The regulars -
The Dominators written by Norman Ashby and directed by Morris Barry
Result: Can The Dominators really be so bad that the writers were justified in disowning it and the producer for lopping off one episode and giving it to the next story? In all honesty, yes and I can’t imagine being forced to sit through another episode of this muck. It's rare to find a Doctor Who story where both the alien menace and the native populace are this mundane and the episodes suffer interminably from some monotonous direction and a general lack of incident and character. Russell T Davies once said that in order for a Doctor Who story to work you need some kind of human connection and this story made up of entirely alien characters (except for Jamie who is from the past and Zoe who is from the future which means there is still some distance between them and the audience) almost seems to set out to prove him right. It's hard to give a flying fuck about the Dulcians because they are so laid back about the whole affair of being subjugated you have to wonder why the Doctor doesn't just hop back into the TARDIS and leave them all to their fate. The Dominators are equally drab, indulging in the same argument over and over again, stalling the plot with their constant bickering. You’ll never see Troughton and Hines working so hard to try and provide the entertainment that is lacking in the scripts and the fact that they manage to provoke a handful of moments that amuse is a testament to their skill given the obstacles they have to overcome. Morris Barry can deliver some dynamic results when he is commited to the story but it feels as though he has given up at this point (in the same way it felt that Chris Clough had come Silver Nemesis - a general feeling of apathy about the whole piece). This is one story that commits every sin you would might imagine sixties television is capable of; cheap sets, drab location work, static performances and a general feeling of greyness to the whole piece. In truth very little of black and white Doctor Who is anywhere near as bad as this - it's something of an anathema, certainly when compared to some of the other gems to come in season six (The Mind Robber, The Invasion, The War Games). The Dominators is a hugely embarrassing opener to a generally great season and easily the weakest second Doctor story: 1/10
Full Review Here - http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/the-dominators-written-by-norman-ashby.html
The Mind Robber written by Peter Ling and directed by David Maloney
TO BE REVIEWED...
The Invasion written by Derrick Sherwin and directed by Douglas Camfield
Result: Will wonders never cease – a Cyberman story that I really, really like! It's one of only a handful of times that I find them an effectively menacing presence in the show. Because the story takes the psychological approach, both in how they subdue the human race and their antipathy towards emotion which when infected snaps their logical minds and turns them into deranged rogues. There are a stack of compliments to be handed out to The Invasion and I’m not sure where to begin! Douglas Camfield is still to my mind the finest director the show has ever been fortunate to book and this is one of his best stories – the imagery is memorable, the action is exciting and the story is shot in unusual ways that gives it a contemporary visual dimension. Then there is the top notch team of the second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe who all get stellar moments and have developed a supremely watchable chemistry by this point. UNIT is an idea that could have bombed spectacularly but given the resources of this blockbuster they manage to pull it off with real style and Nicholas Courtney’s Brigadier is the perfect face to front this military outfit. Brilliant guest characters like Isobel, Jimmy, Packer and Watkins add a human dimension to the story that is vital and the luxurious length of the tale allows the actors to explore the roles. Whilst I think the whole story is pretty special, episode six happens to be one of my all time favourite single episodes of Doctor Who. Starting with a rogue psychotic Cyberman menacing Jamie and Zoe in the sewers and ending with them bursting from the sewers and marching down the steps of St Paul’s – it's the show at the top of its game. Is this story padded? Yes. Does it matter in the slightest? Nope. The Invasion is a story that deliberately takes it time to build up tension and when the big event finally comes you have some of the most exciting moments of the entire era. Its not one to rush your way through but I find that an episode a night before bed really gets me excited about this story – especially with the brilliant cliffhangers. I can completely see why the production team were sold on this format to push the show in a new direction, its riveting. An expensive blockbuster with one of the finest ever Doctor Who villains in Tobias Vaughn, The Invasion is awesome and to prove how the era wasn’t limping home in the sixth season its only the third best story of the year: 9/10
Full Review Here - http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/the-invasion-written-by-derrick-sherwin.html
The Krotons written by Robert Holmes and directed by David Maloney
TO BE REVIEWED...
