Doctor Who: The War Machines
(4 episodes, s03e42-e45, 1966)
Between this and The Gunfighters, there have been some new style choices for the opening titles. It feels like the producers are trying to find a fresh voice for the show. What really felt fresh with this serial was the return to the 20th century. The “out of order” sign was a clever touch, but the TARDIS is looking rather shoddy.
The story is a standard tech-run-amuck tale, with a globally-networked central intelligence computer named WOTAN that knows a lot about everything. I don’t recall that they explained how WOTAN knew so much about things beyond the 1960s or the planet Earth, and that was a little disappointing because it didn’t make a lot of sense.
It also didn’t know everything, as it referred to the titular Time Lord as “Doctor Who” instead of as “The Doctor.”
WOTAN goes full Skynet, building machines to destroy the human race. This was a dark serial, with a ruthless intelligence that kills in a binary fashion. WOTAN is very “you’re either with me, or you’re my enemy,” and is very fast with getting the parts ordered, shipped, and assembled for the war machines.
Another nit to pick is how a machine prevents mechanical and chemical reactions from occurring in a firearm. There was no explanation, which makes this a convenient cheat and hurts the writing. This is exemplified by the order, “Tell the men to hold their fire,” followed by a threat to continue firing if the machine doesn’t stand down. Sir Charles seemed a bit daft as a result of this shoddy writing as there is no gunfire: The guns and grenades aren’t working, remember? Click, click, click does not equal bang, bang, bang.
That said, I did like the resolution to the story in turning one of the war machines against WOTAN. It was good that intellect and cunning won over brute force.
I like Ben and Polly, which are obviously another swing at adding a fresh face to the show. They work well together, and are much stronger in carrying the story than many of the previous companions. It was also a clever ruse by the Doctor to determine if Polly and Ben want to travel with him: Drop the key and wait for them to bring it to him. I can see how it may not have been a ruse by the Doctor, but he’s not usually so lax about his TARDIS keys.
Finally, I have to address Dodo. She was far more conservative in this adventure, and I did like having WOTAN turn her against the Doctor in an effort to assimilate him. But, her departure was quite disappointing. I really enjoyed her presence in the TARDIS, and she has been one of my favorite companions so far. She deserved far better than to be written off in a line of dialogue. That really soured an otherwise enjoyable episode, as there wasn’t even a chance to say goodbye for the Doctor or the viewer.
Rating: 3/5 – “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.”
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The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.