Wednesday, 19 June 2013

The War Games

All good things must come to an end, and so did Patrick Troughton’s time as the Doctor, and of course black and white episodes as well. To complete the story of the second Doctor we had a ten-part adventure, the second longest story in the six-year history of the programme to that point, and it was called ‘The War Games’.
I was worried beforehand. TEN parts and no Daleks? How will they sustain that, but as many others have mentioned, the story doesn’t really let up and certainly doesn’t feel like a full ten parts. Credit to the writing team of Malcolm Hulke and Terence Dicks for that.
We have the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe arriving on an alien world that appears to be Earth, divided into time zones where different wars are being played out by soldiers kidnapped by the War Lord and his kind. In the central zone is the controlling base if you like, decked out futuristically. We go from one zone to the next, although most action is limited to the First World War Zone (where the story begins) and a barn in the American Civil War Zone.
The final episode is set on the Doctor’s home world, and mine incidentally, but I won’t mention its name as it hasn't been mentioned yet in the series and I don’t want to spoil it for viewers if they should reveal it later in another story.

The sets, although a little wobbly, hold up well considering there are a lot of them and they were made on sixpence. There is a lot of location shooting which really adds to the atmosphere and makes it all feel rather authentic, especially the First World War stuff. The quarry they use for the opening sequence is perhaps the best quarry they have ever used for Doctor Who!
The way they peel the banana so to speak in this story is great too. We start believing our heroes to be in the First World War. Then clearly something isn’t right, and slowly but surely more is revealed, with the final revelations about the Doctor himself.
It’s been an interesting turn in the kinds of stories throughout this sixth season, which began with ‘The Dominators’. Only two stories have the same feel and approach that so many Fifth Season stories did – principally ‘The Seeds of Death’, but also ‘The Invasion’. There is a lot more variety which produced great stories such as ‘The Mind Robber’ and ‘The War Games’, but there’s always a risk with trying something different, ‘The Space Pirates’ and ‘The Krotons’ were rather poor stories. It’s a fair price to pay though when you are trying to ‘mix it up’ and give the audience something new week after week, and it’s similar to the Hartnell years which were far less predictable and showcased a variety of styles and ideas.

‘The War Games’ is the crowning achievement of that, a wonderful idea that peels away throughout all ten episodes. Wonderful twists and turns, an absolutely stunningly good cast – Philip Madoc as the War Lord is chilling, but two of the best performances come from Noel Coleman as Smythe and David Garfield as Von Weich. Thoroughly evil performances from both. David Saville as Lieutenant Castairs was an excellent almost pseudo companion, and Jane Sherwin was great as Lady Jennifer. A strange quirk of the script that after episode five she just disappears from the story and never reappears, getting a cursory mention in the final episode.
James Bree and Edward Brayshaw - interrogating the Doctor
The only questionable performance is James Bree as the Security Chief. It’s an almost theatrical yet stiff performance as he battles with the War Chief and speaks with a bizarre slow monotone voice. Was this what was envisaged? Sometimes you wonder if the actor made the choice himself or was directed to speak in a certain way. It’s very un-naturalistic and goes against most of the other characters, perhaps with the exception of the War Chief (Edward Brayshaw) who gets a bit panto too at times, although is well over-shadowed by James Bree.
As for the regulars, well they all have a lot to do. Patrick Troughton is outstanding in his last story, but we should not forget it is also Wendy Padbury’s and Frazer Hines’ last story too. They made a wonderful pair of companions for the Doctor. Some of their work in Episodes Eight and Ten is fantastic, and very well written too as Jamie pretends to be the leader of the resistance and Zoe asserts herself. Then in the last scene with the Doctor, you can feel the sadness between the group that their journey making the show together has come to an end.
The sets are very clever, the design excellent considering how many things they needed to produce for the show. The futuristic sets, though minimal made maximum use of the small space they had and were rather psychedelic in design. The lack of money does show through at times – the controls of the time machines are magnets moved around a board. I wasn’t convinced by that at all, and there seemed to be a lot of hanging plastic sheets used. The guards costumes had very silly tight hoods on and wore strange glasses which I guess were designed to obscure their faces so that they could kill and reuse the same actors over and over again.
‘The War Games’ though owes much of what it is simply to the writing team of Terence Dicks and Malcolm Hulke who in short time whipped up an excellent story, and a fitting end to Troughton’s fine tenure as the Doctor. This story is as good as any other Patrick Troughton story. He was lucky to begin and end with two all-time classics.


No comments:

Post a Comment