The Seeds of Death written by Brian Hayles and directed by Michael Ferguson
This story in a nutshell: The reptilian rascals are back and this time they have their sights set on Earth…
Cheeky Chappie: To give you some idea how superlative Troughton is in the role this story doesn’t feature anywhere near his best material from season six (that goes to The Mind Robber, The Invasion and The War Games in my book) and yet this is still an exceptionally well judged performance and some very engaging characterisation. Troughton played the Doctor with effortless enthusiasm and whenever I pick out one of his stories I am suddenly reminded that he was probably the best Doctor we ever had. I think it might just be the lack of material to watch that makes me forget. Trust the Doctor to get giddy with excitement at visiting a space museum - to the first Doctor it was more like a scientific exploration but the second is just like a kid in a sweet shop, he can't wait to skip out there and see what's on offer. He is so sweet in his passion for the exhibits, offering a gesture of support to Eldrad. You just want to hug him when he tries to calm Eldrad down and help with the rocket programme. He gives Zoe a very funny look when she hands him some figures and he declares ‘I couldn’t have done better myself!’ The chemistry between him and his brainbox protege is always a delight. He skips about the Moonbase like a sprite with a fabulous Dudley Simpson piano score that perfectly suits his character. Troughton shows off his comic genius as he blanches at the audience, spotting the Ice Warriors and indulging in a riotously funny sequence running through the base like a demented pixie! ‘Your leader will be angry if you kill me!’ he exclaims, ‘I’m a genius!’ The Doctor rather enjoys winding up Slaar, suggesting that the Earth has far more resources than they actually do. He talks quietly to Fewsham and prickles at his conscience, the manipulative little git. He’s very excited about travelling by T-Mat but finds the experience disappointing because you don’t feel anything. For the Doctor, travelling is an experience, not just a means of getting from A to B. There is a great exchange that reveals the Doctor’s approach perfectly: ‘We’ve tried to attack it!’ ‘Yes, but have you tried to understand it?’ He tries conventional science but it turns out he works best under pressure, throwing all manner of solutions over the expanding seedpod until he discovers the antidote totally by accident. That's one of the things I always liked about the second Doctor, he always seemed to trip over the solution to a problem at the last minute. He never has everything mapped out (as exemplified by his frequent panic attacks). Troughton mucking about in the foam is worth the admission price alone and he has the ability to make it both blissfully funny and dramatic at the same time by just going for it. His chemistry with Jamie sparkles when the Scot tries to help: ‘Is that the one?’ turning the lights out ‘No Jamie!’ There’s a wonderful visual of the Doctor walking through the weather control bureau with huge solar lights held out in front of him. He looks a bit pathetic swamped by all the lashed up machinery, but he knows exactly what he's doing. He’s defiant in the face of Slaar’s threats and tells him to get on with killing him. It's a cold statement, asking the Martian to murder him but he has saved the lives of everybody on Earth and it feels as though that us reward enough if he has to be dispatched. Sending the Martian fleet into the sun is a bloodthirsty solution for the Doctor – far more worthy of his seventh incarnation but proof that the second Doctor could be a very sinister, unforgiving figure at times, for all his frivolity. You’ve got to watch these diminutive Doctors! They sure look cute but let your guard down and it's a massacre. Lovely funny business heading back to the TARDIS with a soaking wet crew.
Beautiful Brainbox: I really like Zoe as a companion, I think she compliments Troughton’s Doctor perfectly and because of their constant oneupmanship they are extremely funny together. It's like watching two little kids in the playground trying to best each other - I half expect the Doctor to snort 'and so's your mum!' at any minute! This might be a little controversial but I feel that the sixth season of Doctor Who could have survived just as well without Jamie. As much as I like Frazer Hines in the role (and he’s gorgeous) and will always treasure his presence in the show, Jamie’s character had come to the end of his usefulness at the end of the Fury from the Deep and he probably could have left with Victoria. If you look at the stories in this season you have the Doctor and Zoe exploring the Land of Fiction whilst Jamie is left holding the string, the Doctor and Zoe foiling the Cyber invasion whilst Jamie sleeps and rests in a hospital bed, the Doctor and Zoe heading into the Dynotrope to face the Krotons whilst Jamie the thickhead is left in the dark and the Doctor and Zoe infiltrating the military prison and gate crashing demonstrations of the processing machine in The War Games – plus Zoe does all the clever stuff in this story while Jamie is just there to back her up as the muscle. Aside from a few cute scenes and the ever-reliable Hines/Troughton chemistry, Jamie is pretty superfluous to requirement this season. Whereas the interaction between the Doctor and Zoe is fresh and interesting, she's too useful to get rid of but irritatingly smug to have around. Just like season seven was just the Doctor and Liz, I feel Troughton and Padbury could have held up this season perfectly well on their own. Again, I want to add that I do love the character of Jamie, but I feel that his characters perhaps wasn't best served in his final season.
