Sunday, 21 October 2012

Story 27 - The War Machines

In which the TARDIS materialises in Fitzroy Square, London. It is July, 1966. To prevent any passing policeman trying to enter the ship, the Doctor puts an "Out of Order" sign on the door. Dodo notices that the Post Office Tower appears to have been completed. The Doctor senses some evil presence emanating from it. They visit the Tower and meet Professor Brett, his security adviser Major Green, and secretary Polly. Brett has created a new, highly advanced computer called WOTAN - an acronym for Will Operating Thought ANalogue. In a few day's time, it is going to be linked to major computer centres across the globe - on C-Day. The Doctor is shocked to discover that the machine knows what TARDIS stands for. Intrigued, he decides to attend the press launch for C-Day where he meets the bureaucrat Sir Charles Summer.

Dodo, on the other hand, is invited to the Inferno nightclub in Covent Garden by Polly. Brett and Green are attacked mentally by WOTAN and taken over. The machine sees itself as far superior to humans and has decided to use C-Day to dominate all humanity and make it more efficient. To aid this takeover, it instructs Brett to construct War Machines - mobile, armoured extensions of itself. They will be armed, to overpower any resistance. Dodo is also taken over - remotely, by telephone. WOTAN wants to harness the Doctor's mind and will use her to achieve this. At the Inferno, Polly meets an unhappy young sailor named Ben Jackson. He is stuck on shore duties whilst his friends are going overseas. Attempts to capture the Doctor fail. Dodo is found to be under the computer's hypnotic power. The Doctor breaks this, and Sir Charles sends her off to his country home to recuperate.

Polly is taken over and is forced to help build a War Machine in a warehouse near the Inferno. Ben is captured, but escapes and tells the Doctor and Sir Charles what he has seen. The military are called in and, after a pitch battle, Major Green and the War Machine are captured. Another Machine activates prematurely and runs amok - before the Doctor captures it by surrounding it with an electro-magnetic field. He reprogrammes the Covent Garden Machine to return to the Post Office Tower where it destroys WOTAN. All the controlled humans are freed of its influence. Ben and Polly go to Fitzroy Square where the Doctor is waiting to leave. They pass on the message that Dodo has decided to stay on in London. Ben has her key, dropped earlier by the Doctor. He and Polly enter the police box to return it - just as the box dematerialises...

This four part adventure was written by Ian Stuart Black, from an idea by Kit Pedler. It was broadcast between 25th June and 16th July, 1966. There was another uncredited writer involved - Pat Dunlop.
It is the final story of Season 3, and all four episodes exist in the archives.
Kit Pedler, a renowned scientist, was brought in by story editor Gerry Davis to add some serious scientific gravitas to the series.
The story is significant for a number of reasons - the departure of Dodo and the arrival of Ben and Polly, and the contemporary setting, with its considerable foreshadowing of the UNIT era.
The Doctor is able to access the Post Office Tower and its inner sanctum of Professor Brett's area. We don't get to see how he achieves this. Maybe that Psychic Paper has been kicking about the TARDIS for a long time. Sir Charles takes him home with him, and when the army gets called in, as well as government ministers, he seems to be given carte blanche. Perhaps the Gentlemen's Clubs which the Third Doctor hung out in were once frequented by the First.

Jackie Lane gets what is unarguably the worst send-off for any companion in the 49 year history of the programme. Forget marrying people you only met 5 minutes ago, Dodo gets sent off to the country in episode 2, and we never see her again. She gives up time travel off camera. Maybe Steven told her about Sara and Katarina, and she took the first chance she could to jump ship...
Polly (Anneke Wills) makes an immediate impact, as does Michael Craze as Ben. He is with the military (the Senior Service) and is there for the action role vacated by Peter Purves' Steven. Whilst the BBC had some trouble over Dodo's accent, he is allowed to play a full Cockney character. Dodo might have come from any time - but Polly is very much the epitome of the swinging 60's.
After years of alien planets and historical settings, it quite a refreshing shock to see the Doctor take the ultra-trendy Inferno club in his stride, along with his "fab gear". Of course, 'Edwardiana' was very much part of the 1960's look.

Principal guest stars are John Harvey as Brett, and William Mervyn as Sir Charles. Both are excellent.
The War Machines are rather inefficient things - despite what WOTAN might think. They are huge, cumbersome contraptions - and to this day no-one can work out how one of them managed to get into a Post Office Tower lift.
Episode endings for this are:

  1. Dodo arrives at the Tower under WOTAN's influence. The computer announces that "Dr Who is required...".
  2. Exploring the warehouse at Covent Garden, Ben sees a War Machine bearing down upon him.
  3. The army has failed to destroy the War Machine. It is the Doctor's turn to see it bearing down upon him.
  4. Ben and Polly enter the police box to return Dodo's key - and the ship vanishes seconds later.
A very good story with lots to commend it. I've already mentioned all of the contemporary aspects and its' unwitting template for the UNIT years. Ben and Polly make a very promising start and have great potential. There's a lovely dynamic between them. Such a pity that so little still exists of their era on the programme.

Things you might like to know:
  • If you look very, very carefully - and are British, so know what the heck I'm talking about - you will see Mike Reid as one of the soldiers. For those who don't know who I'm talking about, Reid was a stand-up comedian of the old school (the generally misogynistic, racist and homophobic club comedy of the 1970's - not that he personally pandered to all of that nonsense). He presented a children's game show called Runaround in which he appeared to absolutely loathe kids. He was grumpy and hilarious. He went on to find popular and critical acclaim in the BBC soap Eastenders (as dodgy car dealer Frank Butcher). He died in 2007.
  • When examining the War Machine outside Covent Garden, Hartnell has an on-screen mishap as he bangs his head on the back of the prop. 
  • We're used to seeing real life newsreaders appearing as themselves in the new series, but it all starts here. Genuine BBC newsreader Kenneth Kendall appears in this.
  • "Doc-Tor Whooo Isss Requ-Ired..." That one line at the conclusion of episode 1 might have sparked some of the most vociferous debate in the entire history of the programme. I think this deserves a post on its own.
  • William Mervyn (died 1976) is the father of Michael Pickwoad - the current programme's production designer. Now there's a man who knows how to wear a bow-tie.

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