The Deadly Assassin
The War Games
|Dates||Apr. 19, 1969 -
Jun. 10, 1969
With Patrick Troughton, Frazier Hines, Wendy Padbury.
Written by Terrance Dicks & Malcolm Hulke.
Script-Edited by Derrick Sherwin. Directed by David Maloney.
Produced by Peter Bryant.
|Synopsis: The Doctor and crew land amidst a myriad of wars from human history, run by aliens for their own purposes.|
A Review by Jeff Sims 12/4/97
This it it, Patrick Troughton's last, the best Doctor Who story ever made. It also marks a pivotal point in the history of the series: not only is it the end of the black and white era, but it provides crucial information about the Doctor's background which influences everything that came after.
The Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe come down in the middle of the First World War. At first they are seemingly mistaken for German spies, and the Doctor is sentenced to death, but that is only a warm-up. After various escape attempts it becomes clear that something else is going on. Appearences are deceiving. This isn't WWI, nor are they on Earth.
Instead, the travelers are trapped in the war games waged on another planet by an evil race of would-be galactic conquerors. These beings are kidnapping and hypnotizing soldiers from various periods of human history, pitting them against one another in order to create the perfect army. The Doctor must find some way to bust up this racket and return the stolen soldiers to their own times.
This long (10 part) story has two especially wonderful features. First, it is here that the viewer learns the truth about the Doctor: he is a Time Lord, on the run from an alien civilization which possesses-- and jealously guards-- the secret of time travel. The powerful, lofty Time Lords have withdrawn from the universe, and do not appreciate the Doctor's meddlesome ways.
Second, this story has thrilling villains. There is the War Chief, himself a renegade Time Lord who, in his desire to acquire power, has given the war-gamers the ability to reach through time. He is often considered a prototype of the Master. Then there is the Security Chief, a small, gray functionary, bitterly jealous of the War Chief. Finally, there is the War Lord, the leader of the conspiracy, one of the coolest, greasiest bad guys the Doctor has ever faced. While only appearing in a few episodes, he leaves an indelible impression.
A Review by Ari Lipsey 23/1/98
I really can't stand long Doctor Who episodes. Doctor Who was made for four-parters. I got bored of The Daleks, The Sensorites, The Web Planet, The Dominators and Inferno. I even got bored of Genesis of the Daleks. So you must understand that when I say The War Games is the best Doctor Who episode of all time, I risk putting my four-part only theory on the line. But I have to agree with Jeff. It's the best, and here's why I think so:
The main cast is great. Patrick Troughton puts on one of his best preformances. A lot is called upon him during this script. Apart from playing his cosmic-hobo Doctor, he plays the villian, the rebel and the guy trying to pass as a jail inspector. This episode features the best pairing of companions and Doctor. The chemistry is there. Jamie and Zoe actually have something interesting to do! Their parting in episode ten is very emotional.
The script is great. This may have something to do with the pairing of one of the best plot crafters (Terrance Dicks) and character crafters (Malcolm Hulke). There's great wit pulled off with adept timing (the scene with Luke, everything with Aturo Vilare, the scene with the neardy idiot scientist, the scenes with Ransom etc), and great drama ( interplay with: Doctor and Smyth, Doctor and War Chief, War Chief and Security Chief, War Lord and anyone, including the Time Lords etc). And though it goes on for ten episodes, I never felt bored. The plot is revealed in great parts, and theirs enough of it for ten episodes. I actaully felt like I was on an alien world, with the people going through real dilemmas.
The Time Lord part is perfectly executed. I love the reason why the Doctor calls them, making the viewer see that the Doctor's freedom is only superficial, and that he is in fact a prisoner of justice. People were afraid this element would take away some of the mystrey out of the myth, but instead there are more questions than answers. We also get a look back on the era, with references in episode ten to the Daleks, the Cybermen, the Ice Warriors, the Quarks, The Highlanders and The Wheel in Space. And with the Doctor getting expelled to Earth, this changes the whole nature of the show. A brave creative move. This story is Doctor Who perfected.
A Review by Joseph Nunweek 8/5/98
It's hard to decide whether to like this story or not, but I think that it is eventually a near classic. It is almost impossible to judge it all at once, so I will look at each episode briefly.
Part One is generally superfluous to the main story. A lot is going on, but little involves the central plot. The Doctor and companions don't stand out here, but characters like Lady Buckingham and Carstairs get the story going, and Smythe, though wooden is spooky. Two is much the same, though the Doctor is at his comedic best pretending to be a war prison inspector. Part Three does little to advance the plot, although the fight scenes are of an excellent standard for Doctor Who.
Part Four is where things really start: we meet the War Chief, the Security Chief and the hapless scientist. Unfortunately the whole thing is let down by some of the show's most cheap and nasty costumes and sets (why are those guards wearing inferior Batman suits?) The War Chief and the Security Chief play off each other superbly, with tense and brilliant dialogue. By Parts Eight and Nine, the loathing between them seems almost tangible.
Parts Five and Six rush by. A little too much padding dullens these two segments. Seven is enlivened by the arrival of the War Lord. This character was not like anything I had predicted. Instead of meeting a scenery chewing, flamboyant, 'nuzzink-in-ze-vurrld-can-schhtop-me-now!' baddie, I saw a quiet man whose quietly dangerous presence and sudden, unexpected bursts of anger made him a lot scarier than any Dalek or mad Dr.Zaroff.
Part Eight is a brighter, more cheerful installment. Arturo Villiare is utterly hammy, but so fun that I don't care. Carstairs and Russell are also fine. Jamie and Zoe are superb here. Jamie's swaggering resistance leader trying to impress Arturo is one of the funniest scenes on the show ever. The cliffhanger to this part is one of the best ever, with a fade out on the Doctor's sad face, just as he supposedly betrays the Resistance.
Part Nine is one of the darkest pieces of Who ever. The Doctor here is more bewildered and desperate than he has ever been, and I like to feel that no one could have done it better than Troughton. And the War Lord, the War Chief, and Security Chief are so brilliant I am wordless.
Part Ten is terrific. We see our favourite monsters briefly, and have some touching scenes with the departure of Jamie and Zoe. The Time Lords are excellent here. Rather than the despotic good guys they become later, the Time Lords are mysterious and aloof.
It may be long, and occasionally tedious but is on the whole, fantasic and terrific.
"A travesty of justice!": claims that this is anything less than a five-carat classic by Tom May Updated 19/2/04 (originally 19/6/98)
The War Games has often been slated for its length... whoever these armchair critics are they completely miss the point that this epic quality lends the story much of its compelling nature. This is Dr Who as gripping, ambitious adventure serial, with a thoughtful slant. It also casts significant light on the Doctor's origins, in the most thoughtfully realised manner possible.
The first episode sets up a mystery in the narrative dexterously; the grimness of WW1 and its trenches comes across very convincingly, which makes subsequent plot happenings all the more gob-smacking when they arrive. It is a masterstroke that we have to wait to episode four to see the Alien base. The long wait is well spent, as we get as full a picture as possible of the mechanics of the Games themselves. As the tale unwinds, we perhaps come across some stock characters; Russell the amusingly hapless soldier, Arturo Villar the more than half-crazed ruffian Mexican, Lady Jennifer the terribly bland RP-speaking nurse and Carstairs, a typically 'stiff upper lip' British 'tommy' of the period. Yet, I'm damned if the actors don't give it their best shot; imbuing standard roles with a little memorable zest. Who can forget the maniacal madness of Villar? The lesson is: if you're going to have stock type characters, give them to actors who will play them to stand out a bit. Okay, Jennifer is really an exception; solely about to give Carstairs a chum to chat to. The performance is entirely forgettable, and the character becomes a companion-substitute... despite the fact that we have two perfectly fine companions as it is!
Indeed, Wendy Padbury and Frazer Hines positively radiate chemistry here; this 'TARDIS crew' is my very favourite of all that exceed just the standard one companion. Jamie is just a loveable character; a rare companion who we actually can fully relate to and enjoy watching. Resourceful at times, amusingly headstrong and prey to folly at others, Hines always make him watchable and fun; serving the narrative and the finely honed dynamic of the regulars. A jovial grin comes across my face at the mere thought of that absurd scene with the redcoat; Terry Dicks shamelessly literal in using Jamie's past background. It must be said: what a shame it is at the end to see Jamie and Zoe having to leave; and to add insult to injury, the Time Lords erase their memories of their travels with the Doctor; frankly a hateful and curiously pedantic act for them to commit! To deny Messr McCrimmon all those years of memories is appalling... and are we to take it that dear Zoe is reduced to exactly the person she was? i.e. the rather bumptious, precocious girl on the Wheel? Watching some of Season 6, it really becomes clear how wonderful Padbury is; creating a genuinely strong-willed young woman, perfectly willing to call a spade a spade where necessary. Zoe is one of the few 'intelligent' companions who is maintained as such throughout her run; she can be rather superior in manner sometimes, but well, she generally is a superior figure. She dexterously and spiritedly involves herself in the action here; I particularly love how she is the only one capable of the task of leading the rebellion... giving the hapless, forlorn Jamie a wonderfully impudent dressing-down I do recall, when his swaggering bluster in dealing with Villar falters. Zoe is a genuine star, clearly revelling in events and putting herself about where many companions would cower. Do I even need to say that she's 'much prettier than a computer'? I love it how she takes no nonsense from any of the rather dunderheaded, belligerent male characters in the story... and oh, what a film noir dash she cuts in that trench coat [very possibly a pun on the initial setting?]!
This irrefutably fab trio of lead characters is rounded off by the ever-delightful, on-his-toes Patrick Troughton. In this, the last performance of his run on the show, Troughton is even more magnificent than usual; able to face off and play against other actors of genuine calibre throughout the ten-week serial. I surely do not need to expound upon the ease with which Troughton, Hines and Padbury interact; trust me, they have it down to a fine art: genuine friendship, mischievous banter, never cloying, always absorbed in the outside world... Among many moments of Troughton magic, my very favourite is in one of the earlier episodes, whereupon the Doctor pretends to be "An EXAMINER FROM THE WAR OFFICE!" He gives a sublimely comic performance, playing against a bumbling clerkish figure, and browbeating the said chap into submission. "DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM, SIR!!??" he bellows with about the greatest level of appalled indignation I have ever heard...! It is comic gold, carried off with masterly aplomb by Troughton, and supported wonderfully by the fall-guy character's actor and Wendy Padbury, whose body language is wonderful -- caught between the stools of sternly backing up the Doctor, and being queasily taken aback at just how barnstorming the Doctor is...
The glazed-eyed, stolid James Bree painstakingly essays an incredibly straight-faced Security Chief; who possesses a grating, coldly self-satisfied typewriter of a vocal delivery. It is always enjoyable to see an actor trying to convey an alien by odd enunciation, and Bree's speech here is fantastically odd in its staunch dullness. This Security Chief might make an auto-pilot football manager, or even Chingford's 'finest', IDS, seem a bit of a card, in comparison. His bitter, rather petty rivalry with The War Chief is very well put across; a complete clash: like the Hutton Inquiry hearings and its findings. Edward Brayshaw -- never really an actor I've come across elsewhere, oddly -- is superbly smooth as The War Chief; a more formidable if scattered intellect than the SC, and rather like an unscrupulous politician who is keeping all avenues open as long as possible. He is, if my memory is accurate, only the second other Time Lord to be seen up to this point in the series, and acts as a fascinating glimpse, before we get The Picture in Episode 10. It should also be mentioned that the two alien commanders in the War Zones add a real richness to the tableaux; Noel Coleman utterly convincing as the dogged, bilious Smythe -- of generally imposing, bullish physical stature -- while the excellent David Garfield is fantastically beady-eyed and sneaky as Von Weich's. I especially love the scene where he deliberately shifts his accent to try and trick the hapless boy Moore -- played by a young David Troughton -- and as the scene fades, it is a lugubrious, whisky-sated Churchill of a voice. The very finest of the performances has to be that of Phillip Madoc, mind. His War Lord is a uniquely inscrutable figure, and one of the series' most effective ever villains: all the more so as he saves raising his voice until a very choice and late moment, unlike most Doctor Who villains. It is subtle, vivid, understated acting; all of what is needed for a leading guest part. This alien race overall comes across as being all the more threatening for doing things sneakily and quietly -- though a few of them do lose their rag admittedly, late on! Rather than a bulldozing opposition like the Daleks, they are players for the long-haul with their Games.
