Doctor: Patrick Troughton
Companions: Jamie McCrimmon (Frazer Hines), Zoe Heriot (Wendy Padbury)
The beginning of the end is World War I, into which the TARDIS materializes- or does it? Picked up by Nurse Jennifer Buckingham and Lt. Jeremy Carstairs, the Doctor and Co. soon find themselves fallen afoul of the mysterious General Smythe, a sinister figure who brainwashes people with his monocle into believing what he wants them to- in this case, that the entire TARDIS crew are spies, and to be executed immediately.
Lady Jennifer, in an attack of conscience, helps Zoe to get away, and a sniper attack’s timely distraction allows them to free the Doctor. They take off for the military prison where Jamie is being held- where he has been incarcerated with a redcoat taken from 1745, about a year earlier than Jamie's departure from Scotland... which is many years prior to World War I! The two put aside old enmities and escape, but are caught (the redcoat being killed). The Doctor bluffs the commandant with a bold performance as a prison inspector, but all of this has been an exercise in futility, as they are recaptured by Smythe’s men and taken back to his chateau. (Get used to such exercises…)
They return to the Chateau in hopes of finding a map, which they are able to locate, demonstrating a number of time zones in the area, each labeled with historical Earth wars. The group strike out to search for answers, but are captured by the Germans. They are able to convince the officer guarding them of their claims of alien origin by use of a sonic screwdriver demonstration, but all of this has been an exercise in futility as the commander, Captain von Wiech, dons a monocle and convinces the officer that they are indeed spies. Gasp! The British and German commanders are secretly on the same side! If this were made in modern times, I would suspect it as an anti-Bush satire, but as it is- it’s just further running in circles for the group.
The ambulance enters the American Civil War zone and an attack separates the group. Carstairs is captured, and the rest take shelter in a barn- where they witness a device like the one used by Smythe materialize and disgorge troops- it’s bigger on the inside! This is a SIDRAT (Space and Inter-Dimensional Robot All-purpose Transporter), and when the Doctor and Zoe sneak inside to get a better look, it takes off with them inside, stranding a helpless Jamie and Lady Jennifer… just in time for a major battle to break out! And who should be the leader of the Confederate soldiers that capture them? Von Weich, in a different uniform and accent! Jamie and Lady Jennifer are freed by a man named Harper, part of a resistance movement on whom the brainwashing doesn’t work, who recognize that all of these wars are set-ups, and cross between time zones striking back at the War Lords. Von Weich is captured.
The Doctor bluffs Dr. Gullible (claiming that Ghengis was only pointing to Zoe as an intruder, not himself (who was standing right next to her), and that he ran too because he was chasing her like a loyal War Lord soldier ought to) and steals the brainwashing device, which he recognizes can also be turned into an anti-brainwashing device. The Doctor uses it to free Carstairs from his mental programming, and the two rescue Zoe. She is able to scan and memorize various War Lord computer files on the known members of the brainwashing-resistant freedom fighters, with the goal of returning to them, uniting them under one banner, and attacking the War Lords in force.
The invading party of rebels are almost immediately shot down, and taken to Dr. Gullible. The big dope is again bluffed by the Doctor, who frees Jamie and the rebels and sends them back to the barn, making this whole bit an exercise in futility (on the part of the bad guys, for once, but still a total circular path plot-filler). They arrive just in time to thwart Von Weich’s escape attempt, and he is shot dead. (1 down, 4 to go…)
Capture: WWI Brits.
Escape: Lady Jennifer, a Sniper, and a redcoat.
Capture: WWI Brits.
Escape: Lady Jennifer and Carstairs
Escape: Throw the car in reverse
Escape: Convince the Germans
Capture: Same Germans
Escape: Convince the Germans again
Capture: Civil War (Jamie and Jennifer)
Escape: Rebel forces (as in, rebels against the War Lords, not ‘The Rebs’)
Capture: Civil War (Carstairs)
Escape: The Doctor’s Bluff
Capture: War Lords (Zoe)
Escape: The Doctor and Carstairs
Capture: War Lords (Jamie)
Escape: The Doctor, Carstairs, and Zoe
Capture: The War Chief (The Doctor, Jamie, and Carstairs)
Escape: Violating white flag truce and theft
Capture: WWI Brits again
Escape: Resistance invasion.
