Doctor Who: The War Games (UK - DVD R2)
The Wilson Bros bid a fond farewell to the Cosmic Hobo in this epic release...
The year was 1969 and Doctor Who was in something of a slump—the ratings were down and the attempts to reinvigorate the show by introducing new monsters and bringing back some of the more popular ones during season six didn’t do much to boost viewing figures, which stood at around 3.5 million during Patrick Troughton’s final story. Doctor Who was in crisis and a change of direction was needed.
The Jon Pertwee years eventually ushered Doctor Who into seventies and the colour era, but the final black and white sixties story was able to give the not only the decade, but also monochrome Who and Troughton’s Doctor an epic, magnificent send-off.
The year is 1917—the Doctor, Jamie and Zoë materialise in the middle of No Man’s Land in Europe and are immediately captured by the Germans. They are also almost immediately rescued by British forces and taken back to base. The trio are hauled before the sinister General Smythe and are accused of espionage, with the Doctor being sentenced to death by firing squad.
As the story unfolds, it becomes apparent that there are insidious forces at work and that soldiers from different periods in human history have been taken out of time and forced to fight. The discovery of another time and space vehicle around that is remarkably similar to the TARDIS indicates that the Doctor’s own people could be behind this grand game of playing soldiers.
The epic length of ‘The War Games’ came about because two stories had fallen through (a six-parter and a four-parter) and a new story was required to fill the void. New boy Terrance Dicks decided that he wasn’t able to do the job by himself, so he drafted in Malcolm Hulke and they ended up coming up with an expansive, sprawling story in record time.
Troughton’s wife had decided that it was time that he left the show (actually, there are several purported reasons why he left after three years—fear of typecasting was another one) and it was around the time of the filming of ‘The Invasion’ that he felt that he should leave at the end of the present season. This happened to coincide nicely with the fact that Fraser Hines’ agent had also been telling him to move into movies and so it was decided that they, along with Wendy Padbury—despite the producers trying to persuade her to stay on for season seven—would all leave at the end of the final story in the season.
Despite the fact that this was the last adventure for the trio, Troughton, Hines and Padbury gave the same level of performance, professionalism and enthusiasm that they had always given. Hines is given a little more to do than usual, allowing him to assume a more heroic position in the latter half of the story; his attempt to impress a Mexican revolutionary in episode by trying (unconvincingly to put on a macho swagger) in episode eight is most amusing.
The expansive supporting cast are impressive for this big send off:
Edward Brayshaw, known to a generation of kids as the cantankerous and henpecked Harold Meaker in Rentaghost, is impressive as the War Chief; with his tall stature, stylised hairdo and matching facial topiary, he really cuts a distinctive (if somewhat campy) figure, giving a grand, theatrical vocal delivery and moving in a manner usually reserved for the stage or the catwalk (if you will allow us to slip into nerd mode for a moment, Brayshaw used the same stylised way of moving when he played a robotic version of Harold in an episode of Rentaghost who happened to be programmed for modelling...).
We have long thought that the more hatred that a villain generates in the viewer, the more successful the actor is at his job; Noel Coleman as General Smythe succeeds magnificently in this respect, as he inspires hatred almost from the moment he appears onscreen. Coleman infuses Smythe with an almost reptilian sense of revulsion, but manages to tiptoe carefully around falling into pantomime villain territory by injecting a sense of realism from time-to-time. When Smythe puts on his all-important hypnotising spectacles, he brings a grand, theatrical timbre to his voice that really sells in influencing power of his glasses.
Philip Madoc (who would later achieve iconic Who status as Solon in ‘The Brain of Morbius’) is great as the War Lord, giving a naturalistic performance that contrasts nicely with Brayshaw's grand, theatrical performance and has many subtle nuances that flesh out what could a have been a run-of-the-mill ‘baddie’.
Along with the villains, there are a couple of heroic characters introduced; these characters almost become companions in their own right, due to the sheer length of the story (much like Sarah Kingdom in the epic twelve-part William Hartnell story, ‘The Daleks’ Masterplan’)…
Jane Sherwin (who was the wife of producer Derrick Sherwin) is very good as Lady Buckingham—a nurse who is one of the few people to actually believe that the Doctor, Jamie and Zoë aren’t spies—fleshing out the already strong character and making it into a very memorable one.
