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  1. #301

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    The War Games

    Although one of the longest stories the series has ever done, it rarely comes over as padded, despite there obviously being some along the way. I think this is partly because the complex nature of the scenario created for it allows for an extended and unusually involved narrative structure.

    So we can have the false expectations created by the first episode, where the initial impression seems to be that another historical (a type of adventure which this era has rarely attempted) is underway. Then a few seeds of uncertainty can start to emerge when tantalising little clues that all is not as it should be begin to appear (the use of hypnotism, especially in the kangaroo court Smythe presides over, and glimpses of out-of-place technology, people vanishing from rooms with only one entrance).

    This brings about a double imperative, with both a need to escape the immediate danger and another to investigate the mystery. More layers can be unpeeled from the outward appearance of the situation by revealing the various other time zones surrounding the First World War region and getting Carstairs and Lady Jennifer moved out of their usual context by allying them with the regulars. Hence the story them becomes an an adventure about a small group of fugitives lost in controlled simulations of different wars, with an immediate enigmatic objective to head for, specifically the enigmatic blank space in the centre of the map of the zones, which denotes the control HQ.

    Now the focus can shift toward that central control area, with attempts to penetrate it and go undercover, discovering all about the nature of the place, the people working there, their plans, methods, hopes, and indeed their personal inter-rivalries. Split your small group of heroes in two, so that one can contend with what's going on in the former setting, and another can tangle with various controlled soldiers or enemies back in the zones, and then introduce another new element, namely a semi-organised resistance force.

    From here on, the story can concentrate on the power struggles between the (newly enlarged) group of rebels and the scheming leaders of the control base, each side effectively engaging in a war of attrition and double-bluff, gaining and losing advantages, until the balance can be further tipped by revelations concerning the background of the War Chief and the Doctor...

    Ultimately therefore, the story is mostly able to sustain itself by constantly developing and adding to the situation and characters depicted, pushing events forward and unwrapping more depth to the narrative in the process. And the fact that this happens to be the end of the road for this era means that, whether by accident or design, the sheer scale of what's going on in the story adds to the epic feel of it. The material which does feel most like padding tends to be the various captures, escapes and rescues that Jamie and Lady Jennifer have to contend with in the American barn, or being captured by von Weich (and later recaptured by Smythe), and perhaps the shrinking SIDRAT cliffhanger.

    It helps that the period settings (the 1917 one at least) are well staged, with the eerie and ominous atmosphere of the First World War battlefield coming over particularly well. The army characters are possibly a bit stereotyped although they carry the action well (parts of the first episode tend to remind me of Blackadder Goes Forth - Major Barrington even looks a bit like him...). Smythe is effectively nasty and vindictive, Carstairs doggedly loyal, Russell has something of a bluff non-nonsense determination about him, although Arturo Villar is extremely irritating. The ease with which the Doctor and company manage to escape custody is rather startling, and a little unlikely though, and Carstairs and Jennifer are astinishingly open-minded and ready to abandon everything in support of the Doctor's party. Granted their suspicions have been aroused by the viewscreen and one or two other things, but still...

    The control base sequences are very distinct in style from the above though. Full of way-out 1960s pop-art designs, with a particular use of swirls and circles, with PVC-clad guards who carry big toy guns, there's a slight feel of overblown parodies of elaborate HQs inhabiited by Bond villains. The three principal baddies all have a very strong screen presence. James Bree has a peculiar tendency to deliver his lines in a staccato monotone - it sticks out in particular because noone else is talking like that - although this doesn't quite prevent him from projecting a suspicious malevolent sort of personality. Philip Madoc, in black Nehru suit and close cropped hair and beard, almost seems to be auditioning for the Master. He plays the War Lord with a quietly spoken calmness that only occasionally erupts into anger, and a coolly supercilious sense of humour (when the Doctor is assuring him that he's gone over to their side, and that his former friends our now "our enemies", you can tell that the War Lord doesn't really believe him).

    Edward Brayshaw makes a particular impression as the War Chief though. A leonine Medallion Man, with a booming resonant voice, his speech patterns, facial expressions and body language all combine to suggest a man with a severe superiority complex Who Will Not Be Crossed. Endlessly bickering with the petrualant Security Chief, who he evidently regards with utter contempt, his downfall results from his own overconfidence. He obviously relishes the hold he thinks he has over the Doctor and seriously misjudges the latter's character when he is taken in by his appearing to co-operate. His belief that his plan is for a good purpose ultimately sounds a distinct Hulkeian touch (Malcolm Hulke always preferred villains who acted as they did for what they believed were good ends, rather than evil for its own sake).

    The nature of the set-up also implies a political subtext about warfare usually being a matter which the participants have little or no control over, with all the fighting and armies directed for their own ends from on high by rulers who are relatively safe and isolated. The Resistance comprises soldiers from various different wars, including those who had been fighting each other, all joining in common cause. This is also implied when Jamie and the Redcoat, who would normally consider themselves mutual enemies, collaborate in escaping from the military prison. An optimistic hope that people at war with each other can still overcome their differences when met by a worse danger.

