Doctor Doctor Who Guide

‘Stop, you’re making me giddy!’

The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe find themselves in the middle of No Mans Land, in the Great War. They soon find their way to the British trench where they are welcomed and sent to HQ. At the headquarters however they find a less friendly welcome. They are soon standing trial for espionage. Things are not what they seem on the front lines.

The War Games is grand in scope. Over ten episodes we are shown the first world war, Ancient Rome, the American Civil War, the War Lords base and (apparently) Gallifrey. Over the course of the ten episodes there is remarkably little padding, the story zipping along until about halfway through, then picking up speed again for the dénouement. The set design is fantastic, particularly at the British HQ where it seems criminal to have recorded in colour as the set looks so authentic, down to graffiti on the walls. In the technology and base of the alien War Lords too there is much innovative design, and the classic sf device of striking contrasts and kaleidoscope patterns. If the guard’s strange rubber uniforms and diving masks are a little dodgy we’ll overlook them in favour of the splendid Time capsules; suggesting the Tardis ever before the clues of the connection are planted.

Performance wise the guests vary extremely; it is not exaggerating to say that James Bree, as the Security Chief, gives an abysmal performance. The painfully stilted delivery of his lines, no doubt intended to suggest his alien nature, must take up about three episodes running time. Also not so great is Noel Coleman as General Smythe, though it may be partially due to his lines. The majority of the rest of the cast is excellent, however. Special mention should go to Rudolph Walker for an excellent turn as a confused American soldier and to David Troughton in a brief but touching cameo.

Edward Brayshaw, as the War Chief, is compelling. His performance is well judged and in his cunning – and his facial hair - he is almost a blueprint for the Master even before it is revealed that the Doctor is of his race. The scene where he and the Doctor first come face to face is a treasure. Their later scenes also play very well. It seems a pity that the actor spends most of his screen time waiting for the Security Chief to finish dripping his dialogue into the scene. Best guest artist award must go to Philip Madoc however, who is so urbanely evil and calmly vicious that he sets a new benchmark for Who baddies which possibly only he will meet. Whether reclining on top of his desk, or stood facing the judgement of the Time Lords; he is a pleasure to watch.

The regular cast themselves are present and correct. Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury have little extra to do; even their leaving scene, sad though it is, is quite subdued. Patrick Troughton has some great grandstanding moments however, whether railing against the War Chief for his irresponsible actions, running to escape his people or getting cross when they expect him to choose a new face. Over the ten episodes you probably do get everything you love about the second Doctor, and it is a fitting farewell for him. We learn more about the character of the Doctor in the last twenty five minutes than has been revealed in the previous six years. Interesting that the explanation he offers here for leaving the Time Lords is different to the first Doctors suggestions that they were exiles, on the run. Would the first or the Second Doctor be telling a fib?

Malcolm Hulke has written here one of the most original plots the show has had, and it is a credit to his writing and the production team that the story doesn’t drag, as so many shorter ones do, and that the visuals are never less than convincingly executed. Not the best second Doctor story, but something like a greatest hits of Troughton, backed up with an original plot and some sterling performances. ‘The War Games’ is something special.

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