Who Review – The War Machines

Posted by Richo On April 28, 2012 ADD COMMENTS

Welcome to the Seventeenth instalment of Who Review, my ongoing quest to watch and review all available episodes of SF’s longest running television series, Doctor Who. This week, the Doctor and his companions find themselves in modern day London in a fight for their lives against The War Machines.


The War Machines (4 Episodes)


25 June – 16 July 1966


William Hartnell


Dodo Chaplet

Ben Chapman



Another review, another jump forward due to lost episodes. This time, however, we’re only jumping ahead by one storyline. The previous story, The Savages, saw the departure of the Doctor’s companion Steven Taylor, who chose to stay on a planet in the distant future to serve as mediator between two warring factions.  It’s a shame to see him go, as he was probably my favourite of the early Who companions.

Having left Steven in the future, the TARDIS crew find themselves transported to modern day London, landing near the newly constructed Post Office Tower. Exploring, the Doctor is unsettled by a sensation of a strange nearby energy emanating from the Tower. Posing as a computer specialist, he and Dodo make their way to the Tower.

There, they meet Professor Brett, the creator of W.O.T.A.N. (Will Operating Thought Analogue), the world’s most advanced computer, a sentient artificial intelligence that will soon be linked to other major computer systems to form a central intelligence. They are also introduced to Polly, the Professor’s secretary.

When Dodo complains of a strange ringing in her ears, Polly offers to take her to a nightclub called Inferno. There, they meet Ben Chapman, a sailor who Polly has seen in the club before. Dodo reveals that she still feels lightheaded but assures her newfound companions that she’s fine. She’s not…

Meanwhile, The Doctor attends a press conference at the Royal Scientific Club, where Sir Charles Summers, the head of the club, answers questions about W.O.T.A.N. Sir Charles meets the Doctor and invites him to stay at his residence. Professor Brett is strangely absent – before he can depart the Tower to attend the conference, he is hypnotised by W.O.T.A.N. Brett then summons others to be hypnotised by the computer, including the Tower’s security chief and an electronics expert.

Back at Inferno, Dodo receives a telephone call from the Tower Security Chief, a call that sends out W.O.T.A.N.’s control signal. Dodo is taken over and ordered to return to the Tower. There, Professor Brett instructs her to find “Doctor Who” and bring him to the Tower.

This is the first and only time that The Doctor is actually identified as “Doctor Who” in the series, outside of the occasional in-joke moment or comment. W.O.T.A.N. is able to identify the Doctor by a pseudonym that he never actually uses. It’s a small fault in the script, but interesting to note at this early stage in the development of the character. Interestingly, W.O.T.A.N. is also able to discern the meaning of TARDIS (Time and relative Dimensions in Space). This seeming omniscience is, unfortunately, never followed up in the story.

We soon discover that W.O.T.A.N. has concluded that humans cannot develop the world any further. It has further determined that it will take control of the planet and enslave humanity. Using hypnosis, W.O.T.A.N. enslaves a workforce and has them construct 12 War Machines around London, 12 automated tanks that the computer will use to take over the city.

Meanwhile, the Doctor makes his way to Inferno where he meets Ben and Polly. They soon find Dodo, who has returned from the Tower, and together they travel to Sir Charles’ residence to sleep.

The next day, Dodo manages to get the Doctor to telephone Brett at the GPO Tower, and he is nearly possessed by W.O.T.A.N.. Thinking the Doctor is now under the computer’s control, Dodo reveals that the War Machines are being constructed in strategic points around London. The Doctor manages to break the hold W.O.T.A.N. has over Dodo and she is sent to stay with Sir Charles’ wife in the country to recover…

…and we’ll never see her again. More on that below, but I just thought I’d highlight that this is the final scene in which Dodo Chaplet appears onscreen. This is the worst send-off I’ve seen for a companion, as Dodo seems to be nothing more than an afterthought.

Ben, meanwhile, is waiting to have lunch with Polly, but she doesn’t show up as she has been captured and hypnotised by W.O.T.A.N. The Doctor sends him to investigate the area around Inferno after reading in the paper about a dead hobo found in the area. Ben manages to stumble upon the warehouse storing the War Machines and is captured by Polly. He is turned into slave labour to aid in construction of the War Machines. He also learns that W.O.T.A.N. will launch its attack at noon the next day.

Ben manages to escape and warn the Doctor and Sir Charles of the imminent attack. His escape is witnessed by Polly but she does not stop him. For allowing Ben to escape, she is sent to the Tower to be punished by W.O.T.A.N.

