Doctor Who: The War Machines (Story 27)
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on December 7, 2008
Doctor Who altered its course with The War Machines. Rather than travelling to a distant planet to meet strange-looking aliens, or to Earth's past to encounter a significant historical figure, War Machines is set in comtemporary London, the swinging mid-60s, and it shows! For the very first time in the series' young history, the Doctor and his companion(s) face a modern-day threat, the first time, that is, when they are large enough to interact with the rest of the characters, unlike Planet of The Giants.

As Professor Brett states, WOTAN is ten years ahead of its time. Well, maybe not ten. Perhaps only five years, which would put it smack down in the beginning of the Pertwee Years, right next to a simlar story, Mind of Evil, about a machine taking over people's minds. If anything, The War Machines foreshadows the Third Doctor's era. Hartnell dabbles with electronic gadgets, works with the military (not UNIT yet, but very UNIT-like), and endures incompetent politicians to prevent a menace from taking over the world. Sound familiar? The Pertwee Years four years early. In fact, if you re-hash this script and use it toward another popular 60s TV program, The Avengers, it would feel right at home. I anticipated John Steed and Emma Peel to show up on my TV screen at any minute.

Incidentally, the notion expressed that Doctor Who finally has taken its intended form with The War Machines is about as bogus the Doctor's background being changed during the McCoy years to be something more than a timelord. The intended course in any series is how it originates, not how it becomes. The originators of any series always deserve the "intended course" label. This is not to say that the new direction of the show is bad, but let's not claim that this is where Sidney Newman & Verity Lambert envisioned Doctor Who going.

Basically, The War Machines steers Doctor Who in a new direction, a very subtle foreboding of the early 70s, worth every one of the four stars I gave it. However this story could have been a five-star beauty. How you ask? Where have you gone Ian & Barbara. The Doctor may as well have been companion-less. Dodo barely features at all, disappearing somewhere in episode two, never to be seen again. We are given the revelation at the end that she has decided to stay in London, and bids the Doctor goodbye by relaying a message through the new companions, Ben & Polly. As the Doctor says, that's gratitude for you, not even showing the decency to see the Doctor off personally after being given the experience of her life. Dodo should have gotten a more substantial exit. As for the aforementioned new companions, Ben & Polly fit in with the swinging 60s era, and Polly is pleasing to the eye, however they are no Ian & Barbara. In retrospect, War Machines could have been the perfect swan song for Ian & Barbara. I can just see them telling the Doctor that "we have decided to remain here" at the end of this story, fate having steered the Tardis back in their own time finally. An opportunity sadly lost...
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on January 13, 2009
This is an enjoyable story from the William Hartnell era of Doctor Who. The Doctor and his companion, Dodo, land in 1960s London shortly after the completion of the Post Office Tower. A brand new thinking computer system, called WOTAN, is housed in the tower. The computer can think for itself, and it decides that humanity is not properly intelligent to be in control of the Earth. WOTAN takes over men's minds by means of hypnotism, and has them create powerful war machines in select locations throughout London, and the war machines will be used to attack London and bring London, then England, then the entire world under WOTAN's control.

The story seems rather dated to modern sensibilities. The war machines themselves are especially laughable in today's world of microchips, and mini computers. These huge machines are portable computers, complete with 1960s era computer tape reels, and rather pointless weapons. However, to 1960s youth (and we must remember that Doctor Who was a children's show) these machines must have appeared quite frightening. If you're familiar with later era Doctor Who shows, the war machines look a lot like the cleaners from Paradise Towers in the Sylvester McCoy era.

This story was missing entirely from the BBC archives by the mid 1970s, but through the diligence of fans it has been restored. There is a short documentary narrated by Anneke Wills that explains how the story was pieced back together. The other extras that are on the DVD include: excerpts from the BBC children's program, Blue Peter, that shows the Post Office Tower (or GPO Tower as it was known) being built, plus an appearance by a war machine touting the upcoming new Doctor Who Adventure, a brief then and now feature showing locations used for the story as they exist today, and a short documentary about the GPO Tower narrated by the former Post Master General. There is also commentary by actress Anneke Wills, who played Polly and director Michael Ferguson, plus information text. It's not overly heavy on extras, but the ones that are there are quite interesting. The quality of the picture is excellent thanks to the restoration team's efforts.

