Doctor Who 123 – The War Machines Part 1

Written by Ian Stuart Black
Directed by Michael Ferguson

Arriving in 1960s London, The Doctor senses evil surrounding a newly-developed supercomputer.

The new team

 “Wotan believes the Earth cannot develop further with mankind in charge.  Thus, humans must serve Wotan.”

And a bit of ground rules first, it is pronounced VO-tan, not WO-tan.  I’m not sure why, but it’s not important.

If I am remembering correctly, this is the first episode since An Unearthly Child where the adventure takes place in contemporary (well, 1960s) times.  Rather funny as Cymru Who seemed to be there every other episode for a while.  Regardless, this setting seems a bit odd after three years of adventures anywhere but.  There also seems to be a heightened sense of urgency, but that could be the pace of the episode because we don’t really waste a lot of time.  This episode introduces the threat, introduces Polly and Ben, and show the corruption of Dodo.  Quite a lot to accomplish in 25 minutes.

So, what happens?  Upon arrival in London, The Doctor senses an evil coming from the recently built Post Office Tower, although the story itself doesn’t refer to the tower as such.  This evil sends chills throughout The Doctor’s body, reminding him of The Daleks.  This seems a bit heavy-handed to me.  Apparently they were trying to create a new, popular enemy for the show, and hopes were that The War Machines would be that enemy. This explains the real-world reason why The Daleks would be invoked in this scene, but from a story perspective, it serves to quickly, and somewhat clumsily, set up dread.  But that only seems one misstep in an otherwise good episode, so we can overlook it.

Inside the tower is the computer Wotan.  It has artificial intelligence and can solve problems.  According to the developer, it never makes mistakes.  Indeed, it solves the math problem set to it by The Doctor then, more inexplicably, correctly figures out the acronym TARDIS.  We also learn that Wotan is mere days away from being connected to other supercomputers located around the world.  Essentially, Wotan is the forerunner to the internet.  No wonder The Doctor sensed great evil.  While The Doctor ponders these omens, Polly, the developer’s secretary, takes Dodo to The Inferno Club, which we are told is London’s most-happening night spot.  Ah, the sixties.

At The Inferno Club we meet Ben, a navy sailor who has a bit of bunk time in London while his ship is off in other parts of the world.  Ben is rather upset because he would rather be traveling.  The bartender asks Polly to work her magic on Ben to cheer him up since his vibe is dousing the atmosphere or something.  Polly flirts with him, but fails to perk him up.  The man next to Ben, however, is quite interested and offers to hang with Polly because he “knows her type.”  Ben comes to Polly’s rescue, although this happens after Ben is insulted.  The man is soundly beaten, thus establishing Ben as the new alpha male and Polly as a flirt and possible tease.  Basically, a 60s girl.

Meanwhile, Wotan begins taking control of his developer (okay, his name is Professor Brett, according to the internet.  Sorry, bad with names) and Major Green, the security officer of the Wotan project.  Wotan bends them to its will and they quickly capture and convert Professor Krimpton, the hardware expert on the project.  Wotan has reached the conclusion that the Earth can no longer progress with humanity in charge, thus humans must serve Wotan or die.  But there is one more thing Wotan needs.  It had recently been in contact with a powerful human brain.  Wotan needs The Doctor’s brain, and it has a new servant in the form of Dodo to lure The Doctor back to the tower.

All in all, this was a fast-paced episode.  All the actors do well to convey being controlled, alternating creepy and emotionless.  Dodo’s control comes as quite the surprise and makes the situation quite personal.  The contemporary setting is new and interesting and not yet done to death.  What I also find fascinating is that this episode was written before The Terminator films or The Matrix films.  We have a supercomputer that can think and judges humanity to be a liability.  Quite a forward thinking episode.

2 thoughts on “Doctor Who 123 – The War Machines Part 1

  1. When I was at college, I had a friend who had never seen Doctor Who before. Weirdly I showed him this story and Nightmare of Eden. Not exactly the great classics of the series.

    I do like this story. It all feels so fresh. Having the Doctor in Swinging Sixties London feels quite novel after what we have seen before. I love the way he is compared to Jimmy Saville!

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