TERRANCE DICKS & MALCOLM HULKE
'THE WAR GAMES' DVD (BBCDVD1800) RELEASED IN JULY 2009;
OR 'REGENERATION' LIMITED EDITION DVD BOX SET (BBCDVD3801) RELEASED IN JUNE 2013.
The TARDIS HAS
MATERIALISED IN A WORLD OF TRENCH WARFARE AND POISON GAS: THE WESTERN FRONT, 1917. IN THE CHAOS AND PARANOIA OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR, THE DOCTOR AND HIS COMPANIONS ARE SEPARATED FROM THEIR SHIP, CAPTURED AND COURT-MARTIALLED. THE DEATH SENTENCE IS SWIFTLY PRONOUNCED.
BUT ALL IS NOT AS IT SEEMS. AS THE DOCTOR FINDS HIMSELF INCREASINGLY OUT OF HIS DEPTH AND FACING IMPOSSIBLE ODDS, THE ONLY SOLUTION IS THE TRULY UNTHINKABLE. HE MUST SEEK HELP FROM THOSE HE MOST FEARS - HIS OWN PEOPLE, THE TIME LORDS...
The War Games
19TH APRIL 1969 - 21ST JUNE 1969
The War Games is one of those serials that will always be talked about. A ten-part marathon that concludes not only Patrick Troughton’s reign as the Doctor, but also the whole monochrome era of the programme, this outstanding serial is also renowned for being the one that finally revealed just where the mystifying man in the blue box came from.
And it really has to be said, 2|entertain’s bountiful three disc DVD release of it feels every bit as epic as the ten episodes themselves do. With the first two discs each housing five episodes apiece (together with an amusingly irreverent commentary featuring Frazer Hines, Wendy Padbury, Terrance Dicks and Derrick Sherwin, amongst others), the third is absolutely rammed with all manner of fascinating documentaries; featurettes; and arbitrary ephemera, and it’s all easily-navigable thanks to the range’s first (and long overdue) ‘Play All’ bonus material button.
Irrespective of the serial’s length, the presentation of this DVD is no different than any other release in the range. Clayton Hickman’s stunning artwork is present and correct, as is the customary collector’s booklet (something that seems to becoming something of a rarity these days outside Doctor Who. I had thought that the three discs might have warranted a slightly larger, Lost in Time-style amaray case, but given how swiftly my shelves are filling up these days, the standard-sized case is more than welcome.
Above: “Terrance, we need a ten-part Doctor Who tomorrow.”
The most substantial of the special features is the thirty-six minute War Zone: The End of an Era, which focuses primarily on the making of The War Games and the dying days of the Troughton era. Those that were on hand for the commentary each contribute numerous anecdotes (albeit in a slightly more refined manner) and we are also treated to the insights of those such as Doctor Who Magazine editor Tom Spilsbury and writers Paul Cornell, James Moran and Joseph Lidster. Late director David Maloney also contributes to the feature posthumously, very interestingly revealing his young son’s hand in selecting the wars to be featured in the serial.
Above: Joseph Lidster Talking About Regeneration
However, the highlight of the bonus material is, ironically, little to do with The War Games. Doing exactly what it says on the tin, Talking About Regeneration sees many of the writers and actors that I have already mentioned (to the sound of The Who’s “My Generation”) talking about what a wonderful concept regeneration is and, inevitably, commenting on the seven that we’ve seen on screen to date. Dalek writer Rob Shearman has some very interesting insight to offer, in particular concerning the original plans for The Celestial Toymaker which I’d not heard of before; Gareth Roberts offers some typically wry observations on the “tumultuous buffeting” that Pip and Jane Baker would have us believe did for sixth Doctor; whilst Clayton Hickman amusingly condemns the segue from Jon Pertwee to Tom Baker as “rubbish”. On a more serious note, I was pleased to discover that many of these writers that I hold in such esteem share my views on both Logopolis and The Caves of Androzani, as well as the wisdom of not kicking off Rose (and Time and the Rani, for that matter) with a regeneration. I say many, as opposed to all, as for some reason Hickman has elected to champion Time and the Rani, fake regeneration and all.