I love how Zoe talks to Jamie as though he is subnormal – telling him to look at a dial and asking ‘do you think you can manage that?’ You would have thought that Zoe and Miss Kelly would have something of a totty brain-off but actually they get on very well, ganging up on the others with their reliance on logic. Zoe seems to be well into this adventure lark now, willing to squeeze into the grille and turning the heating up - ‘I’m smaller than you and I’ll probably be a lot quieter too!’ she hisses at Jamie. There’s a very revealing scene where Phipps’ has a panic attack and Zoe coldly diagnoses his nervous exhaustion but cannot empathise with him. She's all logic and no heart. Her photographic memory comes in very handy again. Seeing Zoe spread eagled against a bank of pulsing lights as an Ice Warrior advances to gun her down makes for a memorable cliffhanger. Whilst everybody else condemns him, Zoe defends Fewsham saying that he saved her life. I don't know if it's the lighting or the fact that it is shot of film but during the sequences set outside the Weather Control Station both Zoe and Jamie look as pure as the driven snow. I defy anybody to avoid laughing as the foam pours in and a soggy wet Troughton stumbles onto the set covered head to toe in bubbles! In Padbury's assured hands, Zoe is a marvelously engaging character and adds a great deal to this runaround.
Sexy Scot: Everybody thinks that Jamie is being left behind but he wont here a bit of it and yet once they are rocket-borne he declares that it is worse than travelling in the TARDIS! The best Jamie moment comes at the end of the story when he distracts an Ice Warrior by going ‘ner-ner-ne-ner-ner!’ (well okay he doesn’t say that but it’s just as funny!) so Zoe can open the door and let the soggy Doctor in and T-Matting to the moon to protect the Doctor in the face of Ice Warrior weaponry.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Is that the one?’ ‘No Jamie!’
‘You have destroyed our entire fleet!’ ‘You tried to destroy an entire world.’
The Good Stuff: The opening sequence is a great example of the visual imagination that was rife during the Troughton era – the stories may have become more formulaic but the approach to realising the show was extremely creative (there are similarly strong title sequences in The Ice Warriors and The Space Pirates). The model work is exemplary and the story offers strong geographic markers throughout by panning across to either the Earth or the Moon depending on where the next scene is set. Add that an unforgettable Dudley Simpson score and we are off to a good start. Isn't it marvelous how the computer voices in the 60s tales have such attitude? Miss Kelly is an immediately striking character and not the sort of female character that I would expect to stumble across during this period of the show. She is cold, resourceful and authorative and has wonderfully bossy lines like 'please don't stop me again otherwise I shall have to go above your head!' With both Zoe and Miss Kelly, The Seeds of Death pushes strong female characters to the fore (it's Fewsham and Phipps who panic and lose it under pressure). Michael Ferguson knows how to build up suspense and tells the invasion of the Moonbase from the POV of the aliens, looking through their eyes at the terrified crew members staring back, horrified. The question of everybody's lips is what could possibly cause that much panic and dread? How much mileage does Ferguson get from that wall of pulsing lights? His silhouette shots look especially striking in black and white. Just like the New Series had the cheek to stick Cybermen in various locations all over the world, The Seeds of Death does the same thing but with the far more mundane T-Mat capsule. You have to admire their cheek. Fewsham elevates the Moonbase sequences considerably, a character that we can really buy into because he is trapped in a no-win situation of co-operating with the Martians or being killed. As much as we all like to think that we would be willing to sacrifice our lives in a similar sort of situation I am prepared to admit that it probably isn't as simple as that. Put in Fewsham's position I think many of us would follow in his footsteps and it's that 'what would I do?' that elevates this character from the other, stock characters that populate this tale. Despite his stubbornness (many writers think the obstinacy adds shades of character but more often than not it is just annoying...and irritatingly Doctor Who stories are often full of them to make sure that the Doctor is prevented from saving the day in episode one), I really like Eldrad, an old man with fading dreams of a rocket flying into space. The effect of the Ice Warrior gun is great because it looks like it literally sucks in your insides and scrambles them. When you find out how easy it was to achieve it impresses all the more. There is a close up on Fewsham as Miss Kelly T-Mat’s up to the Moon to confront him where he really looks like a man waiting to be hanged. I couldn't have sympathised with him more at this point. The Ice Warrior suits have been properly blinged up in this story, their armour shines and they look spanking new and menacing. You cannot fault the