Sunday, 7 June 2009

Doctor Who: The War Games

Part One

"It is rather worrying not being able to remember things."

I saw this via the original video release, so the picture quality started out as absolutely the worst yet and it's going to get much worse. Still, this is a cracker of an opening episode. All the supporting characters are great, not just the likes of Carstairs and Lady Jennifer but even relatively minor characters such as the put-upon Major Barrington are nicely sketched out.

For the most part this could almost be a pure historical, but there are two indications of something bigger going on- why is the mysterious General Smythe able to hypnotise people with those specs of his, and what's that screen behind the portrait of King George V? No one can quite remember how long they've been here either, which is another hint of something much bigger about to be gradually revealed. Things are going to get epic, but not before a magnificent cliffhanger...

Part Two

"Did I hear you say that someone had escaped?"

...Which is rather predictably resolved. I don't care, though- I'm loving this. And the true state of affairs is gradually revealing itself- General Smythe has a TARDIS type thing materialise in his room, and it's doors sound as if they were made on Skaro! And of course there's the shock reveal of the Roman Zone behind the mist at the end.

But all that's by the by, cos this episode contains my absolute favourite Troughton moment, his impersonation of a VIP from the ministry. Troughton plays it quite wonderfully. It's all filler, of course, but it's top entertainment all the same. And, of course, not only does the Doctor's penchant for disguise (of a sort) hark back to Troughton's early stories, but he's masquerading as an "examiner" in his last story, just like his first. Brilliant. And it's nice to see the Doctor's recorder being used as a telescope too.

Part Three

"Everything seems to be difficult for you to explain!"

Once again, mostly filler, but this episode is great! So many great moments- Carstairs shows great bravery and character in believing the Doctor, and he reminds me very much of the Brigadier. And Jamie makes an allusion to The Space Pirates which I never picked up in previous versions of this story: "Aye, with a tuning fork?" We also get our second ever "Doctor John Smith" and our first proper look at the Sonic Screwdriver. One slight problem, mind- Jamie's from 1745? 1746, more like.

Best of all though is the German general with the monocle and the duelling scar (stereotype much?) and his screen behind the portrait of Kaiser Bill. Or possibly the Doctor's escape from the Germans, which harks back to The Highlanders: "Oh, we've got lots of tricks like that. Let me show you. Catch, Jamie!" This is a great send-off for my new favourite Doctor.

And then we get to see the real baddies, and their fab looking base, and their groovy 3D glasses. And the War Chief. Whose thoughts we hear, for the first time ever in Doctor Who: "Time travellers? I wonder..."

Part Four

"But who else would have space / time machines like the TARDIS?"

Interesting how the American Confederate general is the same bloke as the German general, complete with duelling scar- an early sign that the baddies' plan is being done on the cheap! Also interesting that Jamie keeps saying "How long are we going to be kept here?" rather a lot.

The character of Harper is played by Rudolph Walker, a black actor, and the script makes clear that the character was written as a black man as one of the Confederate soldiers calls him "boy", a racist epithet in parts of America. Not much is made of this, but it's pleasing that the first character shown to be free-willed enough to shake off the mind control is a black character from the 1860s American South. He's also shown as a senior and respected figure in the resistance. We've come a long way since Toberman.

The Doctor deprocesses Carstairs- fitting that the final story of this Doctor, who's shown himself to detest mind control above all things, should see him pitted against the biggest mind control threat yet.

And the Doctor and the War Chief clearly recognise each other! We know at this point that Big Things are going to happen...

Part Five

"Better leave him on simmer."

Zoe gets interrogated in a room of more than sufficient grooviness to be worthy of Austin Powers, and by my favourite silly character in all of Doctor Who- the Security Chief. I don't know why James Bree decided to play him in such a peculiar fashion, but for some reason it not only works but is in fact genius.

Also great is the way the Doctor runs rings around the Chief Scientist. But best of all is the wonderfully arch bickering between the War Chief and the Security Chief. Loads more episodes of this to go- wonderful. And I mean that!