Above: On Target
Not far behind though is the first in a series of features focusing on the authors of the all-pervadingly popular Target novelisations that so many of us were raised on. Clocking in at twenty minutes dead, On Target - Malcolm Hulke examines the output of The War Games’ co-writer, who somehow managed to cram the ten-part blockbuster into just 143 pages of simmering prose for Target just prior to his death in 1979. Second only to Dicks in the eyes of many, it’s wonderful to see the likes of Gary Russell give Hulke his due in this magnificent tribute. No expense is spared either, as Katy Manning and Peter Miles are brought in to read excerpts from Doctor Who and the Cave Monsters and Doctor Who and the Dinosaur Invasion respectively. I’m looking forward to the next On Target - I wonder if they’ll put a whole disc aside for Dicks?
Above: Former Big Finish supremo Gary Russell in the On Target featurette
Meanwhile, Stripped for Action continues a similar series of features, this one focusing on the Doctor’s diverse array of comic strip adventures over the years. Naturally this fourteen-minute instalment focuses on the second Doctor’s adventures in TV Comic which, laden as they were with chatty Quarks and Tenth Planet-style Cybermen on skis, seem to have marked a downright bizarre period for the strips. Nevertheless, the post-exile stories look interesting (particularly the one that sees a bunch of scarecrows “complete” the Doctor’s sentence) , and I think it’s quite telling that Jamie was the first television companion to be used in the medium.
Above: Jon Pertwee stars in the legendary fan production, Devious
I think that the special feature that has piqued the most interest though generally has been the inclusion of Devious, the legendary non-profit fan production that has been running for well over a decade now. Set as it is in that cloudy period between The War Games and Spearhead from Space, Devious sees the second Doctor morph into interim incarnation Tony Garner who – from the explosive trailer-style montage included in the middle of this short feature - enjoyed a wide range of adventures before Jon Pertwee showed up to take his crown back. It’s lovely to see Pertwee back in the role for that one last time, especially so as he ends up decked out in the Troughton outfit and stumbling out of the TARDIS into those woods.
And the bonus material doesn’t end there. Shades of Grey looks at the “the technical and artistic constraints of monochrome television” and how it influenced the style of programmes made in it. Whilst this is certainly an interesting area to explore, the feature is a little too wide in its scope for my tastes - only about five of the featurette’s twenty minutes are expressly Doctor Who-related. Similarly, the fifteen-minute Time Zones has little to do with Doctor Who, focusing instead on the reality behind each of the different time zones featured in The War Games. The bonus disc is then rounded off with a ten-minute Now and Then, which takes us back to the site of Shepcote Valley’s rubbish dump (to which time appears to have been kind); a chat of similar length with make-up designer Sylvia James; and a near-enough twenty-minute précis of composer Dudley Simpson’s first five years’ worth of work on the series.
Turning to the serial itself, whilst it’s generally acknowledged that The War Games is far too long and padded to the hilt, it nonetheless remains a bona fide classic in every respect, not to mention the most visually outstanding Doctor Who serial ever to be shot in monochrome. My initial encounter with Troughton’s swansong was via Hulke’s novelisation (right), which I instantly fell in love with, despite frets over how ten twenty-five minute episodes could’ve been condensed into so few words without losing something of the substance. Years later, I finally got to watch all ten episodes of the serial on UK Gold and I realised that there isn’t all that much substance; The War Games is, for the most part, a circular dance - escape, capture, escape, capture, escape…
Indeed, Hulke and Dicks’ multi-layered plot is peeled away very slowly, one layer at a time. A viewer could be forgiven for thinking that Major Smythe is the real villain of the piece from watching the first few episodes, as the War Lord himself does not even show up until half way through the serial, and even then his introduction is pre-empted by that of the War Chief. Further, much of the plot (all of the ‘resistance’ stuff, for example) could have quite losslessly been cut away to make this story a relatively fast-paced five or six-parter.
