The War Games

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The War Games
Oh my giddy aunt, it’s the end of an era!
 

Episode One

Sue: Is this the fabled ten-parter that I’ve heard so much about?

Me: Yes it is, but don’t get fixated on that. The really big news is that we have a brand new producer at the helm – Derrick Sherwin.

Sue: Bit of a strange time to take over the reins, isn’t it? It’s like the Moff taking over to produce David Tennant’s last story. How very strange.

After a visually striking title sequence (“ooh, I like that”) the TARDIS crew emerge to find themselves in a war-torn landscape.

Sue: They left the TARDIS as soon as it arrived – it’s as if they were standing by the door waiting for it to land. They’ve didn’t have enough time to check whether it was safe outside, or even if this planet has any oxygen or not. That was a bit reckless.

Jamie immediately pricks himself on some barbed wire.

Sue: What an idiot. That’s typical Jamie, that is. However, I do like the music in this one. Who composed it?

Me: Dudley.

Sue: Did he?

Me: No, Dudley.

The War GamesOur heroes come under fire from an artillery barrage but they are quickly rescued by Lady Jennifer and her trusty ambulance.

Sue: It’s Valerie Singleton. I wasn’t expecting that.

Me: It’s the producer’s wife.

Sue: Blimey, he didn’t waste any time!

It quickly becomes apparent that we are in the middle of the First World War and Sue laps it up.

Sue: We haven’t had a good historical in ages. I do like the historicals. The direction is really good so far, too. The whole thing looks amazing. Has this been VidFIREd?

Blimey, she even got the capitalisation right! We’ve come a very long way.

The Doctor and his companions are taken to see the officer commanding the British troops – the mysterious General Smythe.

Sue: This guy is very suspicious. I’m guessing he’s a German spy? Yes, I thought so – here he goes to report to his superiors in secret. Hang on a minute, that monitor looks a bit sci-fi. Is he in league with the Daleks or something?

Sue is completely gripped by the court-martial scene.

Sue: I’m glad that Troughton is going out on a high. Does it take them nine episodes to execute him? Is that the basic plot of this one? And then he regenerates?

The Doctor is sent to face a firing squad.

Sue: Maybe they’ll shoot him in the wrong heart and he’ll spend several hours regenerating. Like David Tennant did.

Me: That just felt like several hours.

The episode concludes with a loud gunshot and it appears that the Doctor has been executed.

Sue: That was a brilliant cliffhanger. We have to watch the next one straight away.

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Episode Two

Of course, the Doctor hasn’t been shot at all. The gunshot came from a sniper’s rifle and this allows the Doctor to make his escape.

Sue: That was a very clever resolution to the cliffhanger. Very nicely done.

The War GamesGeneral Smythe continues to act suspiciously, never more so than when he’s constantly telling his subordinates not to interrupt him when he is ensconced in his office.

Sue: Why doesn’t he just put a bloody lock on the door? You’d think it’d be the first thing he’d do.

And then a SIDRAT turns up.

Sue: Is that a TARDIS? It sounds like a TARDIS. Although it does look like an IKEA flat pack wardrobe. But I guess that’s still possible, for a TARDIS, isn’t it?

Jamie, meanwhile, finds himself locked up with a Redcoat from 1745.

Sue: 1745? Eh? So are there lots of different time zones or something?

Me: Yes.

Sue: OK, so can we please skip forward to Episode Ten now that I’ve worked that out?

Me: No, there’s a bit more to it than that.

Sue: I like the way the Doctor manages to bluff his way into a position of authority. He doesn’t need any psychic paper. The other Doctors are complete amateurs compared to Troughton.

When his bluff fails, it’s up to Zoe to save the day with some brute force (and a vase of flowers).

Sue: You go, girl! This is great stuff. I find it hard to believe that this is the same programme that gave us The Space Pirates last week.

Me: That’s the trouble with Doctor Who. You’re never quite sure what you’re going to get.

Sue: Jamie can’t wait to leg it back to the TARDIS – the Doctor has to convince him to stay and help these poor sods. What a complete ****.

Another SIDRAT materialises and Sue can’t help but admire its precision engineering.

Sue: At least this bloke can steer his TARDIS (if that’s what it is) – he can park it on a sixpence. Why doesn’t the Doctor just nick that one?

Meanwhile, the Doctor and his friends make their getaway in the ambulance and they drive into some heavy mist. When they emerge on the other side they find themselves in Roman times.

