Doctor Doctor Who Guide

‘The War Games’- my favourite ‘Doctor Who’ story.

Out of over forty years worth of ‘Who’, this is the story which in my heart of hearts I truly believe to be better than any others. It lasts for ten episodes, it features a lot of running around, it has repetitive music, bizarre cardboard glasses and some very, very dodgy looking rubber suits: all these things are used against it, but for me they help to make it what it is: the best ‘Doctor Who’ story ever.

When I first saw it, I was eleven years old. I’d seen most stories, and those that I had not seen I knew about, aside from a handful, which included this story. One day, I was off ill from school, so as a treat my Dad let me rent out a video from the local video store- this was the one I chose since I reasoned it would take me a while to watch it.

I ended up getting through it by the end of the day; from its beginning- eerie surroundings, special sequence for the titles- I was hooked. All the characters were being well acted, all the effects were looking very nice indeed, and everyone seemed to be taking it very seriously.

The comedic aspects to come were a breath of fresh air; a nice contrast to the rather haunting nature of the story, but there is no escaping the darker aspects. This is a story about war- many wars, being fought for no real reason.

When you hear the Aliens reel off the numbers of new specimens to be taken to the War Zones, it hurts because you realise that they are replacements as so many people have been needlessly killed. Likewise, when you see Carstairs get put through the Mind Wiping process, it seems cruel and sadistic- something I shall return to later…

The length of the story makes everything seem so much bigger- the story’s scope seems to be larger than most stories, and everything has an epic quality to it; the incidental music reflects this, sounding as triumphant as the story tries to be. This is a story unafraid of trying to be big and bold, and it succeeds at being so. It is, quite simply, an epic adventure.

This is a story about raising the stakes, and raising the odds against our heroes. We’ve had base-under-siege adventures where hundreds of lives are in danger; this is a story where hundreds of lives have already been lost, and it is up to the Doctor and his group of fighters to try to save everybody, and it needs a group. The Doctor, Jamie and Zoë alone are not enough: they need help; they need the resistance, and even then the resistance are desperate to grow in number.

It is here that the story has its biggest shortcoming, in that the budget simply never allows for the Resistance to seem as large as it should, but rather than let this be a bad thing, we are presented with characters who are memorable enough to make us not mind that we do not see more extras. Who cares about the rest of the Resistance when we have characters as well rounded and loveable as Russell?

This is a story about running: the heroes run from place to place, time zone to time zone but time is running out, and you cannot keep running forever- you have to stop eventually. This is a story about stopping.

Of course, this is also the story that introduces us to the Time Lords, and despite how much I love what Robert Holmes did to them in ‘The Deadly Assassin’, I would firmly argue that they were never better than they are here because, everybody, for one night only, you can see why the Doctor fled his home planet.

The story is too big, the adventure is too over-whelming, and for once the Doctor cannot stop it- cue Time Lords.

Episode 10 of ‘The War Games’ is where ‘Doctor Who’ as a show changes forever. It starts off a tad ropey- attack of the stock footage!- but even this is fun, and more than forgivable given what is coming up. The trial of the Aliens is tense, a neat contrast from the fleeing of the Doctor we have just seen: from something so full of movement we are now presented with something so static.

This is where the parallels begin too. We have the War Lord’s trial reflected in the Doctor’s; we have the dispatch of the War Lord and the Aliens- death by dematerialisation- drawing parallels with what the Aliens themselves were doing: taking human ‘specimens’ and removing them from time forever; most horrifying of all, we have the mind wiping of Jamie and Zoë.

As mentioned earlier, when this happens before, the process horrifies us and that was when it happened to a supporting character. Now it happens to two regulars, it is too much to bear. You know something bad is going to happen- you can see it all in Patrick Troughton’s expressions; you hear that both Zoë and Jamie are safe, but it’s not enough; however it is only when the Time Lords both sentence the doctor to exile and force him to regenerate that the penny, as it were, finally drops: the Time Lords are no better than the Aliens.

The sentence imposed upon the Doctor is harsh and brutal- loss of two friends, loss of freedom and loss of identity. No wonder he fled whilst he still had the chance.

I could go on all day- there are bits I haven’t even mentioned: the absolutely terrific characters that are War Chief and the Security Chief, which are both superbly written and fantastically acted; I could mention the brilliant use of defamiliarisation- making the everyday object that is a pair of glasses seem so scary; I could go on at length about how this is the first time in ‘Doctor Who’ that you really, really care about the love lives of the supporting characters, namely Carstairs and Lady Jennifer. I could mention all this and more, but I have already gone on long enough.

‘The War Games’: my favourite ‘Doctor Who’ story for ever and ever and ever- I hope I’ve given a good enough reason for other people to love it as much as I do too….

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