather eerie mechanism of moaning at them over the phone), but then they usually become as unemotional and uninteresting as it is. Most of the rest of the story seems to be an experiment with letting soldiers and War Machines run loose. Unfortunately, none of the soldiers are given characters-- or, to my memory, even names. As for the War Machines-- well, in a series that produced the Daleks, it is hard to accept less, and something that looks like a great cardboard box with spinning tapes and bad breath hardly seems threatening.
This is strange, because Doctor Who usually hasn't the budget to make that kind of mistake with action. Here, the story probably could have been saved by cutting gun battles and rampaging machines and making good use of the insidious phone calls and the wiles of possessed people. The scene where Dodo tries to extract information from a Doctor dazed by a phone call from WOTAN is excellent, and Polly under the influence has her moments too. But in the end, the show seems to be determined to demonstrate that it can be realistic enough to be boring.
Perhaps the best way to see The War Machines is as a first experiment. The later Cyberman stories (Tomb of the Cybermen and The Invasion) emphasize conflict between the human characters. After a couple of triumphs in later years (The Web of Fear and The Invasion) the formula was right for Pertwee, UNIT, and the Master.
A Review by Leo Vance 28/3/98
I bought this story a week ago. It was worth the money I paid for it.
The War Machines is the 1966 equivalent of Inferno, Day of the Daleks or The Green Death. Amusing and interesting, but not great, wonderful or even particularly good.
The human servants of WOTAN (particularly Professor Brett) are all well played and written, though some sequences seem to belabor the obvious a little. WOTAN is an excellent concept, and the "Doctor Who is required!" line is amusing. The takeover of Polly is a mistake though, as is her betrayal of WOTAN. The War Machines themselves are some of the best monsters in the Hartnell era, being impressive and almost frightening in some scenes.
Hartnell is great as always, Micheal Craze and Anneke Wills play their roles well, and Jackie Lane, though a little below par, is okay. Sir Charles is another funny character, and the Infernos owner is well played. The soldiers and the Minister are well acted too.
The script is amusing, if a little obvious, the design and effects are all good, and the 1966 setting is well used, with the Inferno scenes being particularly good, and the Ben/Polly relationship is well written.
You can only say that its an enjoyable runaround. Good points, bad points, and you end up with a story which can be enjoyed immensely. 6/10
The First "Modern" Story by Michael Hickerson 10/4/98
I'll be the first to admit that I don't dabble much in the Hartnell years. Not that I really dislike the first Doctor, but he's not my favorite. Give me a good McCoy, Troughton, or Baker story anyday.
But every once in a while, an unexplained urge seizes me to power up the VCR and journey back to the Hartnell years. Or better yet, to buy one of his stories on video. Which explains how I came to the War Machines. Those wonderful people at The Doctor Who Restoration Team Website found some old footage that needed to be restored to this adventure. I'm glad they did because it's the lure that really whetted my appitite to see this story again and, perhaps, discover something new and exciting about it.
And it worked.
The War Machines has been described as the first "modern" Doctor Who adventure. After spending two and a half seasons avoiding the modern day, the Doctor and Dodo return to London for an adventure. In many ways, this story can be seen as an early seed for the UNIT stories that will emerge during the Troughton era. And, overall, the modern setting helps quite a bit. It gives us some interesting areas to look at and helps ground the story a bit more in reality.
Usually when fandom refers to 60s Who that was set in London, the images that come mind are the Yeti in the underground or the fantastic location shots of the Cybermen emerging from the sewers. Yet, The War Machines has some of this, but it's not as readily burned into the collective Who psyche. I think part of it is that The War Machines is the experimental story-- trying to see what will happen when set in modern times. And for the most part, the settings aren't really that memorable. I mean, is it really plausible that there are this many warehouses in London, producing these incidious machines? Another fact may be that we only see one War Machine at a time, which takes down a bit on the menance.
And, of course, it's got the big continuity error. WOTAN and several other cast members refer to the good Doctor as "Doctor Who." For me, it's one of those things like seeing the wires on Toberman in Tomb of the Cybermen-- I just let it slide off and not detract from my enjoyment. The creators in the 60s had no idea that the series would last this long, much less me scrutinized in such detail as we do today. Such errors exist and the series is stronger for them. It gives us something to debate about or cringe at. But taken for what it is, four fairly well done episodes, The War Machines really stands out as a decent, fun Hartnell adventure. It's not a classic on the level of The Daleks or The Aztecs, but it's still a joy to watch.
Really Rather Fun by Eddie Robson 23/5/98
The War Machines is a really weird story, but a fun one. It's weird because it juxtaposes elements so recognisable from later Who with the style and characters of the Hartnell era. Of course, it is the forerunner for The Faceless Ones, The Web of Fear, The Invasion and most of the Pertwee era, but is still partly stuck in the old era.