    The final coda to the story, and indeed 1960s Dr Who overall, sees everything swept clean in readiness for a new age in the series' life. The Time Lords effectively manage to rewrite the format in relatively simple fashion, and the momentous-sounding nature of the music and sound effects heralding them, and the Doctor's sheer crushed resignation, giving up in the face of re-encountering them, help to lend what would otherwise appear to be three men in science fiction robes an appreciable stature. As the various elements of the era are tidied away (Is Zoe destined to be forced into the human computer role again? Is Jamie going to escape being killed during Butcher Cumberland's widespread reprisals against the Highlanders?), the Troughton Doctor ends his era by raging against the dying of the light while spinning away into darkness until all is silence. In some ways that's a much more emotive and powerful ending than a regeneration would have been. No comforting new Doctor, no clue as to the future...just a blank mystery.
    Last edited by Logo Polish; 10th Feb 2007 at 11:00 AM.

  2. #302
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    Right, here we go then...

    The War Games

    (What else?)

    Certainly epic in length, and the writers make a concerted effort to try and keep the plot going for the whole ten episodes. It's fairly obvious that the story wasn't meant to be watched 20-odd years after broadcast on this new-fangled video nonsense or these Digital Versatile Doughnuts - if it had been, perhaps someone might have left out the gunfire at the start of each episode. Novel at the time I expect, but not easily put up with if you're watching episodes less than a coulpe of days apart. Minor gripe, but anyway...

    The First World War episodes are the best, partly because TV has over the last few years made us very familiar with the setting, thus making it easily identifiable by the viewer - little or no back story needed. There's also the mystery of how and why crusty senior officers on both sides can be using hypnosis to be controlling their men. (One other fault with the story, a bit more major, is that the glasses' and monacle's powers are never quite explained. How do they work?)

    Eventually things are slowly explained, and you realise that clever things are being done with the plot. You almost don't think about General Carstairs being called back behind the lines until odd things like the out of period TV screen and the vanishing box turn up. Then you're distracted by the sudden appearance of Roman soldiers, and are presented with a new mystery. Then you're taken to the American zone. Von Weich suddenly turns up here, and Carstairs ends up in a base that you'd never expect him to be in. Original question answered, but new ones are thrown up - where is this base, and why is there flitting about the time zones by the commanders?

    Perhaps these later questions are the ones that are answered least adequately, as the bickering between the War Chief and Security Chief does start stringing out their answering. You don't always notice this though, as the story starts building up to an epic ending. As the Doctor realises the scale of what's going on, through a bit of "Dark Doctoring", pretending to change sides, he finds that it's as much as he can do - possibly! - to stop things from getting more out of hand than they already are. In the context of the series' history, we have one of the most terrifying cliffhangers as the Doctor calls in his own people and we find out why he'd rather not. The Time Lords are never really shown to have as much power over him again - or anyone for that matter, perhaps until the Time War. Even with this power, it's remarkabe that the Doctor's managed to avoid them for this long. Put like that, it does show what sort of intelligence and ingenuity the lead character has. You could almost get a debate out of whether the Doctor was trying to make his travelling companions think he was a bit incompetent, in order not to worry them, or whether - well, why did the TARDIS need repairing in the first place? To throw Gallifrey off the scent?

    Any way, that's your lot. You can chuck me out now.

  3. #303

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    I think the Patrick Troughton era in general has a sort of heavy duty industrial feel, with technology that's mostly very much of the analogue period. So many of the characters of this time are people employed by vast corporations and institutionalised via uniforms and procedures.

    Troughton and his motley band of companions are the rogue element, the non-conformists, introduced into these scenarios. Scruffy and informal by appearance (only the female companions are allowed a bit of glamour and sophistication in their costumes at this time), not bound by any outside rules (as the Doctor insists to Clent) save their own ideals and sense of morality, careless, apt to be silly and joke and fool about with each other (eg starting foam fights), fighting mechanisation and soullessness with humour, personal warmth, and spontaniety (the Doctor's clumsy fumbling with bits of technology or hardware serves to emphasise how far removed from a machine he is) they're as far removed from both the regimented workplaces and parades of identical monsters they encounter as it is possible to be. There's a lack of pretension or false gravitas about this Doctor and his companions that helps make them amongst the most likeable teamings there has been in the series (for me anyway).

    The quality of the era itself is variable and apt to repetition at times, but there some interesting diversions on the way. It's an era which is laboured and lacking in inspiration at times, but its highpoints are as good as any other era's, and it's usually highly focussed.