David Savile as Lieutenant Carstairs is equally as impressive, giving a complex performance to a character that is bound by duty and honour, but is forced to question everything he believes in when it becomes apparent that his commanding officer, General Smythe is not what he appears to be.
There are also nice turns from the supporting cast including Tony McEwan as a Redcoat who initially tries to kill Jaime (for being a Highlander), but is eventually persuaded to join forces with Jamie and fight for their freedom. It’s also good to see future Love Thy Neighbour and Eastenders star Rudolph Walker as Harper, a soldier in the American Civil War. He turns in a sympathetic performance, but one could only imagine what would have happened if they had cast Jack Smethurst as one of his opposite numbers…
David Maloney was called upon to direct ‘The War Games’—Maloney had previously directed ‘The Krotons’ (which was written by Bob Holmes—funny how two of the best people on the classic series worked on such a duff early story…) and he was really able to cut loose with the location sequences on Troughton’s final story; the camerawork is inventive and the opening sequence in No Man’s Land really conveys the horror and bleakness of the Great War (despite the fact that it was shot on a rubbish tip in Brighton) and the sequences where our heroes encounter Roman soldiers are also impressive, as Maloney obviously had to be creative in his shooting because of the limited number of soldiers available. Maloney makes use of the fact that editing on film allowed for much greater flexibility than on tape and the results are film sequences that contain a lot of movement and quick cutting, giving an almost cinematic feel to the filmed material.
The War Games is essentially two stories; a nine-parter involving warriors from different periods in Earth’s history and the one-off story involves the Doctor being put on trial by his own people. There is a sense that things are moving very quickly toward a climax during part eight (the montage of all the control sections of the different time zones makes for great viewing) and for the unwary viewer, there is a sense of befuddlement as to what is going to take place in the final episode.
‘The War Games’ introduces the audience to the first proper look at the Time Lords (OK, so we’ve seen Susan and ‘The Meddling Monk’, but this was the first real gander at them as a race); the depiction of them here is of an aloof group of individuals who talk in a very pretentious, haughty manner and exist also almost ethereal beings. This take on them continued into ‘The Three Doctors’, but was eventually blown out of the water when Robert Holmes penned ‘The Deadly Assassin’. Whilst the initial depiction was an interesting one, the eventual humanisation of the Time Lords was a wise move, as it allowed them to become far more interesting.
Some fans have always complained that the ten-part story is too long and that it is over-padded and drags somewhat. Our feeling on watching the remastered edition for DVD is that it moves along briskly and that it is also highly entertaining. We have always firmly believed that Doctor Who was episodic for a very good reason, and that multiple episodes should have a break of at least twenty-four hours between them, but when it came to watching ‘The War Games’ on DVD, we found ourselves watching the first four instalments in one go, as the story was so compelling and the performances so engrossing.
If we were to criticise the story in any way, we would pick upon the pretty shameful way that Jamie and Zoë leave the series. It's one thing to have companions leave the Doctor, but to have almost all the memories of the extraordinary adventures he has taken them on erased is another matter entirely. Granted, Zoë probably lived a good life back in her own time, but it's a fairly safe bet that Jamie probably wouldn't have lived past the age of thirty in the time period to which he was returned. Outgoing New- Who producer Russell T Davies was a Troughton fan and must have been influenced by what happens to the Doctor's two companions, as he wiped the memory of Donna Noble at the end of the fourth series.
Casual fans will think that ‘The War Games’ contains more than a little padding, but this can be overlooked because it was the final story for such a great Doctor and two of the best companions. Fans of Troughton just won’t want it to end.
The Doctor Who Restoration Team has done wonders with ‘The War Games’. The British Film Institute held the film recording negatives of all ten episodes and they were all in excellent condition—given that they had great quality materials to work with, the results are arguably the best seen so far. The videotaped studio material is wonderfully clean and sharp, almost looking as though you were watching its initial broadcast—the blacks are really solid and the level of detail in general is wonderful. Obviously the film sequences don’t look as good, but they’re still pretty impressive.
