The War Machines
Written by Ian Stuart Black
Reviewed by Jeff Zyra
Broadcast 25th June – 16th July 1966
“DOCTOR….WHO…. Is …. REQUIRED”
It’s the swinging Sixties and London is a buzz. The hottest club in town is The Inferno and that is where The Doctor meets two new friends. The lovely and swinging girl of the 60’s scenes Polly and her soon to be boyfriend the grumpy sailor Ben soon to be travelers in the TARDIS. Well soon and unexpected and quite soon as the pair gets entangled with The Doctor and WOTAN.
WOTAN is a super computer who thinks humans are inferior and should be ruled by machines. Thus WOTAN uses hypnotic influence to get humans to assemble The War Machine to use in taking over the world. What is funny about WOTAN is that he calls The Doctor Doctor Who. One of his instructions is Doctor Who is required. For such an intelligent computer you would have thought it would know The Doctors name.
Not to be overlooked is the fact that The War Machines has one of the strangest companions leaving ever. In fact you hardly see it. After The Doctor frees her from WOTAN’s control he sends her off to the country to recuperate. The Doctor finds out later by a letter that Dodo has decided to stay on Earth and not continue traveling with The Doctor. Indeed a very strange parting of the ways in Doctor Who’s history. Almost as strange as when she arrived by running into the TARDIS at the end of The Massacre.
The War Machines is one of the few Hartnell stories that take place during modern time in fact it is the only one besides a few moments of episode 1 on An Unearthly Child. It takes place in 1966 in London and it is a really different turn for The Doctor so far. Mainly Hartnell’s Doctor visits alien planets or goes back into the past of earth’s history. For them to be in contemporary London during 1966 is a risk that pays off.
It is a pretty cool science fiction story that has a lot of really good moments. One of those moments is the cliffhanger to episode 3 where The Doctor is facing down the oncoming war machine. He is just standing there hands on lapels starring defiantly at the War machine. The Doctor demonstrates such arrogance and no fear that it’s chilling at how much command he has and the confidence he exhumes that it sends chills up your spine.
The War Machines has a UNIT story feel to it. With The War Machine terrorizing London the army is there trying to stop it with The Doctor putting together a contraption to stop the War Machine. It was very like a Jon Pertwee story in that sense. It just had that science fiction feel to it with the super computer trying to take over the world. It just was cool to see the present be menaced for a change instead of watching a story in the future or the past. The War Machines was something different for a change.
The War Machines is one of my favorite William Hartnell Stories and it is also one of my favorite Doctor Who stories of all time also. I think it has to do with it feeling like a Doctor Who story that we are familiar with. You get the feeling something different is happening and the show is going in another direction. Which it was since The War Machines ended season 3 and season 4 heralded some mighty big changes. The War Machines is that rare gem that just happens to be a really great story with a strong science fiction feel to it.