Doctor Who: The War Games Review

"NO!!!! Stop! You're making me giddy! No, you can't do this to me! No! No! No! No! No! No! No! No! No! No! No! No!"

Epic in both length and content ‘The War Games’ is, in this humble fan’s opinion, the best Patrick Troughton story that still exists in its entirety. Bringing to an end one era of the show while neatly setting the stage for the next, this would be the final story in black and white, the last story of the 1960s and final regular appearance of Second Doctor and his ever faithful companions, Jamie and Zoe.

Naturally, being a mammoth ten episodes long the pace does begin to drag now and again. You could start a drinking game based on how many times the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe get captured, accused of being spies, manage to escape only to get captured and accused of being spies all over again. And that’s just the World War I scenes. After that we get into lots of tedious running back and forth between the different war zones before the War Lords are fully introduced and the main story really starts to get going.

The one thing that ‘The War Games’ is still best remembered for is finally shedding some light on the Doctor’s mysterious past by introducing his people, the all powerful Time Lords. But they don’t really show up until the end of episode nine, leaving the Doctor’s trial and subsequent exile to Earth as nothing more than an epilogue to the main story. Plus, it has to be said, despite their immense and terrifying power the Time Lords themselves are a bit on the dull side.

Patrick Troughton is at the absolute top of his game throughout. No real surprise there, he was always amazing. Even during this less than stellar season I never once caught him slouching off or phoning it in. It is a tragedy that more of his stories didn’t survive the BBC’s merciless purging of their back catalogue. Trouhgton might not have been the first actor to play the Doctor but there’s no doubt in my mind that he was the very first actor who truly was the Doctor. Even to this day you can still see the traces of the loveable cosmic hobo in every subsequent Doctor’s DNA, most evidently in Matt Smith. Bow ties only became cool because Patrick Troughton wore one. 

One of the reasons this period in the show’s history was so memorable was because of the partnership between Troughton and his kilt wearing straight man, Fraser Hines. Together, the Second Doctor and Jamie were the finest double-act the series ever produced. No other Doctor and companion will ever develop the same kind of pitch perfect chemistry that these two shared (although David Tennant and Catherine Tate come pretty close).

It’s impossible not to love Jamie. Out of all the Doctor’s male companions he’s by far the best (sorry, Captain Jack fans). He might’ve been raised as a simple piper’s son from the highlands of 18th century Scotland but Jamie possessed a brave heart, down to earth common sense, a willingness to accept the unbelievable (even if he didn’t always understand it) and a killer pair of legs. The man sure knew how to work a kilt.

The final goodbye scene is a heartbreaking gem, made all the better by how understated it is. It’s touching the way Jamie wants to still keep on fighting, to make one final attempt to escape, right until the end. After all they’ve been through together he remains unwavering in his loyalty to the Doctor. But the Doctor is consigned to his fate. He knows that he can’t beat the Time Lords and he would never dare risk his companions’ lives in doing so. 

Beside the regulars most of the supporting characters are either outrageously over the top or decidedly one note and forgettable. Only the bad guys manage to standout. Reminding us why he was the best thing in ‘The Krotons’ Philip Madoc more or less steals the entire show as the War Lord, despite not even showing up until Episode 7. Meanwhile, Edward Brayshaw’s War Chief could almost be seen as a proto-Master. After all he’s a renegade Time Lord with aspirations of galactic conquest, a fondness for Nehru jackets, a questionable choice of facial hair and a history of sorts with the Doctor. If he wasn’t gunned down by the War Lord’s gimp goons you could almost argue that he actually is the Master (not that a little thing like death has stopped some fans theorising).

On the production side of things, the WWI scenes are simply amazing. Grim and gritty with an authentic feel for the period. Sadly, the American Civil War Zone just comes off as a bunch of RADA actors hanging out in a barn set practicing their ‘Yankee’ accents while the Roman Zone is just the same footage of galloping Centurions recycled over and over again. But I do love the pop art design of the War Lords’ base, especially the Security Chief’s groovy office. You can easily imagine it doubling for a nightclub on weekends when everyone wants to kick back and have some fun after a busy week of warmongering.

Notes and Quotes

--David Troughton (son of Patrick) appears in the minor speaking role of Private Moor. He'd previously been an extra in 'The Enemy of the World' and would later go on to appear in ‘The Curse of Peldon’ and ‘Midnight’.

--For once we get to see the Doctor actually uses the Sonic Screwdriver to actually unscrew an actual screw. Sonically!

--There seems to be an abundance of dry ice on Gallifrey.

--This story establishes that Time Lords can recognize one another regardless of regeneration.

-- In a story loaded with dodgy accents David Garfield gets the top prize for not just one appalling accent but two. Rudolph Walker gets the runner-up prize for repeatedly slipping into his natural Caribbean while Michael Napier-Brown is awarded the ‘Least Convincing Mexican Stereotype’ prize.

--The childish game of one-upmanship between the War Chief and the Security Chief is a personal highlight. Especially the War Lord’s amused reaction to their petty squabbling.

--Honestly, the Doctor and his companions have to be the worst hiders ever.

--The Doctor’s trial in Episode 10 features cameos from all the Doctor’s biggest enemies; the Daleks, the Cybermen, the Ice Warriors, the Yetis and… the Quarks??? 

--Bernard Horsfall previously appeared in ‘The Mind Robber’ as Gulliver. He’ll later appear in ‘Planet of the Daleks’ and ‘The Deadly Assassin’.

--Love the Doctor’s little card cube Time Lord communication thingy.

The Doctor: I have to go!
Jaime: Now look, if you’re gonna be in trouble, you’ll need me to look after you.
Zoe: Me too.
All together now, Awwwwww

The War Lord: Don't worry. When the Time Lords get him, he'll wish you had killed him... they're coming.

The Doctor: It is a fact, Jamie, that I do tend to get involved with things.
Jamie: Aye, you can say that again. Whenever there’s any trouble, he’s in it right up to his neck.

The Doctor: (to Time Lords) Oh, good. I’m glad to see your sense of justice still prevails, (to Jamie and Zoe) even though they’ve lost their sense of humour.

The Doctor: All these evils I have fought, while you have done nothing but observe! True, I am guilty of interference. Just as you are guilty of failing to use your great powers to help those in need!
Time Lord: Is that all you have to say?
The Doctor: Well, isn’t it enough?

The Doctor: Goodbye, Jamie.
Jamie: But Doctor, surely we could…
The Doctor: Goodbye, Jamie.
Jamie: I won't forget you, you know.
The Doctor: I won't forget you. Now don't go blundering into too much trouble, will you?
Jamie: You're a fine one to talk!

Rating: 5/5


liminalD said...

Great review! I've linked to it on my own blog here:

(and ironically, we have the same Blogger background!)

I LOVED this serial... it blew me away, especially towards the end there. And I absolutely agree with you about the Doctor-Jamie double act... they were a great team :)

yarner said...

I completely agree with you!
I'm also completely in awe of jamie - he is the best male companion, I would have loved him a lot as a kid (sadly, that came some 15 years later in East Europe...)

He is brave, pretty smart, good-looking, and I really love the way that he's not written to be much different from the modern crew - in the TARDIS, it doesn't make a difference if you're from the 18th or 21st century, and the writers realized that, resisting the urge to have him being surprised of anything technological...

Also, Wendy padbury is to die for...

As for the War Lord... am I the only one he reminds of Steve Jobs? Maybe that's where the apple man got his style from...