While William Hartnell is not my favorite Doctor, but I did enjoy the story. The computer taking control of its creators would be used again throughout the original run of Doctor Who, such as the Pertwee story The Green Death. The War Machines proceeds at a nice pace, and gives a fascinating view of English society in the mid-1960s. This is also a significant story regarding the Doctor's companions. First it is the last story to feature his companion Dodo, although they really did a lousy job writing her out of the series. Second this story features the first appearance of new companions Ben and Polly. Third, I believe this is the only complete story existing featuring Ben and Polly.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on June 18, 2009
When people think Doctor Who this is the type of episode they think of. In fact, many think of this episode as the new beginning of Doctor Who or maybe the end of the beginning. After this Doctor Who would no longer deal with history, as much, as it would deal with the stories set in future or modern times.
Doctor Who and Dodo end up in London, 1960s, to find that the Post Office Tower has been completed and is ready to link up with all computer networks around the world. Yes, the Tower has a computer within it, called WOTAN.
WOTAN has ideas on how to solve mankind's problems. Mostly it involves turning mankind into slaves and running the planet on its own. Part of the plan is making war machines, the title of this piece, which will allow it to attack and destroy those humans, or organizations, it does not already control.
Or course, in the end, the Doctor defeats it. Dodo leaves the show at this point and we get two new characters Ben and Polly. The audio commentary is done by Anneke Wills, who in fact played Polly and does some of the voice work for the extras, and the director Michael Ferguson. Other extras include some clips from Blue Peter, a feature on how the story was put back together after being lost, and much more.
From our point of view the war machines look silly and, frankly, harmless. The Daleks have held up much better. Also the plot seems somewhat old fashion even if the idea of machines taking over is still a fear we have. The scenes of life in London during that time period are interesting to watch and are sometimes pretty funny.
I suggest getting it for fans of Doctor Who or fans of sci-fi dealing with machines taking over the Earth.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 19, 2009
"The War Machines" in some ways reinvented Doctor Who.

It proved you could tell interesting and suspenseful stories in a modern setting without needing to resort to the future or alien worlds.

The story itself is perhaps "a bit much", as was much sci-fi from this period (not just Who). A too-smart-for-its-own-good computer hypnotizes humans into building War Machines with which it will take over the world.

Yawn.

The story notwithstanding, the DVD is extremely good. Great transfer, and some good bonus features highlighting the reconstruction of what was an incomplete story.

As Who, it somewhat lacks. As television history, it shines. Thus, three stars.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 16, 2013
Super computer becomes self-aware and decides to take over the world by eliminating humanity (except for those it has turned into mindless slaves). It's tempting to dismiss it as a story we've seen before, until you remember that this was in 1966. This story thankfully also includes the departure of Dodo.
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on February 17, 2015
...Quite right Doctor (you can tell he knows what he's on about)! As usual, this yarn is quite ropey in parts, great in others. The plot's been covered by fellow reviewers so I'll confine this ramble to some random observations. The first episode opens quite beautifully - a fair panning shot of the city of London, stop, slight zoom-in (accompanied all the while by a descending whooshing sound) and lo-and-behold, the materialisation of Dr. Who's TARDIS, all in one take; then a quick cut to show a flock of pigeons taking flight - very nice! Upon disembarkation Bill Hartnell remarks to travelling companion Dodo (Jackie Lane) about a strong feeling of magnetic energy emanating from the newly completed G.P.O. Tower saying that he can "scent it". A fluff? Jackie Lane's quick response would indicate not; but Bill does trip-over the remainder of the exchange, slightly. On to the tower; where the Doctor and Dodo quickly gain admittance without so much as showing a single credential! Boff, Prof. Brett, shows-off his creation - WOTAN; a name from Norse/Germanic mythology and a clumsy acronym: Will Operating Thought ANalogue. Apparently WOTAN is a super computer (good grief, Stephen Hawking was right!) and...well I reckon you can guess the rest. Jackie Lane's contract expired mid-way through this serial. Taking callous advantage of this the producer simply wrote her out of the series! Personally, I can't see what anyone had against her. "Super computer" WOTAN looks like he was cobbled together by Blue Peter's John Noakes (with the possible assistance of "Shep"). WOTAN decrees that "Dr. Who is required." Brett calls him Dr. Who too. Viewers at the time probably wouldn't have given this a second thought. Bill Hartnell was billed as Dr. Who. He was called Dr. Who in many contemporary (including Radio-Times) articles about the programme. The guff about the character being a Chronology Monarch and coming from the planet Jellybean hadn't been dreamt up, so I don't break out in an attack of hives at this! As for the title menace, well, a little suspension of disbelief is required(!) They ARE good at knocking empty orange-boxes over; surprisingly, a telephone helpline number for traumatised Jaffa-Cake lovers is not included. Veteran actors John Harvey and William Mervyn make pleasing contributions. But - when all's said and done - it's Bill Hartnell's show. Despite the shortcomings of this and other original Dr. Who yarns, Bill provides the cement which holds it all together.