Sue: So it’s a Stargate. Without the gate.

As the Romans (“very Moffatesque”) advance en masse, Sue nods appreciatively.

Sue: That was another great cliffhanger. So far, so good.

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Episode Three

Sue: Why aren’t the Romans scared of the ambulance? Shouldn’t they all be running in the opposite direction when they see it?

Me: Well, it’s not moving, is it? It’s just a strange metal box that a strange bloke dressed in silly clothes is faffing about with.

Sue: I really like Carstairs – does he become the next companion?

Me: Not quite.

Sue: That’s a shame.

The War GamesOur heroes eventually get the ambulance moving again and they eventually emerge behind the German lines in 1917. They are swiftly captured and just as the Doctor convinces the Germans that things are not what they seem, Captain von Weich arrives to exert his alien powers of suggestion.

Sue: I like the way this scene is entirely in German but you still know what is being said. It’s not patronising at all. This really is rather good.

In the aliens’ Central Control, General Smythe welcomes the War Chief.

Sue: Nice medallion. Very butch.

The War Chief becomes concerned when he discovers that the Doctor and his companions might be time travellers and we even get to hear his innermost thoughts on the subject.

Sue: Is that the first time we’ve heard internal dialogue in the series? It’s all change, isn’t it? This new producer is really making his mark. It feels very different. Why couldn’t all the Troughton stories have been as good as this?

The Doctor and his friends arrive in the American Civil War zone and they are immediately embroiled in yet another action-packed set piece.

Sue: The choreography is excellent. Really exciting. I’m pretty sure that bloke actually punched that other bloke in the face. This David Maloney is even better than the Camfield.

Carstairs sacrifices himself so the others can escape and Sue isn’t very happy about that.

Sue: Why are they leaving Carstairs behind? What the **** are they playing at?

The Doctor and his party find a barn where a SIDRAT suddenly materialises. A squad of confederate soliders emerge and then the Doctor and Zoe pop inside for a closer look.

Sue: Hey, it’s bigger on the inside! It must be a TARDIS. Is the bloke with the beard the Master?

And then the door closes and the machine dematerialises.

Sue: Another good cliffhanger. They really are on a roll.

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Episode Four

As the Doctor and Zoe explore Central Control, Jamie and Lady Jennifer become embroiled in a battle between Union and Confederate soldiers.

Sue: The kids would have loved this story. It’s just one action-packed fight scene after another.

Back at Central Control, the War Chief questions the Chief Scientist about the reliability of his processing machines.

The War GamesSue: What’s the deal with the clown-eye sunglasses? What’s that all about? They must play merry hell with your peripheral vision. Not that anyone on Doctor Who has any peripheral vision.

And then, with only moderate prompting from me (“Who’s this guy? You definitely know who it is. We saw him on TV just the other day. You know, in EASTENDERS!”).

Sue: It’s Patrick Trueman!

It’s around this point that Sue stops talking and she becomes totally engrossed in the story. She doesn’t say another word until we reach the pivotal moment when the Doctor and the War Chief clearly recognise each other.

Sue: That confirms it. He is the Master. It’s about time.

Me: What about the Monk?

Sue: Nah, this is far too organised for him.

As they make their escape, Zoe becomes separated from the Doctor and she runs into Carstairs who has been processed by the aliens’ machine. He pulls his pistol on her and cocks the hammer.

Sue: Another fabulous cliffhanger. Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke can come back again.

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Episode Five

The War Chief interupts Carstairs before he can shoot Zoe. But then he goes ahead and shoots her anyway. Luckily for everyone concerned, he’s out of bullets.

Sue: That was shocking. He really would have shot her in the throat given half the chance. That was very bleak. I didn’t like that at all.

Back in the American Civil War zone, Jamie and Jennifer are caught up in yet more fisticuffs.

Sue: All the fight scenes in this story are very realistic. Normally, it just takes one punch to sort out the bad guy but here you have to pummel your opponent into the ground. However, I’m beginning to suspect that they are trying to pad things out a bit as well.

Back in Central Control, Zoe is taken to see the Security Chief.

Sue: He’s a human Dalek! He sounds just like one. He must be working for them. I told you that the Daleks would be in this one.

The War GamesThe Security Dalek Chief subjects Zoe to intense questioning under the influence of a truth machine that fits snugly on his head.

Sue: Now he’s working for the Cybermen!

