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Thoughts on “The War Machines”

“The War Games” is the last complete story to feature William Hartnell as the Doctor.  It was the tenth and final story of the third season (the 27th overall). It is also the final story for Dodo and the first story for William Hartnell’s final companions: Polly Wright and Ben Jackson (Anneke Willis and Michael Craze).

The brainwashed Dodo believes the Doctor is now under WOTAN’s control.

The Doctor and Dodo arrive back in present day London, just after the completion of the Post Office Tower.  The Doctor senses something is off about the tower and he and Dodo go to investigate.  They meet Professor Brett and his creation, WOTAN, the most advanced computer ever developed.  WOTAN can “think”(and mysteriously knows what a TARDIS is) and is about to be connected to all the other computers around the world, creating a centralized intelligence.

The travelers also meet Polly, the professor’s secretary, who offers to take Dodo to a hot new club, The Inferno.  While at the club, Dodo and Polly meet Ben, a sailor who is depressed because he’s been assigned to work on land.  In the meantime, the Doctor goes to the Royal Scientific Club to attend the WOTAN press conference.  Professor Brett arrives quite late and acts strangely, because, unbeknownst to the Doctor, he is now completely controlled by WOTAN.

Gradually more and more people are brought under the control of WOTAN, including Dodo, because WOTAN has decided that the human race have advanced as much as they can and it is time for computers to take over.  The people it has under its control are made to build war machines that are capable of taking over London, and eventually other major cities, after WOTAN’s influence grows. Dodo is used by WOTAN to try to trap the Doctor, whose intelligence it wants.  The Doctor has a close call over the telephone, but he is able to put the phone down before his mind is taken over. Dodo, however, thinks that he is with WOTAN now and reveals herself to the Doctor.  He uses a sort of counter hypnosis to bring Dodo from WOTAN’s control, before sending her to rest in the country.

The Doctor and his new companions, Ben and Polly, are able to thwart WOTAN and save London, but not before Polly falls under WOTAN’s control.  Ben goes to rescue her and ends up captured himself.  He, however, is not brainwashed or killed like the others (there is no real explanation for this except that to serve the plot, he has to escape to tell the Doctor what’s going on) and is forced to do manual labor on the war machine for WOTAN. Eventually, however, the Doctor figures out how to stop the war machines and sends one of them to destroy WOTAN (even though he is risking Polly’s life along with several other innocent bystanders). The episode ends with Polly and Ben finding their way into the TARDIS just before it dematerializes.

Dodo has one of the oddest, most unceremonious departures of a companion that I’ve seen so far.  She is a big part of the first half of the story and then she is simply sent off to the country, never to be seen again. Polly tells the Doctor that Dodo gave her a message for him: she decided to stay in London.  She doesn’t get a goodbye scene or even get to tell the Doctor herself that she is leaving.  Now, as anyone who has read this blog knows, I am not a big fan of Dodo, but this was a strange way to eliminate a character who had been with the Doctor on several adventures. However, I guess this is rather appropriate, given the inconsistencies of her character.  It always seemed like the writers couldn’t decide who Dodo was or give her any real, constant personality.  It seems like they didn’t really know how to get rid of her character either.

The Doctor says goodbye, not realizing that Polly and Ben are about to become his new companions.

The Post Office Tower is obviously celebrated in this story, and it is main focus of the special features on the DVD as well.  It was one of the first stories to be set in the present day, and the “swinging 60’s” (or as close as you’re going to get to them in a show meant for children) are definitely well represented.  Polly, and to a certain extent, Ben, are clearly representing the cool, “with-it” crowd for the first time on Doctor Who.  Polly wears designer clothes, knows the hottest clubs in London, and is outgoing and friendly.  Ben is less popular and fashion conscious, but they did meet in the hottest club in London, so clearly he must know what’s in as well. This is a bit of a change from the Doctor’s previous companions, who were mostly alone, with nowhere that they belonged, excepting, of course, Barbara and Ian. Susan was looking for a place to belong, since she didn’t really have a time and place of her own, Vicki was an orphan living on the relatively deserted planet where her spaceship had crashed, and Steven had been the only prisoner of the Mechanoids for quite some time before the Doctor and his companions came along.  And Dodo…well, I’m not really clear on her background either.

Overall, I enjoyed the story.  I did, however, feel that the premise and set up were strong, but the ending was a bit disappointing.  The powerful war machines seem to do a lot of smashing and rolling over things, but for such high-tech machines, they don’t seem to do much else (I know they kill some people too, but more screen time is devoted to smashing and crashing through objects).  I wasn’t sorry to see Dodo go, and I’m curious to see what kind of companions Ben and Polly turn into, even though this is the only complete story of theirs that survives.

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