A big-up too for the use of props; those sinister, glinting half-spectacles of Smythe's and Von Weich's sinewy monocle, provide sublime plot devices. Each time these eye aides are donned, a shrill, startling musical theme played on brass -- and fore-grounded by the clash of hazy cymbals -- comes in, adding due emphasis. The score must be commended overall; I love the breezy, marching-band style resistance tune, and the trot of the organ theme alongside the Roman Zone's open air arcadia, which, upon the sighting of some charging Romans, becomes crazed, horn-rimmed spectacled suspense jazz. And of course, the elegiac organ and horns theme that accompanies the slowed-down daze of the regulars trying to prise their way into the TARDIS at the end of Episode 9; that is sublime. I wonder why the full recording of this score has not yet been released...?
When the Doctor first mentions the Time Lords, The War Games becomes more than just another Doctor Who story: it becomes a defining moment in the series' history, an awestruck, epochal mood descending. Though, to be perfectly honest, it had long since been a remarkably ambitious tale, packed with narrative interest, some of the most enjoyable padding the show has produced, and indeed moments of actorly comedy and charm. Episode 10 is a rare thing that befits the epithet 'awesome', transcending any budgetary constraints in the best Dr Who fashion to create magical television. The Time Lords are a superbly evoked concept in this story, and they were never quite as powerful or frighteningly omnipotent a force again. Their appearances between this and the wonderfully revisionist shot-of-blood that is The Deadly Assassin lack any impact whatsoever; they become a constant nannying influence, forcing Pertwee's hand, or even the vehicle for comical cameos, such as in Terror of the Autons. This here is the definitive portrayal of the Time Lords, as the ultimate laissez-faire libertarians; astonishingly cold and monkish -- great performances from the actors -- wielding unrestrained legal force once they eventually conclude their deliberations.
The Second Doctor rightfully goes out fighting in this sprawling adventure epic, trying every last trick and sleight-of-hand to avoid his seemingly inevitable judgement by his people. While Doctor Who lost some of its mystery in this story, it simply could have been achieved better. Perhaps more important even than that is the fact that this story is a wonderfully prolonged farewell to three smashing regulars; their chemistry was never really to be matched again.
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 18/4/99
The War Games sees the Troughton era end with considerable style, although it would have worked better as a six part tale. It opens with an intriguing setting, that of World War 1 (apparantly), and this works being both a time that The Doctor hadn`t visited before, and a setting that holds promise for lots of dramatic action.
Unfortunately the characters are somewhat cliched: Lady Jennifer is bland, Carstairs is straight out of the boys old school of soldiers, and the character of Arturo Villar is very stereotyped. That said, the acting is of a high standard with Noel Coleman, James Bree, Edward Brayshaw and David Garfield deserving mention.
Plaudits really should go to Philip Madoc as The War Chief, a character inscrutable and manipulative, certainly deserving of a recurring role. Patrick Troughton is also on top form here as the revelations about The Doctor`s past come quickly and unexpectedly. Jamie and Zoe are also given much more to do than usual here, and get a fitting departure.
The plot, whilst slow moving, is certainly interesting: a race of "super beings," the survivors of the war games, lends itself to several Dalek tales .If you can tolerate padding, then you will enjoy The War Games; if you can`t it is still worth watching, as Troughton's final story is one of the best of his era.
The time has come by Ken Wrable 21/3/00
I don't have a lot of time for the black and white Dr Who stories as a rule. They just seem too distant somehow, the required suspension of disbelief is too difficult to achieve, particularly as the shoestring budgets are often painfully obvious. The stories often ramble on in a manner that suggests that the scriptwriters may have been making them up as they went along, supplying the scripts to one episode while the previous week's was being shot. There are obviously a lot of lost stories from this era, many of which I know are considered classics, but I find even the most highly-rated surviving Hartnell and Troughton stories difficult to sit through. With one exception - The War Games.
This story was produced in difficult circumstances at the end of a year where both money and inspiration were earing noticeably thin. Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke found themselves having to speed-write a ten part Dr Who story to fill a hole in the schedule with no budget for expensive alien costumes or make-up. And on paper, it looks singularly unpromising: no "old favourite" monsters, no non-humanoid characters, lots of chasing around, being captured and escaping. But against all odds, The War Games succeeds brilliantly and can be considered as that rarest of things: a true Dr Who epic, as opposed to a mock-epic consisting of six almost completely unrelated stories (The Key to Time season), a great story that just happens to have a lot of episodes (Inferno, Genesis of the Daleks), or indeed a would-be epic that...well, less said the better (Trial of a Time Lord).
The key to its success is that the writers had the biggest trump card of them all to play, and they played it beautifully: this is the point where we finally learn about the Doctor's origins after nearly six years of the programme being on air, and is also the point where he's finally made to answer for himself and justify his continual meddling in the affairs of other planets. The story starts building towards the climactic trial scenes from about episode four, and the structuring of the plot is handled skilfully. Clues that we are about to get to the big revelation are dropped in almost casually; for example, the term "Time Lord" is heard for the first time in Dr Who as part of a throwaway comment by the alien scientist in episode six. These hints help to keep us hooked in to the story through all the noisier surface activity of the main plot of the story.
Which is, incidentally, a very good one. The absence of monsters and obviously alien entities may be down to budgetary considerations but it does, in my opinion, help the story rather than hinder it. We're not constantly being distracted by bad special effects and ropey costumes and this gives The War Games credibility. Similarly, the use of generic titles for the alien characters means that we're not having to deal with "exotic" B-Movie names all the time (Sauvix and Ichthar spring to mind). There is a fair amount of padding in the story (particularly the endless arguments between the Security Chief and the War Chief) and it could probably lose a couple of episodes, but this is one time where the scale of the aliens' intentions seems to justify the unusual length of the story.
There are some good performances in there as well. I'd pick out Noel Coleman, who makes General Smythe wonderfully sinister, and Philip Madoc, who shows admirable restraint and authority as the War Lord.
Eventually we get to episode nine, where the Doctor realises that he has no choice but to call on his own people for help. This he does, and it's a credit to Patrick Troughton's acting that we're made aware of what a big deal this really is. The Doctor is for once genuinely terrified and he, Jamie and Zoe make a beeline for the TARDIS in an inevitably doomed attempt to escape from the Time Lords. These scenes have a special power unlike anything else in the series' history; the Doctor may have made the odd tactical withdrawal from a situation but he never ever just runs away in panic.
Episode Ten is a turning point for Dr Who, the series, as well as the Doctor. This is our first glimpse of the Time Lords' home planet (not yet identified as Gallifrey) and it's suitably calm and austere. The few Time Lords we encounter here seem godlike, omnipotent and there's a sharp contrast to be observed between their dignified demeanour and the Doctor's impassioned scruffiness. Unlike some other long stories The War Games has a great ending - the Doctor is found guilty of interfering, separated from his companions and sent spinning into a vortex. Many of the sixties stories ended on a cliffhanger and this could be the best unresolved ending of them all.
By its nature, a story like this can only happen along once in a series' lifetime. It's something to celebrate that in this case it turns out to be a triumph.
All over the map by A. Quinalt 5/2/01
This 10 part adventure might be more appropriately be classified as a 9 part adventure about aliens perfecting a human army of slaves to be used in conquering the galaxy, and a 1 part "meet the family" story in which we finally get introduced to the Time Lords. The first nine episodes seem to foreshadow the Tom Baker Android Invasion story, except that the bad guys use hynotized humans instead of androids, and the Doctor defeats them before they can even finish their warm up exercises. The last part is a combination regeneration/companion-leave-taking episode.
As it is so long, the adventure contains dozens of minor characters that drop in and out over the course of the story. Among others are Bernard Horsfall (Chancellor "Deadly Assassin" Goth) again as a Time Lord, David "King Peladon" Troughton (is he a relation?), Phillip Madoc (Solon Brain of Morbius, and Kroll Fenner), and Leslie Schofield (Face of Evil Caleb).
Edward Brayshaw (the War Chief) plays a sort of pre-Master type character (i.e. an evil renegade Time Lord) and much as I admire Delgado's Master (heresy to follow), I found Brayshaw to be even more impressive and effective than Delgado. He's less outlandish than Delgado (that satanic widow's peak and beard is really too much), and you can almost sympathize and identify with him. He is alienated even from his employers, surviving only by his ingenuity in fending off the Security Chief's attempts to discredit him. It's a shame his character couldn't return.
James Bree (Security Chief) plays a bargain basement Peter Miles. His exaggerated speech patterns are too hammy for my taste (although they are effective in projecting his "cold little creep" persona).
The sci-fi sets (ie, the alien headquarters, and Gallifrey) were very effective (for me), mysterious and mesmerizing (espescially that interrogation room with the optical illusion wallpaper ;)).
The story moves very well, despite being 10 epsiodes long, and although there are moments that could be cut without reducing the coherence of the story (ex. the first escape from General Smythe and subsequent recapture), there are none that one would want to cut. Anyway, if I want a tightly plotted cinematic masterpiece, I'll watch Citizen Kane. More often, I prefer a rambling Dr. Who adventure with plenty of padding (it makes it seem more realistic anyway, since real life isn't often "tightly plotted"). If William Hartnell wants to spend a few extra few minutes giving a dissertation about metallic animals that attract their prey magnetically, that's fine by me. It just makes the escapism more complete.
There are some "weak" moments, that (in typical Dr. Who fashion) strengthen the appeal of the story:
The only thing I didn't like about this story were Lady Jennifer and Lietenant Carstairs, who become sort of temporary companions to the Doctor in the first few episodes. In age, stature, and "normalness" they resemble (and hence reminded me of) Jacqueline Hill and William Russell, but they lack a millionth of the charisma and appeal of those two, and their appearance just made me depressed that no one thought of casting Barbara and Ian as Jennifer and Carstairs (the kiddies who watched saw them with Hartnell would have forgotten them by then, surely).
The last episode is probably one of the most depressing in all of Dr. Who, (including Earthshock ;)), caused primarily by Jamie's and the Doctor's futile attempts to thwart the Time Lords' plans. You can see the Doctor's despair, he knows doesn't stand a chance, but Jamie's naive optimism is what really adds the pathos.
The Time Lords (who come across as symbolizing fate or the super ego or something) decide to disband the Doctor's party, give him a face lift without consulting him, and exile him to this miserable crappy little planet.
Definitely a classic, and worth watching for the last episode alone.
One of the all time greats by Tim Roll-Pickering 20/2/02
And so the Patrick Troughton's run comes to a close with another epic story. The War Games has been criticized for being overlong but it works well as a story that always keeps the viewer hooked through every successive development. It seems strange that after three years mostly dominated by monsters the final two Troughton stories don't feature any (bar the brief appearances of some old foes in Episode 10) but one of the great successes of Doctor Who has always been to make the viewer ask 'What's going to happen next?'
The story opens strongly in the middle of the First World War, complete with all the terrible images now associated with it. One of the nice touches of the story is the way that the threat is gradually built up so that initially the viewer thinks that General Smythe is the villain of the piece and that the story is a 'pseudo historical' along the lines of The Time Meddler, but then we get the end of Episode 2 where we discover the Roman Zone. Then in Episode 3 we meet Von Weich, virtually an identical version of Smythe on the German side - even down to having a video screen behind a portrait of his ruler! Then we find that Smythe and Von Weich are mere lieutenants in a much bigger scheme headed by the War Chief... or so it seems! This is a story full of unexpected twists and turns, constantly keeping the viewer guessing and fully justifying the story's length.
The basic ideas behind the story are very sound and it shows the futility of war throughout the ages - no matter how the technology may improve, mankind is still slaughtering one another and in each conflict the two sides are virtually indistinguishable. The aliens are very much based on the traditional image of First World War generals as ruthless butchers taking decisions that will kill thousands of men but won't have the slightest effect on them personally (although other, earlier military commanders are equally open to the charge).
The design work of the story is good, providing a strong contrast between the simplicity of the trenches and barns that the wars are fought in with the relative luxury of the command chateau and again with the hi-tech psychedelic setting of the aliens' base. This creates a wonderful set of images, with the former suggesting a strong historical story whilst the latter fits in very well with the mindset of a decade that, in Doctor Who terms, came to an end with this story in more ways than one.
Edward Brayshaw and Philip Madoc both provide strong and highly memorable performances, the latter being especially notable even though he only appears in the last four episodes. The former brings to the War Chief a strong presence and a sense of detachment from his allies and it is easy to see him as a prototype of the Master. It also helps to underline how the Doctor is brought down not by a generic race of monsters but by the actions of his own people.
The War Games is one of the most important stories in the entire history of the series because of the revelations about the Doctor's past. Wisely these are built up gradually so that first the War Chief recognizes the Doctor, then we learn that the War Chief is a 'Time Lord' and then in Episode 8 we have the single most revealing scene so far in the series. Wisely it is between the Doctor and one of his own people and no-one else. Thus it comes across as entirely natural to see the Doctor suddenly talking about his own people and home to a far greater degree than ever before. Later in Episode 9 when his companions find out about all this it is again because of the presence of the War Chief and the circumstances forcing the Doctor to seek help to do what he can not. This also shows the nobility of the Doctor in that he is prepared to risk being captured so as to help others but true to form he seizes upon every opportunity he gets to escape and continue his wanderings.
For their final story, Patrick Troughton, Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury all put in solid performances that show how strong a team they are and it is especially fitting that the second Doctor and Jamie should finish together given that they have formed perhaps the strongest teaming between the Doctor and a companion seen in the series so far, if not of all time. The guest cast all perform well, giving strong impressions and helping to carry the story tremendously.
At ten parts The War Games may be a bit tough going when viewed all at once. But watched at the pace of one episode at a time with a little break between them it rapidly holds the viewers' attention and presents a strong solid and downbeat story. The final episode is especially memorable, seeing the Doctor placed on trial and forced to defend his actions and the final shots as he disappears into the darkness make for an especially memorable cliffhanger and an excellent ending to Patrick Troughton's time in the series. This is one of the all time greats of Doctor Who. 10/10
A Review by Ben Jordan 23/4/02
It's the end of the line for the 2nd Doctor, and the end of innocence for the series, as we finally learn who he is, and where he comes from. And I enjoyed it all the way through.
It's not often that I find a long Doctor Who story, and this is the 2nd-longest, to be entertaining from beginning to end. Usually the yawn factor, coupled with the need-to-make-a-coffee factor prevail in Doctor Who epics. It's also infrequent that I like anything associated with war, but then The War Games has very little in common with the irresponsibly war-glorifying Hollywood films that familiarises us most with these events in our history. In any case, this story has little to do with the events that it alludes to; their place in the plot merely window-dressing for a sci-fi tale of alien abduction and experimentation on a scale more massive than even The X Files might have dreamed up. And this works well, not only because it initially confuses us into thinking we're on Earth watching history take place, but also building upon that until the big revelations which come later. It's also far more desirable than landing the TARDIS crew in an obviously pseudo-futuristic environment with by-now anachronistic sci-fi aesthetic trappings. Still, this is precisely what happens in the second half of the story, but by the time we do start to see one-piece latex suits, stupid-looking guns, and plastic corridors, we're already hooked into the events. Maybe this is the lesson - don't start getting camp until you've hooked your audience. There's no better way to get camp in sci-fi than by bringing out the latex and the plastic. Save it for episode 3.
Still, any comparisons between the War Lord security guards and The Phantom might not have been so obvious in 1969. Back then, it might have seemed perfectly natural that the SIDRATs be controlled with polygonal fridge magnets, or that the War Chief's atom medallion would be the height of cool, or that the aliens would never recognise you if you donned a pair of grille-slotted cardboard shades. The fridge magnets, it has to be said, don't look as dated today as the big knobs and dials that we usually get. And although the War Chief's accessories weren't as impressive as he might have felt, he's actually one of my favourite characters.
There are plenty of great villains in this story, at both ends of the camp spectrum. At one end, the War Chief, with Brayshaw playing him up to the hilt, his exaggerated villainy reminding me a great deal of a certain other Time Lord we would meet a couple of years later. The Security Chief is more menacing, but this is probably due to James Bree's acting. His character is far too two-dimensional otherwise. Similarly, David Garfield's Von Weich is rather simplistic, but the actor really has the facial expressions and snarling voice to lift him into 'nasty bastard' status. Noel Coleman delivers a completely ruthless and bloodthirsty General Smythe, someone you really want to see die by the end. It also helps to be taller than everyone else. Best of all however, and I don't suppose it's an original opinion at all, is Philip Madoc as the War Chief. Almost every one of his performances (save maybe Power Of Kroll) are magic. Cold as ice, ruthless to the extreme, and suave. I absolutely loved the way he would smile when threatening someone. Imagine him as the Master.
It's just as well there are so many wonderful baddies here because the protagonists are far less interesting, but then that's the usual way. David Savile plays a reasonable, but rather restrained Carstairs. Jane Sherwin is an even duller Lady Jennifer, but it isn't helped that she has little to do. I forget the names of the others, but Villar is an unfortunate Anglo-bias stereotype of a Mexican bandit, and embarrasing to watch. I suppose there are many stereotypes here - Mexican, German, Russian, even British. Characters are brought in and disposed of too quickly to be fleshed out adequately and it's probably inevitable that the only way to distinguish them is to exaggerate them. Patrick Troughton is, as always, a delight to watch, and proves that not only Jon Pertwee cornered the market on hilarious facial expressions. His farewell scenes with Jamie and Zoe are touching but not dwelt upon too long.
The Time Lords themselves are played with suitable detachment from those around them, which is most effective to me when they are judging the War Lord, showing complete disinterest in his threats. It's hard for me to judge episode 10 really. We know so much about Gallifrey and the Time Lords today that one can only wonder how a viewer might have perceived this first glimpse of it all. The first time we got some answers, it must have been a complete revelation. I've often felt that black and white worked far better in Doctor Who than colour (not always), and the mystery and slight menace of as-yet unknown Gallifrey benefits greatly from the monochromatic environment. The regeneration sequence is a little disappointing, and it actually makes me want to see the fan-video Devious all the more, which, if you haven't seen/heard elsewhere, is an adventure set between this story and Spearhead From Space. There, you see? The War Games is such a pivotal Who story that it seems impossible to watch it without thinking of what would come next.
Happily, what came next was good.
A Review by Terrence Keenan 10/12/02
Swan songs have run the gamut from stories built up to a finale (Logopolis, The Caves of Androzani, The Tenth Planet) to rehashes of an era (Planet of the Spiders) to the non-existent (The Ultimate Foe/Time and the Rani).
The War Games is possibly the only one that not only feels like the end of a Doctor's reign, but the end of a series. It starts off like a typical B&W era story: TARDIS lands, Doctor and company get captured/menaced. From there, the story expands to a near apocalyptic feel, as the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe are involved in a situation that requires more than just their guile and cunning to resolve.
One favorite piece of storytelling in The War Games is how they introduce the Time Lords. The idea is brought up casually at first, between the Security Chief and a scientist, and then is deftly woven into the plot until they arrive. And as much as I think that the be-all Time Lord story is The Deadly Assassin, this is still their best and most memorable appearance.
The three main baddies, the War Lord, War Chief and Security Chief are all at odds with each other. The battle between the paranoid Security Chief and the arrogant War Chief is well done and entertaining to boot. The War Lord, played by Philip Madoc, is the overlord in charge and a nasty pragmatist & schemer.
With ten episodes, the obvious complaint about The War Games is that it's padded. It is, but so what? Padding only annoys when the story lags in excitement. The War Games doesn't. I watched this in two five episode chunks and wasn't bored at all.
If you want to make an argument for Pat Troughton as the best Doctor, this is a great place to start. It's a wild range of emotions -- fear, compassion, righteous anger -- bundled into one package and totally believable. In their last regular performance, Wendy Padbury and Frazier Hines are their usual solid selves. The guest cast all hold their own, with the aforementioned Phil Madoc's War Lord standing out along with James Bree's paranoid Security Chief and Edward Brayshaw's War Chief.
Some people may call The War Games overly padded. I call it brilliant. It looks and smells and feels like an epic. The best epic this thing of ours called Doctor Who created for the TV era.
The war to end all wars... by Joe Ford 16/12/02
I have been forced to re-evaluate my opinion regarding this story. I've always considered it a bit of a let down, having watched it in its entirety one summer evening two or three years ago. I recently bought the WH Smiths Time Lord box set and figured it was time I gave the story a second chance. I watched over three evenings... three episodes at a time and finally the last one tonight. I couldn't believe it.
What a superb piece of televison this is. I could critisise some of the poorly choreographed fights and a little of the padding in the middle episodes but that would be deflecting you from the sheer impossibility this story achieves... it is ten episodes long and it doesn't manage to drag, not once. Considering the recent Lord of the Rings (yawn) movie and Titanic (nice FX, shame about the script) are the same length but much recently made The War Games comes out trumps.
The first episode is a glorious scene setter. Much like Genesis of the Daleks (same director!!!) the TARDIS crew are attacked upon landing in a moody and dramatic scene. The surprises don't end there... caught between the lines they are mistaken for German spies. The Doctor is sentenced to be executed! We all know this is the last story to feature Patrick Troughton... could this be the end for Doctor number two? Much like the cliffhanger to Caves of Androzani episode one, the ante is raised by knowing the Doctor will die soon and Troughton plays up the fact, kissing Zoe and saying "Goodbye".
Of course he doesn't die because then we would be deprived of the laugh out loud antics of episode two where the Doctor poses as a particularly officious Examiner from the War Office. After several excellently played comedy scenes, I was dismayed to think Troughton, such a superb actor, would be leaving at the end of this. It makes me yearn all the more for some of his old stuff to reappear soon.
The plot is mounting but what a ingeniuos plot, worthy of a film. Different periods in earths history, all war zones as a part of a scientific experiment. But why? What's so fascinating about this story is how perfect it flows from one mystery and explanation to another. Discovering the map of the war zones drags the plot in a whole new direction as does the gathering of the resistance fighters.
The production values are astonishing. The sets, in particular, have an authentic look about them whether they are English chateaus, American barns or trenches. It looks like a fortune has been spent on the production. The location work is truly superb with many stand out scenes. I love it when the ambulence stops off in the Roman zone... when they are attacked there is nothing but music and actions and it almost felt wonderfully like one of those old silent films! Jamie saving Lady Jennifer on horseback was another marvellous location scene as is the bit where the Doctor and co land right next to a glorious winding river. There are lots of exciting gun battles out in the open too to add an extra touch of gritty realism.
It may have been odd to end the second Doctor's futuristic run on a semi-historical story but it merely enhances the one-off all out finale feel of the production. Each of the factions be it English, German, Russian, Mexican or American are well thought out and consiering what a disaster it could have been the accents are fairly good too! it gives the whole story a very epic feel.
Once the action becomes centred on the main base of the mysteriously titled 'aliens' there is a little padding. Lots of escapes and captures but its all told with such energy and excitement I was still in love. Anyway if those episodes had been chopped we would have been deprived of the Doctor's hysterical antics with the processing machine, first butting in on the lecture and later pretending to have programmed people.
James Bree plays his character with such a perculiar voice I'm not sure if I should praise or dismiss him. He is supposed to be an alien but his sudden monotonous exclaimations like "The-WAR-LORD!" are both hysterical and creepy. Nice job.
The War chief is an instantly compelling character particularly when we realise he knows who the Doctor is. The moment he spots them in the lecture is a dramatic high. He is played to perfection, his silky voice and stylish look just perfect for his role. It is wonderful to see him conversing with the Doctor, Troughton suddenly dropping all of his goofish charm now he has caught up with one of his own race. The hints about him 'leaving' and 'having every right to go' are nail bitingly mysterious.
I love the scenes where the resistance start luring out the gaurds. After a few episodes padding the story feels like it's kicking into gear suddenly, going all out for an excellent ending. The brilliant incidental music as the guards are captured only adds to the feeling of satisfaction that they are finally getting somewhere!
But what's this? The Doctor has betrayed his friends so his life could be spared! Could this be possible... is he so desperate this time that his only way is to let Jaime and Zoe down? No of course not but for several minutes it is excellent bluff that keeps you on tenderhooks! How brilliant is it when Troughton is left to his fate with the resistance leaders because there aren't enough guards to stay with him!!!
