Doctor Who #247: The War Games Part 2

"You know, not many women take an interest in the problems of supply."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Apr.25 1969.

IN THIS ONE... Our heroes escape 1917 right through the mists of time and into Ancient Rome!

REVIEW: I think what I most like about this episode is how it subtly references the best parts of the Troughton era (compare to The Space Pirates, which didn't seem to know WHO these characters were). We have Troughton impersonating an official, like a human version of psychic paper. We have him, in the same sequence, totally putting one over the military mind, back to his anarchist's ways. In fact, the military gets lampooned in the most amusing way throughout. Lady Jennifer makes Ransom think he's finally found a woman interested in hearing him talk about paperwork, and General Smythe keeps getting interrupted at the most inopportune times, which makes me think he really should hypnotize his men into knocking before they come in. This is the kind of themes the show was getting into circa The Macra Terror, and which has appeared only intermittently over the past two seasons. We also have Jamie almost giving him away, the Doctor stepping all over his lines to get him to shut up. Going even further back in the program's history, we have Zoe cutely knocking someone out with a pot of flowers, and the return of a historical culture from a story where that fighting move featured prominently - the Romans!

But it's not all about the past. The program is also looking to its future. Smythe is traveling via TARDIS - a neat upright drawer design, and apparently, not flying with the breaks on judging from the sound - and his monitor can't be seen unless you try really hard, what today we'd call... a perception filter? Of course, that's all hindsight, since there's no real way to guess where The War Games is actually heading, but these little bits a great upon rewatching. For the virgin audience, there's no solid reason to believe we're NOT in 1917, in a story dealing perhaps with temporal wormholes. The story keeps throwing new clues and mysteries at us to keep us interested - mists through which one can get to a different time zone, a time-lost Redcoat, Smythe's time machine and secret meetings.

And since we ARE dealing with time, both the program's past and future, we can also judge how far we've come in the present. This is best represented by Jamie's interactions with the Redcoat from his era. Instead of fighting him (although this is pleasantly teased), Jamie takes him as a short-lived ally. Unlike these time-tossed soldiers, Jamie's war is well behind him. The Doctor's shown him a better way, and he can't be absorbed back into his former life (sad foreshadowing, that, I'm afraid). And am I the only one who loves the car cranking bit? I love it when Who uses history to good effect.

REWATCHABILITY: High - As we'll see, The War Games is a bridge between black and white Who and color Who. That theme is potent in Part 2, an episode that is full of greatest hits, yet keeps throwing fresh ideas at you too.


Anonymous said...

Whenever I watch "The War Games", I try and blank out my mind and pretend I've never seen it before. So many great "Holy crap" twists in this story. And you make some great points about the characterization.

Easy top 10, maybe top 5.



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