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A maniacal, telepathic computer dispatches clunky Dalek-wannabees to enslave mankind. Why? Because shut up, that’s why.

The 1st Doctor and Dodo (aka you-know-what) materialise in modern-day London of 1966, because apparently that’s an option. Hartnell’s Doctor must have just lied to Barbara and Ian during their entire run.

Anyway, it’s the height of the Swinging 60s; times are changing; people are groovy and enjoying themselves. Well, let’s change that, shall we? In the Post Office Tower (now known as the BT Tower), a computer scientist has just constructed the world’s first Artificial Intelligence, W.O.T.A.N., which stands for Will-Operating Thought Analogue, and is taken completely by surprise when it turns out that his creation has the ability to operate minds. Before this inevitable Skynet origin story kicks off, however, we’re treated to a host of Doctor Who firsts, some mad and wonderful, others just plain inane.

The Doctor is here referred to as ‘Doctor Who’; we meet our two brand new companions – Polly the cracking typist and Ben the depressed sailor; and we get to witness yet another failed attempt to replace the Daleks.

This podcast review is full of trivia, and considering the amount of stuff to pick apart in this at once glorious and bonkers serial, it’s not strange that it overran a bit. Enjoy!

#ClassicWho #DoctorWho #DrWho #FirstDoctor

Here's what we think of C027 The War Machines

We rate Doctor Who stories on a scale from 0.0 to 5.0. For context, very few are excellent enough to merit a 5.0 in our minds, and we'd take a 0.0 Doctor Who story over a lot of other, non-Whovian stuff out there.

Leon | @ponken


Nik | @nikulele


jD | @mariuskane


Here's what we think of C027 The War Machines

We rate Doctor Who stories on a scale from 0.0 to 5.0. For context, very few are excellent enough to merit a 5.0 in our minds, and we'd take a 0.0 Doctor Who story over a lot of other, non-Whovian stuff out there.

Leon | @ponken


Nik | @nikulele


jD | @mariuskane


Here's what you think 8 Responses to “C027 The War Machines”
  1. Gallifreyan Buccaneer | @aluntrussler

    The War Machines Mini:

    So besides Planet of Giants (where they’re miniaturized so it doesn’t really count) this is the first proper story in Who that’s set in contemporary Britain. They make this damn obvious as the newly opened Post Office Tower takes center stage! Because of this, I get a feeling of freshness in older 60’s Who. We’re nearing the end of Hartnell, Dodo departs with so little fanfare it’s insulting, and we get the rather good Ben and Polly, themselves symbolising the swinging 60’s.

    The War Machines themselves, in contrast to this, seem like such an antiquated view on what robots would be: Spinning reels of tape, massive size, and a big radar atop their head. I kind of like them though. Sure they’re ridiculous (especially their club-like arms) but they’re fairly imposing, is a little trundly.

    The biggest claim to fame this story has is by WOTAN directly referring to the Doctor as ‘Doctor Who’, as if that’s his name. I should be outraged that such a dumb mistake would get past the production team, but frankly back in the 60’s everyone called him that anyway. Hell, a lot of people still do, and it wasn’t until Davison (if I remember correctly) that the credit changed from ‘Doctor Who’. Also Eccleston was credited the same way until Tennant pointed out the error. It’s a silly production flaw, nothing else.

    This story also has one of my favourite Hartnell moments, even if it is a bit of a repeat of a shot from Dalek Invasion of Earth. It’s when, in the warehouse, the War Machine advances, the soldiers flee, but The Doctor, hand on lapels, stares it down. what a great great moment.

    The War Machines gets a solid 3.2 from me.

  2. Stephen | @sgamer82


    “The War Machines” introduces us to our newest companions Ben & Polly, who establish their companion cred early by Ben being the Doctor’s muscle and Polly being promptly kidnapped before the halfway point. More seriously, Ben is shown to be as chivalrous and courageous as his leading man predecessors. Meanwhile, while mind controlled Polly actually manages to resist WOTAN’s control just enough to enable Ben’s escape from the computer’s slaves.

    While this serial introduces Ben & Polly, it is much more the Doctor’s story than many of the more recent episodes have been. The Doctor is far more active as he works with the local scientific community and military to defeat the rogue AI known as WOTAN. One of my personal favorite moments in the serial is when the Doctor stands calmly before an approaching War Machine while everyone else flees for their lives in the third episode’s cliffhanger. The First Doctor not typically being a man of action, this is easily one of his more badass moments.