Part Six

"Send. The prisoner. To me. FOR. QUESTIONING!"

I'm loving the sound effects for this story, as well as the occasionally Stockhausen-esque soundtrack.

More of the same this episode, but the Chief Scientist gets a line which is arguably a bit significant: "Are you suggesting he's bringing in his own people- the Time Lords?" Watching all of this in sequence means that line really sent a shiver up my spine...

Part Seven

"Now, I am tired of this eternal bickering!"

We add Philip Madoc's splendid War Lord to Edward Brayshaw's splendid war Chief and James Bree's splendid security Chief. Now we get three baddies to bicker in an arch manner. Splendid!

Once more we get loads of filler, but if it's as fun as this, who cares if the Roman Zone is blatantly reusing the same footage? And it's fun to see the 1917 zone again, this time in a completely different context. I love the way Smythe wants to shoot the Doctor for no other reason than he's being a git! Although admittedly the Doctor being saved from the firing squad in exactly the same way as before is a bit much. But I'll forgive this story anything.

It seems to be implied that the Doctor can't speak French. This never happened when he was William Hartnell...

Part Eight

"Don't worry- I'm not going to hurt you!"

It's a really nice character moment for Jamie as he gets put in temporary charge of the resistance movement, and that's a real strength of this story- yes, it's ten episodes long and blatantly padded out, but even when nothing's happening we're being entertained, and all the regulars get loads of great character moments. I love the scenes with Jamie, Zoe and Arturo Villa, for instance.

The conversation with the Doctor and the War Chief is also a charged and powerful moment, all the more so for watching the series in sequence. The revelations come thick and fast: "You may have changed your appearance, but I know who you are"; "We are both Time Lords. We both chose to leave our race." This story changes everything about Doctor Who. It can never be the same programme again.

I love the Resistance montage too. And what a cliffhanger!

Part Nine

"What. A stupid. Fool. YOU. Are."

Crikey! the Doctor's a traitor! the Security Chief recorded the war Chief plotting with the Doctor, the sneaky devil! It's all kicking off!

This is a satisfying ending to the main story. The baddies may be rather easily defeated at the end, but we've known along that they clearly come from the Planet Of The Jobsworths. But more important is the imminent arrival of the Time Lords, something we're set up to dread in no uncertain terms...

Part Ten

"I was bored!"

Wow. I've seen this many times before, but in context this really knocks your socks off. So many first, so many lasts, so many revelations. And it manages this in spite of the fact that this is mainly comprised of running around, some of it featuring clips from some of this Doctor's greatest hits, The Web of Fear and Fury From the Deep.

The scariness of the Time Lords is built up early on, and the scene in which they inflict pain on the War Lord is uber-scary, as is the way they erase him and his mates from existence. Admittedly, they're a bit underwhelming in appearance, but we're left in no doubt that their powers are pretty much godlike. And there's much more; the Doctor leaving his home planet out of sheer boredom, the specially filmed clips of all the best monsters (plus the Quarks), the Dalek even appearing to that throbbing sound. But the last few minutes pack the biggest punch of all.

Jamie and Zoe having their memories wiped is horrible, easily as emotional as for Donna more recently. The goodbye scene is poignant, but most upsettingly even as Jamie tells the Doctor that "I won't forget you, you know", the Doctor knows he will. still, it's a little jarring to see the Doctor chuckling as Jamie runs to his certain death, if not now then very soon! Why isn't he on that ship with all his mates, anyway?

Finally, the Doctor is exiled to Earth and has his appearance changed. Blimey.

Well, that's a 5/5 and no mistake. I'll make no bones about the fact that I've always loved this story, and it doesn't get any worse even when you've seen it so many times I can almost guess the next line. And in context there are even newer things to enjoy. Brilliant, second only to The Massacre, and I won't hear a word said against it.

I liked this season as a whole a lot more than I thought I would. It's pretty much on a par with the rest, apart from Season 5, which is way out in front...

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