Doctor Who #254: The War Games Part 9

"Don't worry, when the Time Lords get him he'll wish you had killed him."TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jun.14 1969.

IN THIS ONE... The War Chief is found out and executed, but the Doctor is forced to call the Time Lords to send all the time-napped soldiers home.

REVIEW: This is Philip Madoc's (and the War Lord's) best episode yet, delightfully understated compared to other Who villains (and definitely compared to the Security Chief who by now sounds like a demented robot) and much more intelligent because of it. He immediately sees through the War Chief's deception, for example, and the Doctor's flattery, usually foolproof against world conquerors, doesn't work on him. Even his reaction to the Time Lords' arrival is a simple statement, without hysterics. The second Doctor era is known for its monsters, but he's really got some great villains as well (among them, Tobias Vaughn, Maxtible, Salamander, even Zaroff). The War Lord almost makes you forget that his two Chiefs are pretty good baddies as well, which, I suppose, is why they're allowed to make such a meal of their respective death scenes.

The Doctor is at his most heroic here, saving the day at great personal cost. First he "betrays" his friends to prevent a much worst result - the use of a neutron bomb on them. And having caused the present situation, the only way out of it is to call the Time Lords, who will surely arrest him and put an end to his travels. The only way to send all the soldiers home is with their help, so he sacrifices his freedom for the greater good. Not that it's all deus ex machina (which is not meant derogatorily in this case), as there's a fair bit of action as the resistance overcome the aliens, in particular a fun bit in which Jamie and Russell tag-punch a guard. When it comes to the goodies, the violence is cartoonish or of the kind that merely shows people wrestling for weapons. Only bad men use guns to shoot people, Villar among the first. He almost derails the entire plan AND episode with his stupid brutality, talking about killing the Doctor more often than a Dominator. A truly annoying character. Good thing there's so much more to look at in this episode.

We don't see the Time Lords yet, but their arrival is akin to that of gods. A white light takes the time-lost soldiers away magically, and the Doctor and his companions struggle to get to the TARDIS as some massive time wave slows them down. This is impressive temporal technology, the Time Lord equivalent of weapons of mass destruction. The TARDIS, it seems, is only the smallest tip of the iceberg of what they are capable of. In a sense, this is the end of The War Games. The problem has been fixed, the bad guys killed or captured, but to do so, the Doctor has unleashed something terrible on his status quo, and after the next episode, nothing will ever be the same again (oh, in so many ways too).

THEORIES: In this episode, the Doctor uses small white cards that magically turn into a little box to send a psychic message to the Time Lords. It's a really cool little stop-motion sequence, but to modern eyes, it's even cooler because we've so recently seen the same kind of psychic Time Lord receptacle in The Doctor's Wife! Don't tell me those aren't connected!

REWATCHABILITY: High - While that idiot Villa almost pushes the episode off the podium, it's got too much going for it. Wonderful villains, a smart and self-sacrificing Doctor, and the arrival of the Time Lords (finally!).


CiB said...

On Theories: Before it aired Neil Gaiman did say this about Doctors Wife:

“It all starts in void-space, with something or someone we have not seen since The War Games, and a knock on the Tardis door.”

Siskoid said...

Well there you go.

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