There is a certain naivet?about the Hartnell episodes: a sense of wonder that tends to gloss over implausibilities, a sense of fantasy rather than science fiction. The War Machines demonstrates this early on, as the Doctor gains access to WOTAN with, apparently, no questions at all from the authority figures who surround it. The problem is, with Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis starting to shape the show, some 'proper' science-fiction begins to creep in, a (rather simplistic) attempt to predict the future. These aspects tend to jar when viewed today.
However, there is a great deal to enjoy about The War Machines. The strangeness of the situation makes it unique among Doctor Who stories, which makes it seem oddly refreshing. Hartnell, aside from a couple of dodgy deliveries, is on fine form. Jackie Lane sort of fades away, and so doesn't get a final chance to prove her worth; I barely noticed she had gone. By contrast, Michael Craze and Anneke Wils are both great in their introductory story, demonstrating that they are only poorly-remembered by fans because most of their stories -- indeed, their episodes -- have been burnt. Ben calling the Doctor "sir" is a great little piece of characterisation.
Michael Ferguson later proved himself adept at handling action-based Who, and his work on The War Machines looks like him trying his hand, as it's almost up to the standard of his superb work on The Ambassadors of Death. The scenes outside the "Inferno" night-club create a remarkable sense of space. The design is also good, though WOTAN looks very much like a 60's idea of a computer "at least ten years ahead of its time".
The plot, particularly, seems like Pertwee-by-numbers: Man as both protagonist and antagonist. The Doctor antagonising civil servants and enlisting the help of the army. The dialogue, apart from certain infamous examples (you know which ones), is up to standard too.
Not only is The War Machines a curio, in its signposting of where Doctor Who would head in three years' time and signalling that the show had already moved out of the Hartnell era, but it's also enjoyable in its own right. The plot hangs together (except when War Machine #9 climbs the Post Office Tower), it's well acted and is full of fun bits (especially the end credits, which read "and WOTAN"). I can't see it being anybody's favourite story but it's always worth a watch.
Computer Games by Christopher Fare 8/1/99
The first fruit of Innes Lloyd and Gerry Davis' attempts to make Doctor Who more realistic, this story contains ideas that would either become very familiar or never be seen again. As such, it's a real curate's egg.
The plot, concerning WOTAN and its plan to conquer the Earth, seems very oddly paced -- the nature of WOTAN's plan is established early in Episode 2, therefore the remaining episodes seem to move like treacle; Ben sees what's going on and tries to talk Polly out of her conditioning; there's an endless raid on the warehouse by troops; and finally the Doctor takes twenty minutes to immobilize a War Machine. I know the Hartnell era was sedately paced compared to later eras, but this story takes it too far. The performances are varied too. William Hartnell tries hard to sound knowledgeable about computers, but his Doctor didn't encounter them too often, so his delivery is very awkward. Jackie Lane's Dodo is given one of the worst ever exits -- that said, she isn't that impressive early on (her "BBC English" accent has become far too perfect), but she improves greatly when she is hypnotized. The scene where she thinks the Doctor has become conditioned and tries to explain the plan to him being chillingly portrayed.
However, the big plaudits go to Michael Craze -- Ben is superb throughout, becoming the Doctor's mobile eyes and ears, while also being concerned about Polly. Anneke Wills is good for the first episode and a half, but becomes almost robotic when she is taken over. The same can be said for the other "zombies" -- just because they have been possessed doesn't mean you have to act like a piece of cardboard.
Although the story features "troops" (later to be superseded by UNIT troops) battling an enemy impervious to gunfire, they are very faceless indeed. The best character is Sir Charles Summer -- a more senior establishment sidekick to the Doctor than his later successors. The War Machines themselves are pretty well designed, except for the silly overhanging back (on which William Hartnell bangs his head in Episode 4!)
The story also features some great touches, such as the pub regulars watching television news bulletins on the attack, a police car roaming the streets broadcasting "stay indoors" messages, and the great scene where a member of the general public is attacked in a telephone booth. This type of scene, with the public being involved, was seldom seen again in the UNIT years -- there, the public were just dead bodies to add atmosphere.
The War Machines is very badly paced, and features some very wooden performances, but it is redeemed by some great work from William Hartnell, Michael Craze and William Mervyn; good design of the War Machines themselves; superb scenes of public warnings and ongoing reports; the boarding of the TARDIS by Polly and Ben in a great closing scene; and the utterly brilliant Episode 3 cliffhanger. A patchy, but very enjoyable tale.
A Tale of Two Halves by Tom May 8/6/99
"War machines must be built immediately!"
This is a story, that at the time when it was made, was revolutionary in the context of the Hartnell Era. It's a story blatantly aspiring to be more cutting-edge than all of the far-fetched futuristic yarns, or the Carry-On film influenced historicals like The Romans. The makers of the story blatantly go for every device they can that adds a contemporary and realistic flavour- trusty BBC newsreader Kenneth Kendall's broadcast, the use of the famous Post Office Tower, the pub interior (Styled on Coronation Street, no less), and also the "Inferno" night club setting.