Yes, after Smythe (ordered to take them alive, but claiming they died in capture just so he can have the pleasure of execution) brings them in, he is shot dead (2 down, 3 to go…) as the resistance invades the Chateau, freeing the prisoners and taking it as their base of operations. The Doctors restructures the time zone mists, creating a safe barrier around the chateau, preventing any WWI-local forces from retaking it. He then begins de-processing brainwashed men.
Meanwhile, back at War Lord central, Eric from Accounting- I mean, the Emperor- I mean, the War Lord, has arrived to take charge of the situation, and he is not as forgiving as I am. Here’s here to put them back on schedule. An entire LEEEEEEGION of his best troops… etc. Goggles tries to blame it on Ghengis, accusing him of working with the Doctor, but Eric is having none of it.
Capture: War Lord soldiers (The Doctor)
No, no escape- instead, the Doctor receives the proposal of alliance from Ghengis- the War Chief is not a War Lord, but a Time Lord! A rogue from his people, like the Doctor, he recognizes his old school chum and offers him a ruling place by his side, if he will help to perfect the brainwashing equipment (which the duped Dr. Gullible still doesn’t think works correctly). The War Lord plan is revealed to be an ultimate army- the best fighters from human history equipped with War Lord technology, which Ghengis intends to co-opt as a galactic peacekeeping force. (The old “Once we conquer and rule the entire galaxy, we can bring peace to it…” chestnut.) Meanwhile, Goggles only becomes more suspicious of the two…
The rebels have survived another SIDRAT attack (failing to adequately defend invasion coming from a single doorway again, with the benefit of HAVING A MACHINE GUN SET UP AND TRAINED ON IT FROM BEFORE IT EVEN OPENS), and now have pulled together their forces, including Mexican bandit Arturo Villar, leader of the largest organized resistance group, whom Jamie must bluff as the supposed leader of the rebel army in full Tartan regalia. The group plans to seize a SIDRAT as before, only this time with a much bigger army (it worked so well the first time…?) inside- and begin a daring series of hit-and-raid runs to harry War Lord command posts to force them to respond. However, the War Lords figure out this plan, and the Doctor ‘sends’ them a SIDRAT and leads to their capture, betraying them to captivity rather than seeing them slaughtered as the War Lords planned. (This gambit has worked so well in the past- see “The Two Towers” under ‘Smeagol’).
Capture: The Doctor (Everybody else)
Escape: The Doctor?
Yes, of course, the Doctor is still on the side of good- despite Villar’s disbelief and attempt to strangle him when Goggles, looking to get rid of him, throws him in unarmed with what he rightly believes are angry and vengeful prisoners who feel betrayed. However, before the group can be fully Gollumed, Ghengis arrives with the brainwashing device for the Doctor to begin experimenting on. Even Jamie is wary that the Doctor has sold them out as the Doctor puts him under the device- but when he comes out the other side with his free will intact and is forced to improvise a false brainwashing persona, the Doctor’s loyalty is proved. While oafish Villar spoils the ruse by refusing to play along (opting instead to try and strangle the Doctor again), it is enough time for the ‘processed’ rebels to sidle up to the guards and overpower them.
The panicked Ghengis flees rather than facing the justice of the Time Lords, but runs into Eric from Accounting, who shoots him dead. (4 down, 1 to go… I think I’ll go back to calling him the War Lord, now). Villar and his men capture the War Lord, and bring him back to the Doctor… who produces a series of cards which he mentally shapes into a cube, containing all of the pertinent data about their current situation and a call for help. He then says hasty goodbyes and flees in the last SIDRAT, bound for the 1917 zone where the TARDIS is, as a loud oncoming roar can be heard, and the War Lord fearfully intones “They’re coming…”
Capture: The Time Lords
The Doctor barely manages to get the TARDIS door open, and the three stumble inside, out of the time distortion effect, and the Doctor throws the TARDIS into a mad escape flight- under the sea, in space, all throughout the galaxy- but the Time Lords have located him now, and can track his flight- the voice of the Time Lords rings through the console room, and eventually, the TARDIS is brought to land on Gallifrey, the Doctor’s home planet. The Doctor emerges to face trial, explaining to Jamie and Zoe that the Time Lords are incredibly advanced, having perfected the secret of time travel, and have strict laws of noninterference which he has broken- he’s been on the run since the start of the show, and now his people have caught him. But, preceding that is the trial of the War Lord. He defiantly Saddam Husseins his way through it (“I don’t recognize the authority of this court!”) until his men arrive in a SIDRAT to break him free. They take the Doctor and his companions hostage, intent on using the TARDIS to escape.
