Doctor Who #255: The War Games Part 10

"I expect they’ll to make me listen to a long boring speech about being a good boy, they like making speeches..."TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jun.21 1969.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor is put on trial by the Time Lords. It's their first real episode, but it's the 2nd Doctor's, Jamie's and Zoe's last (at least, as regular cast members).

REVIEW: The Time Lords stand revealed and they are no less god-like for having a humanoid form, albeit seemingly benevolent gods. Initially disembodied voices pursuing the TARDIS through time and space and breaking down its defenses, and able to not only put a field that takes the War Lord's planet out of the universe, but undo the War Lord's very existence (not to mention the bit where they can activate bright lights with a simple look), the Time Lords are surprisingly kind and open-minded to the Doctor and his friends. Yes, they punish him, but through that punishment, they freely admit he is right about the need to fight evil. It's not so much an exile as it is the mission he would have wanted them to give him. They let Zoe and Jamie visit the Doctor in his cell, and even look the other way while he gives them one last escape attempt before they must say goodbye. Their attitude is neither righteous nor cruel, but rather that of beings who do what they believe is right and do not necessarily understand why others do not adhere to their point of view. The Doctor bewilders them.

Perhaps they have to be unaware of their cruelty for us to accept the characters' various fates, which are, on paper, quite unbearable. Zoe and Jamie are effectively mind-wiped and will only remember their first adventure with the Doctor, not their travels. Zoe seems on the cusp of remembering something as she is returned to the Wheel (very cool that they even got one of the actresses from that story to come back for a scene), so there seems to be hope. But in Jamie, there's none of that, and though the Doctor lets out a chuckle seeing his old friend fighting Redcoats again, we should remember that he befriended the Redcoat he met in The War Games, and the conclusion is that Jamie has definitely lost something, almost three seasons' worth of evolution. If this is sad, the second Doctor's fate must be considered tragic, especially after he lays out why he travels and helps people. The writers are setting up the next iteration of the character and the show, exiling him to Earth and changing his appearance (and personality - it's clear this is a forced regeneration from the way Pertwee acts in the next episode). They are forcing him to deny his whole being, not only his self as represented by the actor, but his very nature, that of a traveler (and as we'll discover, that of a "hobo" and "clown" as well). The sequence is especially wrenching as Troughton is made to twist his face instead of letting some effect do it. It's a bit silly, and it shouldn't be, though it gets more powerful when he puts his hands over his face and his body spins into the darkness.

I was surprised at how little of the episode recounts his trial in spite of my memory of it. Instead, it tries to delay the inevitable. The War Lord's guards arrive on Gallifrey(?) via SIDRAT, but are defeated. The Doctor seems only called as a witness against the aliens, but is put on trial soon after. Our friends escape, but are re-captured. It's as if this black and white world wants to go on, and gives us more of what we're used to. There are even clips from past shows (but as "new" footage, strangely) and appearances from all the monsters via "thought channel" (i.e. the Matrix; and these aren't clips, even more strangely). But end it must, and you might be correct to say Doctor Who, as a program devised by Sydney Newman and Verity Lambert, ended on June 21st 1969. The next episode, more than 6 months later, would be a completely different animal - a color program, all on film, about a Bond or Quatermass-like scientist working for UNIT against the threat of alien invasion and starring Jon Pertwee. This retooled show would take Doctor Who to new heights of popularity, but I still think I'm going to miss Troughton a heck of a lot.

THEORIES: While I reject the notion that Bernard Horsfall's Time Lord was somehow present in the Land of Fiction posing as Gulliver, I can completely accept that he is Goth from The Deadly Assassin, before his fall.

VERSIONS: The much-condensed Target novelization reveals that SIDRAT means "Space and Inter-time Directional Robot All-purpose Transporter". The Doctor is charged with the theft of the TARDIS, unmentioned in Part 10.