This approach, trying to make use of the increasingly vibrant times of the mid-1960s leads to the welcome introduction of a new pair of companions. Polly is very well acted by Anneke Wills, portraying a cheerful, likeable, and intelligent character, intended to represent the hip mid-Sixties. Ben is played equally well, by Mike Craze, and proves, to be a sort of 1960s Jamie-type character- not as sophisticated or "with-it" as Polly, the banter between them in the nightclub in the opening episode is refreshingly fun, especially in contrast to the Doctor and Dodo's lifeless chats early on. In stark contrast to the promising new arrivals on the companion front, Miss Dodo Chaplet is very poorly acted and written, and i have to say it was a relief when she did go so early into the story, as Lane's poor performance was a millstone around the story's neck early on.
Hartnell has an interesting time as the Doctor, being oddly aloof from the action, almost completely for the first half of the story, and then, in Episode Three turning into an all-knowing scientist figure, which is at odds with his erratic portrayal in episodes 1 and 2 (Hartnell's portrayal shifted in these episodes from that of a batty old grandad to a Holmesian master of deduction). Hartnell really seems a little out of place, spouting dialogue unsuited to his Doctor, and his delivery has little conviction. The Doctor appears merely as a bumbling, grandfatherly overseer, and the inexplicable change in his character midway through is singular. Perhaps though, this lack of reliance on the Doctor in the opening two installments was a good move, as it gave the chance to the other characters to shine.
Not that the guest cast does shine in the slightest, they seem solely to be going through the motions. Professor Brett and Krimpton, for instance are very cliched characters. The actors of these two give fair performances but have no real intentions of rising above the uninteresting material they're given. Sir Charles Summer is convincingly portrayed by William Mervyn, as a rather faceless, passive politician, but you get the impression an actor as experienced as Mervyn clearly could've given Summer more depth, but yet again, mediocrity is settled for. The Tramp character is written and acted in an above average way as regards tramps in Dr Who. That isn't saying much though really, is it? Amusingly risible dialogue ("What is this, a nut house!") results, as does the stereotypical Dr Who use of a tramp character as a fall guy, around merely to be killed off, show off his unruly beard, and pull faces. In addition, it's bewildering to me that WOTAN could consider the tramp "a danger" to it.
More positive areas are the use of great minimalist stock music at the end of episode 1, the number of amusingly quotable lines (The "pricking sensation" bit, the immortal "Dr Who is required! Bring him here...! line, "Hmmm, fab gear....," "This bird saved my life," etc.) and the conviction of the way WOTAN's threat is realised. Importantly there are two hugely effective cliffhangers- episode 1's cliffhanger is, dare I say it, eerie, and episode 3's is astonishingly well filmed by the director, Ferguson. Hartnell's hands on lapels stance, and stubborn schoolmaster's expression in squaring up to a war machine are brilliant, and it's the best directed moment of the whole story.
Influences on the plot are few, but significant. The realistic devices and use of the army are both reminiscent of Quatermass, and the computerised type threat is akin to The Avengers. The portrayal of Polly as a liberated female character owes a lot to the precedent set by The Avengers with Cathy Gale and Emma Peel. However, the scene at the Inferno club where Polly timidly asks an amorous admirer: "Please take your hands off me," shows Polly sadly isn't intended to be that strong a character.
The War Machines clearly decreases in interest as it develops; the plot is far too straightforward, and tedium sets in around episode Three. Hartnell's strangely disjointed performance is a curiousity, but it's good to see new blood on the scene with a very promising pairing of able seaman Ben and Polly. It really is a shame that the plot has little depth and is confused in places. It is a story made very incisively however, and one that marked a definite turning point for the series, although the earthbound invasion genre only truly came to the fore in the Pertwee years. It is testament to The War Machines that it all feels so very refreshing, even in a season of such eclecticism. (7/10)
The Shape of Things to Come by Andrew Wixon 12/7/00
How ironic it is that Doctor Who's first proper visit to the present day contains so much of the programme's future - never mind Web of Fear or The Invasion, here is the Pertwee/UNIT era prefigured in almost every detail. A threat to contemporary Earth, the Doctor joining forces with the army, with a stuffy Establishment figure as foil. A hip 'n' trendy female companion. Monsters vs army battles. This much is obvious. But where many view The War Machines as little more than experiment, the trailblazer that would be much more successfully emulated by later stories. I disagree. It stands up to comparison with almost any Pertwee/UNIT story I can think of.
Even thirty years on, with every viewer aware of its landmark status, the sight of the Hartnell Doctor in and around 'modern' London remains startling. After two and a half years of fairly staid costume drama and Wellsian SF, The War Machines vibrates with a recognisable sense of time and place (although in these internet-crazed times the central theme remains relevant). It exudes 1966, swinging London, and the White Heat of Technology, capturing the feel of its setting like no other story. Ben and Polly debut impressively, easily overshadowing a rather lacklustre Jackie Lane as Dodo.