Capture: The War Lord
Escape: Eh, they’re not that bright; distract ‘em and run
Capture: The Time Lords
Escape: Jamie and Zoe
But, even though the three make a run for it, the Doctor’s sad smile when they are captured shows that he knew this was inevitable, and only wanted to give the two one last adventure together. The Time Lords announce that they are to be returned home with their memories erased- they will be allowed remember their first adventure with the Doctor each, but will then remember him departing in the TARDIS, not going with him. They say a tearful goodbye, and…
The Wheel, late 21st century. Zoe reports to Tanya Lernov, one of the Wheel survivors, that she’s seen the Doctor and Jamie off- then goes to resume her librarian duties with the odd feeling that she’s missed something important.
Capture: The Time Lords
Escape: *SIGH*… there is no escape, is there?
The Doctor’s trial proceeds apace, with his defense that he is merely combating evil that needs to be combated, lest it overwhelm the universe. The Time Lords take this into consideration against the violation of their laws, and pronounce sentence: The Doctor will be allowed to continue combating that evil on the planet he seems fondest of, Earth- there, to be denied the ability to travel through space and time, exiled from his people. Bound to one planet and one time, for all time. And to facilitate this new change and protect him from enemies gained as the 2nd Doctor, he will be forcibly regenerated. Over his protests, the transformation begins… and an era ends.
Looking at the history of Black and White Who (BWW), it seems that more stories were influenced by other stories falling through than they were by their own writers. The bizarre two-episode Edge of Destruction was written as a low-budget bottle show to fill a two episode gap in the production schedule. Second series opener Planet of the Giants got an energy and pacing boost by combining the last two episodes into one. The Daleks Master Plan was doubled in length- with padding like the Christmas episode- which, though it didn't drag down the epic, result in a number of odd rabbit-trail plots, because an entire 6-part serial fell through. The Wheel In Space gained the repetitive, dull, Moonbase-retreading portions that weighed it down because of its hasty creation to fill in for a failed script (The cancelled Dalek/Cyberman war). Seeds of Death was padded out by several episodes to cover a missing story, slowing the pace of the still-phenomenal serial. If any story in BWW was poorly paced, padded, repetitive, or derivative, it was a direct result of expansion to fill the gap left by a failed story. One wonders what the Old Who stories of the first two Doctors' eras might have been without these scheduling re-writes and fluff-injection sessions. And no series has been more affected than Series 6, the Second Doctor and BWW’s final series, culminating here. Dick Sharples’ “The Prison in Space”, Paul Wheeler’s “The Dream Spinners,” and Malcom Hulke’s “The Impersonators” [Plus an unnamed Derrick Sherwin story] all fell through- leading The Krotons, The Space Pirates, and The War Games to all be drafted or expanded hastily to fill their places. While a few stories came to be from this phenomenon, or were compressed to their benefit because of the scheduling, by far and large this quota-meeting rewrite practice seems to have been to Doctor Who's detriment. Sadly, the same can be said for this 6-part story... expanded into 10 parts to fill the gap. That's 100 minutes of sheer padding added into the story- almost all in the form of recaptures. This is probably not the first use of the Capture/Escape cycle cliché to pad out running time, but boy, is it EVER the most prominent!
Characters have been captured by soldiers and are brought to the leaders.
Enemy Leader: "You are spies!"
Character 1: "We are not spies! Let me convince you!"
Enemy Soldier: "I am convinced!"
Enemy Leader: *Puts on glasses* "They are spies! Be hypnotized to think they are spies, ignoring the proof you just received!"
Enemy Soldier: "I am hypnotized! They are spies!"
Enemy Leader: "Take them away, we will execute them soon!"
En route, Character 2 escapes. Character 1 has been captured, believed to be a spy. Soon to be executed, they pace in their cell. Character 2 bluffs their way in and gets the keys from a random lackey. They open the jail cell door and rush in.
Character 2: "Witty banter."
Character 1: "Witty banter response!"
Character 2: "Let's get out of here!"
Character 1 and Character 2 turn to rush out of the cell- and find the doorway filled with the enemy commander and an assortment of soldiers.
Enemy Leader: "So, you have been recaptured!"
Usually, followed by:
Enemy Leader: "You are spies!"
Character 1: "We are not spies! Let me convince you!"
…you get the gist.
