Doctor Who: The War Games
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Doctor Who:The War Games (DVD)
The TARDIS arrives on a planet where a race known only as the Aliens have gathered soldiers from a number of different wars in history, brainwashed them and put them to battle. Their aim is to form an invincible army from the survivors and use this to take over the galaxy.]]>
Patrick Troughton's tenure as the Second Doctor comes to an end with this epic 10-part Doctor Who serial from 1969, which finds him at crossed swords with both a diabolical race of aliens and his own race, the Time Lords. The Doctor's problems begin when he and companions Jamie (Frazier Hines) and Zoe (Wendy Padbury) materialize on a planet where soldiers from Earth's past have been brought to fight in a battle of supremacy in order to build a super fighting force for aliens with galactic conquest in mind. In order to stop their plan, the Doctor is forced to call on the Time Lords for help--and in doing so, he must face both trial for stealing the TARDIS and possible regeneration. Historically significant in the history of Doctor Who as the final appearance of Troughton in the role, as well as for the first episode to mention the Time Lords by name and the concept of the Doctor's regeneration, The War Games is distinguished by the quality of its clever scripting (by Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke), which changed the direction of the series for the entirety of Jon Pertwee's term as the Third Doctor and part of Tom Baker's Fourth Doctor story arc.
The DVD presentation of The War Games celebrates the importance of the serial in Who history with a three-disc set that covers nearly every aspect of its production and the Doctor's place in pop culture during the time of its broadcast. Chief among the extras is a commentary track featuring Hines, Padbury, Dicks, and costars Philip Madoc, Jane Sherwin, and Graham Weston; all are featured, along with a host of additional performances and crew, in both the 36-minute "War Zone" featurette, which discusses the making of the serial and Troughton's departure, and "Shades of Grey," which examines the effect of monochrome television on early episodes such as this one. "Talking About Regeneration" discusses the Doctor's changing appearance through talks with Fifth Doctor Peter Davison, among others, while "On Target--Malcolm Hulke" kicks off a series on coauthor Hulke's imaginative Doctor Who novelizations. There's also another installment of "Stripped for Action," which covers the Doctor's adventures in comic form, as well as interviews with composer Dudley Simpson and makeup artist Sylvia James, return visits to the serial's exterior locations, and the usual subtitle production notes, promotional trailers, Radio Times PDF, and gallery of photos. Only "Devious," an amateur film made by fans, fails to live up to the quality of the other material. The Easter Egg-curious will also find treasures on all three discs, including behind-the-scenes audio, a test reel of special effects animation, and an amusing rendition of the Doctor's plea before the Time Lords as enacted by cheeky sock puppets. --Paul Gaita
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Thankfully one of the few stories still intact is the last story. The ten part masterpiece, "The War Games", is the swansong for the Second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe. It also introduces the Time Lords as a group, shows us a rival Time Lord to the Doctor in the form of the War Chief, and has a nice, epic feel to it that hasn't really been captured in too many other stories. It was also the last of the black and white stories.
There are certain problems with the story. For one, it's quite well-padded and redundant in parts. Truth be told, it could've been done as a four-part story and worked every bit as well, but that's a minor gripe.
Special features on this three-disc collection include such things as commentaries, features on the Target novels and the comic strip, and much more!
Overall this is a heck of a story and a great collection. Worth every penny!
However, even 40 years later, the ordeal to which the Second Doctor is subjected in his swan song is kind of shocking. "The War Games" opens with an iconic image, of the Doctor and his loyal companions Jamie and Zoe (well-played by Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury) standing giggling in a mud puddle in the middle of No-Man's Land. By the end of that week's episode, far from giggling in the mud, they've been captured, escaped, captured, court-martialed, and sentenced to death. The World War I firing squad which the Doctor faces in the story's first cliffhanger is one of the grimmest fates his incarnation ever had to face. While "The War Games" has been accused of being slow and padded, Episode One at least is nearly perfect in its pacing and increasingly downbeat tone.
The writers (Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke, two of "Doctor Who"'s best scribes) slowly reveal the mystery over the course of the first several episodes. In the opening act we see an anachronistic TV screen behind British lines. In Episode Two we see the Doctor abruptly drive from France into Ancient Rome, and in Episode Three he's captured by an out-of-place TARDIS. In Episode Four the Doctor is terrified to recognize one of the aliens responsible for manipulating the war zones, and by Episode Six we learn that the both the Doctor and the War Chief are members of the same race -- the Time Lords. While it's inevitable that in a "Doctor Who" story of such length there are bound to be dull spots (here, Episodes Five and Six seem to be the most padded), overall the progression of "The War Games" is fast and unflinching.
In the final two episodes, the Docttor learns that he can only defeat the War Chief and his allies by calling on the Time Lords for help -- but in so doing the audience learns, for the first time in the show's then six-year history, that the Doctor has been on the run from the Time Lords, and that to call them is to invite his own arrest. The entirety of Episode Ten is devoted to the Doctor's capture and trial. The inexorable nature of the Doctor's fate mirrors the grim World War I sequences, and the imposition of the Doctor's sentence in the closing moments is both terrifying and poignant.
"The War Games" is treated to one of the best jobs the Restoration Team has done in their near-decade on the job. This 3-disc set features not only a pristine video restoration, but also an informative text commentary track and a very busy audio commentary booth. The bonus disc is full of documentaries: a lengthy making-of feature, a historical piece on the various wars encountered in the story (although oddly no American professor is interviewed about the American Civil War), and a retrospective look at the Doctor's first nine regenerations (featuring side-splitting observations by various show writers). We also get installments in the ongoing set of features about "Doctor Who" novelizations and comic strips.
Take your time with "The War Games" DVD. Overall this story is "Doctor Who" at the height of its power to both entertain and frighten, and after 40 years may be the "Who" story that has aged better than any other.