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Doctor Who: The War Machines

"You will offer me a new contract..."
Doc... tor... Whoooo... iss... re... quiiiired...

Season Three, Story BB

Starring William Hartnell as the Doctor
With Jackie Lane (Dodo) and introducing Anneke Wills (Polly) and Peter Craze (Ben Jackson)
Written by Ian Stuart Black
Directed by Michael Ferguson
Produced by Innes Lloyd
Script Editor: Gerry Davies

Broadcast Dates
  • "1" – 25 June 1966
  • "2" – 2 July 1966
  • "3" – 9 July 1966
  • "4" – 16 July 1966

How To Watch
  • The complete story is available for on-demand viewing (with subscription) on BritBox
  • The story is currently (as of April 2023) in rotation on Pluto.tv
  • DVD release in 2008 (region 2/4) and 2009 (region 1)

Although nominally complete, there are a few brief stretches of missing visual material. For the VHS release, the Restoration Team, whenever possible, used clips from other scenes to fill the gaps.


To Dodo's delight, the TARDIS lands in present-day London (1966). The Doctor senses something very odd coming from the top of the recently completed Post Office Tower, where they meet Professor Brett (and his assistant Polly), chief scientist overseeing WOTAN, an enormous computer scheduled to shortly network with other computers worldwide. They are impressed, and a bit alarmed, when WOTAN works out what the anagram TARDIS stands for!

Polly takes Dodo to Club Inferno, a nearby nightclub, where they befriend a lonely sailor Ben Jackson. Meanwhile, WOTAN takes possession of Brett's mind, and subsequently Security Officer Green and another technician Professor Krimpton. Dodo receives a mysterious call while at the club, and disappears. They are now servants of WOTAN, who is revealed to be plotting the takeover of planet Earth. The computer demands that the Doctor be brought under its control as well. Dodo, now also a servant of WOTAN, attempts to lure the Doctor into a trap, but fails. Ben searches for Polly and traces her to a warehouse where a large number of hypnotized people, under Green's direction on behalf of WOTAN, are engaged in the manufacture of a mobile robotic attack device known as a War Machine. Ben escapes and reports back to the Doctor and Sir Charles Summer, who summons an army squad, but the are decimated by the War Machine. The Doctor manages to deactivate it, but they discover that more War Machines are being manufactured all over London. Eventually the Doctor is able to capture and reprogram a War Machine to destroy WOTAN before more harm is done.

Dodo, mentally exhausted after being hypnotized, elects to stay behind. The Doctor prepares to depart alone but Ben and Polly, trying to give him Dodo's spare key, accidentally get whisked away in the TARDIS.

Notes and Observations

Received Wisdom tells us that "Invasion" was a dry run for the Pertwee/UNIT years, but secretly "The War Machines" was the dry run for the dry run! The first story set completely in present-day Earth (not counting 'Planet of Giants,' since the characters were one inch tall), surrounded by familiar locations in and around London, a menace that obliges the Doctor and friends to work with the army, etc. We meet swingin' mod girl Polly, we hang out at the hottest nightspot in London, the Club Inferno (much mileage is made of the Doctor's incongruously 'fab gear' when he shows up). And able seaman Ben Jackson shows up as if to say, "I hear the series needs a young man of action, here I am!" As the show runners would learn, a contemporary Earth story can be as bracing and exhilarating as a story on a distant planet, especially when they don't have to rely on painted backdrops and styrofoam boulders. There's menace in the everyday, which the Pertwee era would milk to its fullest.

The machines themselves don't exactly inspire fear, the show breaks all precedent by referring to the lead character as "Doctor Who," we never know exactly how the Doctor and Dodo manage to stroll right into Professor Brett's lab, who promptly gives them a guided tour of WOTAN. And it appears that the action all happens over a 24 hour period, which is utterly ludicrous, down to the tramp's death being covered in the morning paper complete with a posed photo. And it's very clear that there's only one War Machine prop, just with different numbers slapped on the side. It's all full of plot holes, none of it makes any damn sense... and I utterly adore it.

One final "Hartnell Stare..."

This is one the last stories where Hartnell has his A-game, and he's in command. He still fluffs and stutters here and there, but there's stuff here we rarely ever see. I love how he plays the ominous prickling sensation upon their arrival, his struggle against WOTAN's attempted phone call, his cliffhanger staredown of the War Machine... The irony is, however, that if he was healthy and had his faculties about him to the extent where he could deliver these moments consistently (and had the writing and directing supporting him), he might've stayed in the role longer, but that would mean they might not have come up with the concept of regeneration to replace him, and especially given the flagging ratings (around 4-5 million viewers when just a year earlier they were getting 13), the show might've never continued past a fifth or sixth season. The show owed its longevity, ultimately, to Hartnell's incapacity.

The other thing we have to deal with is the insultingly unceremonious departure of Dodo. Jackie Lane's contract expired after episode two, and Innes Lloyd opted not to bring her back to say a proper farewell. After her 'ordeal' having been hypnotized by WOTAN, she is sent off to the country to recover, then is never seen again. Polly breaks the news to the Doctor in ep four that Dodo's decided to stay. Lane doesn't get credited for eps three and four. What makes this more galling is that ep one and two are Jackie Lane's best work as Dodo! She's so icy under WOTAN's grip, it's quite chilling. Jackie Lane got such a raw deal, it's no wonder she barely associated herself with conventions and interviews.

Doctor does Battle botz.

Also a shoutout to just how effective Michael Ferguson's directing is. Seamless integration of film inserts and studio video. Great use of extras in the manufacturing sequences, nice action scenes with the army, a chilling scene with the poor guy in the phone booth, etc. This is one of the most tightly-directed episodes of the era, with a very filmic quality, even when the script doesn't quite match it. They definitely made the most of the earthbound setting, down to a cameo from BBC newsreader Kenneth Kendall.

My other favorite moments: Professor Krimpton's physical acting as he's taken over by WOTAN, plus his death scene, and also I love how WOTAN's main interface looks kinda like a face.

Haven't I Seen You...
  • John Harvey (Professor Brett) would return as Officia in "The Macra Terror"
  • Sandra Bryant (Kitty) would also return in "The Macra Terror," as Chiki
  • Ric Felgate (Stone) would return at Brent in "The Seeds of Death," and Van Lyden in "Ambassadors of Death"
  • Gerald Taylor (Machine Operator and voice of WOTAN) made several credited and uncredited appearances
  • John Rolfe (Captain) also appeared as Becket in "The Moonbase" and Fell in "The Green Death"
  • Frank Jarvis (Corporal) would return in small roles in "Underworld" and "The Power of Kroll"

Sausage Factor: counting Ben and Polly, who weren't officially companions at the time, 92.0% (2 females out of 25 credited actors)

Rating: Three and a Half out of Four Prickling Sensations.
John Geoffrion is a semi-retired semi-professional thespian, a professional data guy, and a Dad. He usually falls asleep to the Classic Doctor Who channel on Pluto.tv

1 comment:

  1. I feel you're spot on here, John! I really enjoyed this one, and it's one of my favorite Hartnell stories. That scene with him staring down the machines is his finest moment as the Doctor for me (with his speech to Susan my 2nd favorite). The machines are definitely a product of their time, but they work, and if not for how badly they treated poor Jackie Lane, this is a great story with some excellent moments, although why WOTAN called him 'Doctor Who' quite literally is not something I really understand.

    While Ben and Polly are not among my favorite companions ever, I do wish more of their stuff survived. I'm still mind-boggled that these and other shows (like very early Avengers), are lost to us.


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