The direction is also impressively ambitious. There are many memorable shots, from the opening birds-eye-view of the TARDIS materialising, to the passing of a War Machine reflected in a puddle. The army-versus-Machine battles lack some of the pyrotechnical flair of later years but the climax of episode three, with a War Machine bearing down on the defiant Doctor, still had me reaching for the fast forward the first time I saw it. The pace never slacks, almost unheard of in a black and white story. Even the title captions are imaginatively reworked.
Of course, it's not perfect. Even as pallid a companion as Dodo deserved a better departure than to be written out off-screen. The Doctor sets himself up as a credentialed scientist a little too easily in episode one. But these are minor faults, very minor indeed compared to the story's strengths.
I'm baffled at the degree of notoriety the 'Doctor Who is required' sequence has gained, as though it were some gaping flaw in the story, with innumerable attempts to explain it away and many declarations that it's a 'continuity error'. It doesn't contradict continuity. It's never been established that Doctor Who isn't in fact his name, and obsessing over it just strikes me as rather peculiar and petty.
Because this is one 'landmark story' where historical importance is matched by quality. Possibly the best full Hartnell story I've seen, it continues to shine, even when judged by today's standards. Before watching The War Machines for the first time recently, I was pretty sure where I stood in relation to Doctor Who, sure which eras I liked, which eras I didn't. I thought the programme had long since lost the capacity to surprise me.
How wrong I was.
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 11/11/00
Obviously this was the blueprint for future Doctor Who stories; being set on contemporary Earth (the first time since 100,000 BC`s opener and possibly Planet Of Giants), but also in terms of location filming and in the introduction of Ben and Polly, both of whom add a bit of life to the TARDIS being likeable and fun.
The plot in which WOTAN (pronounced Votaghn), a thinking computer tries to create the internet is different enough to be entertaining. There are plot holes though, Dodo gets a terrible farewell scene, the Doctor`s acquaintance with Sir Charles is never explained and The War Machine whilst impressive to look at mysteriously finds itself at the top of the Post Office Tower. As I said it's entertaining just don`t examine the plot too closely.
Full length, full-sized modernity by Tim Roll-Pickering 8/11/01
The final adventure of Doctor Who's third season sees the TARDIS landing in one of the most obvious places in all the history of Earth - the present day! Although the TARDIS had made a few appearances here before, they had always been brief (such as The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve) or small (Planet of Giants). But here the action is large scale and the Doctor has wound up in the heart of the 'Swinging Sixties'. The War Machines has a very fast pace and doesn't stop to leave time for matters such as the Doctor quickly passing himself off to gain access to the Post Office Tower or to explain how WOTAN is able to do so much in the space of a few hours from first taking over Professor Brett to having the War Machines under construction. Neither this, nor the speed with which a tramps death winds up on the front page of a newspaper really matters since this is a story of action.
The guest cast are not particularly notable at all with the possessed characters all acting as though they are merely reciting the lines and William Mervyn (Sir Charles Summer) is particularly poor, failing to be at all convincing. The new companions Polly and Ben both make exceptionally strong debuts and they are helped by the marginalisation of Dodo in this story. Jackie Lane was rarely given a chance to shine and here she is quickly despatched and is given an off-screen exit when she fails to reappear at the end. This quick changing of the guard benefits the series immensely as it allows the viewer to see the new companions in their normal environment before they get taken away from it at the end of the story. Both Michael Craze and Anneke Wills make strong debuts that show much promise.
The Doctor comes across well in this story, quickly commanding authority around him and even managing to get away with entering a nightclub (where he gets mistaken for a DJ!). The cliffhanger to Episode 3 is exceptionally strong, showing the Doctor standing his ground against a War Machine whilst everyone else flees. This scene illustrates how strong a presence Hartnell is the stories in just a few seconds.
The various machines themselves are interesting. The War Machines go for size and force rather than trickery and they look highly realistic and believable. WOTAN suffers by contemporary comparisons since whilst it is fast and uses phone lines it also lacks a monitor to relay information. However a printer is far more useful for taking the instructions away. It may refer to the lead character as 'Doctor Who' but where in the series has this ever actually been contradicted? And WOTAN did guess what 'TARDIS' means after all...
The War Machines is a story based on action and there's plenty of it. It goes to lengths to convey the scale of the matter by showing television broadcasts, radio transmissions and even foreign journalists filing reports in order to show that this is more than just a small scale event and in this it is successful. It is less strong in terms of acting and character and so does not lend itself so well to repeated viewing. It does however deserve praise for its originality in taking the TARDIS for a full-length, full-sized story in the present day - something that was truly revolutionary in its day. 7/10
Back to reality... by Joe Ford 22/2/03
What a shock to the system this story is. After so many exciting adventures in time and space for the first Doctor to see him back on the streets of contemporary London must have come as a bit of a shock for the viewers of the time. Even now it seems a little distracting to watch Hartnell aiding the military to destroy a threat to mankind, almost a blueprint for the later Troughton/Pertwee adventures. As is usual with these things... Hartnell got there first and it's another example of how diverse his years were, especially season three. This story is so different from The Gunfighters and The Celestial Toymaker that if this wasn't Doctor Who it would just seem absurd that they were made in the same year.