Finally he has to admit it. The Doctor cannot save the day. He needs help. This is such a brave conceit anyway, having the hero of the story admit defeat. I can't imagine the writers of James Bond daring to have their hero admit that. When he calls for the Time Lords for help we are left with no doubt how serious this is by the War Chief's dramatic reaction to his decision. The following scenes are intense as an eerie sound plays over events telling us that time has literally run out for the Doctor and friends. It's absolutely gripping stuff.
And then there is the utterly flawless final episode that everybody raves on about. It is true, every word of it. The Doctors explanation of why he ran away ("I was bored!"), going on the run in desperation, the torture of the War Lord ("STOP THE LIGHTS!"), the Doctors trial... it is twenty five blissful minutes of Doctor Who. The bravery of the production team to twist the series in an entire new direction is unparalleld in the series and this is a superb introduction to the thrid Doctors exile. The trial scenes are a particular delight when the Doctor not only admits his inteference in the worlds of others but is proud of it!
And there is Jamie and Zoe, who have shown their strengths throughout the story (he's the muscle and she's the organiser... together they make an excellent pair). They are sent home to their own times with nearly all knowledge of their adventures erased. Such a brave, brave idea and one that upset many fans (including me!). But you can't knock how brave it is. Troughton, Hines and Padbury show genuine sadness in their last scenes together and I was holding back the tears. Jamie's unwillingless to believe they cannot escape is especially sweet.
So there you have it, ten episodes it may be but it's constantly surprising, consistently entertaining, moody, dramatic and funny. Its about as perfect as Doctor Who comes really.
Oh and I must mention Carstairs (phwoar) and Lady Jennifer who are two of my favourite guest stars ever.
A Review by Will Berridge 10/1/03
This story inevitably had rather a deal to live up to for me. Being the longest surviving DW story, Troughton’s swan song and featuring one of the pivotal moment’s in the series’ history does not make it a classic in its own right, however. Actually, I was just hoping I’d be impressed since I spent 28? of my Christmas cash on the thing (as the only part of a three-pack I hadn’t viewed before) and had to go into WH Smith’s twice to get it - having gleefully opened the original version only to find the tape for part one was missing. And I didn’t get compensated.
By the time finished Episode 6 (having watched 3 episodes on each of two consecutive evening) I recognised the story had enough to recommend it for an obsessive such as myself to dispense with 28? for in a way few other would understand, but the ‘classic’ touch just wasn’t there. There’s far too much capture/ escape/ recapture, something the Pertwee stories in particular get criticised for. First it’s the British, then the Germans, then the Aliens, and the problem is, whilst there is well-defined plot, there’s not enough of it to be stretched out over these 6 episodes. In fact, the visit to the German lines adds nothing that the TARDIS crew didn’t discover at the British camp. Von Weich seems to take over Smythe’s role after episode 3 (or about then, the start of the story seems so long ago), and it seems if the latter had just played the ‘Alien general’ part and the Germans were for the most part forgotten about the plot could have lost an episode or two’s worth of superfluous detail. And the Doctor spends far too long, all of Episodes 4-6 moseying around the Alien’s base, fobbing off a rather dopey scientist on two separate occasions, and not running into any trouble from the Alien’s crack security team. In fact, it seems as if the security chief is going to let him run around for as long as he likes, coming across as one of those somewhat hapless politicians who likes saying things like ‘Security is my responsibility’ to make him feel better about himself, and conceal the fact he isn’t really up to the job. Consequently, at this point James Bree’s erm,… ‘inventive’ speech patterns do not make the character sinister as planned, but unintentionally comical and pathetic.
The plot probably survives through all the padded middle episodes because the introduction of characters and plot revelations is well timed. We meet the War Chief in Episode 3, the SIDRATs are introduced in Episode 4, Episode 5 brings us the Security chief, Episode 6 seems the first ever mention of ‘Time Lords’. However, the War Chief isn’t really up to much in the middle Episodes. Though he is portrayed with a certain diabolical quality, he hardly gets a single good line of dialogue in this time and spend most of it bickering with the Security Chief about the capture/ escape / recapture/ re-escape situation.
Happily, the difference between this and The Monster of Peladon is (a) it gets better and (b) even at this point it didn’t bore me. The British WWI characters are amusingly caricatured, appearing cheery at the notion of the ‘Big Push’ (20 years before Blackadder goes Forth) and seemingly obsessed with tea. Von Weich and Smythe are both menacing and callous, and the way Smythe hypnotised people with his glasses is particularly effective, reminding (especially younger) viewers of the manner in which the more fearful type of schoolteacher uses his glasses to freak out a kid who has committed some misdemeanour. The Doctor, also, is his usual mischievous self, posing as an examiner and interfering with experiments.
And fortunately, in Episode 7, with the arrival of the much talked of War Lord, the plot took over. The War and Security chiefs find something serious to bicker about, and clues about the Doctor’s origins as a Time Lord start to appear as a result. Their petty rivalry climaxes, however, in one of the great dialogue clangers of all time, as the Security Chief responds to the War Chief’s vicious put down ‘what a stupid fool you are’ with an even more cutting riposte, ‘no, what a stupid fool you are!’ Primary school wit betters this. Actually, this is another of reasons I couldn’t wait to see The War Games - this is the single entry to the ‘Dialogue Disasters’ section of The Discontinuity Guide which made me laugh so much, and I just had to know if it was as bad as it seemed in text. In fact, the context in which the lines are delivered make it nowhere near as atrocious, and the way James Bree hisses his line almost make the words forgivable. Couldn’t Dicks or Hulke have looked up ‘stupid’ and ‘fool’ up in a thesaurus? Isn’t ‘stupid fool’ a Pleinasm anyway?
At least the War Lord doesn’t have his deputies’ clownish tendencies, coming across as one of those quiet, calculating megalomaniacs, who is eminently more threatening than those that just rant on for the fact he actually seems to know what he’s doing. Philip Madoc’s portrayal of him is excellent, a slightly toned down and less smug version of a German U Boat captain he played in a Dad’s Army episode.
I always knew Episode 10 would never had the impact on me it had one people at the time, which is largely my own fault for having read 3 different plot synopsises in various TV companions before watching it. The Time Lords seem far from all powerful when a group of the War Lord’s security guards materialise on their home planet, shoot a few of them, and kidnap the TARDIS crew (again). The Doctor’s scathing criticism of the their isolationism is still a joy to watch, however.
All in all, The War Games stands up as a remarkable achievement for lasting 240 minutes, precisely as long as Kenneth Brannagh’s Hamlet, and isn’t yawn-inducing once. Both Hamlet and most of the 6 parters of the following Doctor I have found well, arduous, at times (though in the case of the former this is because my Shakespeare loving family forced me to sit through all 4 hours in one go on our holiday to Wales.) Moreover, the idea of Aliens experimenting with humans so that their conflict produces a master race is a fascinating notion which predates the Shadows of Babylon 5 by 25 years. Still, the slow pace this plot is expanded at, and the unimaginative way in which the dialogue attempts to realise it, prevent me from acclaiming this story as the ‘classic’ we’d all love it to be.
"All these evils I have fought..." by Andrew Wixon 21/1/03
Think of Terrance Dicks - that's right, good old reliable, safe-pair-of-hands, predictable-as-clockwork Uncle Tel - and his contribution to the Dr Who phenomenon and what springs to mind? Ooh, well, he was script-editor throughout the Pertwee era. Together with Barry Letts he reinvented the series for the 70s and beyond. he wrote an awful lot of novelisations, and quite a few novels too. Not forgetting he wrote pieces of high-quality ultra-trad DW like Horror of Fang Rock and State of Decay...
And everyone seems to forget he co-wrote The War Games, arguably one of the top three most important stories in the entire history of Dr Who. Terrance Dicks co-created the Time Lords and turned the Doctor's character inside out, and we remember him for a few novelisations?
Shurely shome mishtake...
(All the above is equally true of Malcolm Hulke, I hasten to add, and Dicks himself has said the Time Lords were originally Hulke's idea, but then Hulke isn't generally thought of as an above-average loveable hack in the way Dicks sometimes is.)
Because The War Games is a terrific story, the one epic DW story that doesn't quite descend into picaresque chases and pointless corridor-jogging. Astonishingly, throughout the ten episodes the pace never slacks off and things never drag (I watched the whole thing inside 24 hours just recently, and the experience wasn't anything like as boring as watching Underworld over a period of nearly a week). This is mainly because there's just so much going on - there are dozens of speaking parts, and the plot has very little padding. Maloney's direction is often inspired - the opening shot of the TARDIS materialising, seen reflected in a puddle, is ace - and the score is catchy. The contrast of the designs of the various time zones with the pop-art excess of the War Lords' base works. And there are two of the great DW villains here too - the War Lord, whose ambition is as great as his peoples' grasp of opthalmology is poor. And the War Chief - the only non-returning Time Lord villain in the history of the series, so obviously he has to be the best one. His resemblence to the Master is significant, but he's a much stronger, more believable character, stripped of the Master's archness and taste for silly death-traps. There's even a touch of First World War allegory for those who like such things (soldiers have much more in common with each other than with their callous and unfeeling generals, who treat war like a game).
And, of course, there are the Time Lords themselves, first mentioned quite casually in episode six. The build up to their final manifestation is so carefully handled, and their presentation so assured, that for a moment one can really imagine what a stupendous revelation this must have been at the time (and why everyone got so peeved when the Time Lords were turned into corrupt bumblers in The Deadly Assassin).
But the Time Lords are just a bonus treat for what's essentially a coda not just to this story but the first six seasons of the show. Even without them this would have been a classic. With them, The War Games has a claim to be not just one of the best Troughton stories, but one of the best stories of all time. One of the foundation stones of Doctor Who, and Terrance Dicks' greatest achievement.
The Gallifrey Trilogy Part 1 by Brian Klein 18/8/03
It is amazing to me how many Trilogies now are coming out these days. Lord of the Rings, Star Wars (the prequels), but my all time favorite Trilogy in the coming is Matrix. I remember seeing the first one back in 1999 and being blown away by the special effects but even more so by the plot. The second one (Matrix Reloaded) which came out earlier this year extended the storyline quite wonderfully, in spite of a lot of people feeling that Reloaded was something of a letdown. Incidently, I have wondered what some of the reviewers on this site have felt about Matrix. The reason that I ask is because in anticipation of Matrix Revolutions, I have been watching the first one over primarily due to the fact that Reloaded hasn't been released on DVD yet. While re-watching it, I realized that Matrix borrows a great deal from other Science Fiction sources. Some examples are: Dark City, Terry Gilliam's 1985 Brazil (another movie that doesn't feature in a lot in reviews on this site), and the original Star Wars Trilogy. But Matrix borrows the most from Doctor Who. For example the whole plot inside the first Matrix is that Neo (played wonderful by Keanu Reeves, who is a great actor, despite the haters out there) a computer hacker, eventually finds out that he is living in a fraudulent world that isn't real and in effect is an artificial construct controlled by machines, when looked at deeper can be traced to one the most important episodes in Doctor Who. That episode would be The Deadly Assassin. But if you look into the plot further that the world that has been presented to Neo and others inside the Matrix isn't real, although it seems real can be traced to another important episode, that episode could be The War Games. Or even The Three Doctors.
You're probably wondering why I am making a connection with in my opinion the greatest science fiction television show (Doctor Who), and science fiction movie (the Matrix). Well the main reason is that it is not common for Doctor Who to be referenced in the movies of today or television for that matter. I mean this show lasted for twenty-six years, and I still don't feel that Doctor Who is getting the proper amount of respect in the science fiction genre. I mean there are shows that are considered science fiction, but are really bad (Andromeda, all of the Stargate TV shows, the New Twilight Zone, Voyager, Babylon 5, Lexx, etc.). None of these shows could hold a candle to Doctor Who and yet most of these are still on the air, while Doctor Who is often ignored. Even Farscape, and most of the Star Trek Series (except Voyager) are miles away from Doctor Who. Yet most of the science fiction fandom out there would recognize these shows over Doctor Who as their concept of great science fiction. It then can be seen as a surprise when the Matrix comes out, while obviously not completely original, that there are major elements in the movie that comes from Doctor Who. Most other science fiction movies that come out never reference Doctor Who, but there are central plot points of Matrix that are from Doctor Who. Also I would believe that Larry and Andy Wachowski would have to do some extensive research into the show to find these ideas for their movie. The three major stories that I personally believe that they used were The War Games, The Three Doctors, and The Deadly Assassin.
