Doctor Who: Revisiting THE WAR MACHINES

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The War Machines is the serial where the Doctor is referred to as “Doctor Who”, even though the whole point is that it’s not his name but a question due to his name being a secret. Clearly the writers didn’t know a thing about the Doctor when they wrote this! Frankly it shows in other areas too.

Firstly there’s Dodo Chaplet. Does anyone remember her? No? There may be a reason for that! This is a character that the writers seemed to forget to give any discernible characteristics to when they came up with her. Let’s take a look at her entire character arc in The War Machines and see what the writers could do with her: She speaks to WOTAN, gets possessed by WOTAN, is set free by the Doctor and then made to lie down on a sofa to recover.

Dodo’s uselessness as a companion to the Doctor is only emphasised further when we get to see her in what should be her element. For the first time ever Doctor Who has taken a visit to contemporary England, but Dodo simply doesn’t fit in, highlighted even moreso when she shares the screen with newcomers Ben & Polly at the Inferno Nightclub.


Ben and Polly more than make up for her though. Ben represents the show’s first steps into a working class character, and through him the class issues of 1960s Britain are visible when the upper classes dismiss him at every opportunity. Meanwhile Polly is introduced fairly early on as a scientist’s assistant but makes an impression even in her first scene: The first thing we see her doing is gurning at the camera as her employer makes a sexist remark about her and then she puts on a clearly-fake smile as she turns to him and does her job – with that she’s won over the audience right from the word go. Even throughout the back half of the story when she’s under WOTAN’s control she’s still somehow got a watchable charisma and great screen presence that keeps us interested. Companions number 9 and 10 work well in the show, in a way that hadn’t happened since Vicki left.

So the new companions are a welcome addition then. It’s a shame that everything else is crap.


Consider the war machines themselves. Are we really supposed to believe that these lumbering metal squares of mediocrity are going to conquer the world? These are not a credible threat! They have all the speed of a mobility scooter with a flat battery and the maneuverability to match. WOTAN is their boss, a sentient computer based atop Post Office Tower in London (Cue classic Hartnell line fluff: “There’s something alien about that tower, I can scent it!”). WOTAN is, for all its world conquering goals, reduced to talking in cliched threats and long rasps in its voice. It infamously calls the hero “Doctor Who” but this is pronounced “Doctoooooooor Whooooooooooo!”

Also off-putting is how Hartnell’s Doctor is presented in this story: He’s just not right for it. His Doctor is not the action hero that his future selves would go on to be. As a result throughout the last two episodes when we see the Doctor helping out the military he feels out of place. Hartnell is always best when he gets to have a good monologue at someone, be it a companion or the villain or just some supporting character, and in The War Machines he barely gets the chance to do this. It’s simply not the part Hartnell had signed up for.


That’s not to say Hartnell’s totally wrong here though, because he still has some great moments to show us how good the First Doc (“Don’t call me ‘Doc’ my dear boy, hmm!”) truly was. The first few scenes where he effortlessly makes his way into the highest echelons of the scientific community is an idea repeated many a time in later years and the episode three cliffhanger when he stands up to one of the war machines of the title is a heroic moment for him that shows us how much the Doctor has grown.

The way the Doctor is presented in the latter parts of the story may not be a great fit for the First but if you imagine them with, say, Jon Pertwee then they’re nothing at all out of the ordinary. These scenes are a clear inspiration for what was to become commonplace for the next decade of the show’s run when the Doctor would find himself working for UNIT. Similarly the idea of a sentient machine wanting to bring death to the human race is lifted wholesale into that era more times than I can count. If there’s a biggest flaw with this story it’s that it came too early in the show’s run.

Essentially then The War Machines is a good idea done in a mediocre way. If the show is to continue pushing forward it’ll have to come up with a new way to make the Doctor fit in better to the stories that the writers have to tell. If only they could find a way to give him a totally new look and personality then the problems beginning to set in could be solved!

When he's not obsessing about Doctor Who whilst having I Am The Doctor play in his head, Dr. Moo can usually be found reading up on the latest in Quantum Physics. As you do when you're a physicist.

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