Me: It’s more like an evil 3D View-master.

Sue: You know, the background music sounds like a Pink Floyd track.

Me: You’re absolutely right, it does sound a lot like ‘On the Run’. And, funnily enough, it’s entirely probable that Roger Waters was inspired by this. He was a big fan of the Radiophonic Workshop.

Sue: Can you imagine how annoying it would be to work there with that constant background noise? It would drive you insane.

Me: That would explain a lot.

Sue: I’ve decided that the Master looks like Khal Drogo from Game of Thrones crossed with George Michael and Engelbert Humperdinck.

Me: Not Mr Meaker from Rentaghost?

Sue: I was out drinking cider in the park when that was on, love.

The Doctor, Zoe and Carstairs eventually find themselves in the aliens’ landing bay.

Sue: It looks like Palitoy have designed an Air Traffic Control centre.

A SIDRAT arrives and Jamie exits with his new friend, Russell, a Boer War solider who is also the leader of the resistance fighters. But it’s a trap and they ambushed and gunned down by security guards.

Me: Well, that’s Jamie dead, then.

Sue: **** off. I don’t believe you. (a beat) Is he really?

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Episode Six

Early in the episode, we are told that the War Chief is actually a Time Lord.

Sue: Yes, we know that already. He’s the Master. However, I’m still a bit confused. I thought the Time Lords were all wiped out in the Time War, so how can they be around now?

Me: Well, the Time War hasn’t actually happened yet.

Sue: Yes, but surely if it was a Time War then it must have happened in the past and the future at the same time. Or the Doctor could just go back in the past to see Gallifrey.

Me: Are you insane?

Sue: I just assumed that the reason he couldn’t go back home was because his home didn’t exist anymore. Stop looking at me like that.

The War GamesAs I explain to her (once again) that the old episodes were made before the new ones, Sue changes the subject.

Sue: The Master has really cool sideburns. It must take him hours to trim them in the morning. Or does he get a minion to do it for him?

And then Jamie appears on an examination table, alive but unconscious.

Sue: Jamie’s not dead, you bastard!

Meanwhile, back in the war zone, the alien Captain von Weich is being guarded by a young English private named Moor.

Sue: This guy looks familiar.

Me: He should do.

When I put her out of her misery, she can’t believe it.

Sue: It’s nepotism gone mad in this story! First the producer’s wife and now the lead actor’s son. Who’s next? Zoe’s second cousin twice removed?

Me: He’s the second frogman on the left in the next scene. He doesn’t get any lines.

And then it’s time for yet another fist fight; this time it’s Carstairs turn to duff up an alien technician.

Sue: This is a rubbish fight. The other fights have been great but this one is a bit slapdash. Perhaps the stunt men are all knackered? Or on holiday?

Once again, the rest of the episode passes in relative silence before concluding with the Doctor and Carstairs trapped in a SIDRAT as it rapidly becomes smaller on the inside.

Sue: Another great cliffhanger. We haven’t had a duff one yet.

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Episode Seven

The Doctor surrenders but it’s just a ruse; he smokes everyone out before escaping in a SIDRAT. The War Chief and the Security Chief bicker over who will break the news to the War Lord.

Sue: They are really building up this War Lord character. He had better be good.

When he finally arrives in the shape of Philip Madoc (“Krotons, don’t tell him, Pike”), we are not disappointed. He’s the most menacing character we’ve seen in the series so far. It’s his quietness that freaks us both out.

Sue: Why are the aliens obsessed with wearing glasses? They have all this amazing technology but they still haven’t invented laser eye surgery. The War Lord looks like he’s wearing a pair of milk bottles. The music has gone a bit weird as well. That fanfare sounds like it should be the theme music to a completely different television series. Like Public Eye, or something like that.

Me: Yes, the music is very Austo-Hungarian this week.

Sue: But they’re really trying. There’s an epic quality to this story that we haven’t seen before. It’s a great way to end an era.

The War GamesThe War Chief and the Security Chief continue to bicker (“get a room!”) but the War Lord has heard enough.

Sue: The War Lord is the aliens’ version of Alan Sugar. He’ll fire the Security Chief soon if he’s not careful. They had better call for a taxi.

Me: I think I love Philip Madoc. His performance in this story is simply incredible. I could watch him all day.

Meanwhile, back at the chateau, the Doctor de-processes a French soldier. It’s at precisely this point that Nicol decides to stride into the room.

