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28 October 2014

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The War Machines

Production Code: BB

First Transmitted

1 - 25/06/1966 17:35

2 - 02/07/1966 18:55

3 - 09/07/1966 17:35

4 - 16/07/1966 17:15


The TARDIS arrives in London in 1966 and the Doctor and Dodo visit the Post Office Tower. There they meet Professor Brett, whose revolutionary new computer WOTAN (Will Operating Thought ANalogue) can actually think for itself and is shortly to be linked up to other major computers around the world - a project overseen by civil servant Sir Charles Summer.

It transpires however that WOTAN considers that humans are inferior to machines and should therefore be ruled by them. Exerting a hypnotic influence, it arranges the construction of War Machines - heavily-armed, self-contained mobile computers - with which to take over the world.

These prove more than a match for troops, but by establishing a magnetic force field the Doctor is able to capture one of them, which he then reprograms to destroy WOTAN. Dodo, now back in her own time, decides to remain on Earth. The Doctor enters the TARDIS alone, but Brett's secretary Polly and her merchant seaman friend Ben Jackson follow him inside just before it dematerialises.

Episode Endings

Dodo is hypnotised by WOTAN over the telephone and instructed to go to the control room in the Post Office Tower. There, she is given her instructions. She is to bring "Doctor Who" to WOTAN.

Having been asked by the Doctor to investigate around the Covent Garden area, Ben finds a warehouse in which a War Machine is being tested. The Machine suddenly homes in on him and approaches relentlessly.

The army attack the Covent Garden warehouse but cannot stop the War Machine. It chases the soldiers from the area and they retreat. Outside, however, the Doctor steps forward and stands his ground as the Machine approaches.

The Doctor is waiting by the TARDIS for Dodo when Ben and Polly arrive with a message from her: she wishes to stay in London. The Doctor enters the TARDIS, leaving Polly puzzled as to what he is doing inside a police box. Ben remembers that they still have Dodo's key, so the two friends follow the Doctor into the TARDIS just before it dematerialises.


The 'mad computer' genre and films such as Georgy Girl and The Knack.

The army's presence is reminiscent of Quatermass and the Pit.

Coronation Street (the bar scene in episode four).

Dialogue Triumphs

The Doctor : "You know there's something alien about that tower, I can sense it!"

Dodo : "Smells okay to me. Good old London smoke!"

The Doctor : "I can feel it... it's got something... sort of powerful... it's... Look at my skin! Look at that! I've got that prickling sensation. The... sensation again... the same... just as I had when I fought the Daleks... those Daleks were near!"

Dialogue Disasters

WOTAN : "Doctor Who is required... bring him here."

The owner of the Inferno : "I dig your fab gear!" [He also compares the Doctor to "that disc jockey" - presumably Jimmy Saville.]

The Doctor : [As WOTAN attempts mind-control by telephone.] "It's as if something enormous and terrific was trying to absorb me!"


The Doctor gets a 'pricking sensation' when close to the Tower (which he also experiences when the Daleks were near). [The Doctor can sense certain alien life forms, cf. The Evil of the Daleks.]

Polly is never given a surname (See The Faceless Ones).


Fitzroy Square, London, close to the recently completed Post Office Tower, 12 July (1966) onwards [Ben and Polly left with the Doctor on 20 July according to The Faceless Ones].


Comedian and actor Mike Reid, perhaps best known for his role in EastEnders, in an early television appearance as an army soldier, is waiting beside the electrical trap for the War Machine in episode four.

There are special 'computer lettering' opening title graphics for each episode.

WOTAN is given its own credit in the closing titles for the first three episodes. This is the only time in the series' history that a fictional creation receives a cast credit.

Newsreader Kenneth Kendall and radio announcer Dwight Whylie appear as themselves.

WOTAN refers to the Doctor throughout as 'Doctor Who', the only time that the character is ever given this name in the series' dialogue (although he is credited as such on almost every episode up to and including those of the eighteenth season, adopts the alias 'Doctor von Wer' - a rough German approximation of 'Doctor Who' - in The Highlanders and signs himself 'Dr. W' in The Underwater Menace).

