Captain Samuel Pike is one of the great forgotten villains of Doctor Who. Michael Godfrey’s performance sounds great – full of menace, but, unlike Cherub, veiled with polite language. He’s also an inveterate snob, dressed foppishly, and with a taste for fine things, and muscular men, shirts slashed to the waist. I suspect there’s more than one man on board who’s enjoyed a taste of Cherub’s “Thomas Tickler”. The Doctor perceives this immediately, and plays on it to buy some time. Later, the flamboyantly periwigged Captain pays a visit to the venal Squire and is delighted by the stylishness of the manor house.
Ben and Polly have stumbled into the TARDIS, and the Doctor is furious. For the first time in forever he thought he was going to be alone again, and now he has two more young people to worry about. Perhaps they’ve caught him off guard, or maybe the audience just need a refresher after the two-month gap since The War Machines 4 aired, but the Doctor is surprisingly forthright about what they’ve got themselves into:
THE DOCTOR: I have no control over where I land. Neither can I choose the period in which I land in
This episode’s title card is black with white text – the inverse of the previous three episodes’. That’s either a deliberate reference to the growing darkness of the serial; the way the Doctor reverses the polarity and switches the War Machines’ power against WOTAN, or more likely just a mistake.
It’s lucky that this episode exists: trying to understand it from the soundtrack or telesnaps would be hard going, because this is the show’s biggest ‘spectacle’ episode to date, with a huge chunk of the running time dedicated to the pitched battle between the army and the War Machines in Covent Garden.
The stakes of the story are clearly articulated in the first scene: ‘Who will live to serve the machines, and who shall be eliminated?’ Everything that follows flows from this mission statement, as individuals with no further use are ruthlessly dispatched – not just the hapless tramp who wanders into WOTAN’s warehouse, or the worker who becomes a test subject for the first of the War Machines, but even Dodo Chaplet.
The new production team of Producer Innes Lloyd and Script Editor Gerry Davis has been in place now for three months. Like most incoming teams, they’ve initially been saddled with seeing through the decisions of the previous incumbents, but with The War Machines, they’re finally putting their own mark on the show, with the closest thing to a relaunch until Spearhead from Space.
Having absorbed both the Doctor’s intellect and his conscience, Jano helps Steven and Dodo escape, and they take the spaced-out Doctor to the Savages’ cave. Once he’s recovered, the plot is resolved fairly swiftly, as you might expect when both sides are now being led by the same man. A minor insurrection by Guard Captain Edal and a final bit of trouble from Tor are quickly dealt with, after which the Elders’ vampire machine is smashed up, while Steven is unexpectedly elected as the new overlord of the planet.