Doctor Who – The War Games

This has been one of the most wanted DVD releases for quite some time. Doctor Who releases of stories I’ve never seen are always welcome, but some are more welcome than others, and this is most definitely one of those. This is the story that ended the first phase of Doctor Who history and set things up for what was to come. It’s the last story made in black and white, and the last to star Patrick Troughton as the Doctor[1].

The story, first shown over April to June 1969, involves the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe arriving in what at first appears to be a first world war battlefield, but before long, they realise that something Very Strange is going on, and they find themselves entering different time zones and getting involved with the American Civil War. It appears that an alien race have, with the aid of someone whom the Doctor recognises, have kidnapped soldiers from various points in Earth’s history, using space-time machines called SIDRATs[2]. Their Evil Plan is, of course, to conquer the galaxy using the most efficient soldiers from Earth, on the grounds that humans are a particularly aggressive species.

It’s spread over no less than ten episodes, making it amongst the longest stories in Who history, but it manages not to drag, helped by some excellent guest performances, particularly from Philip Madoc, making one of his numerous appearances in the series.

But it’s the last two episodes that make The War Games significant. Having sorted out the bad guys, the Doctor has the problem of returning all the soldiers home. The SIDRATs won’t do the job, as they were only good for a limited number of journeys. And getting them all in the TARDIS would be a little awkward. So, he has to resort to contacting his own people, who for the first time are named as the Time Lords. He’s a bit reluctant to do this, as he is technically on the run from them, having left with the TARDIS against their laws…..

He and his friends try to escape, but are trapped. His friends are returned to their own times, moments after leaving. All they will remember is meeting the Doctor in their own times. The Doctor is brought before a tribunal who accuse him of breaking the most important Time Lord law – non-interference. He argues his case, telling them that there is evil in the universe that must be opposed. And they sort of agree with him. They decide to exile him to Earth in the twentieth century, at a time when a lot of Bad Stuff is going to happen. They also force him to regenerate, diable his Tardis and remove his memory of how to make it work.

The last we see of the Second Doctor is him spinning off into darkness. When the series returned in the following year, it was in colour, Jon Pertwee was the new Doctor, and it was, for the most part, set on Earth rather than roaming through space and time at random.[3]

If you’re at all interested in the development of the show, this is an essential story to watch. It’s a good package, too. The story is split over two DVDs, with a third disc for the extras, and what a fine collection those are:

  • War Zone – The usual “making of” documentary, featuring surviving cast, crew and co-writer Terrance Dicks. Good stuff
  • Shades of Grey – This is good – it’s a documentary on the limitations, challenges and advantages of making TV in black and white. I found it to be a fascinating look at what amounts to a lost world…
  • Now and Then – One of the quite frequent looks at locations used in the show
  • The Doctor’s Composer – The first part of a documetary on Dudley Simpson’s music for Doctor Who. More will follow on a future release
  • Sylvia James – In Conversation – A brief discussion of make up on the Patrick Troughton stories
  • Talking about Regeneration – A nice look at the key to the show’s long life, with Peter (5th Doctor) Davison and Kate (Rani) O’Mara.
  • Time Zones – Historians talk about the wars involved in the story
  • Stripped for Action – the Second Doctor – another in the occasional series on Doctor Who comic strips. By this period, they were appearing in TV Comic, which I used to get as a very young person. Oddly enough, some of the pages shown did look familiar, even though I’d only have seen them once, and that something like 40 years ago. Good to watch.
  • On Target – Malcolm Hulke – (Feeling short of breath yet?) In the days when TV repeats of old shows were rare and home video (much less DVD) didn’t exist, the only access people had to old Doctor Who strories was through the Target novelisations. Most of these were written by Terrance Dicks and his friend, mentor and collaborator Malcolm (generally known as “Mac”) Hulke. This is the first in a series of documentaries on the books, and focuses on Mac’s work. The books generally expanded on the stories, adding details, clarifications, and more.
  • Devious – (Nearly there) Now this is the kind of thing I never expected to see on an official DVD release. It’s a fan-made short movie set between The War Games and Spearhead from Space, featuring a partly regenerated Doctor who is ultimately replaced by the actual, real, genuine Jon Pertwee (his scene recorded in 1995). Fun stuff.
  • Photo galleries, production subtitles and some stuff on PDF including plans of the SIDRAT machine.

Or, in short, loads of stuff!

[1] Excluding his reappearances in such items as The Three Doctors, of course.
[2] Bit of a clue there…
[3] A Cunning Plan devised to save money on the production