Written by Terrence Hicks and Malcolm Hulke
Directed by David Maloney
One of the common complaints about Classic Who, especially early in the going, is how often the serials are extended well beyond their natural length. The ideal length seemed to be four episodes, roughly mirroring a traditional four-act structure (introduction, rising action, complication, climax/resolution).
The trouble seemed to come when the serials extended beyond that. The problem is fairly obvious: take that relatively natural four-act breakdown, and there’s only a few places to stretch things out. All too often, it’s the complication phase that gets padded to the extreme, and unfortunately, that’s pretty telling from the audience perspective.
Granted, these episodes were never meant to be watched as a whole, so there is a disconnect in experience taking place. But even taking that into account, “The War Games” is ridiculously bloated and repetitive over the course of its ten episodes. Even breaking it in half, I was mentally begging the writers to get to the bloody point already.
Which is a shame, because this is not a bad story. The notion behind the war games is a clever way to address the Doctor’s status among his people and distinguish his brand of ethics from more flagrant criminals within Time Lord society. And I loved getting a look at the Time Lords as they were originally portrayed.
This serves as something of a series reboot point as well. This is the final black-and-white serial, the final Second Doctor serial, the final Jamie/Zoe serial, etc. After this, the Third Doctor steps into the action, in living color, with a completely different status quo. Stuck on Earth, with no more jaunting about spacetime in the TARDIS, and the introduction of UNIT in a recurring backup capacity. I can’t imagine how the fans must have felt at such a watershed moment.
I’ve not yet delved into any of the Jon Pertwee material, so I can’t begin making comparisons. But I stand by my lack of enthusiasm for Patrick Troughton as the Second Doctor. His mannerisms annoy me to no end, right down to his line delivery. That said, he does everything possible to sell the situation, which helps when the sets are literally falling apart around him. As I said elsewhere, it’s a testimony to the power of willing suspension of disbelief that I can be engaged in the stakes of a story when there are constant reminders of the unreality of it all!
Back to the Time Lords for a moment. Seeing them here, I got a definite sense of casual menace, as though their culture had ossified to such an extent that they couldn’t even begin to see the reason why the Doctor chose to break the rules. By all accounts, this is apparently watered down over time, but I really like the portrayal here, and how it frames the previous six seasons worth of the Doctor’s adventures.
Much like Troughton’s Doctor, I just don’t enjoy Jamie as a companion. I understand some may consider this heresy, but I found Jamie irritating for some reason. I certainly didn’t get the sense of rapport. Again, as I’ve said all along, this is likely a problem caused by the lack of Second Doctor material still available. It’s hard to see characters grow together when you only see pieces of the whole. Even Zoe, one of my favorite companions to date, just seems to be missing something.
While I’ve already noted some of the shortcomings of the set design, I do have to give the production crew some credit for some amazing (for the budget and time) action set pieces that take place in the war zones. The interior battles are mostly silly, but those location shots feel epic.
On the one hand, I am excited to move into the Third Doctor era, if only because there’s more extant material, and that should give me a better sense of the characters. On the other hand, I think something is going to be lost once the series leaps into color. I suppose we’ll see when I get around to tackling “Spearhead From Space”!
Final Rating: 6/10