Monday, November 30, 2009

My Review of Doctor Who's: "The War Games"

Written by Terrance Dicks And Malcolm Hulke
Directed by David Maloney

The Doctor (to the Time Lords): “All these evils that I have fought while you have done nothing but observe. True, I am guilty of interference, just as you are guilty of failing to use your powers to help those in need.”

Given that we’re virtually a month away from the regeneration of a certain Time Lord during the Christmas period, I thought it was high to get up and review a certain story I should’ve done months ago that also exits a certain much loved Doctor.

In the old series, anything over eight episodes was extraordinary and had to be made of the right stuff to justify such length. For the most part, I think the ten episodes that make up this story certainly justify their length even if the sceptic in me wonders if perhaps less should’ve been assigned to the Second Doctor’s departure tale.

For the first nine episode it seems to be one long continuous story with the final episode almost serving as a rather biting epilogue. How thematic that time interference would be the heart of this story and a major thing that would end up signing the Second Doctor’s warrant?

When The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe landed in 1917, it was an interesting time. Given that this episode aired in 1969, it would’ve still been very recent history and perhaps uncomfortable viewing for the general public at the time. It’s also in this time period that things immediately don’t appear to be what they seem.

We’re not through the first episode where the nasty General Smythe seems to have convinced everyone that The Doctor is worthy of execution and that Jamie and Zoe are traitors/deserters. The only people who actually side with The Doctor and company are Carstairs and Lady Jennifer and both of them are brilliant.

For me, they’re the sort of guest characters who I wish had appeared in later stories but sadly they never did. Thankfully they are both in the majority of the episodes together, though they’re usually in two different groups. Lady Jennifer found herself mostly being captured with Jamie during the American Civil War and Carstairs was largely with The Doctor and Zoe when he wasn’t being programmed all the time.

The main plot of this story was certainly interesting – a malicious unknown alien race trapping various people in Time Zones and making them believe that they’re fighting their own wars. 1917, US Civil War, 30 Years War, Crimean War, Romans all seem to get featured and bring with them a series of different characters.

Unfortunately in all of these wars, we’re seemingly lumbered with Smythe type of characters who keep duping their unaware soldiers into fighting all the time. This is usually when they’re not trying to kill The Doctor and company. The scenes are usually good but there are times too many of them and they become a bit predictable and annoying in places.

As for the aliens, we never learn their identity but their motives seemed fairly obvious anyways – power. Using humans as a means to an end and ultimately trying to find the right kinds of people to process. It’s not particularly original but it’s appalling enough to get The Doctor’s back up and rightly it does.

While that doesn’t really sound all that inspirational, the more enjoyable elements of this story come in the War Chief. At least two years before The Master ever became a regular fixture in The Doctor’s life, the War Chief had the potential to make for a charismatic shadow self rival to The Doctor.

He’s certainly a lot more enjoyable and engaging than the irritating Security Chief (talk about suffering from little man syndrome) and his interplay with several characters in this story is one of the reasons why I’d consider it a favourite of mine.

After all, he went out of his way to ensure that The Doctor didn’t come to any harm and he even offered him a part in ruling the universe. Plus every argument between him and the Security Chief that we had to listen to (and there was many of them), I was on his side. Why was that?

Of course there are some characters so good that they don’t make it. The Security Chief waited for the right opportunity to try and get the War Chief out of the picture and a certain recording helped with that. On the plus side, while we lost the War Chief, at least the Security Chief died before him. Now there was a character I really was glad to see the back off.

With both Chiefs essentially dead, the only bad guy actually standing in the end was the War Lord. He was certainly a vicious piece of work, wasn’t he? Even the Time Lords had to torture him to speak up and in the end, the dematerialisation was much deserved. As for sending everyone back to their own times, there was a price to pay.

The first six seasons of this series always made allusions to The Doctor being a deserter in his own way. He wanted to explore while his people were happy to stand back. He made a few decent attempts to escape with Jamie and Zoe in the last episode and the Time Lords stopped him without hesitation.

The last ten minutes of this story are the best. Jamie and Zoe being sent to their own times and only remembering their first encounter with The Doctor was sad and on the same level as Donna Noble’s exit. The Doctor’s forced regeneration however was harrowing to watch. For that alone, it’s no wonder he ran away from his own people. Now he’s exiled to Earth for the time being. I hope UNIT have a vacancy for him.

Also in “The War Games”

All the episodes, except maybe the seventh opened with a set of explosions to emphasis the war backdrop into the story.

Lady Jennifer: “Funny about those people. They don’t look like spies.”
Carstairs: “Spies never do. Don’t envy them if they are. General Smythe can be ruthless.”

We saw brief glimpses of Daleks, Cybermen, Ice Warriors, Quarks and Yeti when The Doctor was attempting to defend himself.

Jamie: “Hey, you haven’t even asked me anything.”
General Smythe: “There’s nothing to ask you, you’re a deserter.”

Zoe: “Who else would have space time machines like the TARDIS?”
The Doctor: “Well there is an answer to that but I hope, I just hope -”
Zoe: “What?”

Not once in this entire episode is either the War Lord’s species named or The Doctor and War Chief’s home planet. We’d have to wait another five years for that one.

Jamie (to US soldier): “You realise that we’ve saved your life?”
Lady Jennifer: “I don’t think he’s gonna be grateful. We’re lucky they didn’t kill all three of us.”

War Chief (to Security Chief): “When I came to your people I was promised efficiency and co-operation. Without the knowledge I have, this complete venture would be impossible.”

This was the last story for the Second Doctor, 1960s and for the series to be mainly in black and white.

Security Chief: “I have the situation under control, War Lord. It’s only a matter of time before they are recaptured.”
War Lord: “Then I hope that time is on your side.”

War Chief: “Stealing a TARDIS. Oh, I’m not criticising you. We are two of a kind.”
The Doctor: “We most certainly aren’t.”

The Doctor’s face appearing at all sides was interesting as he started the regeneration process certainly made it look traumatic. One day, Doctor you will look very young.

Jamie: “I won’t forget you, you know.”
The Doctor: “I won’t forget you. Now don’t go blundering into too much trouble.”
Jamie: “You’re a fine one to talk.”
The Doctor: “Goodbye Zoe.”
Zoe: “Goodbye Doctor. Will we ever see you again?”
The Doctor: “Again? Zoe, you and I know time is relative, isn’t it?”

The Doctor (as he regenerates): “Is this some sort of joke? I refuse to be treated – what are you doing? You’re making me giddy. No, you can’t do this to me. No, no, no, no, no.”

This came out on DVD in July 2009 with a commentary from Frazer Hines, Wendy Padbury, Philip Madoc, Jane Sherwin, Graham Weston, Terrance Dicks and Derrick Sherwin. The Regeneration feature is wonderful.

As regeneration stories go, “The War Games” does set up a high standard that at least one other really usurps. It’s a wonderful parting story for Patrick Troughton, brimmed with excellent characterisation and sublime moments.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

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