Reviews

Doctor Who: The War Machines

Yes, Artificial Intelligence will continually try and destroy us, but it still makes for some grand sci-fi viewing.


Doctor Who

Distributor: BBC Warner
Cast: William Hartnell, Jackie Lane, Anneke Wills, Michael Craze, John Harvey
Network: BBC
US Release Date: 2009-01-06
Amazon

In pop culture, you'll notice the disturbing trend that emerges in regards to Artificial Intelligence: as soon as mankind gives birth to it, its first act is to destroy all of humanity. You see this in modern-day flicks like The Matrix and Eagle Eye, and, yes, you can even trace it all the way back to this excellent 1966 episode of Doctor Who.

In The War Machines, the Doctor brings his companion Dodo back to (then) present-day London, though upon seeing the recently-completed Post Office Tower, he senses something alien about the new building. Upon meeting a military intelligence officer named Brett (John Harvey), the Doctor learns of the creation of WOTAN (pronounced "voh-tan", after the mythological god), a machine that will be able to process and carry out national intelligence operations without political bias.

Yet upon switching on, WOTAN comes to the conclusion that mankind has progressed as far as it can, and the planet will not survive as long as humans continue to populate it. Therefore, WOTAN comes to only one possible solution: mankind must be eliminated.

It's interesting how these AI machines all inevitably reach this conclusion, and how we, as humans, have a hard time either seeing this predicament or -- worse -- caring enough to do anything about it. WOTAN, however, knows what needs to be done. First, it hypnotizes key intelligence officers located in the Post Office Tower, then it sends them to work setting up operations at "strategic points" all over London. These officers in turn use a digital signal that WOTAN plays over the phone to hypnotize others, building up a diabolical workforce in no time flat.

WOTAN's first order of business is to have its minions build "War Machines", which wind up looking like Daleks mixed with gigantic copy machines. It's not long before the Doctor is brought in to try and figure out what is going on, but not before Dodo (Jackie Lane) gets hypnotized by WOTAN, Brett's fetching assistant Polly (Anneke Wills) gets kidnapped, and a young on-leave Navy officer named Ben Jackson (Michael Craze) breaks into a WOTAN-operated warehouse only to face a near-death experience.

Truth be told, the very first episode of the War Machines saga remains one of the single most thrilling adventures that William Hartnell's Doctor has encountered. Jumping from diabolical labs to swinging clubs to brute-filled streets in no time flat, there's a profound sense of drama and tension to this serial, all plot points well-explained along the way.

Though this first episode is briskly paced, things begin winding down with the third episode, in which long, drawn-out battle sequences take place outside a warehouse. Being an early Who episode, these sequences begin to feel very, very repetitious after a short amount of time, effectively killing any proper momentum that the first two War Machines episodes built up.

Yet just when things begin to feel hopeless for both the Doctor and the viewer, things pick up again for the forth episode, as the Doctor works with WOTAN's creators to try and stop the multiple War Machines that are threatening to emerge throughout London, leading to a very satisfying conclusion that involves the Doctor finishing his time with Dodo, picking up some new companions, and proving that with just the right amount of ingenuity, mankind can learn and adapt well beyond what WOTAN had predicted (the irony being that the strategic leaps and bounds that man makes in this episode are because, in fact, makind is trying to destroy WOTAN).

Yet if destroying an evil race-destroying computer sounds difficult, you should try putting together a complete version of The War Machines, a task that's painstakingly detailed in the excellent mini-documentary WOTAN Assembly, included on this disc. "The War Machines" was one of the infamous "junked" episodes of the Doctor Who canon, wherein the BBC destroyed old tapes of certain programs during a ‘70s space-saving initiative. Overseas collectors, however, were able to help pitch in and make The War Machines as complete as humanly possible, even with certain sequences edited out in certain international versions due to censorship issues.

Ultimately, WOTAN Assembly shows just how dedicated and diehard some Who fans are, which serves as sharp relief from the rest of the drab featurettes that grace this disc, most of which are focused on the creation/construction of the Post Office Tower that's so prominently featured in the episode (which, without WOTAN, just isn't all that interesting)

In the end, however, The War Machines still remains a thrilling, fun, and exciting Who serial with universal themes (and yes, the plot for 2008's Eagle Eye is essentially a total ripoff of this story). Yes, Artificial Intelligence will continually try and destroy us, but it still makes for some grand sci-fi viewing.

7

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image