Most Doctor Who fans are familiar with these three stories, but while observing the characteristics of the Matrix and the central ideas within these three stories, I notice something very interesting about their three stories. In a way these three make up a trilogy of their own.
"Big deal!", "Who didn't know that these three stories were connected?" "What's your point?" "Why should we care?" are probably what the readers of this review are asking themselves, but please be patient, I will explain. The three stories that I mentioned all have that central concept of the Matrix that a fake world or construct is being passed on as a real one. For example The War Games features 11 simultaneous war zones from different times and eras from the planet earth, but through kidnapping, and mind control the War Lords are actually perpetrating a fraud over these soldiers into making them think that there are actually going about their normal business fighting their respective wars, when in reality they are not. In The Three Doctors, a rather unnecessary maligned story by fans, Omega's ultimate plan is to trap the Doctors into his Anti-Matter universe, to take his place in his "world", which is fake, so he can escape his world, controlled by his will, to get back to the real world. In The Deadly Assassin, when the Doctor is inside the Matrix (in the story, not the movie!), the Master's champion, later revealed to be Chancellor Goth, tries to kill the Doctor by trying to convince the Doctor that inside the computational Matrix he can be killed, again a real world property that is portrayed in a fake world. Also the scenery inside the Matrix is an example of this. Also the three stories share much more with each other, and there is much more than meets the eye, just like the Matrix Trilogy itself. There is a connection between these stories: primarily this concept which the Matrix movie used, but also Gallifrey itself, and also one of the most interesting character study of the Doctor (or Doctors in the three stories).
Now I know what you are thinking. The Gallifrey stories didn't end after The Deadly Assassin, and in between The War Games and Deadly Assassin that there were stories that had some involvement of the Time Lords. But these stories not only feature significant information about the Time Lords, we see ultimately the corruption and decline in the society of the Time Lords, even before The Deadly Assassin, in The War Games and even The Three Doctors. In this review I will only examine the first part of this trilogy.
In my opinion The War Games is the best Troughton story of his era, and the best and most important story of the 60's. The War Games ends the 60's era wonderfully, with the best performances ever, some of the best and most memorable music (especially that Civil War theme), an excellent plot with an excellent science fiction premise. Terrence Dicks and Malcolm Hulke should be commended, firstly for actually writing the best story in this season (six), and was better than anything Holmes wrote (The Krotons, The Space Pirates, yuck!), and for the explanation of the Doctor's people, as well as why he travels around the Universe.
Oh and did I mention that the direction by David Maloney is excellent. The opening shot is wonderfully done, and it seems that the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe, have landed on earth and in the middle of the first World War, but soon after the viewers will notice that not everything is what it seems. After being captured by British soldiers, we see that General Smythe (played excellently sinister by Noel Coleman, and I can't forget all those scenes when he uses his "glasses" to control the minds of his soldiers) with that anachronistic equipment behind that picture, and the amnesia that the soldiers are experiencing, we begin to suspect that not all is what it seems. It gets stranger when it is revealed that there are others time zones and wars going on, and it is up to the Doctor to stop this madness. I won't repeat what others have said about this story in terms of the plot. Will Berridge's, Tim Roll-Pickering's and Andrew Wixon's reviews are all excellent accounts of The War Games, and I agree with all of them that War Games is an all time Doctor Who classic, that without it, season seven would have never come into existence.
However to me, the greatest part of this story isn't the excellent performances, although some of the most noticeable are Smythe, Von Weich (especially when he delivers his first line in the American Civil War Zone "These two are enemies of the South. The boy's a Yankee soldier. The woman's a spy", it always cracks me up especially when listening to David Garfield's delivery of the line with that heavy southern accent), the Security Chief (his stalled speech pattern is also hilarious), the War Chief (why oh why didn't they pick Bradshaw over Delgado to play the Master? His performance was the best with the possible exception of Troughton, and Madoc and was I the only one that was saddened when he was killed in episode nine? The "I shall... Crush you." is one of my favorite lines as well), the War Lord (in fact all of the War Lords are excellently portrayed as a race of evil, vicious bastards, and Phillip Madoc's Nazi like portrayal of their leader is incredible chilling) Jamie (Frazer Hines' performance here as Jamie is wonderful, especially in episode 10 when finally the Doctor and him say goodbye.) Zoe (pretty much the same as what I said for Jamie goes for Wendy Padbury's performance), and Troughton (a well rounded performance that goes to show you why Troughton's Doctor is consider the best portrayal of the Doctor.) His Doctor is simply a hero.
The greatest part of the story is the revelation that we see in the last two episodes about the Doctor's people, which are known as the Time Lords. People often cite this story as portraying the Time Lords as an omniscient race that watch over the universe, and that image is then destroyed in The Deadly Assassin. That's not entirely true. From their first appearance, the Time Lords show their corruption, and in effect provide us with all the reasons why the Doctor left Gallifrey, even without the Doctor telling Jamie and Zoe that he left because he was bored. In spite of their power (time travel, a black hole as their energy source) they don't do anything constructive with it. I can understand that time travel is a risky business, and the result of misuse can be devastating, but the Time Lord's policy of non-intervention is hypocritical considering that they have a monopoly on time travel can only be maintained if they prevent other races from discovering their secrets, and in order to do that they must be involved.
Also, there is another telling part in the story. In episode ten the three Time Lords are in the middle of trying the War Lord, listing all the crimes that the War Lord's committed through The War Games. They rightfully comment of the evil and nastiness of the schemes of the War Lord race, yet these Time Lords were about to let it happen until the Doctor informed them, which to me shows a deep shallowness on the Time Lords' part. In many ways the Time Lords are shown be devious, pompous politicians, even before The Deadly Assassin: all they're really interested in is to present a good image of themselves, while not doing anything substantial to deserve such an image (just look at all of the Time Lords' performances, and you will see what I mean). They figure that if they do not involve themselves in the Universe, then they are innocent, but like the Doctor says if he is guilty of inference, than the Time Lords are guilty for not helping those in need. To allow evil to take place especially if you have the power to stop it, is in my book just as bad as if you were the one to perpetrate the evil.
And they even go further, by punishing the Doctor for informing them about the actions of the War Lords which supposedly were repugnant to them. They force the Doctor to regeneration and exile him to Earth. Then there is a smaller but also equally telling moment about the Time Lords. When the Time Lord (played by Clyde Politt) is attempting to bring Zoe and Jamie back home, when they both request to see the Doctor one last time, he says something which is quite revealing. He says "you have become quite attached to him" (the Doctor). This is some sort of a revelation of his, and the other Time Lords' mindset: he simply cannot grasp the concept that the Doctor's companions would be completely loyal to the Doctor. His concept of loyalty and togetherness is very loose in the Time Lords' world, and this is another indication of the political nature of the Time Lords. No one can be completely trusted on Gallifrey, and this is demonstrated by their punishing the Doctor. Even after the Doctor prevents the attempted invasion by the War Lords (which if the Time Lords really were omniscient, they should have seen this coming) they still try him and even when the Doctor shows them some of the monsters that he has fought, one of the Time Lords callously says that this is irrelevant, showing that their trying of the War Lord and his people was just an exercise in presenting themselves in a good light. They don't care about fighting the evils in the universe, but they pretend that they will. The Time Lords are selfish and rotten to the core.
However on of the best things about this story is that while this element about the Doctor's people is portrayed, the Doctor is ultimately seen even more heroic than before, and the Doctor's regeneration feels even more tragic than usual. It's a shame though we never got a successful epic along these lines again (season seven tried to imitate this in The Silurians, The Ambassadors of Death and Inferno but never gets close to this), but this story is a real classic and is deserving of a 10/10. Onto the second part of the trilogy... The Three Doctors.
A Review by Brian May 3/4/04
The War Games can only be properly described as an "experience". It's of epic length and extremely important in Doctor Who history. And - rarely for a Troughton adventure - the whole thing is safe and sound in the BBC archives. With the majority of The Daleks' Master Plan gone, at least we have this giant to enjoy and savour. We can savour it because of the dramatic revelations it contains - the introduction of the Doctor's race, the Time Lords, and the explanation as to why the Doctor wanders through space and time. We can enjoy it because... well, because it's just so bloody enjoyable!
The main criticism levelled at The War Games is its length. At ten episodes, the label of "epic" is certainly appropriate, but the price usually paid for such a tale is padding. But strangely enough, I find that less a problem in this story than I do in countless six parters. Of course, this is not to say that there are no slow moments at all, but they certainly don't turn the adventure into a cure for insomnia.
What benefits the story is the pacing. It's excellent, both in terms of plot development and sustaining its length. It unfolds layer by layer - episode one is the most un-science fiction-ish of them all. To all intents and purposes the location is No Man's Land in 1917. There are the glimpses of the video screen communicator in General Smythe's room, and that's all. In episode two the mystery deepens, with the appearance of the Redcoat, and then, in the terrific climax, the Romans.
Part three is one of the most densely packed single episodes I've ever watched. So much happens! The return to the chateau, the incredibly tense situation as the Doctor tries to blast open the safe, coupled with the delaying tactics as Carstairs tries to get rid of that idiotic officer who just won't go away. Then there's the capture by the Germans, the subsequent escape and arrival in the American Civil War zone, and the introduction of the War Chief. The plot is explained in the fourth episode, none too subtly by the scientist giving his lecture, and the resistance are introduced. The War Chief and the Doctor encounter each other in a magnificently dramatic moment!
The relatively small amounts of padding don't really begin until around here. I think the scenes in the barn in the American Civil War zone go on for too long. Von Weich is held prisoner for ages. He attempts to escape, or contact his associates, a few too many times, while there's lots of fighting and brawling - the fisticuffs between Harper and his mutinous subordinate (in episode five, just before Russell arrives) is just slow and boring.
The next segment of padding is in episodes seven to eight, with the resistance consolidating their position in the chateau, although it's hardly what you'd call ponderous. Also, in my humble opinion, none of the scenes in the aliens' headquarters are slow. The wedge politics and one-upmanship battles between the War Chief and the Security Chief are slightly tiresome and could have been toned down a bit, but still, it's a minor complaint, especially as we're treated to Philip Madoc as the War Lord! And as for episodes nine and ten - well, they fly past! Especially as the Time Lords come into the picture, it's agonisingly tense and fast paced, and the Doctor's attempts to escape from them provide one of the show's best ever cliffhangers (episode 9, for the dummies).
As I mentioned above, the introduction of the Time Lords makes The War Games a pivotal story, and a turning point, in Doctor Who. The way this is brought about is wonderful, adding to the "unfolding" element I discussed earlier. Hints are made; the very first one is in episode two, when we hear the familiar dematerialisation and materialisation noises with the appearance of the SIDRATs - it happens again in episode three. Then, in part four, after the Doctor and Zoe ride in one of them, there's an excellent exchange of dialogue:
Zoe: "Who else would have space-time machines like the TARDIS?"
Doctor: "There is ananswer to that, but I hope..." (*trails off, avoiding the subject*)
The very first mention of the term "Time Lords" occurs in episode six, said innocuously by a minor character (the scientist). It's quite cleverly contained within a casually delivered, almost throwaway piece of conversation. The revelations continue in episode eight, with the scene between the Doctor and the War Chief, especially the latter's "I know who you are!" and "I had every right to leave!" from the former. And then the floodgates open in episode nine - well, we all know the rest.
This continual method of build-up and revealing pieces of information in stages is extremely satisfying on two levels. First, for viewers of the day, but also for Doctor Who fans of my age (who began watching in the 1970s/80s). Our first viewing of this story was more than likely the VHS release - in most cases we would have known all about the story, what happens, and its importance in the programme's canon. But watching it with this hindsight is just as rewarding. It more than lives up to its reputation as a "great" story - a reputation which the above sort of fan is ultimately aware of. In other words, it's terrific even when you already know what happens.
Episode ten deserves a special mention by itself. It is an amazing piece of television. For the first time the unflappable hero of the series is up against a race of beings he cannot run from - ironically, his own people. His attempts to escape in the TARDIS are gripping, especially as the Time Lords are as yet unseen. (The War Lord's "They're coming!" at the end of episode nine has already set this tone). But it's when the TARDIS lands on the Time Lords' planet, and the disembodied voice rings out: "You have returned to us, Doctor. Your travels are over," that a sense of fatalism and gloom sets in. The Doctor has finally been defeated. There is one scene that really hit home for me - the technicians working on the TARDIS console - it's a short sequence, but emphasises that the Doctor is indeed home and the TARDIS has been taken back by its proper owners. Although human in appearance, the Time Lords still inspire awe, especially as they display their powers and dematerialise the War Lord and his guards.