Nevertheless, The War Games remains to this day a real favourite of mine. In one way, its extraordinary length works to its advantage as it completely sucks the viewer into the story and its characters, in a sense making it more like a novel than a television show - quite ironic, given that the experience of watching this serial is more like reading a novel than reading the novelisation of it is. And though I certainly wouldn’t recommend to anyone sitting themselves down and watching all four hours of The War Games in one sitting, viewing it in either in two halves (as I tend to do, and as the layout of the DVD release encourages), or even episodically, is something that every Doctor Who fan should do at least once.
The War Lord’s plan is suitably fantastic fodder for a great Who adventure - take an alien planet, split it into different war zones, gather soldiers from different times in Earth’s history, brainwash them, and then let them kill each other until all you have left is an invincible army of hardened veterans that you can conquer the galaxy with. Fair dues, as Paul Cornell points out in the War Zone documentary, a “Champions’ League” of human soldiers is a little bit of a roundabout way of raising a galactic army, but if you don’t scrutinise this aspect of the plot too vigorously, the wonderful premise really opens the doors to some peerless storytelling. Hulke and Dicks’ premise provides so many wonderful opportunities for storytelling and in ten episodes they exploit them all. Just look at the ‘Doctor up against a firing squad’ cliffhanger; or his strutting into a military prison, shouting his mouth off in outrage about how the person in charge there isn’t giving him enough respect, and subsequently being accepted by this person as an authority figure on the strength of his bluster alone. Even the story’s opening is breathtaking - what could better the TARDIS materialising in the middle of No Man’s Land on a Great War battlefield in France?
Above: James Moran in the War Zone: The End of an Era documentary
Best of all though, the story’s subtext presents a powerful anti-war message; a message so powerful, in fact, that Joseph Lidster describes The War Games as the “most anti-war story” that he’s ever seen. For me though, The Fires of Pompeii writer James Moran sums the sentiment up most memorably when he says that of all the races of the cosmos, these beings found humans to be the most warlike; we have more wars than even the Daleks.
In terms of production value, due to its predominantly ‘historic’ setting the standard seems quite a lot higher than that of contemporaneous stories. The sets of the trenches and the chateau are beautifully created; were it not for them being shot in monochrome there would be nothing to distinguish them from programmes like Blackadder Goes Forth, made almost twenty years later. But the superb design of The War Games is not limited to the various historical time zones. The imaginative sets are filled with glass maps and guillotine doors, and never before have I seen a set that cries out 1960s as much as the War Lord’s groovy domain does. Phrases like ‘pop art’ and ‘psychedelic’ don’t even begin to describe it - if you’ve ever seen any of the Austin Powers movies, you can just imagine the setting. It makes a fantastic change from the grey corridors and flashing lights that Doctor Who so often used to depict ‘futuristic’ settings, and with this DVD release we are finally able to see some shots of it in full, gaudy colour.
One of the major reasons that The War Games is so compelling though is the brilliance of its characters. Carstairs (David Savile) and Lady Jennifer (Jane Sherwin) are likeable enough to have become successful companions were the circumstances different, and the more nefarious characters like the intimidating General Smythe and the deplorable Security Chief are both interesting enough to have supported their own (shorter) serials. The War Lord himself is wonderfully brought to life by Doctor Who veteran Philip Madoc, whose calm performance imbues the character with a real sense of power – he doesn’t need to throw his weight around too much; he’s already as feared and respected as he possibly could be.