    As a villain, WOTAN’s major claim to fame would be that he is, if I am not mistaken the first artificial intelligence to menace the Doctor as a story’s antagonist. However, WOTAN does not have a very active role in the story itself, instead acting through its mind controlled human servants and War Machines. The War Machines are rather silly looking, reminding me of a show in the U.S. called “Battlebots” (its U.K. equivalent being called, I think, “Robot Wars”) which had similar looking homemade robots fighting each other.

    In scoring and reviewing, I tend to be very forgiving of flaws. More so, perhaps, than I should be, seeing as that’s resulted in my giving high ratings to serials that everyone else rated low. As a rule, I don’t mark down for bad special effects, so despite their silly design the War Machines themselves don’t cost this serial any points. In fact, were it not for one critical part of the story, I would easily rate this somewhere between a 3 or 3.5. However, the writers do something in this story I find very hard to forgive.

    Along with the introduction of Ben & Polly, this story also features the departure of companion Dodo Chaplet. Or, rather, her complete LACK of departure. Susan’s farewell was heartfelt. Ian and Barbara’s departure provided closure. Vicki, though rushed, at least said goodbye. Katarina and Sara were mourned. Steven went on to bigger things. Dodo is shuffled out of the room in episode two and never seen again. Her goodbye is even delivered secondhand by Polly. Dodo Chaplet was one of the Doctor’s companions. A main character of the series. Whether you hated her or only mildly disliked her, Dodo deserved better. Even the reviled Adam got a better goodbye in Eccleston’s “The Long Game” than Dodo Chaplet did.

    My understanding is there were real life issues behind this. Even so, within the episodes themselves it was handled very poorly. Dodo got the dildo and, as a result, I give the War Machines a 2.5 out of 5. Mistakes with a character can be forgivable, but ruining their final moments in the show? Not so much.

  3. Kyle Rath | @sinistersprspy

    Doctor Who Season 3 Episode 10 “The War Machines” Review By Kyle Rath

    The Doctor and Dodo arrive in London on July 20th, 1966, and the new Post Office Tower looms high in the sky. But all is not so copacetic in Ol’ London Towne, as Professor Brett is about to unleash upon the world, the mind-numbing power of WOTAN (pronounced V-OH-TAN), a self-aware computer. The Doctor and Dodo, along with new friends Polly and Ben, race at near lumbering speeds to outwit, outlast, and out over-annunciate in a very monosyllabic way, the analog threat.

    (It should be pointed out that by a strange coincidence, several hundred years later, Santa Claus commands a ship that bears a striking resemblance to what is now called the BT Tower on behalf of British business interests throughout the Galaxy). Joke Done.

    My Doctor sense is tingling. Could be my shampoo, or it could be the itch my teeth are having after sitting through this four part season finale. I really want to like “The War Machines”. My memories from when I first saw it say that I actually do. At many points I feel like it almost gets there. Kind of like my love life in high school. There is a lot of awkward stumbling around, with pained expressions, and unnecessarily over the top yet wooden performances by characters who are in a room by themselves. Also like my love life in high school. I digress.

    The Good:

    Constant companion: I instantly like Polly and Ben. They remind me, a bit, of Ian and Barbara, and while Polly is used as an unwitting pawn for a lot of this story, it is really nice to have a stronger female back on the team. Ben is a bit of a limp noodle, but he’s funny, and the dynamic with Polly is refreshing.

    Full on Doctor: Later in the episode, starting around Part Three, Hartnell locks in on his inner Timelord and delivers a fantastic turn.  He also hasn’t lost his panache for brazenly committing people to their deaths, as he reprograms a captured War Machine to kamikaze its way back to WOTAN, while the Profs and Polly linger inside – pretty raw. This is the first instance where The Doctor is required (NOT Doctor Who) to work with the military.

    Immaculate Conception: The concept of a global computer network becoming self-aware and taking over the minds of humanity is an intriguing one, especially for 1960’s television. It almost sounds like something that could be later described as The Great Intelligence, but that’s my personal head cannon.

    The Bad:

    Exit Stage Left: Dodo, while hardly a compelling traveller on the TARDIS, is unceremoniously dumped off-screen, electing to end her time as a TARDIS-eer. It is becoming a bit of a habit in Doctor Who, by this point, for the companions to find their exits in less and less appealing fashions. I wasn’t crazy about Dodo, but come on.

