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Doctor Who: The War Machines

01/12/2009. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Doctor Who: The War Machines in the USA - or Buy Doctor Who: The War Machines in the UK

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Region 2 DVD. pub: BBC BBCDVD 2441. 1 DVD 4 * 24 minute episodes 95 minutes with extras. Price: 4.38 (UK) if you know where to look.

stars: William Hartnell, Anneke Wills, Michael Craze, William Mervyn and WOTAN

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'The War Machines' is near the end of William Hartnell's tenure as the first Doctor as a failing memory meant he had to give up the role. Considering from the audio commentary by director Michael Ferguson and co-star Anneke Wills that Hartnell didn't stay with the script, I have a feeling this might have been developing for some time.

So, what do you really need to know about this 1966 four-part story? 'The War Machines' has only been recently been assembled from sources across the world having had been considered partially lost since the BBC junked much of 'Doctor Who's early material. One of the enclosed extras shows what was and how it was put together with a little tinkering to cover the odd missing seconds. What you have at the end of the day is a superb reproduction of the story with a lot of outside filming around London. For those who've missed one of the places. In London, you can find Bedford Square off Tottenham Court Road, a little oasis of quietness I found when I was in the big city and never realised that a Who had been filmed there. Much of the story is centred around the Post Office Tower that had only just come on-line at the time.

A computer artificial intelligence has been created in the Post Office Tower to link up with computers across the world as a means of communication. Something like what we have today with the Internet, except that we don't have something called WOTAN running things. Mildly prophetic, huh?? Probably the first time that I can recall any thought being used in that direction. Shame it needs people to run it. Considering that WOTAN is an acronym for Will Operating Thought Analogue, maybe someone should have thought what it could be capable of. Anyway, WOTAN gets ahead of itself and is able to mind control its creators and various other people by telephone to build its army of war machines to exterminate mankind. Didn't 'The Terminator' films do this many years later? Just goes to show that there's nothing new under the sun. It does show the influence of WOTAN or his agents that it is able to get a star billing in the end credits. Due to BBC budgets we only see one of the war machines, although there's supposed to be over a dozen trundling around London streets capable of firing a gas that disables firearms as well as being able to clobber anyone who gets too close. When I saw it back in the 60s, it looked menacing. These days, the front reminds me more of Clinker the moneybox from 'Torchy The Battery Boy', but still looked kinda dangerous.

WOTAN also recognises the Doctor as a serious threat and takes over the people about him, including his then companion, Dodo (actress Jackie Lane), who is phased out with this story. Sailor Ben Jackson (actor Michael Craze) does much of the Doctor's physical investigation and his concern for Polly Lopez (actress Anneke Wills) who gets taken over establishes a relationship to be carried over as assistants at the end when they use Dodo's key to get into the TARDIS to join its occupant. It's a shame their adventures were lost by the BBC because it was a significant part of the series, including the regeneration two stories down from Hartnell to Troughton.

'The War Machines' is a tightly paced drama that will keep you watching to find out what happens next. As director Michael Ferguson points out, it is the actors' talents that makes anything plausible and if you believe in them then the story carries forward. Although we know a lot more about computers today to have a different mindset about them, back in the 60s they were still largely the great unknown and potential world-beaters. Considering the fear of machines taking over still exists to this day still indicates that fear hasn't been totally lost. With a lot of early 'Doctor Who' DVDs available at low price now, it's time to start filling your collection and this is a good one to start with.
GF Willmetts

November 2009

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