Nicol: That’s the worst French accent I have ever heard.

She should know, what with her being half-French and everything, and she leaves the room in disgust.

Sue: How can the Doctor not speak French? That’s a bit shit.

Suddenly, a SIDRAT appears and a squad of security guards emerge, firing their futuristic weapons.

Sue: The frogmens’ guns look like fence posts. They are very top-heavy. They must be a complete bastard to aim.

The episode concludes with another great cliffhanger as the Doctor is kidnapped by the Security Chief.

Sue: Very nice. But I’m starting to wonder how they’ll manage to drag this out for another three episodes.

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Episode Eight

The War Chief offers to assist in the Doctor’s interrogation, suggesting that he has methods of his own for extracting information from his compatriot.

Sue: A nice champagne dinner for two, I bet. I didn’t realise the Master was this camp. Was he paid by the eyebrow?

When yet another fight breaks out (you can practically set your watch by them), Sue picks up on something that has been bugging her throughout this story.

Sue: You know, there are some terrible extras in this. I thought learning how to die properly was the very first lesson you were taught at acting school. That bloke was obviously off sick that day. It’s a shame because everything else is so good. Normally I wouldn’t notice stuff like that but in a production this good it sticks out like a sore thumb. In fact, all of the non-speaking parts are pretty poor, especially the frogmen.

Me: That’s Wendy Padbury’s second cousin you are insulting now.

The War GamesFinally, after hours of foreplay, we are treated to a showdown between the Doctor and the War Chief himself.

Sue: That was a bit epic. But now that they’ve revealed the plot, I can’t say that I’m convinced. It sounds OK on paper but are foot soliders from the year 1917 really worse than the Cybermen and the Daleks? I sincerely doubt it. I mean, does this plan actually make any sense or is it just me?

Me: Don’t worry, their plan is completely bonkers. Just go with it.

Sue: It would have been better if the aliens were just doing this to get their kicks. If they were televising it back home and making loads of money from spread betting, that would have made sense. I mean, what’s going to happen when some Redcoats take on the Daleks – it doesn’t bear thinking about!

The episode concludes with the Doctor appearing to side with the War Chief against his friends.

Sue: Another great cliffhanger. That’s eight for eight.

Me: Do you think the Doctor has really betrayed his friends?

Sue: Don’t be stupid.

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Episode Nine

When it becomes clear that the War Chief is after the Doctor’s TARDIS (because his SIDRATs have a sell-by date), Sue ponders the implications.

Sue: So, could the Master fly the Doctor’s TARDIS if he really wanted to? Properly fly it, I mean. I still don’t know if the Doctor’s TARDIS is faulty or he just didn’t pass his driving test.

Sue: The War Lord looks like he should be an advertising executive or a graphic designer. What’s his real name?

Me: I have no idea. He’s just referred to as the War Lord.

Sue: I’m going to call him Saatchi.

Things become so bad, the Doctor decides to call on the Time Lords for help. The War Chief bricks himself and he tries to do a runner before his people can arrive, but he is gunned down by the War Lord’s personal guards.

Sue: Regenerate then. Come on, regenerate!

The camera cuts away.

Sue: The Master will be back later with a different face.

The Doctor explains to the captured soliders that he had no choice but to go along with the bad guys; they would have dropped a neutron bomb on them if he hadn’t.

Sue: Surely they wouldn’t know what a neutron bomb was. How is a Redcoat or someone from the Boer War supposed to process information like that?

The War GamesShe does find Villar extremely amusing, though.

Sue: Is he the comic relief? Has anyone bothered to tell the actor that we’re in the middle of a serious drama here? Look at him! He’s shooting at the floor as he looks in completely the wrong direction and the guards still fall down dead! What’s that all about? And the aliens have bouncy tables. That’s just shoddy carpentry.

The War Lord is overwhelmed by the resistance and it appears that things are under control. But the only way everyone can get home safely is if the Doctor calls in his own people to clean up the mess. He does this by assembling a cube with his mental powers.

Sue: What the hell?

Me: Don’t you remember seeing a distress cube like that in a Matt Smith episode?

Sue: Oh yeah. Now that you mention it, I do. Is there anything from Patrick Troughton’s era that doesn’t appear in a Matt Smith episode?

Me: Well, I have heard rumours about the Krotons and the Quarks for the 50th anniversary.

Sue: Oh my, the Doctor is going to do a runner and leave Jamie and Zoe behind. That’s a bit grim.