ambition of a story that has the line ‘if we crash into a mountain range we’re done for!’ and cut to a shot of the POV of a rocket screaming towards the moon! Even if they didn't have the budget to support such an idea, that never stopped Doctor Who in it's early years. Alan Bennion’s hissy voice is very effective plus the Ice Warriors have a new burbling growl, which sounds gives them real presence. After three episodes of skipping from the Earth to the Moonbase it is great to go outside for some impressively mounted scenes of the Warrior stomping across Hampstead Heath. Asking Fewsham to beam the Doctor into space is horrible and Terry Scully plays it for real. There's no attempt to cut away from this agonising choice, as drama so often does. Fantastic shots of the warrior silhouetted by the sun and storming through the foam, pish to those of you who think these creatures were presented as a genuinely frightening force in Cold War. I love the foam covering the camera, for a moment it feels like the danger is spilling from the story out of the TV into our homes. Slaar and Fewsham share a very arty scene silhouetted against the lights, as I said Furgeson really gets his money out of this smart piece of design. The moment when Slaar realising he is being filmed and turns to the camera to cut the link always makes me heart skip a beat. I love it when the villains direct the camera directly. How wonderfully pathetic does Slaar sound when he realises that he has been tricked into sending his fleet into the sun. It;'s a good thing that he dies because he was never going to live that one down.
The Bad Stuff: Those awful nappy trousers! There are some awkward early moments – Osgood turning to his death being far too aware of the camera placement, Eldrad’s absolute stubbornness and the victim who gives a very vacant, toneless plea for help from the moon! Simpson goes crazy with his drums at some points and the music is almost deafening. Perhaps Murray Gold took this story as inspiration. The montage of fuzzy stills make for an unconvincing rocket take off sequence and the model work is pretty ropey compared to great stuff being done elsewhere in this story. The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe pull at their faces to simulate G-Force, a trick that trips up all the best Doctor Who characters. I know it should take ages to prepare a rocket and get from the Earth to the Moon but taking a whole episode to get from one location to the other means the padding starts from an early point in this six parter. Watch out for the fat fella who attempts to escape the Ice Warriors in episode one and wobbles horribly to his death. Hilarious stuff. The Balloons of Death more like! Brent’s body is visibly breathing (and his fingers twitch as well) after he has expired. Phipps has trouble trying to squeeze through a grille that is clearly large enough for him to slip through with ease. After an impressive entrance smashing through the T-Mat capsule on Earth the Ice Warrior does some weird kind of Abba music video dance where he turns left and right to frighten the base personnel It just looks odd. I would just groove on down with him. Phipps’ body vanishes from the grille at the beginning of episode five. Give that extra a round of applause…when the Ice Warrior enters the Weather Control Bureau he has nearly as an apoplectic fit and runs about the place like a flea on a griddle. If water kills the seedpods surely Earth is just about the worst planet to terraform? The Grand Martial is beyond bling.
Result: The Seeds of Death is one of those stories that often gets shuffled into the pack which is a shame because there is a lot to recommend it. Nowadays they could easily squeeze this plot into 45 minutes which leaves the almost three hour running time full of padding but shot this well running around and hiding from monsters has rarely been as much fun. The Ice Warriors are beautifully shot in this story, they look great and it’s probably the story where they exude the most menace. Michael Ferguson is the forgotten classic Who director whose work is always stylish and very imaginatively shot (here he deploys pans, fades, zooms, shooting through sets, high shots, extreme wide shots on location, quick cuts, shadows and silhouettes) and The Seeds of Death would be a lot sorrier without his masterful handling of the somewhat repetitive material. There is a point around episode three when it feels like all the arsing about on the Moonbase is going to play out forever but Terrance Dicks is on hand to guide the story back to Earth and gives the story a real shot in the foot with the introduction of the Weather Control Station. Also the inclusion of Fewsham adds a great deal of pathos to the story that would otherwise be missing, he is one of the unsung guest characters that really injects a great deal of realism to an otherwise frivolous bit of running about. Troughton is sublime and Padbury isn’t far behind and all the guest performances are strong. My heart wants to give this ridiculously engaging story a 9 but my brain wants me to give it an 7 so lets split the diff: 8/10
The Space Pirates written by Robert Holmes and directed by Michael Hart
TO BE REVIEWED...