The return of Jamie and Zoe to their own times is incredibly moving. It's heart-wrenching, in fact. The Doctor, and the viewer, must face the reality that the friendship of a terrific TARDIS crew will be forever erased from their minds. It's cruel and unfair, and one of the series' most emotional moments - but it serves to re-emphasise the Time Lords' power.
It would be an understatement to mention that I have a lot of time for this story. The production also contributes to this. It's extremely well made in almost every respect. David Maloney's direction is exceptional, as is the photography and the editing (the bombardment of the TARDIS crew at the very beginning is excellent). The music is good, especially that military-style theme that occurs regularly, while never becoming repetitive or intrusive. The script is one of the show's more serious ones, but allows for humour to lighten it up when necessary, whether visually (a slapstick moment as Jamie steps on the Doctor's toes while standing at ease) or in terms of dialogue: Captain Ransom's deluded "Not many women take interest in the problems of supply!"
As for the acting! For a story with such a huge cast, there are very few lacklustre performances and many great ones. The regulars are excellent, as always. Noel Coleman, Graham Weston, David Savile (Carstairs reminds me so much of Ian Chesterton!), Jane Sherwin, Vernon Dobtcheff (with a name like that, and playing a scientist, the "Professor Zaroff alert!" bells are ringing - thankfully, he's anything but!) and Edmund Brayshaw are very memorable. Yes, even James Bree is all right! The two standouts however are Bernard Horsfall as one of the Time Lords and Philip Madoc as the War Lord, both of whom, ironically, appear for a short time. The former exudes omnipotence, elegance and sympathy; the latter is a tour de force of emotions, ranging from calm and collected to seething rage. Such a mixture makes him a far more frightening character than any bellowing villain.
Is there anything to this story I would change? (In other words, I've puffed it up so much, do I have any criticisms?) Well, yes. In episode one, General Smythe enters his office and reveals (to the audience) his video communicator in the ninth minute. This is way too early. There's plenty else to warn the viewer that something's afoot - in particular his hypnosis/mind control trick he achieves when donning his glasses. Zoe uncovers the communicator close to the end of the episode - this would have been the ideal time to make the revelation - close to the cliffhanger, so fresh in the minds of those watching. The rubber fetishist outfits of the guards are a bit silly, as are those daft visors everyone wears in the aliens' headquarters. Oh, and more bad American accents (although congratulations to Leslie Schofield, for his is excellent, only slipping once!) But, to use a favourite expression of mine, minor quibbles.
The War Games is a triumph and a gem. 9.5/10
A Review by Thomas Cookson 11/4/06
Some Doctor Who fans can never stick to the black and white era of the show, or any of its long serials that exceed the standard four or six parters. But I find it very easy indeed to watch this story in one go.
It has been a tradition, as the series went on, for its serials to get gradually shorter in length: whilst in the 1960s it was possible to get serials that ran as much as twelve episodes length, by 1970 the show had seen the last of its seven parters as six episodes became the maximum limit; by the 80s this had become four episodes (the 14 part Trial of a Time Lord doesn't count, as it's divided into separate segments that don't exceed four parts each) and now in the current revival of the series we only occasionally get a two-parter as a special treat.
I must say I miss those long serials like Inferno, The Daleks' Master Plan and Evil of the Daleks that have now gone the way of the dodo. Whilst the new series has given us some excellent single and double episode stories, I still think it misses the best qualities of the longer stories: the cinematic feel and elongated scope, the opportunity to really explore an environment and most importantly the room to develop a moral debate amidst the action, in the realms of the best pieces of theatre.
This story was the product of the writing team of Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke, both went on to become very familiar names in Doctor Who, especially since they both pursued a career in novelising the many TV stories for the popular Target Books range. This is one of Terrance Dicks' best scripts next to Fang Rock and it is clear how his story idea of an alien-controlled warzone was one that he recycled in The Five Doctors. Malcolm Hulke is also a significant writer of the series who has become known for his morality versus pragmatism tales of culture clashes and senseless war and 'no peace in our time'; stories that really cemented the Doctor's peace-loving nature and his ambivalence towards the military and defined the debate-driven kind of story. I'd recommend Frontier in Space as the least depressing take on his themes.
The War Games isn't really a definitive example of Hulke's themes, or, if it is, it's done far more subtlely than usual (after all, this was not one of Malcolm Hulke's solo writings). But basically the image of bureaucracy of this story, of how authority is always to be obeyed in the army, and how that obedience of authority is considered from a military standpoint as being more important than human lives, is well conveyed here. The image of common people killing other common people from other countries just because they are under orders is presented in clear-cut form: whether these soldiers have been abducted by aliens or recruited by the government, whether they've been brainwashed by neurosurgery or duped by propaganda and lies makes little difference either way. The aliens even justify their actions based on how hypothetically these soldiers would still be killing each other whether they were abducted by them or not.
Whilst the heroes spend a lot of time involved in shootouts, defending themselves against both the aliens and their security forces, and the brainwashed armies that are under orders to hunt them down, amidst this there is also Malcolm Hulke's trademark action sequences, which show our heroes as preferring to incapacitate their enemies without killing them if it can be helped; so not always, but often, the heroes choose to render their enemies unconscious or hold them under their custody instead of shooting them, sometimes this humane behaviour proves to be the heroes' undoing, however. I suppose this restraint of violence was important since the Doctor and his companions are up against humans who are just doing their job, as well as aliens that are humanoid in appearance, and it would be unacceptable to show the heroes being excessively violent and cavalier towards recognisably human figures. The show wouldn't be able to get away with that; if it were Ice Warriors, Zygons or other monstrous-looking aliens that the Doctor was up against, that would be a different story, because then you can get away with any violence against them.
In terms of being debate-driven, this story saves the debating for the final three episodes where the Doctor and the arch villain finally meet and have dialogue, and this is where the classic Malcolm Hulke tradition shows of dealing with characters who are shades of grey rather than straight heroes or villains. In the same way that some of the human resistance fighters the Doctor allies himself with are much more ruthless and savage than can be trusted, the head villain is the War Chief: another renegade Time Lord who has allied himself with the aliens, sharing the time travel technology of his people to help them abduct human soldiers from the past, from times of war, hoping to use them as a servile army with which to conquer the galaxy. But his intentions are to bring about a unified peace through his conquest. Whilst this is clich? material for a villain with noble aspirations in his rise to power, Edward Brayshaw's larger-than-life performace as the War Chief makes his character far more grand and noble than he has any right to be. Basically whilst it is not too profound, I do find myself warming to the character and wishing that there were more renegade Time Lord villain characters in the series that were in his mould rather than those like the Master. In fact, the viewers find themselves rather sympathising with the War Chief's dread when the Doctor calls in the vengeance of the Time Lords, knowing they will show him no mercy.
That shades of grey aspect to the characters and the perseverance of their respective resolves is what makes this environment of interactions and conflicts feel very hands-on in a rather real way that is rarely achieved elsewhere. The most memorable of characters - outside the War Chief - is the War Lord, the other head villain who is the leader of the alien people, and actor Philip Madoc clearly took a great deal of pride in his performance as the War Lord and put the utmost of class and dignity and well-measured delivery into it, making the villainous character endearing in his own way. There is also the uneasy hero's ally of Arturo Villar, the Spanish bandit from the Spanish Civil War zone with a dogged chauvinism and a love of guns and violence, who brings a good degree of un-PC humour to the proceedings.
Russell: "You can't shoot him in the back! It's unmanly."He certainly always makes me laugh anyhow. Apart from this there are the British characters of the soldier Castairs and his love interest Jennifer, the medical officer, who both have the distinction of trusting the Doctor's story and leaving the illusion of their zone to help the heroes in the revolt against the controlling aliens. Some fans have described this love interest pair as a bland and twee exercise in characterisation, and truth be told they are hardly the most memorable of characters; however I certainly don't find them heavy-handed or offensive, and for me they serve their purpose well at characterizing a prevailing good-naturedness amidst times of war and a sense of following your heart rather than orders on high. They come off as heroes, no more, no less, and the script does well to cheat the audience of a happy ending to their love story (no, I'm not going to tell you what happens).
Arturo: "Ahh, The zback, the vfront, whah's the differance?"
The majority of the story, though, is simply action orientated. It's actually got a great sense of drama and pacing and it's what I'd describe as a hyperactive episode, though it is hyperactive in an unforced and relaxed way, rather than a loud or in-your-face way, and that is unique to Doctor Who. There's an unpredictable and clever quality to the action that make it resoundingly fresh in repeated viewings. Truth be told there is a brief tenure in the middle of the story where I feel my interest waning slightly, but that proved only to be incidental till it all turned interesting once more.
Fans have often criticised this episode as being one of the most padded stories ever in its continuous routine of our heroes being captured, escaping and being recaptured. I myself have often refuted fandom's frequent use of the 'padded' charge against longer stories, since I believe that actually every scene has a purpose in a Doctor Who story, and the escape and recapture tradition for me is an inventive way to characterize and test the resilience and determination of the heroes as well as the strengths and weaknesses of the tyranny they're up against and the extent of their reach. In this case it shows the Doctor and his companions running through various camps and locations, all the while being sought after by all sides, which really conveys the vastness of the threat and the chaos of the landscape. I've often loved the 'chaos' type of Doctor Who stories where violence and tyranny is omnipresent and sanctuary is nowhere to be found, such as Inferno, Genesis of the Daleks and The Caves of Androzani.
I suppose I might give some credence to the fan argument that this is a six episode plot at best, which was then stretched into ten episodes by writers who are simply hungry for action and distractions to keep it fun and interesting - like I said, it's a hyperactive episode -, but even if I did accept that charge, I would say that in this story that element of yearning for fun and excitement isn't an empty one. In fact, it very much defines the story as one that is aware that the Troughton era has come to an end and that it's the end of something wonderful and that the good times are to be had now before they're all over, before the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe must part ways forever, and the Doctor must regenerate into a new man.
Yes this is the story that closes Patrick Troughton's run as the Second Doctor and says goodbye to its wonderful ensemble companion team dynamic. It's almost as if the writers of this episode knew in advance that most of the classic Patrick Troughton stories would have their film prints destroyed in the 70's (an ignorant act on the part of the BBC that we as Doctor Who fans will probably never learn to forgive), and so they intentionally made this story at ten episodes length to single-handedly convey the longevity and magic of the Doctor and his companions' time together in one story. It contains all the elements that made the Patrick Troughton years (1966-1969) the best era of the show of all time. I had previously laid that praise on the Tom Baker years, but stories like this, The Mind Robber, Evil of the Daleks, The Abominable Snowmen and Power of the Daleks (the latter three being audio-only) have caused me to knock Tom Baker down to second place. Mind you, I think in general the 1960's was a true golden age of television, and probably music and cinema too.
In this story we are treated to the classic natural repartee between the Second Doctor and Jamie. A great sense of observational humour between them, a camaraderie between two adventurers and there was something often very poignant about that friendship. In fact if there's one thing that the Troughton years had over the Tom Baker era, it was a sense of emotional poignancy. The two had a magic and chemistry that's hard to put into words so I'll simply quote a few exchanges off.
Zoe: "He's got rather primitive ideas about women knowing their place."In any case the Second Doctor and Jamie had a rapport of the highest quality. The only other Doctor-companion pairing I can think of to compare to this level of greatness is the Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith. I think the current team of the new Doctor and Rose Tyler potentially could have been up to that calibre if it were not for the script constantly overstating what a great team they think they are in a rather crass manner of saying "The Doctor keeps saying he thinks Rose is the best, so you must think it too". But this old dynamic was the kind of thing that you shouldn't force, it should come naturally, and that is what happens here.
Jamie: "Does he now? Ooh sounds a nice chap."
Doctor: "Goodbye Jamie"
Jamie: "I won't forget you Doctor"
Doctor: "I won't forget you. Now don't go running off into too much trouble now."