    Stick a Fork in it: Remember that time when the two professors were hanging out with WOTAN, and then they presented the step by step evil plan to conquer the world through over-annunciated exposition to no one in particular? Yeah.  That was a thing. And then when that Major Green guy kept barking in the warehouse, explaining to the MINDLESS DRONES UNDER WOTANS COMPLETE COMMAND why what they were doing was necessary. Memories.

    To days to come: WOTAN, by itself, is menacing. A single, quiet terminal in a room at the top of a tower is creepy. Exercising its will on feeble human minds from a distance without anyone so much as gaining a clue is, or could be, terrifying.  Boxy, bland, over (or under) engineered battle bot minions seems like telling more than showing. The Daleks are downright works of art compared to these rolling recycling bins, and their presence undermines the entire story. Also, though the acronym is listed as meaning “Will Operating Thought Analogue” (whatever the fuck that is supposed to mean), everyone keeps pronouncing it like some kind of prissy SS officer conducting nipple torture on Dr. Frank N. Furter.

    I also secretly hoped “The War Machines” referred to the WOTANified human beings. Alas.

    Badass Moment: The end of Part Three, when everyone else retreats, but The Doctor struts the fuck up to the advancing War Machine with a “What up, Bitch” expression on his face. Masterful.

    I don’t hate this serial. Even now, I have to admit how much I enjoyed it. However, I think that is also because in my heart of hearts, I know my time with The First Doctor is winding down, and I have really taken to the old geezer. Despite its rickety robots, its unabashedly pointless characters (I’m looking at you, Sir Charles, you fucking git), and the many trips and falls that are too numerous to mention here (a GO AWAY sign for a locked TARDIS/ killing the homeless/Hey Poll, go give that sailor a toss for his troubles), “The War Machines” gets a 2.3 out of 5.

  4. Peter Zunitch

    (I originally wrote a great review for this, which subsequently vanished into the ether when my phone failed to upload it correctly to the web, so unfortunately you’re stuck with this one which was written months later from memory and is not half as good. Sorry)
    I must admit I have a personal affection for this one that probably skews my review of it as a whole. I always love watching the “Skynet” plot, and if it has robotic dominating machines moving throughout the city that’s all the better.
    The doctor becomes commanding here, and just in time. Ben and Polly have great introductions in this story. Polly being taken over and almost giving Ben away during the escape is an amazing scene. The baddies are maniacal enough to be believable without going over the top into the realm of supervillain. Even Dodo was good in this episode, even if short lived.
    Dodo is a representative of the drifter society, something difficult to comprehend today for sure. While I don’t think she ever shines, I don’t think she’s as bad as most people make her out to be. She’s an inexperienced skeptic who thinks she knows it all and is just out for a good travelling adventure. This is re-enforced later by her sudden departure (though I agree it was not handled at all well).
    I often have thought that if I could change anything it would be Wotan’s whispers. However I now believe that this is one thing that makes the computer so menacing, almost hypnotizing to the viewing audience as well. I wasn’t confused by the typing vs talking issue. It was obvious to me that Wotan only typed in the beginning to hide the fact that it can talk from the Dr et. al. The only other time it types is to print out the long design documents for the war machines. Speaking of which, they are something I would have changed. While they do indeed look sturdy, the proportions are all wrong for making them intimidating. The club at the front is lame and the arm is too long to make it move in any manner other than imprecise and sloppy, exactly what a machine shouldn’t be.
    In the end the series would be better if there were more balance in Dodo’s departure, and a better explanation of the time scale in which the story took place (weeks, not days). There are a few goofy moments but I always enjoy this story. Even now I want to watch it again. 4.3

  5. The TARDIS lands in 60’s London, right outside the newly completed Post Office tower. The Doctor is convinced that there is an alien menace lurking in the tower and is immediately welcomed in and shown round the marvellous new computer system, which goes by the sinister name WOTAN.

    WOTAN is not long in causing havoc. Thinking the world would be a lot more efficient without human beings, it hypnotises a workforce of slaves to build him an army of war machines in the centre of London. The Doctor needs all the help he can get to save the day – Sir Charles, Ben the Sailor, Polly the ‘cracking typist’ and Dodo, who decides to go on holiday to the countryside…

    Perhaps it’s only when you are watching “Dr Who” through in order that you appreciate just how ground-breaking “The War Machines” is. For the first time ever, the dangerous enemies are not somewhere out in space or deep in history but in the middle of contemporary London. For the first time ever, we see the Doctor teaming up with the establishment – police, army, politicians and journalists – and being easily accepted by them. Indeed, as he stays lounging around at Sir Charles’ town house drinking coffee and reading the newspapers, or later as he casually cruises around in a Rolls Royce, you get the feeling that he feels completely at home in upper class 60’s London.

