Top positive review
46 people found this helpful
"I dig your fab gear!"
on 31 August 2008
Hartnell's travels as the Doctor only rarely took him to contemporary Earth so it's the visual delight of seeing him out and about in 1960's London taking black cabs, admiring the newly finished Post Office Tower and strolling into nightclubs, that is the first and most immediate pleasure here. Surrounded by soldiers, assisting the establishment by fighting an invasion of robots, you could easily insert Jon Pertwee without it looking out of place. 1966's THE WAR MACHINES therefore provides a (somewhat shakey) template for what DR WHO would start to be with later Troughton entries like THE WEB OF FEAR and THE INVASION, and would become virtually full time from 1970-74.
Later forays by the show into the "here and now" such as 1967's THE FACELESS ONES would be a little more assured when it came to the details of the plot, but almost no other DR WHO story from the '60's evokes such a delicious sense of the culture and ambience of the time. From youngsters in suits and ties grooving uncomfortably at the Inferno nightclub ("the hottest nightspot in town"),to an oblique reference to Hartnell's resemblance to Jimmy Saville, to the appearance of contemporary newsreader Kenneth Kendall warning viewers to stay indoors during the War Machine attack on London, this feels like an authentic look at swinging London.
This fun '60's vibe is also enhanced by the debut of 2 new companions: Anneke Wills' trendy girl-about-town, Polly, and Michael Craze's heart of gold cockney sailor, Ben. The duo look like they were at least partially inspired by Julie Christie and Michael Caine. They're both instantly likeable and are the 2 most interesting characters amongst the supporting cast. Hartnell's is a mostly commanding and dignified performance, give or take the odd fluffed line - reports of his increasing ill health towards the end of his time in the role do not seem to prevent him from giving of his best.
The plot, concerning a man-made supercomputer trying to take over the world by possessing human beings and getting them to build killer robots is let's be honest, utter nonsense. However, since this is a series about a man travelling around the universe and saving planets in a blue police box, as DR WHO fans, most of us are not going to let this worry us. On the other hand though the details of WOTAN's schemes may be unbelievable, the story effectively taps into the fears of the time about the direction in which technology was taking us. Whilst it's unlikely that we'll have robots gassing us on the streets any time soon, it's interesting to note that firstly, the plans to link up WOTAN with computers all over the world seem to be prescient in light of the arrival of the internet. Secondly, as the disc's production subtitles note, the basis of the plot of THE WAR MACHINES bears an uncanny similarity to that of the TERMINATOR movie franchise.
By all accounts, viewers in 1966 were not impressed by this serial. Some considered the War Machines themselves to be "poor relations to the Daleks". Looking at the 4 episodes now, it seems to me that time has been kind to THE WAR MACHINES. The machines themselves have an impressive on-screen presence considerably expoited by Michael Ferguson's excellent, sometimes almost cinematic, use of low and high camera angles.
That this is a disc to savour is a feeling very much present in the excellent package of extra features. "WOTAN ASSEMBLY" deftly chronicles the restoration of the episodes, demonstrating that the real heroes here are the boffins of the Restoration team who recreated the incomplete moments and restored the scratched or wobbly pictures. ONE FOOT IN THE PAST is a history of the GPO Tower presented by politician and ex-Postmaster General Tony Benn. Although there are no references to WOTAN or the TARDIS, this feature feels absolutely in keeping with everything else on the DVD. When he laments the fact that the Tower is now closed to the public following the privatisation of the 1980's it's hard to disagree with him.
I defy anybody of a certain age to look at the BLUE PETER extracts from 1965 and '66 and not have a broad grin of sheer nostalgic pleasure on their face. Christopher Trace and Valerie Singleton variously chat about the Tower (Trace visits it), meet a War Machine and later introduce a viewer who has his own home made Dalek - hilariously complete with a gun that fires talcum powder!
Best of all is a superb commentary by Anneke Wills and Michael Ferguson. Wills' difficulties with Hartnell have been well documented in the past, but here she appears to generously put all this aside and simply wallows in the joy of re-experiencing her work from over 40 years ago. Her shriek of laughter at Hartnell's "temper,temper!" gag in episode 4 provoked a similar reaction from me. Ferguson may have forgotten one or two details about the making of the show (perfectly understandable) but has much of interest to say and also seems to enjoy himself. His admiration of Hartnell is touching and a fitting way to celebrate the many excellent qualities of this restored story.