Obviously Restoration Team member Mark Ayes has worked his audio sweetening magic on the audio for this story and it sounds a treat.
Audio commentary: Writer Terrance Dicks, script editor Derrick Sherwin actors Wendy Padbury, Fraser Hines, Philip Madoc, Jane Sherwin Graham Weston all talk about their experiences on ‘The War Games’. Dicks, Hines and Padbury are old hands at audio commentaries and are all entertaining. They more than make up for the absence of Patrick Troughton by proving numerous anecdotes about him. Philip Madoc turns up later on and his characteristically dry wit really adds a little something to it all.
War Zone: This thirty-six minute documentary looks at the making of this epic story is certainly not short of participants, featuring Fraser Hines, Wendy Padbury, Jane Sherwin, Graham Weston, Bernard Horsfall, director David Maloney, producer Derrick Sherwin, production designer Roger Cheveley writer Terrance Dicks. Non-participants also share their thoughts on Pat Troughton’s final story, including New- Who writers James Moran, Paul Cornell and Joseph Lidster. Doctor Who Magazine editor Tom Spilsbury also talks about the story. It’s nice to hear director David Maloney talk from beyond the grave once again, as he did on the recent DVD release of ‘The Deadly Assassin’—this is a perfect argument for stockpiling audio commentaries and interviews of participants. Hines and Padbury are interviewed together and the chemistry they had is still there after all these years and they are a delight, especially when the subject of Derrick and Jane Sherwin is raised. Another highlight comes with amusing anecdote how enthusiastic visual effects guy Michaeljon Harris decided to get rid of the leftover explosives at the end of the location work...
Shades of Grey: This examines the pros and cons of shooting Doctor Who in black and white. Though this tends to be a rather general look at black and white television making, rather than specifically being about Doctor Who, it's still a hugely enjoyably look back at a way of shooting drama that was never properly appreciated until many years after its demise. Personally speaking, we feel that the sixties stories had a look and feel to them that was never recaptured once the show switched to colour, a feeling that several of the participants in this featurette concur with.
Now and Then: Another of the sporadic contemporary looks at the locations used for episodes of Doctor Who. It is quite remarkable how the team who filmed this segment were able to match the shots up—most of the places have barely changed in forty years and the accuracy of the shots help to give a little flavour of how the locations would have looked if they had been filmed in colour.
Sylvia James in Conversation: the woman who designed make-up for a good portion of the Troughton era is interviewed here. She discusses her work on individual stories and has warm things to say about Patrick Troughton.
The Doctor’s Composer: This first part of two has muso Dudley Simpson reminiscing about his work on Doctor Who; he's a very genial man and a delight to listen to as he shares his memories about his time on the show. The best anecdote comes when the Aussie recalls the ridiculously tight deadline on a Patrick Troughton story, with him speeding along the road to deliver the freshly-composed score, only to be flagged down by a passing policeman. This is great stuff and makes you look forward to the second part.
Talking About Regeneration: This is a wonderful look at the concept of the Doctor changing his appearance, examining how it was an initial necessity, but went on to become a virtue in terms of keeping the show fresh. Though many of the interviews of the Doctors are from the 2003 documentary ‘The Story of Doctor Who’, there is still enough new material from interviewees to be a highly enjoyable look at the changing face of the Doctor. There are no prizes for correctly guessing which iconic 60s ‘The Who’ song opens this documentary...
Time Zones: This is a little look some of the various wars that are featured in this story, with several academics fleshing out what was seen in the show and even pointing out some of the historic inaccuracies. This is interesting stuff and it’s fascinating to hear that one of the professorial types on hear indicated that his future vocation might have been influenced by watching ‘The War Games’ as a child.