It's a good story too and holds up well today. It might seem a little pedestrian in its plotting but thats just the sixties for you. If this was a JNT production we would have had the War Machines on the streets of London killing people before the end of episode one but four decades ago this was quite normal to have some considerable set up to make the menace more threatening.
WOTAN is not particularly brilliant in itself, it's just a box of flashing lights but it is the way it pulls in its hired help that gives it that extra chill factor. Hypnotism by phone... quite a creepy concept and it works magnificently when even the Doctor's trusty companion falls under the spell. The humans vs computers idea is an old one now but by turning humans into mindless slaves the threat seems painfully real, never better demonstrated by the machine turning on one of the slaves just to prove how effective its weaponary is. Scary.
Two things make this story really stand out though and one of them is the excellent, stylish direction from Michael Ferguson who would go on to give greater things in later years. The story looks extremely polished from the inventive location work (lots of slanted shots of the post office tower and the terrific opening shot of London with the TARDIS materialising). The show is given a wonderful dramatic feel as we see the War Machines being welded together and parts being delivered... it has a fabulous 'realistic' that season season would later achieve. Even better are the cuts to newsreports in people's homes and the local pub warning of the dangers helping to suggest the gravity of the situation.
Even better is the introduction of Polly and Ben who prove to be instantly engaging companions and far more effective that the somewhat bland Dodo. What a relief it is to have two drop dead gorgeous companions to care about and Ben's down to earth cockney attitude and Polly's high and mighty personality proves quite wonderful to watch. They have excellent chemistry and Ben's immediate loyalty to the Doctor is quite excellent.
Hartnell is okay but showing the strain of the part now. His acting in the first two episodes leaves a little to be desired... he does goof a lot more than usual and has several moments of overacting. However once he takes charge of the military operation his strengths are again in evidence and he commands things with his usual style.
With three most unlikely companions heading off in the TARDIS it was quite an optimistic time for a show that was having a few problems. The War Machines is another sterling example of why I herald season three so highly... atmospheric, interesting and beautifully put together.
Flawed, but forgivable by David Massingham 27/2/04
As has been stated many times over, The War Machines is a prototype for a brand of Doctor Who story which would become incredibly popular with producers for the majority of the next twenty three seasons. What I find so intriguing about this adventure is that it feels so damn fresh, despite my having seen piles upon piles of later entries that are similarly themed, and quite often superior. This can probably come down the fact that The War Machines keeps very eclectic company -- say what you will about the First Doctor's era, but it is difficult to argue that it was a continual rehash of the same plot and ideas.
Perhaps another reason that this story stands out from the pack is the interesting tact it takes with its characters. Well, obviously not all of them -- Sir Charles is as straight-laced as they come, and Professor Brett and Major Green are almost completely faceless and rather woodenly acted to boot. No, I am referring to the abundance of hip 60s swingers, typified by Polly and to a lesser extent Ben, but also shown in Kitty, the manager of the Inferno nightclub. It isn't that often that we see locales and people in Doctor Who that really typify the "characteristics" of the (then) contemporary Londoners. Kitty and Polly come across as archetypes of the late sixties, whereas you could hardly argue that the characters in a story like Arc of Infinity typify early eighties archetypes. Personally I found this approach rather refreshing, and may reveal the answer as to why I found the first part of The War Machines to be the most interesting of the four.
Because really, WOTAN and the War Machines themselves were a bit silly. Okay, silly may not be the right word; the threat to earth is portrayed in a very wooden manner, resulting in the villain, like many of the supporting characters, becoming almost completely faceless. One could argue that since the villain is a computer, the faceless aspect is logical, but one only has to look at Pedler's later creations, the Cybermen, to see that a faceless baddie does not necessarily have to be boring as hell. Even The Green Death's remarkable similar nutty computer, BOSS, is giving personality to spare, and ends up as a minor triumph. Of course, the problem with The War Machines' WOTAN is it goes around bore-fying everone else in sight, until we end up with the Doctor, Ben, and the hilariously plumy Sir Charles battling it out against this adversary. It is a pity; the writer, Ian Stuart Black, doesn't really take any risks with the script, and what we get in the end is a leisurely paced B-grade actioner with unconvincing robots. It would have been interesting to see Black try to tackle why humans wouldn't progress any further without the help of WOTAN. Or the kinks that would undoubtedly be inherent in a 1960s super-computer. I would have enjoyed seeing WOTAN as a megalomaniac machine that has some serious flaws in its' programming, as opposed to the supposedly infallible beast that showed up on screen. Seeing it make mistakes as the Doctor gets closer to trapping it would have made things more fun for my money.
