This is a fun little story. The basic plot about a ruthless businessman who commits crimes to protect his profits isn’t terribly engaging, but the twist of having the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan at an inch tall is. It’s fascinating and rather amusing to watch them struggling to survive the perils of a garden walkway and a laboratory sink. Perhaps more than any other Doctor Who story, this one taps into the imagination of childhood, where ordinary objects become extraordinary and perilous.
The production values are excellent. For the tiny budget that was available to the production crew, they turned out some pretty good giant ants and a reasonably convincing giant fly (and the thumping drumbeats that accompany Barbara’s discovery of the fly are the perfect accompaniment to that scene). The briefcase looks good, as does the giant match and pile of seeds. The phone is decent, though the phone cord isn’t too convincing. The lab sink and plunger are the best of the lot.
The guest characters are not terribly inventive, but they work to keep the story moving. Forrester, the ruthless businessman who will lie and kill to try and avoid financial ruin is a character of pure cliché. But the story needs a villain to drive the plot, and with the size reduction of the crew being the primary focus, there’s really no time to develop more complex characters, so Farrow works in the context of the story. Smithers is a bit more interesting. He’s supposedly driven by concern for humanity, yet he’s fairly blasé about the death of Farrow, the government official sent to oversee the DN6 project. In the end he realizes just how destructive DN6 really is and the indications are that he would ultimately have abandoned the project. He’s not a sympathetic character though, just more realistic about consequences than the driven Forrester. Farrow is little more than a conscientious official doing his job, but he does come across as sympathetic, and his murder is a brutal thing, if creatively handled by the production team as an explosion heard by the tiny TARDIS crew.
The four regulars do their usual excellent acting job. They seem to be having fun with the script and the concept, and it had to be easier to act against giant props than it would have been to act against a bluescreen. Ian impresses as always with his adaptability and resourcefulness, and Barbara’s selflessness in wanting to stay and do something to stop the murderers rather than get back to the TARDIS immediately to cure her condition is admirable. I’m not quite sure why she’s so reluctant to tell Ian that she got insecticide on her hand though. And it’s nice to see the Doctor and Susan get one last outing together before Susan leaves the ship in the next story. She really is a lot more likeable than I’d remembered.
There is something that’s often overlooked about this story. The Doctor actually succeeds in returning Ian and Barbara to 20th century Earth, in the right year! “The War Machines” isn’t the first story set in present day surroundings, “Planet of Giants” is. Not that it does Ian and Barbara much good at an inch tall!
Overall, as I said in the beginning, this is a fun story. Nothing deep or weighty, just pure imagination. A good start to the season.