Jamie: "You're a fine one to talk, Doctor"
There are other great representations of the Troughton era on display here too. We get to see the Doctor bluff his way through a security prison by impersonating a pompous examiner in a delightful piece of caricature acting that few other actors could pull off in such an entertaining way. Whilst a lot of the action and dilemmas involves shootouts and escaping through brute force, there are the occasional moments where the Doctor uses his wits and intelligence to get them out of a tight fix; the kind of moments that always elevated Doctor Who to a higher class of action adventure. There are also times where the Doctor is faced with a moral dilemma which forces him to be a bit more ruthless, and duplicitous in a very compelling and jaw dropping way. He also displays the character's strong man-child quality better than any other actor to play the Doctor, eager for adventure and spiteful at his own people for not letting him do as he pleases, like a rebellious teenager. In fact, experiencing the charm of this man-child characteristic certainly allows me to understand why fans get so offended by the notion or even the suggestion of the Doctor having sexual liasons with female companions in the current new series and the 1996 American TV Movie and how this is an affront to the 'innocence' of his character. And in the closing scenes where the Doctor is put on trial by his own people and must defend himself against the charges of interference in other worlds, he gives one of his most defining speeches about the need for protecting the galaxy from the evils and tyrannies of the universe.
For me, the one compelling and overriding theme that has resounded throughout Doctor Who is the theme of seeking a utopia. Throughout all the various mini-themes that have crept up in Doctor Who stories, from primitivism meeting higher technology, the flow of history, ethnic cleansing, pre-emptive strikes, peace versus pragmatism, survival at all costs, and the nature of conflict, whether it be good versus evil or shades of grey, that theme of seeking a utopia has always been present. Whether utopia is treated as something to earn and wait for patiently as civilisation develops to its peak and sheds its old prejudices and savageries, or whether utopia is seen as something that must be forced into existence through drastic action and 'final solutions of elimination' against the percieved aggressors or undesireables that are threatening our way of life and the promise of peace.
In this story that is especially true: the soldiers of Earth always believe they were fighting for a better world by standing against belligerent countries or tyrannic rulers, even though they have been taken far away from their world; the specimens from different time zones give credence to the myth that as the centuries go by, our values system becomes more civilised and unprejudiced. The aliens and especially the War Chief have a dream that their tools of galactic conquest, in the process of subjugating the galaxy, will also pacify and unify its people. The Time Lords' idea of preserving the utopia they already possess is to close the door to all other lesser races so that their insular peace and rigid laws of the land may never be disturbed, but to the Doctor this is no utpoia because those laws curtail their technological freedoms of time and space mobility, and their insularness allows evil to flourish elsewhere in the universe.
The Doctor: "Whilst you have been content merely to observe the evil in the galaxy, I have been fighting against it!"The various evil threats that the Doctor talks of: the Cybermen and Daleks also have their own idea of utopia, the Cybermen believe in making all other races into Cybermen like them, and the Daleks' notion of utopia is to exterminate all non-Dalek life and have the universe to themselves in their ordered society. This story certainly uses contrasts of setting well to convey this search for utopia, going from the chaos of the warzones, to the relative peace of the command centres, to the ordered and secured setting of the alien control centre, and finally to the heavenly utopia of Gallifrey itself.
Chancellor Goth: "It is not we who are on trial Doctor, it is you."
The Doctor (sarcastic): "No of course not. You're above criticism aren't you?"
The War Games is probably the most important Doctor Who story alongside Genesis of the Daleks in defining the show's mythology. It is the first story in which we see the Doctor's home planet of Gallifrey, and in which the mystery of the Doctor's origins is largely explained. It is also the story in which the Doctor's brief tenure of exile on 20th century Earth is implemented - the story immediately preceeds Spearhead from Space - and as such it is highly essential ownership for any fan of the series; in fact, it's high time this story was given a DVD release.
The story's director David Maloney has a fair amount of Doctor
Who's finest stories under his belt, in certified classics such as The Mind Robber, Genesis of the
Daleks, The Deadly Assassin and Talons of Weng-Chiang. Here he largely brings his usual
skill at controlled chaos to the fore, directing the action of the
warzones with the same flair he would exhibit in Genesis
of the Daleks. I suppose it doesn't hurt that he's given the same
locations to cover as those in Richard Attenborough's World War 1 film
"Oh! What a Lovely War", and he certainly makes good use of them to
establish us firmly in the warzone at ground level. He also conveys the
frosty clinical feel of the alien control centre and then when the Doctor,
Jamie and Zoe infiltrate this base, he makes good of the contrast of these
vibrant and adventurous characters at such a sterile and ordered backdrop.
David Maloney has often (particularly in The violence in this story isn't as excessive as most other Doctor
Who stories; however, Maloney's visuals make the violence and horrific
moments resonate long after the story's end. The sight of a firing squad
duty officer clutching his bleeding breastbone immediately after being
fatally shot really stayed with me in conveying the fragility of life in
this episode, as did the climactic sequence where the formerly proud and
dignified War Lord is brought to his knees when the Time Lords subject him
to their mental torture, and where finally the Time Lords pronounce
sentence on him and he protests in vain, his voice echoing the corridor
eerily trying to reinforce his presence as his body slowly dissolves and
he is erased from history; though on repeated viewings I've come to think
that Maloney cut away from the horror of that moment perhaps a little
sooner than he should have. This story actually does give Maloney a few
momentary oppurtunities to indulge in his more surreal style that he
exhibited more widely in The Mind Robber and The Deadly Assassin; there are several surreal moments
such as where an army truck can disappear into a wall of mist and
materialise in another era, where the Doctor contacts his people by
telepathy in a rather hallucinagenic, trip-out sequence. The arrival of
the Time Lords really does turn reality sour in an inescapeable way as
people vanish, and time slows down all whilst the sounds of a loud
underworld aquarium of dolphins give the feel of the cogs of reality being
manipulated; whilst the final episode's moments on Gallifrey have that
unnervingly inhuman etherial quality that really works at conveying a cold
world that is repulsively unfeeling and unwelcoming.
Since this is the earliest conception of Gallifrey, the Time Lords are
very much characterised as God: as all powerful, all seeing and immortal,
and they behave in much the same ways as God has been described in the
Bible. They are gentle and benevolent with Jamie and Zoe, they are
vengeful with the culprits, they almost seem to treat the Doctor fondly
like the prodigal son when they welcome him back home after ensnaring his
TARDIS, and of course the Doctor's argument with them over the evils of
the universe - namely the Quarks, Yeti, Ice Warriors, Cybermen and Daleks
(who are all shown in moving images of the Doctor's mental projections, in
a great rhythmic dramatic collage) - that the Timelords have failed to
intervene against is a classic 'Why does God allow suffering?'/'God gave
man free will' discourse. This religious metaphor would continue in the
series with the various renegade Time Lord villains like the Master or
Omega being likened to the Devil or to fallen angels. Though I suppose it
is little wonder that as society has become more secularist, the portrayal
of the Time Lords in the series has emphasised their more tainted and
human imperfections and vices and corrupt elements.
The War Games shares various other qualities with the other
Gallifreyan stories in its focus on mental powers, the powers of deception
and the power of altering reality, which came to define Gallifreyan
society's own self-delusions of purity and being incapable of corruption.
This is characterised here by the significance of the aliens' ability to
brainwash and condition their abductees to have no memory of their
encounters with the aliens and continue to believe they are still on Earth
fighting their wars. This power of changing the appearance of reality
comes to mean something far more multi-leveled and unsettling when the
Time Lords arrive on the scene and begin erasing the villains from history
whilst removing Jamie and Zoe's memories of their time with the Doctor
before sending them back home. That is the climax of this story about
altered perception, when larger-than-life villains with grand ambitions
suddenly were never born at all, and when Jamie and Zoe, who have had the
time of their life and so many fantastic experiences with the Doctor can
now forget that any of it ever happened.
There's a wonderful poignancy to that goodbye scene between the Doctor
and his companions, possibly a poignancy born of being a fan and knowing
the long history of the show from this point on, and knowing that despite
everything else that happens in the Doctor's adventures to come, he never
does see Jamie or Zoe again. But it's also in the subtlety of the Doctor
shaking his head in sadness and resignation, in the tragic irony of
Jamie's parting words "I'll not forget you Doctor", knowing full well that
he is completely wrong and doesn't even know it. In a way this is where
the hyperactive nature of the story all boils down. After a few misleading
moments where the Doctor and his companions looked just about to break out
and escape, able to continue their travels together by the next season,
the story finally confirms that there is no escape this time. This defiant
determination of the characters that they exhibited throughout all the
action sequences is finally worn down by the end and they are forced to
sadly accept their fate by the higher powers, and that's what gives the
story's ending such poignancy and makes everything come together so
Some fans have praised the new series for exploring the consequences of
the Doctor's actions, particularly in regards to what happens to his
companions after he returns them home. Personally I'm one of the fans who
preferred the early years of the series when the show would part ways with
characters and locations, then we'd simply leave with the Doctor and never
look back afterwards. I preferred it before the show gave us recurring
menaces that frequently outstayed their welcome, such as the Master,
Davros or Jackie Tyler. For me the issue of what will happen to the people
and the worlds that the Doctor leaves behind is important, but then again
I find it far more effective when it's left as an imponderable for the
audience to mull over for themselves, and that is true here when I see
Jamie and Zoe returned to their own time, left with seemingly no memories
of the adventures they've had, adjusting back to normal life; then we cut
away, wondering if they'll ever remember the Doctor again, if they'll make
it through the years ahead in their turbulent times with their inspiring
experiences now forgotten, and so on.
For me this is the best of the Gallifreyan adventures in conveying the
mystique of Gallifrey. The following two, The Three
Doctors and The Deadly Assassin were also bona
fide classics with a wonderful sense of Gallifreyan mythology, and
together they made a superb indispensible trilogy, probably Doctor
Who's most essential story arc alongside the five Davros stories (okay
I'm contradicting my earlier point about unwelcome recurring characters,
but sue me, the Davros story arc is more than the sum of its parts).
However 1977's The Invasion of Time showed
that Gallifreyan stories could be pretty dire. It started out very
promisingly and you can see that some good ideas were within it, but alas
it had no urgency at all, it was criminally apathetic, it had a complete
lack of structure or direction, rhyme or reason and showcased some of the
most cold-blooded moments in the series. A real turn-off and definitely
the worst Tom Baker story - and I used to think his time in the show was a
period that could do no wrong.
The Fifth Doctor's Gallifreyan excursion in Arc of
Infinity is a story I remember finding watchable at the time, but
since then I've felt no desire whatsoever to watch it again, which
confirms that it must have been pretty bland and toothless actually.
Davison's second foray into Gallifrey in The Five
Doctors is the only other Gallifreyan story to approach decent.
Finally of course Trial of a Time Lord, the last
Gallifrey story to date, was representative of the awfulness of the Colin
Baker era. Despite what I said about enjoying the longer debate-driven
stories, I think that the Doctor being on trial, having his actions and
consequences subjected to a boring, suspenseless, spirit crushing,
anal-retentive analysis and criticism for fourteen episodes is rather
taking the piss.
But enough of a rant, because The War Games to me is a fine
representation of a grander era of the show, doing something very
compelling and arresting with the Gallifreyan setting.
So there you go, it's one of my favourites of the Troughton era and
still entertains and moves me today.
A Review by Jonathan Norton
I wasn't born when this was broadcast, but I read the Target book when I was a 9-year old, so I knew
the basic story when I finally got round to watching it on video last
weekend. I had been warned by my brother that he'd seen it all on a rainy
afternoon and found it a struggle. And The Discontinuity
Guide says it was "6 episodes too long".
But all these people were wrong. I was enthralled by it. I think it's
one of the greatest Who stories, and it's not overlong at all.
The story, as we all know, culminates in a situation which the Doctor
can't sort out, so he has to admit it and ask for help. He hasn't done
that before, so we need something big and unusual to justify it. We have
to be shown the sheer scale of what the War Lord and his gang have done,
and voyage through the different timezones, to make that final decision
There isn't an ounce of fat here. The whole journey is packed with
characters, and (picking up on the only interesting idea in The Dominators) we get rivalries and struggles amongst
the alien exploiters themselves. The feud between the Security Chief and
the War Chief unwinds slowly and effectively to its fatal conclusion and
would be ruined by butchering out any episodes.
The realisation of the aliens themselves is excellent. Their
monstrousness is entirely in their character and repulsive commitment to
their bureaucratic empire. We never see them transforming into a non-human
form or any such business. Instead we just get the surreal combination of
SF devices into the historical scenes, which is the perfect and unique
mixture DW has made its own since the start.