The War Games written by Terrance Dicks & Malcolm Hulke and directed by David Maloney
This story in a nutshell: The ultimate Doctor Who epic which results in his death…
Oh My Giddy Aunt: Ten episodes of Patrick Troughton! Ten episodes! What a treasure trove! The usually jubilant second Doctor shirks off his usual frivolity as soon as he realises he has landed in the First World War. It's great how he huffs and puffs his way through his fake trial and kisses Zoe before going off to be shot – from its first episode The War Games feels very different and as though something important is happening. When he is pinned up to be shot there isn't that sense of comfort that this is just another cliffhanger that will be resolved quickly in the next episode, it really feels as though the Doctor might die such has been the swiftness and brutality of his trial. The sheer unadulterated gall of the Doctor walking into the military prison and pretending to be an officious inspector makes me howl with laughter every time I watch it –Troughton is sublimely funny as he chews out the smug military Commandant (‘D'you know who I am, sir!’). It just goes to show that when he wants to be Troughton can be every bit as frightening as Hartnell. He’s all bluff and bluster in the face of military might, declaring ‘Are you going to shoot us? My friends and I are leaving!’ He is eager to blow up the safe, the little anarchist, proving he can never quite let go of the sense of juvenile excitement when breaking the rules. He cheekily disarms the German Leftennant with an obvious ploy. Some of my favourite scenes in the story come when he interrupts the lecture, plays about with the equipment without asking and generally behaves like a naughty schoolboy. The Doctor recognising the War Chief is a chilling moment when everything we know about the character is turned on its head. How wonderful is his ‘...better leave him on simmer!’ Only Troughton could make a ridiculous line like that work so well. The Doctor crawls out of the TARDIS waving a white hankie in surrender and then throws a smoke bomb – he’s brilliantly anarchic. As the Doctor tries to juggle so many problems at once Troughton’s performance becomes increasingly frantic, expressing the sense of desperation he is facing. ‘Don’t worry I’m not going to hurt you’ says this little pixie to an armed guard. Troughton’s quiet unapologetic intensity when he talks to someone from his own planet is simply the best scene he has performed in the show to that point. And that is against some stiff competition from practically every other story. Could the Doctor have gone rogue and betrayed his friends because he’s out of options? How much quality material can one actor be given in one story? I love the panic stricken cowardice as Villa goes to the kick the bejesus out of him and when we return to him the Doctor is involved in a violent scrum! ‘Did you really think I would be involved in your disgusting schemes?’ he tells the War Chief, deadly serious. ‘For once Jamie do as you are told!’ – that makes me crack up although it does show that the Doctor is truly out of options, snapping at his best friend. Observing and gathering knowledge was never enough for the Doctor, he was bored and wanted to explore the universe and visit countless civilisations and so he stole the TARDIS and went on the run from his people. It’s a great credit to the writers that we have waited 6 years for these answers and they do not disappoint and feel like a very natural revelation that fits both Hartnell and Troughton. Bravo! Watch the Doctor dash madly around the console as he tries to escape the Time Lords, this is gripping stuff. Troughton is fabulously defiant in the tribunal, the Doctor not only admits his interference in other cultures but he is proud of the difference he has made. It's brilliant that the most revolutionary Doctor should go out kicking and screaming, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Ten episodes of challenging material and you cannot fault Troughton for one second – he’s a brilliant actor and this is an unforgettable swansong for his Doctor.
