“The War Games” is the last adventure of the sixth season of “Doctor Who” classic series, which aired between april and june 1969. It’s a ten parts adventure written by Malcolm Hulke and Terrance Dicks and directed by David Maloney.
The TARDIS materializes in what appears to be the western front of World War I in 1917. The Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton), Jamie (Frazer Hines) and Zoe (Wendy Padbury) are saved from a bombing only to suffer a summary court-martial in which they are convicted. The worst fate is for the Doctor, who is sentenced to death as a spy.
But something isn’t right. Even by the hasty standards of the military court-martials during the war, the Doctor and his companions were victims of a real manipulation. General Smythe, who led the court-martial, has somehow influenced the other officers and witnesses present, convincing everyone that there were conclusive evidence of the guilt of the accused. What’s really going on?
This mini-box set is very rich in extras: in fact it contains a DVD devoted to them. There are typical contents such as production subtitles, the Radio Times Listings, a promo of the “Doctor Who” DVD to be published soon and a gallery of pictures from this adventure.
There are various comments in the adventure alternative audio track by protagonists Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury, actors Philip Madoc, Jane Sherwin and Graham Weston, co-author Terrance Dicks and producer Derrick Sherwin.
War Zone. A documentary about 36 minutes long about the production of this adventure.
Shades of Grey. “The War Games” was the last adventure of “Doctor Who” produced in black and white. This documentary almost 22 minutes long examines the limits but also the advantages of this type of production.
Now And Then. The locations used for filming as they are today and as they were at the time.
The Doctor’s Composer. Composer Dudley Simpson talks about his experience in “Doctor Who” in this documentary about 17 minutes long.
Sylvia James – In Conversation. Make-up designer Sylvia James talks about her work in “Doctor Who” in the years of Patrick Troughton.
Talking About Regeneration. Regeneration is the reason for “Doctor Who” longevity. In this documentary about 24 minutes long the various regenerations of the Doctor are examined.
Time Zones. The historical reality behind the various wars shown in this adventure.
Stripped for Action: The Second Doctor. The comics dedicated to the Second Doctor. It’s a kind of extra interesting especially for fans of this genre.
On Target – Malcolm Hulke. A documentary about 20 minutes long about writer Malcolm Hulke and his contribution to “Doctor Who”.
Devious. An amateur short movie with Jon Pertwee showing the possible history of the Doctor between “The War Games” and the official start of the Third Doctor era.
Also included there are printed materials from the BBC about “The War Games” and the SIDRAT schemes in PDF format.
The 3 mini-box set DVDs contain a few “Easter eggs”: an audio recording made during the shooting of this adventure, a clip of the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre and the visual effect of the Time Lords force field.
Actors Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines had decided to leave “Doctor Who” but the production hoped that at least Wendy Padbury would stay in the show. The protagonists, however, had formed a strong personal bond working together so the actress decided to leave too. As a result, it was necessary to produce an adventure in which all of them gave their farewell.
Initially, the plan was to produce two adventures, one of six episodes and one of four, to end the era of the Second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe. Various problems in the development of the ideas chosen for those adventures convinced Derrick Sherwin, who had just become “Doctor Who” producer after working in the show as its script editor, to decide to produce one final adventure consists of ten episodes.
The development time of the scripts was always tight in the classic “Doctor Who” series and that made it even more complicated to write a long one such as the one that became “The War Games” quickly. Terrance Dicks already had experience as a writer in the show but for such a big johb he was joined by an even more experienced colleague such as Malcolm Hulke, with whom he had already worked previously.
The screenplay of “The War Games” was completed while they were already filming the first few episodes. Although Dicks and Hulke had to work quickly, the result is extraordinary with themes that add value to an adventure that is a milestone in the history of “Doctor Who”.
“The War Games” starts as a common historical adventure with the Doctor and his companions who apparently arrive on Earth in the past. However, soon they realize that someone is interfering in World War I for mysterious purposes. The presence of anachronistic objects and soldiers who seem to have experienced some form of mental conditioning clearly indicate some outside intervention.
In the classic “Doctor Who” series there was a tendency to have adventures with a slow pace with more or less padding. In “The War Games” there’s a certain repetitiveness of situations in the various episodes in which the Doctor and his companions are captured by one of the warring factions, manage to escape, typically aided by someone, are captured again and the cycle restarts.
Nevertheless, the story always manages to maintain a certain tension because there’s a lot of action and the drama that’s being developed concerns the soldiers, used as pawns in a cruel game. Particularly in the episodes concerning World War I, there’s a remarkable contrast between the hard life of the soldiers in the trenches and the luxury of the building where General Smythe carries out his mysterious plan.
“The War Games” isn’t only an action story because in the course of the episodes new elements are continually revealed that allow to discover more and more about what’s behind the external interference. This allows to get to the latest episodes, where the Doctor discovers that among the perpetrators of that cruel war game there’s also a member of his race.
In “The Time Meddler” the Doctor had met the Monk, a member of his race who wanted to change the history of mankind for his own purposes but we knew almost nothing about their people and their planet. In “The War Games” the situation is more complicated because there’s the War Chief who provides his knowledge of time travel to other aliens.
In the last few episodes of the story there’s also some padding again this is done cleverly by the authors. The War Chief must work together with the Security Chief but between the two of them there’s a strong hostility so they spend a lot of time arguing. The War Lord, who directs the operations, must also keep his collaborators under control. Surely the excellent performancec by the actors help to maintain the tension until the big ending.
Towards the end of “The War Games” the Doctor is in a troube he can’t fix on his own and is forced to contact the Time Lords and to return to his planet – though the name Gallifrey will be established only later – where he too must face the charges of violating their laws.
At last the origin of the Doctor is discovered. In “The War Games” the Time Lords are shown as godlike beings who live isolated from the other creatures of the universe and don’t interfere in their affairs. The Doctor has chosen to leave what in theory is a kind of heaven to travel in space and time, only to intervene when he finds evil creatures such as the Daleks and others, but have to face consequences.
It’s really a great ending for the Second Doctor era. The audience of “Doctor Who” dropped from the good old days of “Dalekmania” but at that time BBC executives believed in the show and instead of canceling it they decided to relaunch it. The Third Doctor era brought many changes in the show earning a new great success.
Unfortunately, many episodes of the Second Doctor adventures are among those lost after the tapes were erased as it was common practice in the days when television productions were considered ephemeral, meant to be broadcast a couple of times. Groups of fans have produced some reconstructions of those episodes based on the audio tracks that still exist for all of them but of course they only give a partial idea of their quality.
Luckily, “The War Games” was fully recovered and today it’s the longest “Doctor Who” adventure completely available. Therefore we can appreciate at its best a story that in my opinion is overall very good and at the same time is very important to the Doctor’s mythology.
The mini-box set with 3 DVDs reflects the importance of “The War Games” with a big amount of extras. Not all of them are extraordinary but generally they’re at least good and interesting, another reason why this mini-box set is a must-have for anyone interested in “Doctor Who”.