It also looks better in black and white and the music is excellent.
Two continuity points which I haven't seen anyone else mention:
Other thing to notice: the Doctor plays the nasty trick of getting the
resistance leaders captured, which is just as low and desperate as
anything the sixth Doctor does in Mindwarp, which I
also saw lately.
Oh, and the Discontinuity Guide is just being
silly in quibbling about Zoe not recognising the Mexican. She had just
been rudely awakened, of course she wasn't immediately on the ball. The DG is full of nonsense non-points like that. They
wrongly say The Stones Of Blood lost count of the
Ogri, when it didn't.
Anything but monotone monotony... by Andy Griffiths
The final story to be made in black and white is one I admit to keeping
shy of for many years. Ten episodes? Four always seemed the right amount,
six was stretching it a bit in many cases, but ten? In addition to this,
there was the whole black and white issue; for some daft reason, I used to
assume monochrome meant rubbish. Plus the story's own co-author, the
legend that is Sir Terrance Dicks himself, always seems to give it a hard
When I finally decided to take the plunge, I got lost in The War
Games completely... in the best possible sense of the word.
Atmospheric from start to finish, with wonderful characterisation, great
and groovy Sixties sets, that haunting Dudley Simpson theme that keeps
nagging the ear and the three TARDIS regulars giving it their all in their
final outing together. I would add that there's an impending sense of doom
in the story... but I'm reluctant to suggest this as I went in already
knowing that it was the end for the Second Doctor.
James Bree gets a pasting from some reviewers for his slightly bizarre
enunciation, but I love the interplay between him and the marvellous
Edward Brayshaw. The total contempt they have for each other is hugely
entertaining and rather than constituting padding I find their sub-plot to
be one of my favourite elements in the story. As someone who grew up
loving 'Rentaghost', seeing Mr Meaker in an earlier incarnation as a rogue
Time Lord was a treat indeed...
Until a few months ago, my experience of Patrick Troughton's Doctor was
limited to the Three, Five and
Two Doctors tales... I loved him in those so it's
surprising that it has taken me so long to investigate his era properly.
I'm glad I did. The War Games is a magnificent, sprawling send off,
one that hooks the viewer in despite the epic length. The final episode is
much commented on and is of course one of the pivotal moments in the
history of , but it is the icing on the cake, not the belated
payoff to weeks of padding. Sir Terrance is too modest.
The violence in this story isn't as excessive as most other Doctor Who stories; however, Maloney's visuals make the violence and horrific moments resonate long after the story's end. The sight of a firing squad duty officer clutching his bleeding breastbone immediately after being fatally shot really stayed with me in conveying the fragility of life in this episode, as did the climactic sequence where the formerly proud and dignified War Lord is brought to his knees when the Time Lords subject him to their mental torture, and where finally the Time Lords pronounce sentence on him and he protests in vain, his voice echoing the corridor eerily trying to reinforce his presence as his body slowly dissolves and he is erased from history; though on repeated viewings I've come to think that Maloney cut away from the horror of that moment perhaps a little sooner than he should have. This story actually does give Maloney a few momentary oppurtunities to indulge in his more surreal style that he exhibited more widely in The Mind Robber and The Deadly Assassin; there are several surreal moments such as where an army truck can disappear into a wall of mist and materialise in another era, where the Doctor contacts his people by telepathy in a rather hallucinagenic, trip-out sequence. The arrival of the Time Lords really does turn reality sour in an inescapeable way as people vanish, and time slows down all whilst the sounds of a loud underworld aquarium of dolphins give the feel of the cogs of reality being manipulated; whilst the final episode's moments on Gallifrey have that unnervingly inhuman etherial quality that really works at conveying a cold world that is repulsively unfeeling and unwelcoming.
Since this is the earliest conception of Gallifrey, the Time Lords are very much characterised as God: as all powerful, all seeing and immortal, and they behave in much the same ways as God has been described in the Bible. They are gentle and benevolent with Jamie and Zoe, they are vengeful with the culprits, they almost seem to treat the Doctor fondly like the prodigal son when they welcome him back home after ensnaring his TARDIS, and of course the Doctor's argument with them over the evils of the universe - namely the Quarks, Yeti, Ice Warriors, Cybermen and Daleks (who are all shown in moving images of the Doctor's mental projections, in a great rhythmic dramatic collage) - that the Timelords have failed to intervene against is a classic 'Why does God allow suffering?'/'God gave man free will' discourse. This religious metaphor would continue in the series with the various renegade Time Lord villains like the Master or Omega being likened to the Devil or to fallen angels. Though I suppose it is little wonder that as society has become more secularist, the portrayal of the Time Lords in the series has emphasised their more tainted and human imperfections and vices and corrupt elements.
The War Games shares various other qualities with the other Gallifreyan stories in its focus on mental powers, the powers of deception and the power of altering reality, which came to define Gallifreyan society's own self-delusions of purity and being incapable of corruption. This is characterised here by the significance of the aliens' ability to brainwash and condition their abductees to have no memory of their encounters with the aliens and continue to believe they are still on Earth fighting their wars. This power of changing the appearance of reality comes to mean something far more multi-leveled and unsettling when the Time Lords arrive on the scene and begin erasing the villains from history whilst removing Jamie and Zoe's memories of their time with the Doctor before sending them back home. That is the climax of this story about altered perception, when larger-than-life villains with grand ambitions suddenly were never born at all, and when Jamie and Zoe, who have had the time of their life and so many fantastic experiences with the Doctor can now forget that any of it ever happened.
There's a wonderful poignancy to that goodbye scene between the Doctor and his companions, possibly a poignancy born of being a fan and knowing the long history of the show from this point on, and knowing that despite everything else that happens in the Doctor's adventures to come, he never does see Jamie or Zoe again. But it's also in the subtlety of the Doctor shaking his head in sadness and resignation, in the tragic irony of Jamie's parting words "I'll not forget you Doctor", knowing full well that he is completely wrong and doesn't even know it. In a way this is where the hyperactive nature of the story all boils down. After a few misleading moments where the Doctor and his companions looked just about to break out and escape, able to continue their travels together by the next season, the story finally confirms that there is no escape this time. This defiant determination of the characters that they exhibited throughout all the action sequences is finally worn down by the end and they are forced to sadly accept their fate by the higher powers, and that's what gives the story's ending such poignancy and makes everything come together so beautifully.
Some fans have praised the new series for exploring the consequences of the Doctor's actions, particularly in regards to what happens to his companions after he returns them home. Personally I'm one of the fans who preferred the early years of the series when the show would part ways with characters and locations, then we'd simply leave with the Doctor and never look back afterwards. I preferred it before the show gave us recurring menaces that frequently outstayed their welcome, such as the Master, Davros or Jackie Tyler. For me the issue of what will happen to the people and the worlds that the Doctor leaves behind is important, but then again I find it far more effective when it's left as an imponderable for the audience to mull over for themselves, and that is true here when I see Jamie and Zoe returned to their own time, left with seemingly no memories of the adventures they've had, adjusting back to normal life; then we cut away, wondering if they'll ever remember the Doctor again, if they'll make it through the years ahead in their turbulent times with their inspiring experiences now forgotten, and so on.
For me this is the best of the Gallifreyan adventures in conveying the mystique of Gallifrey. The following two, The Three Doctors and The Deadly Assassin were also bona fide classics with a wonderful sense of Gallifreyan mythology, and together they made a superb indispensible trilogy, probably Doctor Who's most essential story arc alongside the five Davros stories (okay I'm contradicting my earlier point about unwelcome recurring characters, but sue me, the Davros story arc is more than the sum of its parts). However 1977's The Invasion of Time showed that Gallifreyan stories could be pretty dire. It started out very promisingly and you can see that some good ideas were within it, but alas it had no urgency at all, it was criminally apathetic, it had a complete lack of structure or direction, rhyme or reason and showcased some of the most cold-blooded moments in the series. A real turn-off and definitely the worst Tom Baker story - and I used to think his time in the show was a period that could do no wrong.
The Fifth Doctor's Gallifreyan excursion in Arc of Infinity is a story I remember finding watchable at the time, but since then I've felt no desire whatsoever to watch it again, which confirms that it must have been pretty bland and toothless actually. Davison's second foray into Gallifrey in The Five Doctors is the only other Gallifreyan story to approach decent. Finally of course Trial of a Time Lord, the last Gallifrey story to date, was representative of the awfulness of the Colin Baker era. Despite what I said about enjoying the longer debate-driven stories, I think that the Doctor being on trial, having his actions and consequences subjected to a boring, suspenseless, spirit crushing, anal-retentive analysis and criticism for fourteen episodes is rather taking the piss.
But enough of a rant, because The War Games to me is a fine representation of a grander era of the show, doing something very compelling and arresting with the Gallifreyan setting.
So there you go, it's one of my favourites of the Troughton era and still entertains and moves me today.
A Review by Jonathan Norton 3/3/07
I wasn't born when this was broadcast, but I read the Target book when I was a 9-year old, so I knew the basic story when I finally got round to watching it on video last weekend. I had been warned by my brother that he'd seen it all on a rainy afternoon and found it a struggle. And The Discontinuity Guide says it was "6 episodes too long".
But all these people were wrong. I was enthralled by it. I think it's one of the greatest Who stories, and it's not overlong at all.
The story, as we all know, culminates in a situation which the Doctor can't sort out, so he has to admit it and ask for help. He hasn't done that before, so we need something big and unusual to justify it. We have to be shown the sheer scale of what the War Lord and his gang have done, and voyage through the different timezones, to make that final decision make sense.
There isn't an ounce of fat here. The whole journey is packed with characters, and (picking up on the only interesting idea in The Dominators) we get rivalries and struggles amongst the alien exploiters themselves. The feud between the Security Chief and the War Chief unwinds slowly and effectively to its fatal conclusion and would be ruined by butchering out any episodes.
The realisation of the aliens themselves is excellent. Their monstrousness is entirely in their character and repulsive commitment to their bureaucratic empire. We never see them transforming into a non-human form or any such business. Instead we just get the surreal combination of SF devices into the historical scenes, which is the perfect and unique mixture DW has made its own since the start.
It also looks better in black and white and the music is excellent.
Two continuity points which I haven't seen anyone else mention:
Other thing to notice: the Doctor plays the nasty trick of getting the resistance leaders captured, which is just as low and desperate as anything the sixth Doctor does in Mindwarp, which I also saw lately.
Oh, and the Discontinuity Guide is just being silly in quibbling about Zoe not recognising the Mexican. She had just been rudely awakened, of course she wasn't immediately on the ball. The DG is full of nonsense non-points like that. They wrongly say The Stones Of Blood lost count of the Ogri, when it didn't.
Anything but monotone monotony... by Andy Griffiths 13/2/12
The final story to be made in black and white is one I admit to keeping shy of for many years. Ten episodes? Four always seemed the right amount, six was stretching it a bit in many cases, but ten? In addition to this, there was the whole black and white issue; for some daft reason, I used to assume monochrome meant rubbish. Plus the story's own co-author, the legend that is Sir Terrance Dicks himself, always seems to give it a hard time.
When I finally decided to take the plunge, I got lost in The War Games completely... in the best possible sense of the word. Atmospheric from start to finish, with wonderful characterisation, great and groovy Sixties sets, that haunting Dudley Simpson theme that keeps nagging the ear and the three TARDIS regulars giving it their all in their final outing together. I would add that there's an impending sense of doom in the story... but I'm reluctant to suggest this as I went in already knowing that it was the end for the Second Doctor.
James Bree gets a pasting from some reviewers for his slightly bizarre enunciation, but I love the interplay between him and the marvellous Edward Brayshaw. The total contempt they have for each other is hugely entertaining and rather than constituting padding I find their sub-plot to be one of my favourite elements in the story. As someone who grew up loving 'Rentaghost', seeing Mr Meaker in an earlier incarnation as a rogue Time Lord was a treat indeed...
Until a few months ago, my experience of Patrick Troughton's Doctor was limited to the Three, Five and Two Doctors tales... I loved him in those so it's surprising that it has taken me so long to investigate his era properly. I'm glad I did. The War Games is a magnificent, sprawling send off, one that hooks the viewer in despite the epic length. The final episode is much commented on and is of course one of the pivotal moments in the history of , but it is the icing on the cake, not the belated payoff to weeks of padding. Sir Terrance is too modest.