His companions won’t hear of it, promising to stay with their friend to the bitter end and the episode ends with all three fighting their way through the Time Lords’ force field to the TARDIS.

Sue: I didn’t realise that the Time Lords were so scary.

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Episode Ten

The mythology comes thick and fast as the Doctor explains to his friends why he left his home planet in the first place.

Sue: I like the Doctor’s reason for leaving Gallifrey. It’s simple, it’s straight to the point and it’s completely understandable.

The Doctor does his very best to evade the Time Lords but they eventually force the TARDIS to return home.

The War GamesSue: Oh dear, Gallifrey looks a bit shit. I was expecting something a bit more dramatic and impressive. I thought it would look fabulous. It looks like an NCP car park.

Me: To be fair, we’re only seeing a tiny part of their civilisation.

Sue: Yeah, I suppose it’d be like judging New York City without leaving JFK Airport.

The War Lord has been put on trial by the Time Lords (no relation) and they aren’t very happy with him. The War Lord attempts to defy them by refusing to answer their questions, so they torture him with their mental powers.

Sue: How come the Doctor doesn’t have these superpowers? Why can’t he just stare the villains into submission like that?

The War Lord responds with a blistering rant that makes our blood run cold.

Me: Seriously, I think I love Philip Madoc.

Meanwhile, the TARDIS is being looked over by some technicians.

Sue: Oh look, they’ve sent in the techies to fix the Doctor’s TARDIS. It’s about bloody time. I assume they are fixing the navigation systems?

Me: They are probably doing the exact opposite.

Sue: What?!

And then, just when we think it’s all over, some aliens turn up to rescue the War Lord.

Sue: Gallifrey’s defences are terrible. If they are supposed to be these Godlike super beings, how come the frogmen got in so easily?

Perhaps it’s because they are no threat to them. They are re-captured with ease and then completely erased from history.

Sue: I had no idea that the Time Lords could do that. Can the Doctor do that?

Me: I don’t think they did that with their minds. They probably used a machine to do that.

Sue: Really? How can you tell?

It is now the Doctor’s turn to be put on trial and he begins his defence by showing the Time Lords the numerous enemies he has fought.

Sue: I wouldn’t have started with the Quarks, mate. You’ve blown your case straight away.

The War GamesAs the Time Lord’s consider their verdict, Jamie and Zoe are returned to their own time, but there’s a dark twist – their memories are wiped and they will only remember their very first adventure with the Doctor.

Sue: The memory wiping is very Moffatesque.

Me: Don’t you find it cruel and tragic?

Sue: Not really.

Me: What do you mean “not really”? Jamie will never remember Zoe! It’s heartbreaking!

Sue: Yes, but look at it from the Time Lord’s point of view – if they let Jamie keep his memories he’d know all about neutron bombs and stuff like that. He could ****-up established history. The Time Lords are just being extra careful.

Me: So you don’t you find this scene moving at all?

Sue: Not really. We should be happy for them – they returned home in one piece (although it looks as if Jamie will be killed by the end of the week).

Me: Oh look, it’s whatshername with the cute nose from The Wheel in Space. How cool is that?

His companions gone, the Time Lords deliver their verdict. The Doctor will be exiled to 20th century Earth (“that’ll be cheap”) and he will be forced to regenerate as well. The episode concludes with the biggest cliffhanger in the series history.

Sue: Well that was weird. Was it supposed to be funny?

Me: Funny? What’s so funny about it?

Sue: Well, it’s all a bit silly, isn’t it? Goofy. Daft. You know – funny.

Me: He’s floating in space without a head! It’s horrific!

Sue: I must admit that I’m a bit disappointed that we don’t see him turn into Jon Pertwee.

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The Final Score

Sue: Well, what can I say? It was epic. I was really impressed by the script, the direction and the acting. It was a really strong ending for Troughton as well, which I’m really pleased about. There was a point where this story was on for a 10/10 but it’s definitely an episode too long and I’ll have to knock off a point for the bouncy tables, so -

9/10

Sue: I do have a question, though.

Me: What’s that?

Sue: What happened to the Master?

The experiment continues…
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Doctor Who – The Krotons [DVD] [1968]

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Discussion

  1. John Hancock  May 13, 2012

    I wish i had come to your blog ages ago, your wife is hilarious….

    “I didn’t realise the Master was this camp. Was he paid by the eyebrow?”

    (I nearly wet myself)