On Target: Malcolm Hulke: This featurette looks at the work of Malcolm ‘Mac’ Hulke, who to a generation of Doctor Who fans was responsible for novelising numerous Who stories for Target; Hulke went above and beyond the call of duty when it came to adapting the scripts, expanding storylines and fleshing out characters in ways that enhanced the stories immeasurably. This is fascinating stuff, with members of that generation singing the praises of the late Hulke and writer Terrance Dicks speaks very fondly of his old friend. Arguably the highlight for us is the interview with artist Chris Archilleos, who gives fans the story behind the infamous ‘KKLAK!’ cover for the novelisation of Invasion of the Dinosaurs.
Stripped for Action: Another instalment of the occasional examinations of the comic-book adventures of the Doctor. Pat Troughton is obviously under the spotlight here, with a look at some of the weird and wacky adventures that the Cosmic Hobo undertook in graphic-novel form. Though this isn't as interesting or as in-depth as the Sylvester McCoy instalment that can be found on ‘Delta and the Bannermen’, there is still much to enjoy here, with some nice use of the Quarks (from the Dominators), even if they do speak—well they were pretty bloody useless on screen, so any enhancement to them has to be looked upon as an improvement.
Devious: Now, this really is an oddity. A group of Doctor Who-crazed friends decided to film their own adventure, set between ‘The War Games’ and ‘Spearhead from Space’. Though it was never finished, they were able to hire the services of Jon Pertwee, which turned out to be the final time he would play the Third Doctor. It’s a maddening mix of the interesting and the cringe-inducing, as the actor who plays the ‘non-Doctor’ (isn’t that a marital aid?) looks like a fusion of Troughton and Pertwee, but sadly quite clearly isn’t an actor. This is compounded when old pros like Pertwee and the late Hugh Lloyd and the equally-late Peter Tuddenham act the would-be Doctor off the screen. This firmly falls into the category of ‘curiosity’, but it’s nice to see Pertwee as the Doctor one last time. This extra comes with an audio commentary from some of those involved and listening to it really makes you appreciate just how much love and enthusiasm went into the project, and also just how much Pertwee went above and beyond what was expected of him.
Coming soon: It's the ‘Black Guardian’ trilogy. There are critics of these three stories who would argue that when you have to retrieve the scattered components of a pearl necklace from the toilet, you have to pull out a few turds now and again. We'll be examining them on their own merits very soon...
Easter eggs: There three Easter eggs in this set (one on each disc), but we're not going to give away the surprise by revealing what they are, although watching one of them will leave you shocked... or should that be socked...?
If there is one thing we are a little disappointed about, it's that this set does not contain a definitive look at the Troughton era as a whole—the ‘Trial of a Timelord’ set had a nice look at the Baker era, we thought that each Doctor would eventually be the subject of such a documentary. We have heard that this was planned, but abandoned because neither David (who actually appears in ‘The War Games’ as Private Moor) nor Michael Troughton were prepared to participate and it was felt that without their direct input, this would be rather pointless. Seeing as bonus materials for Doctor Who stories are generally prepared a year or two in advance, fans can only hope that seeing as David Troughton appeared in New- Who episode ‘Midnight’ and has also recently narrated the audio book of ‘The Abominable Snowmen’, he might be a little more open to talking about his father in the future. This is about the only bugbear about an otherwise superb DVD release of ‘The War Games’.
‘The War Games’ is one of the best stories that Troughton ever did and as a result he went out on a high, bringing the sixties era of black and white Doctor Who to a fine close. Of the Troughton stories that survive in their entirety (there are only six), ‘The War Games’ is in a three-way tie with ‘Tomb of the Cybermen’ and ‘The Mind Robber’ as the best of them. The wonderful restoration work, coupled with the expansive amount of extras make this three-disc set one of the best Doctor Who releases so far. We can’t recommend it highly enough…
Review by Wilson Bros
General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children
Release Date: 6th July 2009
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Aspect: 1.33:1 Full Frame
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Extras: Audio Commentary, Shades of Grey, Talking About Regeneration, Now & Then, Time Zones
Easter Egg: No
Director: David Maloney
Cast: Patrick Troughton, Fraser Hines, Wendy Padbury, Edward Brayshaw
Length: 241 minutes
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