There are some redeeming features, though. The aforementioned Sir Charles, although a woefully conceived character, translates as hilarious on screen as an aristocratic oaf completely out of touch with real life ("some sort of War Machine, I'm told", he confides in the minister casually). The tramp is similarly amusing, livening up the story during the dull War Machine tests in part two. Ben comes into the show as a breath of fresh air, and Polly too makes a good impression. It's just a pity that Dodo gets what is arguably the worst send off a companion ever had, and that Billy Hartnell, although solid, isn't as great here as he is known to have been in the past.
As sci-fi with a brain, The War Machines fails. As an action-adventure, it just succeeds. And when it comes to characterisation, it falls somewhere in-between. It generally manages to get by on exuberance alone, and for that, I think it deserves a solid, if unremarkable score. Solid and unremarkable, like the story as a whole.
6.5 out of 10
The Worst Story Ever? by Ewen Campion-Clarke 15/8/04
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.
A Review by Finn Clark 8/5/09
This story wrong-footed me. WOTAN is a computer with megalomaniac ambitions that can hypnotise people over the telephone. That's genuinely scary. Sounds like The Invasion, right? We're all going to get brainwashed and mankind's last hope is going to be the Doctor and four or five of his stoutest chums. That's what I assumed, anyway, but no. WOTAN uses a little hypnosis in the early episodes, but thereafter it's brute force all the way. The plan seems to be to declare war on Britain and soon afterwards the world, with a force of twelve computer-controlled tanks. I'm sure it was planning to back this up with hypnosis, but even so I'm not impressed so far with its claims to greater efficiency and logic.
Perhaps, despite appearances, it can't really hypnotise people over the telephone after all? Those calls might have merely been triggering conditioning that had been subconsciously implanted earlier. Brett, Krimpton, Major Green, the Doctor and Dodo had all visited the Post Office Tower in person, with Brett making a point of bringing Krimpton all the way upstairs. I always thought it was strange that they never put Ben on the phone to WOTAN in episode three. The obvious move, surely? But no, they put him to work unhypnotised. This would explain much, although even then I've hardly got started on Episode Three's head-scratchers. Major Green never stops haranguing and intimidating his mindless workforce and has some bizarre disciplinary ideas. Tiredness is punishable by summary execution, while betraying WOTAN to the enemy will merely get you sent back off for unspecified "punishment". Eh? They're zombies! You might as well expend your energies on punishing a door handle. I can only think that the hypnosis isn't entirely stable, as indeed is demonstrated by episode three's ten-minute sequence with Ben and Polly. I liked that.
In fact, if you think about it, this mind control is rather remarkable. It's a plot device that's normally boring as hell. Victims will have two modes: "I obey" and occasionally "Must... Fight...!" We've seen both a million times and they're both dull, turning characters into pseudo-robots whose behaviour is entirely predictable. This story though seems unaware of the cliches, instead coming up with lots of ways for its hypnotised people to surprise me. Take Professor Brett walking in on that press conference, for instance. That's one of the more striking "I'm hypnotised" entrances I can remember seeing.
The War Machines on the other hand are wonderful just because they're so goofy. Huge, clunky and reminiscent of the Cleaners from Paradise Towers, what makes them cool is their hammer arm. They're the stars of the second half of the story, taking over in that role from WOTAN himself. In episode one I thought he was all the more sinister for operating without words, but then at the cliffhanger it finally spoke and I almost fell off my chair. That voice! Stone me. No one today would even think of giving an evil computer a voice like that. I'd have said those were its first rough efforts at producing speech if hadn't kept it up throughout all four episodes. Awesome.
That's this story all over. It's inventing a new Doctor Who genre, the alien menace invading contemporary London. However, it's also a distinctly atypical example of how the genre would eventually evolve. Look at how the progress of the War Machines gets discussed on TV in pubs, by the real-life newsreader Kenneth Kendall and even by international commentators. A far cry from entire alien invasions going unnoticed, isn't it? Then there's Sir Charles Summer, who's theoretically the substitute Brigadier. He's urbane, affable and can get ministers dancing at his beck and call. He trusts the Doctor immediately and doesn't waste a second on knee-jerk paranoia, but he also gets all pompous with scruffy lowlifes who don't know their place. That would be Ben. In his way, he's harder to handle than the Brigadier ever was.