Who’s the Yahoos: I said in my reviews of The Seeds of Death that I thought season six could happily chug on without Jamie and it was newcomer Zoe that had all the best material (and a hilarious relationship) with the Doctor. However the War Games is the one exception. Given that this is Jamie’s last story of an incredible stretch (just one story less than Troughton and for the sheer wealth of episodes he is unbeaten when it comes to the Doctor's assistants) Dicks and Hulke give him some wonderful things to do and remind us of his origins and how far he has come. As an ex-resistance fighter he takes great umbrage to being called a deserter. It is wonderful to see Jamie as a fighter once again having to use his wits and fists against an overwhelming enemy. He cannot imagine fighting a war in holes in the ground and blowing the hell out of each other, his is a far more romantic vision of hand-to-hand combat. Jamie, who used to fight against these people to the death, is willing to talk to a Redcoat and work out a plan to escape together. He’s hilariously rubbish at subterfuge and almost blows the Doctor’s cover by demanding what he is playing at when he is trying to rescue him from the military prison. Frazer Hines looks so cute with a cushion over his head to protect him from the exploding safe, he's so confident in the part at this point that it would be a long time indeed before another actor was quite so contented in the role of a companion. Brilliant to see Jamie smash an American off his horse with a tree stump and steal the animal – this was very much his life before the Doctor. He rides through the hills and rescues Lady Jennifer in the very model of a dashing hero! He insists that she cannot come with them to the control centre because she is a woman in what I can't make up my mind is a chivalrous or sexist (you decide) act. There’s some fabulous funny business as Jamie trips through the door posing as the leader of the rebellion. Both Jamie and Zoe have unwavering loyalty to the Doctor and refuse to believe that he would betray them. Jamie’s fake processing is gigglesome (‘Oh aye…I’ll obey yer!’ Loyal to the last, he refuses to leave the Doctor even when he is on the run from his (clearly dangerous) own people. ‘The TARDIS is no good to you!’ he tells the War Chief, ‘he can’t even steer it properly!’ He says he will never forget the Doctor and you believe him until that devastating final twist. The Doctor’s laughter as Jamie runs after a Redcoat so furiously is wonderful, the affection he has for the young Scot is palpable.
Beautiful Brainbox: My favourite girl of the era gets some wonderful material in her last story. Somehow Zoe looks even cuter than ever in her trench coat. She is a real feisty mare when she wants to be and gives the soldier an earful for keep bellowing at them and Smythe also gets a piece of her mind for his ridiculous kangaroo court. She’s resourceful too, searching the general’s quarters and rescuing the Doctor (risking execution herself) and smashing the vase over the Commandant’s head as he is about to phone through and expose the Doctor as an imposter As the Doctor says: ‘What a nice and clever girl you are!’ ‘The girl is from the future and the boy is from the past’ – given the run of contemporary companions we have had in the new series it is easy to forget how experimental they were with companions in the classic series and what an inspired idea the culturally diverse duo of Jamie and Zoe was. Once again Zoe is paired up with the Doctor and they make a giddy and excitable pair as they explore the control centre. She’s given a blast of the mind probe but it's not enough to bring down this stubborn lass. Her photographic memory is brought to the fore; she’s like Adric done right, a total boffin but cute and engaging with it. Wendy Padbury is excellent at adding little moments that add depth to the situation and I love her disgusted look away as a man is beaten. ‘For such a little woman your mouth is too big!’ says Villa, brilliantly summing her up. I guess she's like Tegan in that respect, but charming and resourceful with it. Look at her pigeon steps as she heads off to get Jamie to introduce him to Villa; she’s just as good at comedy as her co-stars. She puppeteers the young Scot hilariously, she is such a fabulous know it all and she puts all the right words into his mouth. When asked why he lets a woman speak for him, Jamie questions why not if she's right and Zoe promptly perks up with: 'I am!' Zoe and Jamie convince the Doctor to make one last halfhearted escape on his home planet. Seeing Zoe back on the Wheel is actually far more upsetting than Jamie in the Highlands because there is a strong feeling that her adventures with the Doctor made her a better person and now that has all been forgotten. It's such an unforgettably cruel thing to do Russell T Davies borrowed it for Donna in the new series and it still works like a charm.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You send no car to meet us on our arrival and now you add insult to injury by doubting my credentials! D’you know who I am sir?’
‘I had every right to leave…’
‘I was bored!’
‘No…no, you’re above criticism, aren’t you?’
‘I thought I’d forgotten something important but it doesn’t matter…’
‘Is this the best you can do? I’ve never seen such an incredible bunch!’
