Doctor Who
The War Machines

Starring: William Hartnell
BBC Audio
RRP: 13.99
ISBN: 978 1 405 67692 2
Available 06 August 2007

It's 1966, and London's brand-new Post Office Tower looms over the Doctor and Dodo as they step from the TARDIS. When the Doctor meets Professor Brett, creator of a new, super-intelligent computer called WOTAN, he is intrigued to hear of a plan to link all the major computers of the world. But WOTAN secretly believes humans to be inferior to machines, and already has a number of staff under hypnotic control. It plans the widespread construction of War Machines, large armoured computers bent on taking over the world. With the help of two new companions - sailor Ben Jackson and Brett's secretary, Polly - the Doctor races against time to break WOTAN's power. If he can't, the end of humanity is in sight...

Rather like Professor Brett's (John Harvey) notion of connecting all the world's computers in Episode One, or the Doctor (William Hartnell) closing an immobilising circuit around a War Machine in Episode Four, the release of this story on CD completes a run of 1960s Doctor Who soundtracks, ranging right from Galaxy 4 to The Wheel in Space. How pleasing!

Though I would have preferred a DVD release, I am also pleased to finally hear the complete soundtrack to this story. The 1997 video release, though very nearly complete, is missing just over a minute of visual footage, including a short dialogue scene between Polly (Anneke Wills) and Professors Brett and Krimpton (John Cater). All of this material is present on this double CD.

In whichever medium you enjoy The War Machines, there's no denying that it is ahead of its time. Kit Pedlar's idea (fleshed out into full scripts by Ian Stuart Black) of a worldwide network of computers obviously predicts the internet, as narrator Wills and sound guru Mark Ayres discuss in an interview at the end of the second disc. The notion of a governing computer that decides the world would be a better place without human beings, and so builds an army of killer machines to wipe us out, is like a lower-tech version of Skynet from the Terminator movies. The War Machines themselves become a more potent menace on audio than on TV, owing to the fact that we can't see how clunky they look.

This is also a pivotal tale in terms of Who mythology. For the very first time, the TARDIS touches down in contemporary London for an entire adventure, and the Doctor works with the authorities, including the military, to defeat an invading menace. This is the template for the UNIT years to come.

The series also embraces the swinging '60s for the first time, with the introduction of Polly and scenes set in the Inferno nightclub.

The other new companion, Ben (Michael Craze) is the first regular to be allowed to exhibit a distinctive regional accent (cockney). The show's previous producer, John Wiles, had attempted such a thing before with the creation of Dodo Chaplet (Jackie Lane), but he was overruled by his superiors, resulting in Dodo's notoriously inconsistent accent. This time around, due to a change of regime at the BBC, producer Innes Lloyd faced no such objections to the introduction of a cockney character.

Unfortunately, Dodo is written out in a rather ignominious fashion. She disappears after the first two episodes of this four-part adventure and is thereafter referred to only in dialogue. Ben and Polly would ultimately be written out in a similar manner, appearing in only a single pre-filmed insert during the final four episodes of the six-part The Faceless Ones.

Despite such clumsy instances of story-telling, this serial is surprisingly adult, as Wills remarks upon in her interview with Ayres. Polly is confronted by an aggressive suitor in the Inferno Club. Later on, numerous dead victims of the War Machines are described lying around here, there and everywhere.

Listen out, too, for sound effects that may be familiar from their use in several 1960s Bond films.

This WOTAN story certainly gets my vote.

Richard McGinlay

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