Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Blogtor Who Top 50 - No. 47

Here it is! Blogtor's personal countdown of his 50 favourite Doctor Who television stories, one a week till the big day in November 2013. Now, just to point out, this choice is purely my own. So don't expect reasoned debate or objectivity. Or even the need to please every fan out there. This is my list, and I stand by it. I will also add that I've seen every Doctor Who story released (at least twice), so I feel like I know what I'm talking about. Anyway, enough chittle of the chattle, let's begin...

47.The War Games
First broadcast 19/4-21/6/1969 starring Patrick Troughton

At ten episodes, The War Games ranks as one of the longest Doctor Who stories ever and it also holds the distinction of seeing the end to the the black and white era of the world's greatest television show and the reign of one of the most beloved actors to play The Doctor, Patrick Troughton. Having said that, I'm not the biggest fan of his era (yeah, yeah - save your abuse for later), but I was certainly most impressed with his send-off.

Normally, Who stories that overrun the four episode mark tend to sag and suffer from "to and fro"-itis or "corridor familiarity", as it sometimes known. Pleasingly, The War Games, even at ten installments, keeps the momentum throughout. But what are these games all about ...?

The Doc, Jamie and Zoe find themselves in what appears to be the fighting fields of World War I (or the 'Great War' as it was known before its more successful sequel came along). The trio are quickly separated from the TARDIS (I lurve it when that happens!) and get some help from the Brits, but it turns out that our heroes ain't too liked by the top brass and everyone's favourite Time Lord ends up in front a firing squad.

As the story unfolds we are treated to the sight of soldiers from the American Civil War, the Roman Army and more - though all is not as it seems. It becomes apparent, quite early on it should be noted, that these different peoples and times have been placed by a mysterious force. Alien tech is present (though not seen by The Doc and his chums for some time) and there's hypnosis galore courtesy of some foreboding marshalls with thick-lens specs.

And this is where The War Games excels - in its sense of mystery. There may well be a limited narrative for the most part, even co-writer and general all-round legend, Terrance Dicks, admits "not much" happens throughout, but the audience find themselves caught within the puzzle, curious to unearth the identity of the aliens involved. Of course, it transpires there are two alien species - one of which are the Time Lords.

Quite a denouement, to say the least, as we discover the Doctor's race and their power over the universe. Troughton's last scenes are odd and unnerving as he gurns and floats off into the abyss. I can imagine children all over the UK were distraught and the production team have to be commended as it was a very brave choice for a series finale. There's a real sense of doom (mainly in part because of the calmness of the Time Lords) that this might indeed be the end for our hero. (Don't worry, though, kids. He did return!)

Troughton himself cuts an impressive figure and displays his range with some aplomb, going from coward (run away!) to hero to buffoon to posing as indignant army official to man beaten (at the hands of the Time Lords). But he is also supported incredibly well by an astonishing cast. As always, Frazer Hines (Jamie) and Wendy Padbury (Zoe) are nothing less than exemplary and this carries throughout the main players. Noel Coleman as General Smythe is just the right shade of bombastic and acts as a precursor to Stephen Fry's Melchett in Blackadder Goes Forth. Camping it up slightly, but still menacing, is the War Chief, played by Edward Brayshaw - who some of you may remember from Rentaghost. (I know I do!)

Counteracting this role is his superior, the War Lord, played by Who fan-favourite Phillip Madoc. He whispers his way through, chilling to the very end as he fights, ineffectively, it has to be said, against the Time Lords. I could go on as the cast list is immense but I will say there are a number of familiar faces to satisfy keen-eyed Doctor Who fans out there.

The production is stoutly served and, in particular, the location shooting is very un-Doctor Who (as noted on the DVD audio commentary), very fast and superbly dynamic, constantly moving and energetic. From a design point of view, the aliens are hauntingly reminiscent of the 1962 film La Jetée - futuristic but uncanny at the same time. The Time Lords don't come off as well but, thankfully, the performances carry them as all-seeing, all-knowing beings.

The War Games is an excellent introduction to the crazy black and white world of Doctor Who; the production values, the eerie score and cast are of a very high quality despite the story being stretched perhaps just a tad (but not by much). It also offers the first glimpse into the show delivering a mythology, painting the Doctor's background more fully than the previous six years or so. This is one to sit down and cherish.

Check out No. 48 HERE


Anonymous said...

Not a fan of the Second? Other than some cringe-worthy sexism, why ever not?

Anonymous said...

If you don't think this story is stretched then it's no wonder you're not a fan of this era.

The Vodka Yeti said...

Despite it being a six part story spread across ten I love The War Games utterly and completely! It entranced me as a kid and repeat viewings never diminish the pleasure.

BTW as an odd aside, my folks in 1969 were looking for a new house and we went to actor Noel Coleman's abode (he played General Smythe) which was up for sale, and I recognised him as The War Games was just a few episodes in. I was just six (and a half!) at the time, and I remember defiantly telling him "You'll never beat the Doctor!" :)

And no, my parents didn't buy his house, I wonder why? ;)

Jamie said...

Just watched it for the first time, quite enjoyed it. Really expected it to drag on as most 6+ episode stories do bit I really liked it. Was half expecting the War Chief to be revealed as The Master but alas that was not to be. I'm sure the performance was an inspiration on The Master though.

Anonymous said...

The War Games is superb. Ten episodes, and it never drags or feels too long. And to Jamie, the reason The War Chief isn't revealed as The master here is because The War games comes before Delgado's first appearance. However, in Terror Of The Autons, The Doctor is warned that an old acquaintance has returned seeking revenge. The Doctor states that he recently saw The Mater hypnotising people, but some were able to offer resistance. In Frontier In Space, The Master knows the events of The War Games. And compare the speech The War Chief gives about peace in The War Games to The Master's speech about peace in Colony In Space. It is indeed the same fellow.

Anonymous said...

I think The War Games is the best that the Troughton Era ever gets! Unlike some of the six-parters, which seem to stretch ideas past breaking point, The War Games keeps progressing, revealing more and more, until the climactic final episode(which actually seems rushed!)

Oh, and to the other guy, also check out the target Books "Terror Of The Autons"(Chapter 2), The Doomsday Weapon(Colony In Space)"(Chapter 1), and "The War Games"(Chapter 9). The Master and the War Chief are indeed one and the same.