Sir Charles orders an army taskforce investigates the warehouse, where they encounter War Machine #3. Unfortunately, the automated computer disables the soldier’s weapons and they are forced to retreat. The Doctor, however, stands defiant against the automated tank, and the machine stops, having not yet been fully programmed. With War Machine #3 deactivated, the workmen are freed from W.O.T.A.N.’s control.

Examining the Machine’s programming, the Doctor discovers the existence of 11 more War Machines across London. Soon after, reports reach him and his companions that another War Machine, #9, has been sighted. The Doctor, with the aid of the army taskforce, manages to trap the War Machine in an electromagnetic field and reprograms it to destroy W.O.T.A.N.

Meanwhile, Ben heads to the Post Office Tower and manages to find Polly, dragging her from the building as War Machine #9 attacks. It manages to destroy W.O.T.A.N. before it can activate the remaining War Machines.

With W.O.T.A.N. destroyed, Professor Brett and his fellow slaves are freed from their hypnotic state.

With things settled down, the Doctor prepares to depart in the TARDIS. Ben and Polly meet him with a message from Dodo, who has decided to stay in London. Thanking them, the Doctor enters the TARDIS. Realising that they have Dodo’s key to the time machine, Ben and Polly enter, hoping to return the key to the Doctor. The TARDIS departs, with the two still inside.

As a SF fan, there are several standards of the genre that I’m drawn to: time travel, alternate realities, dystopian or post-apocalyptic future, radiation-induced rampaging giants…and evil supercomputers intent on enslaving or destroying humanity. Naturally, I was excited going into The War Machines as the idea of a killer computer called W.O.T.A.N. appealed to my sensibilities. Unfortunately, the storyline doesn’t really live up to the admittedly high expectations I had. There’s a lot of filler in these four episodes, and the threat that W.O.T.A.N. poses isn’t really explored as well as it could have been.

On a positive note, The War Machines marks the beginning of a major change in the structure of Doctor Who. It is the beginning of a trend to set more stories on modern day Earth. The producers at the time felt that the audience was growing bored with the historical episodes that had played a major role in the show before this. It’s a decision I support, as the historical pieces have generally been the weaker episodes.


Unlike The Gunfighters, The War Machines is a standout storyline for the Doctor. He is the driving force behind the investigation into W.O.T.A.N. and the hero who saves the day through his inventiveness and scientific knowledge. With Steven gone and Dodo vanishing half way through the story, The Doctor is the only TARDIS crew member left to carry the story through to its conclusion.

There’s also a darker, more ruthless edge to the Doctor in this storyline, especially towards the end. He sends a War Machine to destroy W.O.T.A.N., even knowing that Professor Brett and his co-worker Krimpton may be killed. Krimpton actually does die in the final onslaught. In previous episodes, the Doctor has been more patriarchal or humorous. This depiction of the character harkens back to his earliest depictions, such as his decision in the second storyline The Daleks to wipe out an entire race.


So just like that, Dodo is gone, forgotten before she’s even officially left. She doesn’t even get a proper send off; there’s no final moment to share with the Doctor. As far as companion final storylines go, this is just terrible, a completely dismissive way to dispose of a character. Even the Doctor doesn’t seem too perplexed by her departure.

Apparently, the producers felt that Dodo was a failure as a character, and to be honest, they’re right. She really didn’t offer much to the show, and unlike the Doctor previous youthful companions, she did nothing to stand out as a character or companion. Still, I think she deserved better than to be removed part way through a storyline and then forgotten.

Unfortunately, first impressions suggest that Ben and Polly aren’t really very strong replacements. Ben lacks the charisma of the recently departed Steven, with the producers seemingly aiming for an “everyman” quality to the character that translates on the screen into “dull.” Like Dodo, Polly seems to be an attempt on the creator’s part to develop a character in tune with the youth movement of the times, a Mod-like companion representing the swinging 60’s in all their glory. So far, they’ve failed to impress. Hopefully they’ll put in a better showing in later episodes.


At face value, W.O.T.A.N. would seem to have all the trademarks of a classic SF villain. It’s a supercomputer intent on world conquest, an absolute staple of the genre and one of my personal favourites. Unfortunately, The War Machines never quite realises its potential and W.O.T.A.N. becomes a minor, almost forgettable villain. It’s a shame, really, as a better story could have made W.O.T.A.N. into something more than it is.


The War Machines is an ambitious storyline that promises so much but unfortunately fails to really deliver. There are some strong ideas in the story but the potential was there for something greater.

2 Lukes


We jump into the Doctor’s Fourth season with one of the most important Doctor Who storylines of all time, The Tenth Planet.

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