    At the same time, this really does feel like the swinging sixties – Ian, Susan and Barbara couldn’t be imagined hanging out in the Inferno nightclub, but it’s the perfect setting for Ben and Polly, and the Doctor fits in anywhere. “I dig your fab gear!”, coos the barmaid. Indeed, Ben and Polly are easily the best companions since the original trio and they bound on screen oozing charisma.

    This new endeavour is matched by a nice budget – we have planes, cars, guns, location filming. It feels like we are seeing the highest production values since “The Dalek Invasion of Earth”.

    The War Machines themselves are very clunky. In comparison to the sleek look and maximum firepower of the Daleks, the War Machines look like oversized contestants from Robot Wars. They fire a gas which seems to have a very variable effect depending on circumstances, and frequently does nothing at all. They have two clunky little ‘head-bonkers’ that are connected to the body by far too slender an arm to look dangerous. And the way their lights and radiator vaguely resemble a grimacing face makes them look more comical that alarming. Even the fact that they are so big makes them look weak – it’s just too easy to dodge behind them, and their only serious weapon is on the front.

    Despite “The War Machines” being one of the better performances of her run, Jackie Lane’s Dodo is out of her depth. She was always the poorest of Hartnell’s companions and I’m glad to see her depart. However, the fact that she simply disappears half way through the story and goes off to her aunts house without ever saying Goodbye comes across as rude and lazy – both on the part of the character and of the writers.

    – The new graphics for the title cards at the beginning of the episodes are great – letting us know we are about to see something special.
    – The Doctor gets carried away into the biggest fluff. “You know there’s something alien about that tower. I can scent it. I- I- I- I can feel eh… eh… eh… it’s got something, um, sort of… powerful- Look at my skin! Look at that! I’ve got that prickling sensing… sensation again, yes… the same … just as I had when I … thought these Tareks… eh Daleks were near.”
    – Dodo tests out the abilities of WOTAN: “What does TARDIS mean?”. WOTAN replies instantly, with the (almost) correct answer. It’s very dramatic, and almost seems illogical. How can a computer possibly be able to calculate the meaning of a word it has never heard? But of course it’s seeding in the concept – WOTAN is telepathic, and is simply able to read Dodo’s mind… Creepy!
    – The scenes where first Professor Brett and second Professor Krimpton are sucked in by the machine are very enjoyable.
    – “Doctor Who is required.” Nobody but WOTAN ever calls the Doctor ‘Doctor Who’. How did no script editor ever pick up on this glaring mistake?
    – The Doctor’s hysterically OTT response to WOTAN’s attempted hypnosis is worthy of a meme. “It was as if… as if… as if something enormous and terrific was trying to absorb me!” I mean there’s no way to say that line well, but Hartnell just goes all-out with shrieks and gasps and cries and it’s quite sublime!
    – The strategically vital factory where the War Machines are being created has got no locks on the doors.
    – In episode three, the same truck comes past three times in single file to make it look like a whole convoy.
    – At the end of that episode, with the War Machine advancing on the retreating army, the Doctor steps forward like an action hero, taking on the power of the machine by the sheer force of his Furious Stare.
    – The War Machine destroying it’s own creator in the factory is a lovely ironic touch – very Frankenstein.
    – The Doctor stands up so fast in episode four that he bangs his head on the War Machine.
    – There a good stand-off between Ben and the Doctor. The Doctor reverts to type by ignoring the life of one girl to save a whole city, while Ben is ready to drop everything to save Polly. “This bird saved my life, see!” is perhaps not the worlds best battlecry, but it is very Ben.

    This is definitely one of my favourite William Hartnell stories – not because it’s typical of his era, but because it foreshadows everything that Dr Who will become under Troughton and especially Pertwee. The old-school London setting, the alliance with the military and the government, the baddies attempting to take over the world – it’s great and I love it.

    Combined with that we have a major step forward with Ben and Polly taking over from Dodo, and there is a sense of real progress within the show as a concept. As a threat, the War Machines themselves are laughably poor, but it gives us a chance to see the Doctor as both a strategic general and a brave fighter, and overall it’s a lot of fun.

    OVERALL: 4.8

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