The third episode has a wonderful cliffhanger: the Doctor stands his ground, haughty and unafraid, as the War Machine advances upon him.

Michael Craze provided the voice of a policeman heard in Episode four.


Pat Dunlop contributed to the writing of this story. (Dunlop was the writer originally commissioned to turn Kit Pedler's story idea into script form but had to pull out due to a clash of commitments with another BBC series, United! Ian Stuart Black used none of Dunlop's work when he took over.)


Why do all of the packing cases containing parts for the construction of the War Machines have the WOTAN symbol 'W' on them?

In episode four, the Doctor knocks off the end of a War Machine's gun arm with his cloak. Later, examining the machine, the Doctor stands up and whacks his head against it.

How does the War Machine get up to the top floor of the Post Office Tower?

Sir Charles talks of Monday 16 July, which would set the story in 1962 or 1973!

Fashion Victim

Polly takes Dodo to the Inferno nightclub in Covent Garden ('the hottest night spot in town'), a mod place full of cool cats (who are all really 'with it') and seaman Ben Jackson (who isn't).

Cast & Crew


The Doctor - William Hartnell

American Journalist - Ric Felgate

Ben Jackson - Michael Craze from Episode 1

Captain - John Rolfe

Corporal - Frank Jarvis

Dodo - Jackie Lane until Episode 2

Flash - Ewan Proctor

Garage Mechanic - Edward Colliver

Interviewer - John Doye

Kitty - Sandra Bryant

Machine Operator - Gerald Taylor

Major Green - Alan Curtis

Man in telephone box - John Slavid

Polly - Anneke Wills from Episode 1

Professor Brett - John Harvey

Professor Krimpton - John Cater

Radio Announcer - Dwight Whylie

Sergeant - John Boyd-Brent

Sir Charles Summer - William Mervyn

Soldier - Robin Dawson

Taxi-driver - Michael Rathbone

Television Newsreader - Kenneth Kendall

The Minister - George Cross

The voice of WOTAN/WOTAN - Gerald Taylor

Tramp - Roy Godfrey

US Correspondent - Carl Conway

Worker - Desmond Cullum-Jones

Worker - Eddie Davis


Director - Michael Ferguson

Assistant Floor Manager - Lovett Bickford

Assistant Floor Manager - Margot Hayhoe

Costumes - Daphne Dare

Costumes - Barbara Lane

Designer - Raymond London

Film Cameraman - Alan Jonas

Film Editor - Eric Mival

Incidental Music - stock

Make-Up - Sonia Markham

Producer - Innes Lloyd

Production Assistant - Snowy White

Special Sounds - Brian Hodgson

Story Editor - Gerry Davis

Studio Lighting - George Summers

Studio Sound - David Hughes

Title Music - Ron Grainer and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, arranged by Delia Derbyshire

Writer - Ian Stuart Black based on an idea by Kit Pedler

Bottom Line - from The Discontinuity Guide

'This bird saved my life...' The swinging 60s reach Doctor Who. The War Machines has more in common with The Avengers than Doctor Who's original focus as 'educational drama'. Dodo is given the worst send-off of any companion (it's not even on-screen) Still, this is Doctor Who's first shaky step into the here and now, and as such it deserves our indulgence.

Analysis - from Doctor Who, the Television Companion

The War Machines is in a sense ahead of its time, as its approach and subject matter are very similar to those that would become a regular format for the Earth-based UNIT adventures of the third Doctor's era. As in those later stories, the Doctor is depicted here almost as an establishment figure. Early in the first episode he simply walks into the Post Office Tower and is accepted by everyone. A little later he attends the press launch for WOTAN and, again, no one questions his credentials.

He is apparently known to Sir Charles Summer, and seems to have a knack for being in the right place at the right time. Although refreshingly novel - as is the very fact that this is this first bona fide 'contemporary England' adventure - this does seem hard to reconcile with everything that we have learnt about the Doctor over the previous three years.

