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The War Machines

by Ian Stuart Black

Book Review by Paul Scoones

The War Machines is the direct predecessor to The Smugglers and as such it is a pity that Target didn't schedule them so that they came out in story order. However, by a quirk of fate, I managed to read them in correct sequence, receiving a review copy of this book a little over a week before The Smugglers came on general release.

Ian Stuart Black's writing style is not overly dissimilar to that of Terrance Dicks. However Black is far more inclined to take liberties with the 'conversion process' from script to novel, adding the occasional scene or changing to improve plot development. For instance, in the serial there is no proper explanation as to how the Doctor and Dodo are able to get into the Post Office Tower and meet Professor Brett. However, writing the novel twenty-two years later, Black chose to provide one, though not a particularly successful one I might add. The Doctor simply assumes that Ian Chesterton has become an internationally respected scientist, and uses his association with Ian to try and get in. To our disbelief, the Doctor's far-fetched assumption is proved correct. Black has also altered the time in which the serial takes place - Ian, at the earliest, can only have returned to 1963, and so could not have achieved this position by 1966, the date given on the back-cover blurb. However Black himself confirms that it is set in the swinging London of the 1960s, not to mention The Faceless Ones placing the date as 20th July 1966. Neither the Doctor nor Dodo recognise London, yet Dodo came from there, although there is no date assigned to her departure in The Massacre. In the serial Dodo goes to live in the country with her aunt (confirmed in The Smugglers), but here she merely stays in London, although Black does not contradict this and say that it is her home. Black has created a few series continuity problems in trying to cover the plot-hole in the serial - a rare demonstration of the original scriptwriter mucking-up his own story in the novelisation process.

Another more easily spotted change Black has made is the manner of Ben and Polly's arrival aboard the TARDIS. Terrance Dicks' account of this at the outset of The Smugglers is the correct one and differs in several minor respects.

Alterations and botch-ups aside, The War Machines is a significant milestone in Doctor Who mythology, and as such is a delight to at last have it novelised. The story can be seen as the fore-runner of UNIT, as the Doctor co-operates with the military to defeat the invading menace in the streets of London. This is also the first contemporary adventure since the Doctor left in 1963.

The story was originally the brainchild of Dr Kit Pedler, soon to mastermind the cybernetic giants from Mondas. BBC staff-writer Pat Dunlop helped knock Pedler's storyline into shape before it was commissioned from Black. Neither Pedler nor Dunlop are credited in the novel, their vital part seemingly having been forgotten and Black taking full credit on the tale.

Another claim to fame for the story is that it was the only time that the Doctor was addressed as "Doctor Who" on screen, from the megalomaniac computer WOTAN. Thankfully Black has seen fit to omit this indiscretion.

Like Dicks, Black's characterisations are rather bland - Ben and Polly are the only ones that really shine, with a rather delightful developing romantic interest - taken no further beyond this story. I felt no sympathy for Professor Brett and Krimpton when they became the servants of WOTAN, as Black didn't really give them any great depth of character beforehand. We can, however feel concern for Dodo's plight as she joins the War Machines labour force, Compare Ben and Polly in this novel and in The Smugglers and you will find they are somehow more alive here. Despite a number of irritating blunders, I consider this the best of Black's trio of Doctor Who novels.

This item appeared in TSV 13 (May 1989).

Index nodes: The War Machines