Oh, and there's a fan theory I'd like to address. The Doctor senses evil, saying he last felt it in the presence of the Daleks, which of course is quite the coincidence since as it happens they really are in London at this time and actively plotting against him. The War Machines, The Faceless Ones and Evil of the Daleks all take place on this one busy day in 1966. That much we all know. However, I'd like to speculate further that maybe the Daleks were behind this story too. See how desperate WOTAN is to capture the Doctor? Furthermore, not only does it know a name for him, one we've never heard anywhere else, but it even knows what TARDIS stands for. That's just impossible. You couldn't deduce it. It's not even as if there was an internet back then for it to access, despite its efforts to create one. The obvious conclusion would seem to be that someone must have told it, for which the Daleks would be as likely candidates as any.
The mind control is also a clever trick, to put it mildly. Who developed and installed that hardware plug-in, eh?
However the most remarkable thing for me was the opening. With the noise of a descending spaceship, the camera flies over London and zooms into the spot where the TARDIS is about to land! Presumably it's meant to indicate WOTAN looking down from the Post Office Tower, but it reminded me of the opening to Remembrance of the Daleks. That's not the only similarity, incidentally. You'd even think the two stories had shared some sets. Watching this heightened my appreciation of that story's verisimilitude and I'm tempted to suggest watching the two of them together as a double bill. In particular note both stories' awareness of their era, to a degree that in The War Machines is actually startling. You never got this from the UNIT era.
I've seen it suggested that the story feels surprising because of William Hartnell, but I think it's all that location filming. It gives it a documentary feel. 1966 London is getting shot almost like Paris in City of Death. The production's clearly aware that, for the Hartnell era, contemporary Earth is in itself an exotic era, although ironically decades later all that period filming has since become fascinating in its own right. The past is indeed a foreign country.
The regulars are well worth watching. Hartnell seemed a bit low-energy in the first half of episode one, but that's presumably because the situation itself lacks urgency. He's just being a tourist. By the time we hit episode four, no one could doubt that he's firing on all cylinders. It's a classic moment when he stares down the War Machine at the end of part three. It's also fun to see the flimsiness of the Doctor's justifications for not calling in the police. He clearly doesn't want them involved because he doesn't like them. It's too big for them, it's too small for them, they'd get in our way, they couldn't achieve anything...
Ben and Polly are unusually well-written for companions, being less generic than any since Ian, Barbara and Susan. Thought had clearly gone into them. Ben speaks in the accent Dodo should have been allowed only four months previously, while I admire Michael Craze's desperate energy after escaping from WOTAN's minions in episode three as he's trying to convince Sir Charles. I also derived some small amusement from him carefully not grabbing Polly's breasts when pulling her to safety at the end of episode four. She's taller than him, you see.
Dodo, though. Poor Dodo. Worst companion departure ever. That aside, she doesn't really do anything wrong here.
I have a fannish observation. Isn't that General Scobie from Spearhead from Space standing behind Sir Charles in episode three? It's at 21 min 55 seconds. He looks so similar that I'm half-convinced it's the same actor, although, even if not, I'm happy to pretend it's the same character.
It's a surprising story, never being quite what you'd expect of its genre. Episode two's ending surprised me, for instance. Not in a big way, but just in that I hadn't been expecting the credits to roll. Similarly the Doctor just wanders straight in to see WOTAN in episode one, while later on there's a homeless tramp as a character. He gets dialogue and everything. You have Hartnell in a nightclub. "Dig your fab gear." You have the alien-looking GPO Tower. You have that bad-tempered War Machine #9 randomly going nuts. You have that extreme and painful-looking reaction from anyone resisting hypnosis.
However, it's not a particularly intellectual story, even if it's intelligently written. Ian Stuart Black was quite a big name in television writing, not a 1960s Douglas Adams or anything but certainly a powerful figure in the industry. WOTAN is pretty stupid, although charmingly so. "On the contrary, it's we who have broken down. We have failed." I do like that as a megalomaniac rationale. "Further progress is impossible" is clearly absurd, though. The War Machines themselves are basically dumb fun, while had the story chosen to go down the hypnosis route then WOTAN being able to plug into all telecommunications would have made it feel more relevant today. Evil junk calls. Evil spam, in other words.
In short, it's dumb fun done well. It also really benefits from being extant since so many of its virtues are in the production, such as Hartnell, the direction and all that location shooting. A lot of Troughton-era stories would be very similar to this template, but much less interestingly... and of course this got there first.
A Review by Brian May 2/9/10
The War Machines is a landmark story for its time. It's the first true contemporary Doctor Who tale, broadcast in 1966 and set in the same year, showing London in all its swinging, vibrant hipness. It's the first time present-day Earth comes under attack in a precursor to countless future adventures, anticipating the third Doctor/UNIT template well before the popularly accepted benchmarks, The Web of Fear and The Invasion. The Doctor insinuates his way into the establishment with alarming ease, helping civil servants, politicians and the military in the defence of London. For William Hartnell and his era, this feels very odd indeed, but is at the same quite refreshing in its difference.
