Saturday 26 March 2011

124 The War Machines: Part Two

EPISODE: The War Machines: Part Two
TRANSMITTED: 02 July 1966
WRITER: Ian Stuart Black & Kit Pedler
DIRECTOR: Michael Ferguson
PRODUCER: Innes Lloyd
FORMAT: DVD: Doctor Who: The War Machines

Brett gives Krimpton and Green their orders. London will be the first capital to be taken over: War Machines must be built. People are needed to build machines, they will be contacted by phone and brought under WOTAN's control. WOTAN's top priority is to bring Doctor Who under his control. Dodo returns just as the nightclub is shutting up. The Doctor & Dodo are going to see Charles Summer. Two figures lie in wait for the Doctor in an alley, but Ben summons him a Taxi. Polly arranges to see Ben for lunch tomorrow. Ben talks to a tramp who goes to sleep in an alleyway. Nearby construction of the War Machines has commenced in a warehouse. The tramp enters the warehouse to find somewhere warm to sleep. He is detected as an intruder and hunted down by the workers. The next morning his death is reported in the paper that the Doctor reads at Summers' house. Sir Charles is worried by some sudden resignations and vanishings amongst his staff. Polly arrives, having been sent by Brett to cover for Sir Charles' ill secretary. Dodo suggests they go to talk to Professor Brett. The Doctor phones him causing WOTAN to try to take him under it's control. Hah, fabulous bir of Pertweesque gurning here from Hartnell. Dodo speaks to him assuming he's now under control, but he has resisted and she has given herself away. The Doctor breaks Dodo's conditioning using his hypnotic powers and ring. Sir Charles arranges for her to be taken to his house in the country for his wife to look after her. Dodo has said something about strategic points in London which has pricked the Doctor's interest. All over London we see supplies and people being moved as the first War Machines are activated. The War Machines weaponry is tested on one of the controlled subjects. WOTAN wishes to know where Doctor Who is, and Brett suggests Dodo has failed in her task. Polly enters WOTAN's room. Later Ben comes to see the Doctor worried that she hasn't turned up for their lunch date. Doctor gets Ben to look round where they saw the Tramp to see if anything odd is going on. He finds his way to the warehouse and observes a War Machine being tested. The War Machine detects and corners Ben against a wall of boxes....

Brilliant again. It's just superb watching the Doctor with normal people. The controlled Dodo is great, and Jackie Lane puts in a great performance. It's a shame she's had to wait till her last two episodes for something to get her teeth into. Then all of a sudden she's gone. Off she goes to Sir Charles Summer's house to recover halfway through the story and we never see her again! Possibly the worst send off for any companion (but see Liz Shaw for a real competitor!) At just Seventeen episodes she's one of the shortest lived companions (Katarina was only in five and Sara Kingdom in nine) Even Bonnie Langford's Mel is in twenty episodes! You could argue that The War Machines are something of a Dalek rip-off. Notably their main weapon is a fire extinguisher like gas dispenser which is very similar to that used by the Movie Daleks. I think they're great, not so futuristic as to be out of place, but at just the right level of technology to look advanced in a sixties story. Note the similarity between the front of the War Machine and the design of WOTAN's central console.

At the time of Ian Levine's visits to the BBC archives in the late 70s all four episodes of the War Machines were missing from the BBC archives. Episode 2 was returned from Australia having been acquired by a fan there. ABC television records in Australia indicate that this particular film print was destroyed: it's continued existence is something of a mystery and makes people wonder if any other "destroyed" episodes are lying in private hands like this one was.

Two new companion characters are introduced in this story: Polly (Wright, although that's never stated on screen) is Brett's secretary evidently designed buy the production team to be a with it girl about time and a slightly older figure than most of the female companions seen so far. Ben Jackson on the other hand stick out like a sore thumb in the nightclub, almost as bad as the Doctor does. You get the feeling from what Kitty, the bar woman, says that he might have spotted Polly a few days ago and has been coming back ever since to try to meet her. They are the most obvious couple to be associated with the Doctor since Ian & Barbara. Both of the actors in question have family connections to the series: Anneke Wills then Husband, Michael Gough, appeared as the Celestial Toymaker while Michael Craze's brother Peter was a Morok rebel in The Space Museum. I know, you've tried your best to forget, I have too.

Major Green is played by Alan Curtis, who for many years was the announcer at Lords Cricket Ground. I thought that this had earned him the honour of being the second Doctor Who cast member to get his obituary in Wisden, so was rather surprised that when I went to look up his date of death, in order to trace which almanac his obit was in, I discovered that he was still with us. The identity of the first Who actor to get into Wisden may come as a bit of a surprise!

Behind the scenes the story is a debut for director Michael Ferguson. He'll be back three more times as the director of The Seeds of Death, The Ambassadors of Death and The Claws of Axos. He went on to be a producer on both The Bill, at the height of it's popularity, and Eastenders, where he was responsible for introducing the Mitchell brothers to the show.

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