These two cliches are repeated over and over and over, to an extent that this description cannot do justice, until the very appearance of the scenario brings disbelieving, nearly-deranged laughter from the nerves-strained audience who literally cannot believe what they are seeing. It's as if the first draft of Microsoft Word was created in 1969 for this serial, just so that the scripts for the middle 4-5 episodes could be created by selecting a 5-minute set of scenes from the end of chapter 1 and copy/pasting it end-to-end and back-to-back over and over again until the next 100 minutes of script are filled up. (And yes, the math suggests that this would mean those same scenes would have to occur 20 times for this to be literally true. Frankly, I think 20 repetitions is an underestimation of this absurdly aggravating chestnut.) This makes the central portion of the serial all but unwatchable, driving potential viewers to madness!
Even throughout, there are diamonds among the rough- cliffhangers are greatly improved from the last serial's awkward transitions, we get another use of the sonic screwdriver (as an actual screwdriver again, in some nice effects), a great compressing-SIDRAT cliffhanger with a very good effect, and some good music- I especially liked the heroic 'American Civil War soldiers' theme that was employed several times. These bits don't make it worthwhile to plow through the horrendous, mind-scarring repetition, but excised from the nonsense of that slog-through padding plotting, they are quite a stellar series of bits and elements- worthy of both recognition, and better episodes in which to be embedded.
But, lest I be unclear, it’s not just the effects and a decent plot line that shine in that middle stretch of padded wasteland. There are good bits here as well- they are simply drowned out by the overwhelming majority of copy/paste repetitions of the capture/escape scenario. The different war zones are well-realized, from the Civil War to a Roman legion to World War I. We have an interesting theme with the villains and glasses- both the plus-shaped eye-slit visors they wear at home, and the glasses/monocles that are used as a hypnotism method. An interesting running theme for an unusual people, even if it ends up far too overused due to the repetition of the capture scenario. The presence of another Time Lord who recognized the Doctor, whom he knew in his early days (prefiguring the Master). Some nice evil villains (the field-generals more than the triad of baddies back at HQ).
So, how about the characters?
Zoe has a slightly lesser, but very significant role, using her wits to free the Doctor, deal with sexist enemy leaders, and defend the chateau (Despite the bungling of its assigned defenders)- unfortunately, save for a few good moments here and there (dressing up Jamie as the rebel leader after being snubbed by a resistance bigwig, smashing a vase over the head of the prison commandant, etc.), her personality doesn’t stand out so much in this one as it has in serials past. Still, every serial can’t showcase every character.
If I seem oddly ambivalent and at a loss of words, not my usual descriptive self, regarding this total milestone in Doctor Who history... I am (though clearly not at a loss for words on all of the other elements of this serial!). All of the counting down, the wistfulness, the memorializing, the anticipation... were simply dispelled by the way the regeneration was handled. It gave real-world continuance to the franchise, and for that we should be grateful- but in-universe, it just sort of... petered out. How very different. How very... strange.
In the end, The War Machines is a promising story with a stellar finale that lags like a rotting, bloated whale in the middle because of story-expansion-to-fill-a-gap-in-the-production-schedule padding. This could still have turned out all right, had the padding not LITERALLY BEEN THE SAME SCENE OF ALREADY-AGGRAVATING RECAPTURE AND KANGAROO COURT SENTENCING AS SPIES REPEATED OVER AND OVER AND OVER TO FILL THE TIME. It just fails, but dang, if that finale ain’t incredible! My recommendation: Watch the last two episodes out of context. They’re worth it.
The escape from the Time Lords episode 9 cliffhanger, and to a lesser extent, the entire summoning/trial sequence! Plus, the Doctor’s duping the German officer with his second ‘demonstration,’ his prison inspector routine (and Jamie’s ruse), Jamie left behind, Jamie vs. Civil War soldiers, Jamie’s impersonation of an officer, the shrinking SIDRAT, etc.
Episode 1 – 3.5 out of 5
Episode 2-3 – 3 out of 5.
Episodes 4-8 – 0.5 out of 5
Episode 9 and 10 – 5 out of 5.
In other words, the beginning an end- the final two especially, are simply MUST-SEEs. Don’t skip them on the sins of their predecessors- they’re almost their own self-contained storyline anyhow, and can be enjoyed without slogging through the misery of the muddled middle mush. Don’t let the ponderous painful prison padding drive you away from the incredible spectacle and legend-shaping, lore-creating tour-de-force finale!