REVIEW: "The War Machines" [Restored Version] Video Cassette

by Zepo
22 July 1998


RATING: 9 (of 10)


_Doctor Who: The War Machines_, (Beverly Hills (CA): CBS/Fox, 1998),
NTSC video cassette.

[Image of Cover]

     The basis for all undisputed canonical study of the _Doctor 
Who_ fictional universe are the first run, solely BBC produced,
broadcast episodes of _Doctor Who_.  With this in mind tackling
one of the video releases for review seems quite an easy task. 
After all what could there be to complain about or praise that
others have not already expressed in simple reviews of the story
itself?  In the case of "The War Machines" there is much to praise
and also much to be weary or aware of. 
     The entire video starts with clip from the _Blue Peter_ show 
that aired on the 20th of June, 1966.  This clip aired before the 
first episode of "The War Machines" which aired five days later.  The 
host, Christopher Trace, gives us a look at the newly constructed 
Post Office Tower in London and reveals to us why the building with 
such a unique architecture was built.  This is especially useful to 
foreign fans such as myself who are not familiar with the history of
London's architecture and urban planning.  The host also
introduces one of the robot-like war machines and points out all
of the features on it.  It is actually quite fascinating to see
one of the Doctor Who monsters up close in other than the
standard canonical footage from the show.  The inclusion of this
clip from _Blue Peter_ is brilliant.  It allows historians and
fans the opportunity to see other _Doctor Who_ related video
footage without having to pray that they will someday run across
the footage in trading or collector's circles.  Inclusions such
as this are starting to set the BBC commercial tape releases
apart from the stories that fans can record off broadcast
television or that they might trade for.  This inclusion alone
practically demands that a true fan purchase the tape.  Still,
the _Blue Peter_ clip's inclusion is not flawless.  The film clip
is not introduced and simply starts off the tape.  Inexperienced
Doctor Who viewers will be confused by this "documentary"
footage, especially with no warning of the clip's inclusion
before the start of the story. Also, there is an added title on
the screen that reveals the date of the Broadcast as well as the
name of the _Blue Peter_ show.  This is not very helpful and
somewhat annoying in my own eyes.  First off, I only understood
the title of _Blue Peter_ because of the nature of my harcore
fandom and research into the show.  Casual viewers, especially
those in America unfamiliar with the children's talk show, might
be more confused by the caption.  Secondly, the caption is placed
over the actual footage of the clip.  While this may not matter
to most viewers as the caption appears only momentarily, a purest
like myself prefers that any captioning be included before or
after a clip and not be placed over the footage itself.  This
allows a clip to be seen as it was originally aired.  My third
complaint deals more with the BBC's marketing and packaging of
the video.  Nowhere on the American version of the box cover does
it state anywhere that there is a _Blue Peter_ clip included on
this video [though there seems to be on the UK version of the
tape which even includes a gatefold cover and comments on the
restoration].  Surely, fans like myself would be more likely to
buy such a video if we knew up front that there were extras
included in such a release.  CBS/Fox Video must learn to package
_Doctor Who_ videos better in the U.S. by at the least informing
the cash carrying public all the advantages of buying their
newest release as more than just a copy of an older story that
previously aired on television.  The box for this video release does 
state the following on the back in small print after the description 
of the story, "This special video release features footage not seen 
since the episode's first airing.  Thought to be lost forever, it has 
been painstakingly restored to original broadcast quality."  Well, 
unlike my complaints above, it seems that CBS/Fox Video has tried to 
reveal to us that this version of "The War Machines" is more than simply 
a release we in the U.S. have previously seen.
     Previously missing, a near complete copy of "The War Machines"
was recovered and returned to the BBC Film and Videotape Library
in 1984 when a copy was returned from the country of Nigeria. 
This print was the one used to make copies for distribution in
the U.S. in the late 1980s and had in fact, before its recovery,
been edited and cut by censors who felt that some of the footage
was too violent.  Which country made these edits is still
unknown.  This meant that copies which were made and released for
airing in America after the story's recovery were incomplete.  In
early 1997, footage that had been censored from certain _Doctor
Who_ stories in Australia (to include "The War Machines") was
returned to the BBC.  Likewise researchers discovered additional
footage such as in the episode of _Blue Peter_.  Once BBC
Worldwide decided to release the story on video cassette, it was
agreed to use these newly discovered clips to restore the story
for the video release.  This review does not try to trace the
story behind this restoration.  The tale is much better described
in [Richard Molesworth, "1966 and All That", _Doctor Who
Magazine_, Issue #253, (London: Marvel, 1997), 6-12. which can
also be found on-line as an article called "The War Machines-1997
Style!" located at http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/
steveroberts/Warmach2.htm.  
   It might seem that such a restoration should be well received, and 
indeed the results are impressive.  But as a warning to researchers 
who study the program, the restoration is not complete nor is it 
exact.  There are still clips missing from the restoration [for a 
general list see http://www-phm.umds.ac.uk/Steve_P/
DW/NEWCLIPS/cuts.htm.  Likewise, when the Restoration Team returned 
some of the footage to the video print some of the clips themselves 
ran short and were not complete.  It was required that they add 
footage to the shots they were restoring.  Thus, in some of the 
restored sequences we are not given the broadcast shots seen in the 
original airing, but rather filler footage from the original taping 
used so that the near complete soundtrack could be included to 
complete the sequences.  In short, we get footage that did not appear 
in the original broadcast substituting for footage that is still 
missing.  To see exactly which differences exist from the original 
broadcast (as well as a detailed account of what is still missing 
from the restoration) see the Restoration Team's outstanding article 
on their work located at 
http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/steveroberts/Warmach.htm.
      The restoration itself impressed me and was both stunning and 
interesting.  The video quality differs little throughout the tape 
even though the sources of the footage are quite varied.  Likewise, 
no jumps appear in the transfer and unless one reads the Restoration 
Team's articles, or laboriously compares the restored version with an 
earlier television release of "The War Machines," one would never notice 
the effort and work that went into this production.  This is 
completely to the credit of those involved in the restoration and I 
hope that their work and efforts continue in further classic _Doctor 
Who_ releases of this caliber.
      The tape ends with footage that was taken from a 35mm location 
film loaned to the project by a private collector.  The video release 
uses thiscrystal clear film footage for therestoration credits after 
the end of the story itself.  These end credits include a wonderful 
sequence where one can see the crew members run around the set after 
the film shot ends.  This "outtake" footage raises the value and 
enjoyment of the tape even more.  However, this inclusion is not 
flawless.  Rather than allowing the sequence to run without 
interruption, the footage is actually frozen half way through and the 
credits appear over the frame.  Then the sequence continues from the 
still frame on.  Again, as a purist who wants as much _Doctor Who_ 
footage as possible without interruption the presentation of these 
clips seems somewhat "damaged" rather than appearing as full 
uninterrupted sequences.  Even with my disappointment in the 
presentation of this included footage it is wonderful to see.
      In all, the restored version of "The War Machines" is an 
outstanding video cassette.  It fails to gain a perfect rating 
because the story is not truly the complete broadcast version, and 
because of the disappointing way some of the additional footage is 
interrupted.  None the less, I encourage anyone interested in _Doctor 
Who_ not to miss such an outstanding offering.


(c) copyright Zepo, 1998.



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