Review: Doctor Who: “The War Games”

While clearly an act of heresy and treason today, I can understand why the BBC might not have had any problems with junking some of the early episodes of Doctor Who (and plenty of other shows, too). There was no guarantee that Doctor Who would have grown to be the cultural phenomenon that it is today, how could anyone expect them to anticipate the footage would be missed? The real problem with the BBC’s early lack of archiving regulations is: why would they wipe bits and pieces of a serial instead of the whole thing?

Out of the Second Doctor’s twenty serials, eight serials are missing episodes, eight serials are complete, and four serials are completely gone. The BBC did not want to offer me very many options for the Second Doctor. However, after spending a majority of my evening yesterday with the seven-episode Classic Who serial “The Daleks”, you would think I would have learned my lesson about reviewing long serials.

Apparently, I did not!

“The War Games” is a ten-episode serial that marks the end of Patrick Troughton‘s reign as the Second Doctor and the first time Whovians were exposed to the Time Lords as a race. How could I not choose this landmark serial?

The serial begins with the Doctor and Co. — this time being composed of genius astrophysicist, Zoe Heriot (Wendy Padbury), and Highland Scot, Jamie McCrimmon (Frazer Hines) — landing in the middle of what appears to be a World War I battlefield. After narrowly avoiding death by artillery fire, the Doctor and his companions are rescued by a nurse and taken out of the “No Man’s Land” in her ambulance.

The first nine episodes of “The War Games” are an action-packed adventure filled with everything you could ask for from Doctor Who: a group of humanoid aliens called “the War Lords” that use their hypnotic glasses to assemble an army composed of the best warriors from Earth’s history (but, only Earth … I’m not sure why) to use to conquer the galaxy, a renegade Time Lord known as the “War Chief” who creates green TARDIS knock-offs known as SIDRATs and the Doctor and Co. doing what they do best — getting captured and breaking out of it.

"The War Games" with Patrick Troughton.

“The War Games” with Patrick Troughton.

While the meat of “The War Games” comes from the Doctor evading execution by the creators of Deadliest Warrior, the landmark status of the serial come from its tenth episode — when the Doctor can no longer run. The Time Lords come in and put an end to the War Lords’ shenanigans, then set their sights on bringing the Doctor back to Gallifrey to answer for his crimes: grand theft TARDIS and meddling with history. The Doctor tries to convince the his Time Lord brethren that sometimes interfering in history is necessary, but they won’t hear any of it. The Doctor is exiled to Earth and two of the better companions in the Doctor Who pantheon are sent back to their homes without any memory of their adventures through time and space.

While my fondness for the Second Doctor is not as strong as some of the others (see: Pertwee and Smith), that most likely stems from the fact that so much of his work has been lost. In my opinion, Troughton’s Doctor was definitely a step in the right direction from Hartnell’s grumpy old man. The connection between the Doctor and his companions that we have come to expect from Doctor Who was not as strong in Hartnell’s era, but really starts to take shape with Troughton and his companions (especially Zoe and Jamie). While their departure might not have been as heart-wrenching as Donna Noble’s (in part because we don’t get to see Troughton revisit them as Tennant did with Donna), the loss of Troughton, Zoe, and Jamie all at once still left a tiny hole in my heart.

Check back tomorrow for my review covering Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor! As I said before, if you have a serial you’d like to see me cover from Doctors Three through Seven, leave a comment or send me a tweet (@TonightsWatch) and maybe I’ll pick your serial to review.

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About Daniel

I'm a guy who spends way too much time playing board games and watching television with his friends. View all posts by Daniel

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