Bill Hartnell once said that: "If I live to be ninety, a little of the magic of Dr. Who will still cling to me." - If I Live to be ninety, a little of the magic of Bill Hartnell will still cling to me!
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on January 20, 2014
In my opinion this is simply one of the best surviving stories from the Hartnell era. Along with The Daleks, Planet of Giants, Dalek Invasion of Earth, The Space Museum and The Romans. All those stories are perfect in my opinion except perhaps The Dalek Invasion of Earth which I think goes on a tad too long and I really can't stand that monster that attacks Ian near the mines...
But The War Machines is superb Doctor Who at it's best and I heartily agree with a reviewer who said it's almost like the 1st Doctor materializes the TARDIS during the middle of the 3rd Doctor's run of the show.
In fact it gives great credence to the fact that this is indeed the same man/character through the entire 50 year run of the show. If you watch say a Doctor Who themed marathon like they do with Law & Order and you played the best of each Doctor teamed with a military branch or of course UNIT you would get something like this:
The War Machines (1st Doctor), Abominable Snowmen (2nd Doctor), The Mind of Evil (3rd Doctor), Robot (4th Doctor), Resurrection of the Daleks (5th Doctor), Remembrance of the Daleks (7th Doctor), Planet of the Dead (10th Doctor) and The Day of the Doctor (10th/11th Doctors) would all make for a great Doctor/Military Marathon.
And of course the possibilities are endless for Doctor Who Marathons. Companion Marathons, Master Marathons, Deep Space Story Marathons, Mystery Marathons, History Marathons, so forth and so on....
The War Machines is the Doctor's first real venture in teaming up with a military Earth based branch, it also has some very cool 60's era scenes in a nightclub called Inferno which is very appropriate 'cause there is a later 3rd Doctor episode by the same name.
I really like Ben and Polly and I wished there were more surviving stories with them, for some reason I can't stand Dodo and Vicki is an Ok replacement for Susan but that's primarily for me all she will ever be. Although in The Romans I think everyone in that story shines and for me that is one of the best all time Who episodes ever. It's just as comical and whimsical and complex and exciting as one of David Tennant or Matt Smith's or Tom Baker's stories.
In matter of fact personally I think it succeeds on many levels much more than Fires Of Pompeii does...
Some have expressed that the War Machines themselves are hokey but I don't think so, no more than the robots in Futurama are or armored guardsmen in the Flash Gordon 1981 movie are.
In face really even though the plot and title turn around the War Machines themselves it really isn't about them as much as it is about grounding The Doctor himself and supplanting him in the 60's and showing that he can relate to real human beings in a real situation the same as an alien from a distant star.
Someone else was right in saying that they expected John Steed and Emma Peel to show up and wouldn't that have been something and probably the best crossover episode since before Batman met The Green Hornet or before
I've always longed for the TARDIS to make an appearance on the Enterprise in an actual episode of each series but The Avengers and Doctor Who seems a more likely pairing it's really too bad that never happened...
Going back to the War Machines themselves I don't mind them being clunky, they are more tank-like and aggressive and tools to be used for war. Tanks are clunky too, they also heavily remind me of the war machines used in The Legend of Korra and if you think about many of the 1st Doctor & 2nd Doctor's adventures being done in the 60's and in B&W they have a sort of coolness to them that a lot of the later shows don't.
I think the Mind of Evil shows that as well, sometimes black and white can be used to great effect and mood and works even better than color for atmosphere and photography and filmmaking. It's a shame really none of the later Doctors in the new series used black and white for anything.
Personally I think the episode The God Complex - if I remember right, that's the one in the hotel would have been great in B&W, same for the Nightmare in Silver with they Cybermen.
Anything with mechanical menace and I think that's one reason why the early Dalek stories works so much better than
the later ones. Because the sterile black and white frankness works very well with the cold blooded machines and heartless behavior that the Daleks have. Mood is very important in storytelling, just as which words are used in a book so goes the same for lighting and direction and atmosphere in a movie or TV program.
I think black and white goes a long way in making the Cybermen and the Daleks for frightening and the story then more plausible,
and same goes for The War Machines.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on January 22, 2009
I recently bought this one on DVD and loved it. My favorite stories to watch are usually in between Seasons 3-18 of the original series. This one ended season 3. My first William Hartnell story that I bought was on VHS and it was "The Tenth Planet" which came shortly after this one and introduced the Cybermen. It was also William Hartnell's last story and the first to feature a regeneration. I loved it too. That's why I decided to give this one a try since the story idea of this one came from the same writer who wrote "The Tenth Planet". And I do not regret it.