“Time travellers. I wonder…”
The operatically villainous War Chief, however, is the most interesting character by far. Episode 8 sees the series’ first mention of the Time Lords as, like the Doctor, the War Chief is revealed to be a renegade Time Lord on the run from his people. He wants the Doctor to help him overthrow the War Lord so that they can rule the galaxy together. I found myself quite amused by the War Chief’s dialogue when he speaks to the Doctor; it’s uncannily similar to Darth Vader’s in The Empire Strikes Back, a film which was still over a decade away when The War Games was written. And, just like all good villains, the War Chief completely believes that his wacky scheme for galactic domination is right and just. The Doctor, however, is far from convinced, and for the first time since leaving his home world, he finds himself in a situation that he cannot resolve - at least, not without help.
Enter the Time Lords.
Episode 9 of The War Games ends with the ultimate deus ex machina. Answering the Doctor’s telepathic message in a box, producer Derrick Sherwin’s Time Lords’ wave their magic wand and the games’ combatants are each returned to their customary times and places; the War Lord is in their custody; and the War Chief is dead, apparently killed by his former associates.
“You have returned to us, Doctor. Your travels are over.”
Episode 10 is practically a different story altogether, and arguably contains the biggest reveal in the history of the series. The Doctor’s people are introduced to us as a nearly omnipotent race that have not merely gained mastery over time and space, but also appear to have god-like powers (which one of them uses to physically punish the War Lord when he refuses to testify in his trial). Although they have a policy of strict non-intervention, the Doctor’s summons forces them to try the War Lord for his crimes and eventually sentence him to temporal dissolution – he’s not just executed, he’s wiped from history. However, their strict policy of non-intervention is one that the Doctor has constantly flouted, and there’s also his “borrowing” of a TARDIS to consider. Like the War Lord before him, the Doctor is summarily tried for his crimes and found guilty. However, the Time Lords take account of the Doctor’s good intentions and his role in the battle against evil, and therefore decide to punish him by exiling him to 20th century Earth and forcing him to regenerate, effectively executing his second incarnation.
The Doctor’s goodbye to Jamie and Zoe is a real choker, and the blow is made all the more cruel by the Time Lords’ erasing of their memories of their travels with the Doctor. This is sad enough in Jamie’s case, but in Zoe’s it’s absolutely tragic. After how much her travels with the Doctor have changed her for the better as a person, the Time Lords wipe her memory of everything but The Wheel in Space. Padbury is absolutely superb in the coda on the Wheel; shrugging off a slight feeling that she has forgotten something, she returns to her duties. Back to “all brain and no heart” for her.
And so the Troughton era ends on television with the Doctor’s face contorting as he disappears into the aether. Despite its prolonged length, The War Games is a real tour de force, and the DVD release is perhaps the most comprehensive that we’ve seen since The Trial of a Time Lord last year. And, for the little extra that it costs, the value for money here is unparalleled; particularly when compared with a release such as Image of the Fendahl, which retailed online for just 49p less than The War Games despite being six episodes and a bucket load of special features lighter. So do yourself a favour and bump this one up to the top of your wish list – even if you aren’t convinced by the many endorsements above, it’s worth it simply to check out some of the imaginative facial hair on show.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2009
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Design
and Patents Act 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.
Terrance Dicks’ 2005 novel World Game crystallised the already-popular theory that following his trial at the end of The War Games, the second Doctor’s sentence was suspended while he carried out a number of top secret missions for Gallifrey’s Celestial Intervention Agency. Following World Game, the Doctor was reunited with Jamie – whose memories had been duly restored – who would aid him in his missions, including the one depicted in The Two Doctors.
At some point afterwards, the Time Lords’ sentence was carried out: the Doctor was forcibly regenerated and then exiled to 20th century Earth, and Jamie was returned to his native time and place, his memories of his TARDIS travels erased. It has never been stated whether or not the Doctor remembered his post-War Games employment beyond his enforced regeneration, though this seems unlikely given the sixth Doctor’s ignorance of events demonstrated in The Two Doctors and the agency’s need for the utmost discretion.
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