REWATCHABILITY: High - Technically an epilogue to The War Games, Part 10 manages to be extremely important to the mythos AND provide touching endings for three long-serving characters.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: High - This huge 10-part epic keeps changing its premise and remains fresh throughout, and has some delicious villains, but more than that, it's ABOUT something. It's about the universality of war, and it's about the need to fight evil. It's also the introduction of the Time Lords, and the big goodbye to a Doctor, two companions, a series formula, a demanding schedule, and the whole of the black and white 60s. Being important, it's must-see. So it's also a relief that it's so good.


LiamKav said...

I've put off buying the War Games. Partly because it's 10 episodes long, and partly because I've got Tomb of the Cybermen to watch.

If you only owned Tomb, the Invasion, or the War Games, and you wanted to show someone who looooves Matt Smith some Troughton, which would you go for? I've got him to watch Genesis and Remembrance of the Daleks so far, which he quite liked but did laugh as some of the more dated stuff.

Siskoid said...

The most Smith-ish? That's a good question. I think it's probably War Games. For an audience unused to 60s TV, though, Tomb is the most expedient at 4 episodes. It's a safer bet, though the I think it falls short of the other two serials.

S said...

I always find this ending terribly sad, with Jamie and Zoe mind-wiped. Would it have been so bad to send them back but with their memories?

To say nothing of the loss of my favorite Doctor.

Anonymous said...

This is a great episode, and an important one obviously, but I regret that it comes at the end of "The War Games". I think that this epic story has never gotten its due as a classic in its own right, because it's overshadowed by the events of Part 10.


Siskoid said...

You're not entirely wrong, because it's the one that's remembered. But when watching the War Games, the writers do make it a complete consequence of what went before, and they do keep the War Lord in it as long as they can.

Anonymous said...

I know. It's not the writers' fault and I enjoy the War Lord's role in Part 10, actually. It's just that when you think of "The War Games", the first few things that come to mind are all from its epilogue. It makes me kind of wish they had put the episode onto a crap story instead. The standing of both of them would be improved!

Like, imagine flip-flopping "The War Games" and "The Space Pirates" and at the end of Part 9, the Doctor successfully escapes from the Time Lords, only to be caught and tried in Part 7 of "The Space Pirates". But at least the way it is, Troughton got a classic story to go out with, I guess.


Siskoid said...

If The Space Pirates had made the same fate in your alternate reality, we wouldn't have that final story!

Or imagine if War Games was wiped instead of Pirates! Gah! Doesn't bear thinking on!

Siskoid said...

Anyway, why would the Doctor have to call the Time Lords at the end of a story where the stakes are as minimal as his participation?

I.e. you can't improve The Space Pirates. It's the worst.

Anonymous said...

But imagine if "The War Games" had been wiped. It would be mourned as the classic it is. Same for "Seeds of Death" by the way. It would be far more appreciated if the BBC had wiped it.

(Not that I wish that had happened!)


Siskoid said...

Well, I misspoke. There IS a way to improve Pirates, and that's if it existed. Existing Who is better than wiped Who, obviously.

But I'd rather have a momentous epilogue on a great story than on a dull one. Here the conclusion MEANS something, and as I've noted across the 10 episodes, moments in The War Games actually give us a touching hint at what might have been had the characters continued their journey, and give us a real sense of what has been lost when it was cut short. The Doctor makes a grave sacrifice which would not be possible in a story where they just catch up to him or whatever. There's no reason to think of it as not of the same piece, because there's a Time Lord as a baddie all the way through. I don't see it belonging to any other story, nor do I think The War Games is diminished because the annals of Who remember Part 10's additions more than the story itself. To those who would reduce the stories to mere plot points, I say "Watch it, you'll like it."

And while I know Seeds doesn't have the very best reputation among fans, again, they should watch it again or for the first time. It was better than I remembered. I do know the phenomenon you're talking about though, it's the one that meant Tomb of the Cybermen was more of a classic before it was found.


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