  4. #304
    Wayne Guest

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    Great stuff again, guys.
    And Logo; 'malevolent' is just the word i was fishing for but couldn't find, in describing Philip Madoc's War Lord. He's definitely one of the best actors to've guested in Who, IMO.
    Also:
    Quote Originally Posted by Logo Polish View Post
    false gravitas
    I'm curious about this. Do you see a 'false gravitas' in other Doctors' portrayals?
    Last edited by Wayne; 9th Feb 2007 at 4:31 PM.

  5. #305

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    Season 6 I'd possibly rate like this:

    The War Games
    The Mind Robber
    The Invasion
    The Krotons
    The Dominators
    The Seeds of Death
    The Space Pirates

    And the era, provisionally:

    The War Games
    The Mind Robber
    The Abominable Snowmen
    The Evil of the Daleks
    The Web of Fear
    The Invasion
    The Faceless Ones
    The Highlanders
    The Krotons
    The Dominators
    Fury from the Deep
    The Tomb of the Cybermen
    The Ice Warriors
    The Enemy of the World
    The Power of the Daleks
    The Underwater Menace
    The Seeds of Death
    The Macra Terror
    The Moonbase
    The Wheel in Space
    The Space Pirates

  6. #306

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    Quote Originally Posted by Wayne View Post
    I'm curious about this. Do you see a 'false gravitas' in other Doctors' portrayals?
    I'm not sure I was necessarily thinking much of other Doctors really, more that I thought it was a good thing the more cheeky, child-like side of his personality was allowed room to breathe and that they were presumably confident that this wouldn't undermine the occasions when he did need to be authoritative (and I don't think it did).
    Last edited by Logo Polish; 9th Feb 2007 at 4:41 PM.

  7. #307
    Wayne Guest

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    Quote Originally Posted by Logo Polish View Post
    I'm not sure I was necessarily thinking much of other Doctors really, more that I thought it was a good thing the more cheeky, child-like side of his personality was allowed room to breathe and that they were presumably confident that this wouldn't undermine the occasions when he did need to be authoritative (and I don't think it did).
    Ah right, i get you. I think you're probably right in that sense. As you say; It didn't stop him from from being authoritative when he needed to be. Quite a versatile portrayal really. Perhaps further testament to Troughton's overall acting abilities.

  8. #308
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wayne View Post
    Quite a versatile portrayal really. Perhaps further testament to Troughton's overall acting abilities.

    The list of Troughton's TV and film work is exceptional, from Robin Hood in the 50s, through roles in popular TV shows of the 60s and 70s, after Dr. Who he appeared in Family At War, The Persuaders, The Protectors, Space 1999, PS favourite The Box of Delights, and latterly Knights of God, to name but a few. However, whenever I saw him on TV in a different role I would immediately think of him as Doctor Who, even though with each role he took a different approach, with nothing to identify him with the second Doctor, such is the calibre of his acting. I really don't think there could have been anyone better to have been "the first "New" Doctor"

  9. #309

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    Just read Wayne's Space Pirates review which had me in stitches

    Such dedication to try and give the story a chance is truly admirable but clearly in vain in this case

  10. #310
    Wayne Guest

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ralph View Post
    Just read Wayne's Space Pirates review which had me in stitches

    Such dedication to try and give the story a chance is truly admirable but clearly in vain in this case
    Thanks. I did my best to make something entertaining out of it.

  11. #311
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    Lord knows, the BBC didn't...

  12. #312
    Wayne Guest

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    I wonder if Ralph ever finished The Web of Fear.......

    (Told you it wasn't as good as it's reputation)

  13. #313

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    Quote Originally Posted by Wayne View Post
    I wonder if Ralph ever finished The Web of Fear.......

    (Told you it wasn't as good as it's reputation)
    Not yet no

  14. #314
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    Oh my giddy aunt!
    I must admit, just when I think I'm king, I just begin!

  15. #315

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    I really must get on with "Web of Fear" - I'm not very good with audio only episodes and I've been spoiled by Invasion

  16. #316
    transvamp Guest

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    Just thought I'd plug my War Games review

    http://www.epinions.com/content_164697640580

  17. #317

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    Must get back to the Web of Fear sometime!

  18. #318
    Wayne Guest

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    Well that was really worth posting!

    Come back when you've done it, & have something to say!

  19. #319

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    Seems fair enough!

    I tell you there's nought queer as folk...

  20. #320
    Wayne Guest

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    I'm a harsh taskmaster old Hector.




  21. #321
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stuart Wallis View Post
    Lord knows, the BBC didn't...


    Missed that the first time round.

    Forgive me for resurrecting such an ancient thread, but I'd no idea that this thread still existed. I thought they were all gone on the EZboard crash, but this one being a bit late, was the lone survivor.

    I was actually looking for something else when I stumbled across this, but glad I found it.

  22. #322
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    No need to apologise, Wayne...I miss these old in-depth threads! There was some really good stuff way back then, it's really a shame that so much was lost although I'm glad to see these early current PS site threads are still there... I think it's time to go looking in the archives myself