It looks very good. This is Michael Ferguson's directorial debut for the programme, and an impressive one at that. There are imaginative camera angles (the opening high shot is excellent), interesting zooms, distinctive arty shots (the bicycle wheel), well-edited montages and action scenes. It may not have the obsessive precision of Douglas Camfield, but the soldiers' arrival at the warehouse in episode three is very good, which Ferguson would repeat in The Ambassadors of Death. Also noteworthy is the way in which the crisis is communicated. We have several shots of people in a pub being updated via the television; a zoom in on a car radio cuts to the home of a couple listening to the same broadcast; we then see the Doctor and co also tuned in. In just a few shots, a citywide emergency is convincingly conveyed; the fact that both the television and radio announcers were real-life BBC personalities is a great boost of realism.
The aforementioned vibrant hipness is well and truly on display during the scenes in the Inferno nightclub, full of cool cats, Sloane Rangers, bright young things (etc). Whether the authenticity of sixties club-life is accurately depicted is debatable, but for children's television there has to be some sanitisation; however we're free to imagine cocaine snorting going on in the toilets! It's also unlikely a lone male, especially one in a sailor's uniform, would be granted entry. Nevertheless, this G-rated slice of swinging London is quite fun to watch.
The story also introduces us to Ben and Polly, two exceptionally characterised individuals, with very good performances from Michael Craze and Anneke Wills. It's great to see them enter the TARDIS at the end. Equally and oppositely, I'm glad to see the back of Dodo. She wasn't the most memorable of companions and, unhappily, Jackie Lane missed more than she hit. Her final outing is a fairly mediocre one, especially when acting possessed, although being written out halfway through and denied a departure scene is rather ignominious, given she was a regular. John Harvey is very wooden as Brett; in fact, he's livelier during his moments of possession than when he's being normal! Even Hartnell struggles against possession: the Doctor fighting off WOTAN's attempts to control him in episode two is not the actor's finest hour, albeit through overacting. But worst of all is the actor playing the tramp: he's absolutely dreadful, but thankfully everyone else makes the most of largely underwritten roles.
And it's the writing that really lets The War Machines down. That doesn't mean the overall concept: the apprehension regarding computers looks archaic nowadays, but back then was a deep cause for concern, pre-dating similarly themed films, both well remembered (2001: A Space Odyssey) and the lesser known (Colossus: The Forbin Project) by two years. No, it's in the smaller things, the details, where the story is wanting. There are glaring plot deficiencies, some of which have been commented on many times before, including the reporting of the tramp's death and the War Machine entering the tower lift. Ben's escape from the warehouse in part three is horribly contrived and the same episode's cliffhanger, although remarkable from a visual standpoint, is in fact a very stupid act on the Doctor's part. The infamous "Doctor Who is required" line is also a shocker.
Pacing is also a problem. The first two episodes aren't amazingly quick, but at least they're character based; the final half is simply a boring runaround, which the great look cannot redeem. For example, the fight between the soldiers and the possessed workers in the warehouse is, like everything else, well shot and edited, but it's also interminably long. Indeed, the whole final episode is very dull, the battles and showdowns all very uninspiring. The titular machines aren't that impressive, as they're far too unwieldy and thus can't be perceived as a major threat, especially as we never see more than one at a time. WOTAN itself is far more interesting as chief adversary, but is hardly explored at all. The potential for the first mad computer of the series is wasted and we're stuck with an overgrown photocopier.
The War Machines is a prime example of a good idea let down by the execution. In spite of all its assets - the visuals, imagery and introduction of Ben and Polly the highlights - it just doesn't engage. 6.5/10
First of the Invasion stories by Michael Bayliss 24/9/12
The last serial of season 3 is so worlds apart from any previous story in the Hartnell Era that it may arguably represent Doctor Who's most sudden shift in style and ethos. The mannered theatrical performances of past stories give way to a more naturalist approach and slow-paced stories with carefully weaving plots give way to faster-paced, straightforward invasion tales with careless plot holes. It may be surprising to note that this is the first Doctor Who adventure to be set entirely present day England (unless Planet of Giants counts); it took three seasons to arrive to the present day, and now that the series was becoming self-conscious of its relevancy to the time and place of its audience, it would hereon be reluctant to move away from present-day invasion stories set in England (as New Who testifies nearly half a century later).
So here we have it folks; the mission statement has been rewritten, the blueprint for both the base-under-siege Troughton era and UNIT Pertwee era all have their roots here. It must be established that as an invasion story it's definitely average, but quite serviceable; the plot is very simple, but has a few holes e.g. a bit off on its sense of scale and time progression. It is interesting watching the series attempt a large-scale military operation for the first time; the choreography simply can't cope with the demands, so the result is a confusing mish-mash of large robots shooting off steam (literally) whilst soldiers run around aimlessly. The story benefits, rather than loses, by retaining some of the Hartnell era's charming whimsy, but even this is metaphorically shed with the abrupt and offscreen departure of Dodo as the Doctor finds himself hipper, cooler more urbane companions in the form of Ben and Polly.