This one is like an early version of "The Terminator" and "I, Robot". The Doctor and Dodo arrive in 1966 London and meet WOTAN - a newly constructed super computer that can think for itself, created to solve many of man's problems. But when WOTAN decides that humans are inferior beings that need more than just guidance, it starts making plans to conquer mankind itself. Somehow it is able to control people's minds, and starts using them to build war machines for its conquest. Soon London starts to get overrun by these machines and they seem to be indestructable with WOTAN in total control. Now the Doctor seems to be mankind's only hope once again.

It does have some faults though which is why I gave it four stars instead of five. This is the only one in the series that actually refers to the Doctor as "Doctor Who". The writer clearly made an error because he is just supposed to be referred to as "The Doctor". Unless he actually introduces himself as "Doctor Who" (as an alias name like John Smith), he usually just goes by "The Doctor". And I didn't hear him introduce himself as "Doctor Who" at any time during this story. Another thing that bothered me was the epic battle in Episode 3 in which many of the soldiers' guns jammed. I doubt that so many guns would jam all at the same time, especially when they're supposed be issued to the military. Another thing was Dodo's departure. She disappears from the story after Episode 2, and when its time for her and the Doctor to leave at the end, she sends Ben and Polly to say goodbye to the Doctor for her so you don't even get to see her at the end - not even for a goodbye. Although Ben and Polly's premiere was handled well.

In all, it was a pretty good and exciting story that tells about the internet age several decades before it even had begun. Highly recommended!
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IN SHORT: Another great Doctor Who DVD!

So here we have another of the few stories from the Hartnell era that's still in existence. I'd never seen it before I bought this DVD and it is... pretty darn good, except for some minor/major flaws.

The story takes place during the 1960's, the time when the show actually aired. It centers around the development of a machine called WOTAN, a precursor to the internet. It's designed to help control lots of things in the world.

Naturally the computer goes bonkers and tries to take over using some weird form of hypnotism mixed with the titular war machines; deadly robots that are less effective/interesting than the daleks.

The story is notable for introducing the characters of Ben and Polly, both of whom remained with the First Doctor until the end. It's also notable for being the last episode of Dodo, who departs off-screen in the middle of the story. Yeah, that could've been handled better.

The disc has the usual high production values, including commentary and trivia tracks. It also has some then and now stuff on the locations the production team used as well as all the other things one might expect.

The story is ok. Hartnell is his usual gruff and grumpy self as the Doctor. Ben and Polly breathe a nice breath of fresh air into the series, though, and help make this a fun story and worth owning on DVD!
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This is one of the restored episodes. This story was missing entirely but because of the shows awesome fan base it has been restored. There is a even a documentary narrated by Anneke Wills that explains how the story was pieced back together. As far as I am concerned thats enough reason to part with some cash right there. There are other extras that include: excerpts from the BBC children's program, Blue Peter, that shows the Post Office Tower (or GPO Tower as it was known) being built, plus an appearance by a war machine touting the upcoming new Doctor Who Adventure, a brief then and now feature showing locations used for the story as they exist today, and a short documentary about the GPO Tower narrated by the former Post Master General. There is also commentary by actress Anneke Wills, who played Polly and director Michael Ferguson.

Again the special effects are worth mentioning. They are really no great shakes even for the 1960's but the entire series was filmed on a shoestring budget and the results are really quite good for the money spent.

The restoration itself is awesome both sound and video are quite good.
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