The ideas around which the story is based are, once more, very interesting. There are however a few problems with Ian Stuart Black's plotting, such as the unbelievable coincidence of the warehouse where the first War Machine is built being right next door to the Inferno night club that Dodo visits with Polly. Then there is the question of the time period over which the story takes place. During the first day, the Doctor arrives, views WOTAN, attends the press conference and visits Sir Charles at his home. Brett has meanwhile been taken over by WOTAN and is apparently the first of its human slaves.

That evening Polly and Dodo go to the night club, where Dodo is hypnotised and heads off to receive instructions. She later returns to meet up with the Doctor, and they see a tramp who is shortly afterwards killed. Given that the night club has closed, these events must take place around one or two in the morning. At breakfast time the same day, the Doctor sees the tramp's death reported in a newspaper (very unlikely as most morning papers were printed the night before - and in any case, would the death of such an unimportant person really be reported in this way, complete with a photograph?) and Ben heads off to the warehouse where there are numerous boxes of components for the construction of War Machines, as well as a completed Machine and a team of controlled workers. Now that is fast work!

There is no way that WOTAN could have arranged for the manufacture, packing and shipping of War Machine components (all in boxes emblazoned with a 'W' logo), as well as the complete construction of a whole Machine in the space of about twelve hours! The only positive point in all this is that, as WOTAN's deadline for world domination is midday, the viewer has no time to dwell on the problem.

WOTAN itself is terribly anachronistic. On the one hand it is voice activated and can speak, but on the other it gives answers to questions on a teleprinter. Obviously no-one had considered television monitors as a means of passing information between human and computer and vice versa.

The War Machines, however, are quite impressive, although they seem to prefer knocking over piles of boxes to actually doing anything useful like taking over the world. At the end of the story, when the Doctor reprograms one of the Machines to attack WOTAN, it somehow manages to get up to the top of the Post Office Tower. That building obviously has very large lifts!

When Dodo's conditioning is uncovered, the Doctor swiftly packs her off to the countryside to recover, and this is the last we see of her - surely one of the most ignoble departures of any companion. Jackie Lane's exit is in fact somewhat welcome, as she never managed to make much of an impact as Dodo, although she does at least give a good performance in her final story, particularly in the scenes where she falls under WOTAN's influence. It has to be said that Ben played by Michael Craze and Polly played by Anneke Wills (then the wife of Michael Gough, who had been cast as the Celestial Toymaker earlier in the season) show, right from the outset, much more promise as companion characters.

Contemporary reaction to the story recorded in the BBC's Audience Research Report on the last episode was distinctly mixed: 'The last episode... held little or no appeal for about half the sample: the whole idea of a computer able to think for itself, and with power over human beings as well as machines, was "preposterous", according to a large number of reporting viewers who evidently considered the denouement of the battle between WOTAN and a reformed War Machine was altogether too absurdly fantastic to accept ("I like science-fiction but this was ridiculous").

Some were particularly disappointed with this adventure as it had made quite a promising start, they said: after the "careful build-up" in previous weeks the ending seemed to them an anticlimax and so rushed that all sense of suspense was lost. A sizeable number compared the War Machines unfavourably with the Daleks ("very poor relations"), and claimed that it was all too clear that new ideas were running out; it was time the programme was rested, they declared, and the only complaint of one small group was that the autumn was too early for its return.'

In fairness, though, the story is not all that bad, and remains quite watchable. Graham Howard, writing in TSV 28, dated April 1992, had this to say: 'I believe this story to be vastly underrated. I wouldn't call it a classic - a misused term if ever there was one - and viewed by today's standards it would probably appear rather dated. Nevertheless, in terms of what makes a good Doctor Who story, I would claim that The War Machines is superior to many other Hartnell stories.'

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This episode guide is made up of the text of The Discontinuity Guide by Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping, and Doctor Who: The Television Companion by David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker.

The Discontinuity Guide © Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping 1995.
Doctor Who: The Television Companion © David J Howe and Stephen James Walker 1998, 2003.

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