The Good Stuff: The wartime opening of landing in a wasteland and being bombarded with explosive is so immediately atmospheric Maloney used it twice, here and in Genesis of the Daleks (another classic that he helmed). After 12 weeks in space this is a much-needed dose of realism. You can hardly say this story is slow to get going since they are captured by the Germans and rescued by the British within five minutes. Both Carstairs and Lady Jennifer are superbly characterised and acted allies of the Doctor, an extremely likable pair. it would have been so easy to have written these characters as upper class stereotypes but Dicks and Hulke are far too good to fall back on cliche. From the opening episode you can feel the noose tightening around the Doctor’s neck, sentenced to death within 25 minutes! Mud, explosions, barbed wire, gunfire, prisons and executions, it might have been transmitted early but they certainly managed to whip up a gritty wartime atmosphere. The Seven Sisters Country Park is just down the road from me and one of my favourite places to visit so imagine my thrill when I saw the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe emerging there during the Roman scenes? Every time I visit now I half expect to see a Roman legion charging towards me. The second cliffhanger feels like it is befitting of a silent movie with a Roman army chasing our friends as our friends try and crank the car into operation. It's a particular favourite moment of Terrance Dicks and sees the story twisting off in a completely unexpected direction. I felt so sorry for Ransome, such a bumbling fellow, and tied up and gagged in an ignominious fashion. Edward Brayshaw gives an instantly charismatic and fascinating performance as the War Chief and he is totally believable as rogue from the Doctor’s own race. There's a heightened realism about the character that really sells that he is from a race that is extremely confident in their own abilities. Maloney directs the location scenes with real bite, the hand-to-hand combat scenes are violent and nasty and people are shot dead with no hint of cutting away in case they upset the kiddie winks The War Room is a well designed set which the director shoots imaginatively (I really like the low shot through the table map of the zones). How does a story this long feel so pacy? I love, love, love the groovy sixties pop art guillotine door and the huge hanging balls in the processing room – was the designer on acid? When you see colour photos of these sets we should be ever more thankful that it was shot in black and white. James Bree’s delivery is an unusual monotone but he has an intensity and anger that makes him unmissable. He’s also very quotable -’…the-war-LORD!’ How much fun is having the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe (aww) dressed up as period soldiers? It feels like a return to Troughton's early days in the part where he dressed up in something outrageous every week. A shrinking TARDIS makes for a fantastic cliffhanger, sold almost entirely by the actors. That skin crawling sound effect makes the War Lord’s arrival very powerful and Philip Madoc’s performance is eerily intense – he’s another great character in a story that is already stuffed to the brim with a memorable guest cast. Just one gaze from the War Lord makes me want to crap my pants. As Terrance Dicks says, if the War Chief is playing pantomime menace then the War Lord is playing menace for real. Everything about him is so still and controlled that when he does finally lose it you know things have gotten really bad. Bringing together all the resistance is the next brilliant innovation. It’s a regular Doctor Who cliché to rouse the underdog but done on this scale it feels fresh and invigorating. The bitch fights between the Security Chief and the War Chief get better and more dramatic until they are literally screaming at each other. They remind me of the Dominators in that they have the same argument repetitively and with increasing intensity but this time it is pulled off perfectly, with superb dialogue and pitch perfect performances It's great how the story has been constructed so that by episode seven you can skip from the control centre to the Romans to the First World War without batting an eyelid - the scale is incredible. The time barrier surrounding the chateaux sees the story breaking new ground again, using the set up imaginatively A gigantic army of the most violent humans is actually a very scary idea. The thought that the aliens couldn't find a more aggressive and brutal race than humanity out there to cherry pick the most violent examples is a cutting condemnation of our species at its worst. You can’t help but feel uplifted as the resistance starts to fight back, luring out the guards and capturing them all (with some gorgeous upbeat music). Villa is pure comic gold, he’s so stupid he can’t even pretend to be processed (‘Your machine is no good!’) but finally gets to be trigger happy (‘I told you! My guns is best!’). Everybody gets a chance to shine in this four and half hour story. The War Chief kills his rival and in a very satisfying moment of callousness. ‘They’ll show you no mercy!’ he screams in fear of the Time Lords approach and they feel like an awesome force before they even show up. The War Chief was such a huge villain he deserved such a fantastic death scene full of bluster, attempting to run away and being cornered and fired upon by a multitude of guns. Few villains come to such deliciously melodramatic ends (I can only think of Mavic Chen and Salamander at this point in the shows history). The sound effects as the Time Lords descend sounds like the anger of the Gods approaching and the slow motion cliffhanger sees the Doctor trapped like a fly in amber, time having literally run out for him. Who said that only Steven Moffat has the budget and imagination to hop from location to location? On the run from his people the Doctor goes from the First World War to plopping down on the ocean, sinking beneath the waves, deep space, crocodile infested swamps before landing on an alien planet…all in the space of five minutes. There’s a long shot of the TARDIS in episode ten where it looks absolutely massive, just as it did in An Unearthly Child. Visually it feels like the show is coming full circle, really selling how impressive the Doctor's machine is. It’s a torture tribunal for the War Lord who suffers a moment of insanity as he screams for mercy as the Time Lords force a confession from him. Guns and violence inside the TARDIS – is there nothing this story can’t do? Obviously not, as it also provides a fascinating backstory for the Doctor. Erasing the War Lord and his planet suggests the sort of powers the Time Lords wield. Fascinating that the Doctor should have to tell the Time Lords about the Daleks, it is their first exposure to the race that will ultimately wipe them out. If it wasn’t heartbreaking enough to have one of the strongest Doctor/companion teams torn apart, the injustice of having them forget their time with the Doctor is as devastating as it is unjustified. That's why it lingers in the memory. Exile on Earth, no TARDIS and a new face, it is a shocking final indignity for the Doctor and brilliant way to shake up the format. What an exciting, jaw dropping way to end sixties Doctor Who with the Doctor screaming for mercy as he is blasted into oblivion.
The Bad Stuff: The open-mouthed Romans are daft. Is that the campest German officer of all time (‘Soooo you were lost!’)? What are those groovy specs all about? And magnet controls? Most of this stories rare issues are usually aesthetics. The American Civil War sections are where the padding sets in with one side gaining a foothold, then the other, then back again and then the resistance take over. The action is well directed but it does feel like a way of stretching out the story in it's middle episodes. Another black guy bites the bullet in the Troughton era. Are those the kinkiest rubber suited guards ever? Despite some great moments it is during episodes five and six that the only harmful padding takes place (especially all that nonsense about taking the panel off the processing centre wall that seems to go on forever). Episode six is the cheapie (if this story was missing from the archives you know this would have been the one that was held back by the BBC) with lots of wobbly walls, no new sets or locations or actors. Is the name SIDRAT a joke? Those Time Lord technicians don’t put up much of a fight, do they? I don’t know if I would use the Quarks as the first example of the menaces I have fought!
The Shallow Bit: What is it about good-looking pairs in the sixties? Steven and Vicki, Polly and Ben…Jamie and Zoe are just gorgeous! David Troughton makes an appearance and he's quite the cutie. Bring on The Curse of Peladon.
Result: The ultimate Doctor Who epic and ten episodes of absolute magic. The way this story stacks up its revelations and becomes more vast and epic as it progresses is breathtaking; the war, the glasses, the scanner, the second TARDIS, the mists, the Romans, the map of all the war zones, the control centre, one of the Doctor’s own people, the resistance, the Time Lords, the trial, the forced regeneration…this is a beautifully crafted piece of work that is never short of surprises. The beautifully written and performed villains encourage you to keep watching, starting very effectively with General Smythe and simply getting better and better – the Security Chief, the War Chief, the War Lord and finally the Time Lords - with each one feeling more powerful and dangerous than the last until you are gasping with delight at how high the stakes have become. I remember when I first watched this story on a scratchy videocassette at Christmas – I was watching one episode each morning before heading off really early to do some overtime and I can still remember the dazzling atmosphere of the darkness outside, the Christmas lights glowing and this black and white delight transporting me back to a point in the series that was truly innovative and gripping. I was absorbed and enchanted. You’ve got a massive and engaging cast of characters brought to life by some great actors and enough locations to fill a season all artistically shot by the director. Right at the centre of this masterpiece there’s Patrick Troughton, Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury, a great team and they are appropriately all given their finest material in their last show together. Exciting, shocking, hilarious, dramatic, action packed and reshaping the series forever, The War Games sees the Troughton era end as it began with a triumphant story. As proof of what Troughton could do with the role there is no finer story and we are blessed that this epic somehow escaped the culling and clung to the archives: 10/10