The War Machines ***

The Doctor tackles a computer menace at the Post Office Tower in 1960s London – and gains Ben and Polly as companions

Comments
Doctor Who story guide
Patrick Mulkern
Patrick Mulkern
The War Machines ***

Season 3 – Story 27

"Wotan has decided that the world cannot progress further with mankind running it. From now on, we are to serve" - Professor Brett

Storyline
Arriving with Dodo in London 1966, the Doctor senses a strange power emanating from the newly completed Post Office Tower. They are welcomed into the Tower by Professor Brett who is launching the world's most advanced computer, Wotan (Will Operating Thought ANalogue). While the Doctor befriends Sir Charles Summer, the civil servant in charge of the project, Dodo goes clubbing with Brett's secretary Polly and meets Ben, a sailor posted ashore. The autonomous Wotan is soon planning to subjugate mankind. Brett and his associates are hypnotised and ordered to construct computerised tanks - War Machines - at strategic points across London. Wotan also mesmerises Dodo and Polly, so it is down to the Doctor, Ben, Sir Charles - and the Army - to defeat the menace.
Later, Dodo decides to stay in London but, while returning the Doctor's Tardis key, Ben and Polly are swept off into time and space …

First transmissions
Episode 1 - Saturday 25 June 1966
Episode 2 - Saturday 2 July 1966
Episode 3 - Saturday 9 July 1966
Episode 4 - Saturday 16 July 1966

Production
Location filming: May 1966 in London (Bloomsbury and Fitzrovia; Covent Garden market; Cornwall Gardens, South Kensington); Ealing Studios backlot
Filming: May 1966 at Ealing Studios
Studio recording: June/July 1966 at Riverside 1

Cast
Doctor Who - William Hartnell
Dodo Chaplet - Jackie Lane
Polly - Anneke Wills
Ben Jackson - Michael Craze
Sir Charles Summer - William Mervyn
Professor Brett - John Harvey
Professor Krimpton - John Cater
Major Green - Alan Curtis
Kitty - Sandra Bryant
Flash - Ewan Proctor
Captain - John Rolfe
Tramp - Roy Godfrey
The minister - George Cross
Television newsreader - Kenneth Kendall
American journalist - Ric Felgate
War Machine operator - Gerald Taylor
Wotan's voice - Gerald Taylor

Crew
Writer - Ian Stuart Black
Story based on an idea by Kit Pedler
Incidental music - various library tracks
Designer - Raymond London
Story editor - Gerry Davis
Producer - Innes Lloyd
Director - Michael Ferguson

RT Review by Patrick Mulkern
At the close of season three, Doctor Who at last makes contact with the Swinging 60s. A dizzying opening shot soars over Bloomsbury before zooming down into Bedford Square where the police box is just materialising. Filmed from the top of Centre Point, it's almost the reverse effect of the first Tardis take-off in 1963. As the Doctor steps out, he's wearing his cloak and Astrakhan hat from An Unearthly Child - a subtle nudge perhaps that this is the first time in almost three years we've seen the Doctor in modern London.

With The War Machines, Innes Lloyd and Gerry Davis have at last wriggled free from leftover scripts and are applying their own stamp. Not only is it startling to see William Hartnell walking the streets of the capital, but within three weeks they've replaced two humdrum companions with far more lustrous characters and given the series a contemporary edge. Lloyd and Davis have also enlisted University of London boffin Dr Kit Pedler to sharpen up the stories with of-the-moment scientific concerns.

The then-brand-new Post Office Tower is an ideal setting, even if the "advanced computer" Wotan (pronounced with a Germanic "V") now resembles little more than a jumble of crates. Rather wonderfully, Wotan insists that "Doctor Who is required" - an imperative reiterated by Brett - breaking one of the series' cardinal rules. Years later, writer Ian Stuart Black said he'd believed this to be the Doctor's actual name and no-one else had questioned it.

Much of Black's dialogue is clunky. "Good heavens! It's appalling," says Sir Charles. And while the War Machines are a decent innovation from the design team - as if to match - the plotting is mechanical. Implausibly Wotan's warehouse is situated right next door to the Inferno nightclub, and the 3am murder of a tramp warrants a headline in the same morning's newspaper - with posed photo! And if you're in the right mood, the stiff acting of the brainwashed humans in episode two is chokingly funny.

Alas poor Dodo! A runaway orphan only a few weeks ago, she's now plainly old enough to go to "the hottest nightspot in town". Alongside Ben and Polly she looks remarkably mature, and, while under Wotan's control, bears a striking resemblance to Bond villain Rosa Klebb. Despite a sincerely acted final scene where the Doctor dehypnotises her, Dodo's disappearance from the series in episode two must be the most ignominious exit for any companion.

Innes Lloyd devised newcomers Polly and Ben to be more identifiable modern types (a splash of Julie Christie and Adam Faith), but ones providing a contrast of light and shade. Anneke Wills embodies the bright, kooky Chelsea girl decked out in King's Road fashions, while Michael Craze gives a superbly intense performance as the sulky Cockney sailor ("This bird saved my life, see?") in his HMS Teazer cap.

They give the series a needed lift and of course it helps no end that both actors are gorgeous. Craze is probably the star of the show. Last year, Wills told me of her enduring fondness for her former co-star. "Like so many incredibly talented people, he never fulfilled his true potential." (Michael Craze died in 1998; the sharp-eared may have heard his name honoured in Little Britain sketches.)

Our hearts sing when Ben and Polly step inside the police box at the story's end. As the Tardis vanishes, two passers-by turn their heads at the strange sound, wondering what they've missed. In 1986, when the newly recovered episodes were screened at the National Film Theatre, this parting shot engendered a ripple of laughter and applause. And, for me, it sums up the story. We know we're heading in the right direction but sense we've just missed something great.

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Radio Times archive material

Introductory feature

RT billings
Episode 1
Episode 2
Episode 3
Episode 4

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Annekedote
On being cast as Polly: “The thing was I was getting a lot of work. Now I’m so old I can say it, but I was loved by the BBC. I was the taste of the 60s and I knew if I went along for something I would get the part. So I trotted along to the BBC, and [Doctor Who producer] Innes Lloyd, he just loved me. So I was quite confident that I’d get the part. When my agent rang me, I was thrilled to bits. I went running up and down the street telling everybody.” (Talking to RT, March 2012)

[Available on BBC DVD]