Doctor Who: The War Games


Rating 3½

Written by Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke

Directed by David Maloney

Starring Patrick Troughton (The Doctor); Frazer Hines (Jamie); Wendy Padbury (Zoe); David Savile (Lieutenant Carstairs); Philip Madoc (War Lord); Edward Brayshaw (War Chief); James Brae (Security Chief); Vernon Dobtcheff (Scientist); Jane Sherwin (Lady Jennifer Buckingham); Noel Coleman (General Smythe); Hubert Rees (Captain Ransom); Richard Steele (Commandant Gorton); Graham Weston (Russell); David Troughton (Moor); Rudolph Walker (Harper); Bermard Horsfell (First Time Lord); Trevor Martin (Second Time Lord) and Clyde Pollitt (Third Time Lord)

The TARDIS materialises in no-man’s land in what appears to be a trench war zone in the Great War. The Doctor and his two companions, Jamie and Zoe, end up in the field headquarters of the British Army, where they are accused of being spies and court-martialled and the Doctor is sentenced to be executed by firing squad. However, when they escape and find themselves chased by Roman foot soldiers it quickly becomes apparent that all is not as it seems. They are at the epicentre of a complex Alien plot to become absolute rulers of the Galaxy.


‘The War Games’ was the final regular story to feature the second Doctor, played by Patrick Troughton, although he did turn up again on three more occasions in the company of subsequent Doctors. It was told across ten episodes and a total running time a little over four hours between 19 April and 21 June 1969. As far as I know, only ‘The Daleks Master Plan’, told across twelve episodes in late 1965 and early 1966, is longer, unless one counts ‘The Trial of a Time Lord’ in 1986. 63 episodes from the Patrick Troughton era are lost, so we should be grateful that all ten episodes of ‘The War Games’ still exist and in good condition. This was the last time Doctor Who was filmed in black and white.

Despite its lengthy running time, ‘The War Games’ has surprising few real dead spots, although it does have a tendency to repeat itself a little too often and undoubtedly would have benefited from some trimming. The concept is a very interesting one and the subtext about the horror and futility of war is admirable. The recreation of the horrific reality of trench warfare is surprisingly effective, if perhaps the other war zones are not quite so successfully realised. Some extremely dodgy attempts at German, American and Mexican accents do not help, but somehow the variable acting doesn’t really seem to matter. Some of the acting is truly awful, but that is part of the period charm of it all.

Special mention must be given to Philip Madoc for a great performance as the War Lord. Madoc had already made an appearance in the 1966 film ‘Daleks Invasion Earth 2150AD’, which is not considered to be part of canon, and in another Patrick Troughton story ‘The Krotons’ in 1968. He appeared in Doctor Who again in 1976 in one of my favourite stories, ‘The Brain of Morbius’, which was written by Terrance Dicks, one of the two co-writers of ‘The War Games’. I loved the hammy performance of James Brae as the Security Chief. The strange over-emphasised monotone voice patterns he employed are almost identical to Dan Aykroyd in the Saturday Night Live sketches and 1993 film ‘Coneheads’. It made me smile, but at the same time it was strangely chilling.

There is an appearance by Rudolph Walker, who went on to star in the contentious 1970s sit-com ‘Love Thy Neighbour’ and later on in ‘The Thin Blue Line’ with Rowan Atkinson, before joining the cast of the soap opera ‘EastEnders’. There is also an early role for David Troughton, the son of Patrick Troughton and an acclaimed stage and television actor in his own right. He has appeared in Doctor Who again, most recently in the 2008 episode ‘Midnight’ with David Tennant.

The few Patrick Troughton stories that I can still recall are very stylised. That is particularly true here when the action moves from the war zones to the Alien centre of operations, complete with control panels that are actually nothing more than metal shapes on a magnetic board. This is, I think, the first time we visit the home planet of the Time Lords, although the name Gallifrey is not actually mentioned. I also think it is the first time they are called the “Time Lords”.

Troughton’s Doctor is often referred to as the “Cosmic Hobo”. He was quite different to the first Doctor, portrayed by William Hartnell, and indeed to his successor Jon Pertwee. He often appeared befuddled, but was something of a trickster, meaning that his adversaries would underestimate his quicksilver mind. He had a number of catch-phrases, of which the one I recall best is, “When I say run... RUN!”

As well as being Patrick Troughton’s final story, ‘The War Games’ also marks the departure of Fraser Hines, who played Jamie Robert McCrimmon from ‘The Highlander’ in December 1966, the second story with Troughton, onwards. Hines returned, alongside Patrick Troughton, to appear in the ‘The Five Doctors’ in 1983 and ‘The Two Doctors’ in 1985. Wendy Padbury also departed at the end of ‘The War Games’. Her character Zoe Heriot had first appeared in ‘The Wheel in Space’ in April 1968. She made one subsequent appearance, a cameo in ‘The Five Doctors’. Padbury went on to star in a now largely-forgotten series called ‘Freewheelers’, while Hines was among the regular cast of the long-running soap opera ‘Emmerdale Farm’ (later shortened to ‘Emmerdale’) between 1972 and 1994.

I don’t know where ‘The War Games’ sits in the pantheon of classic Doctor Who stories, but while it certainly isn’t without its faults, I enjoyed it immensely.

Review posted 2 May 2010


No comments: