The War Games

I’ve just witnessed the most depressing conclusion to a season of Doctor Who since Rose Tyler was trapped in a parallel dimension. (I know that came 40-odd years later, but time is relative.) Depressing, but utterly, utterly brilliant.

I’d always been aware of the notion that The Doctor’s punishment seems a lot harsher in hindsight. The specifics of regeneration had yet to be nailed down, and the intention at this stage wasn’t that it was a traumatic and tragic event. With the knowledge of what’s to come, an enforced “change of appearance” is tantamount to an execution. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the manner in which it was realised, with The Doctor yelling out in pain, begging for the Time Lords to stop, kicking and screaming to cling on to life. That in itself is horrifying – the poor sod is being tortured to death. It’s barbaric, terrifying and heartbreaking.

I can’t figure out what’s more upsetting – the murder of my favourite Doctor, or the fate of the two best companions the show has ever had by this point. Plonked willy-nilly back in their own times, with no memory of having travelled with The Doctor, mere moments after promising never to forget him. They can’t bear to leave, and he can’t bear to see them go. The Time Lords are easily the worst, most vicious and heartless enemies the Doctor has faced so far.

Zoe will be hugely missed – I feel like I’ve done very little but bang on about how brilliant she is for the last month or so. But Jamie’s departure is something else. He’s been around for so long that he feels like so much more than a normal companion – hell, he lasted longer than a fair few Doctors did. He’s been as much a part of the Troughton era as the man himself, and it will be very strange to not have him around.

But concentrating on the huge changes that this serial heralded, and the incredible amount of backstory and mythology introduced, is to do a disservice to the rest of the story. It’s a fantastic concept, and there’s so much going on even before the term “Time Lord” starts being bandied about willy-nilly. It’s obviously extremely long, but aside from a few rather contrived cliffhangers, it doesn’t really suffer from its length. Some bits are better than others, but when it’s good, it’s excellent.

The 1917 Zone is by far the best setting. It’s startling to think that when they made this serial, they were closer to the First World War than we are to them. Such a great conceit to slowly introduce the anachronisms and the mind control elements, and General Smythe is an absolutely superb baddie, played by the Cat Priest from Red Dwarf.

The idea of using time travel to jumble up different bits of Earth’s history reminded me of The Time Meddler, and The War Chief – a renegade Time Lord, manipulating other races for his own gain – certainly owes a lot to The Meddling Monk. I’d like to amend an earlier theory of mine: Peter Butterworth regenerated into Edward Brayshaw, who then regenerated (having somehow delayed the process to avoid further trouble from the War Lord) into Roger Delgado.

It was such a successful character that it’s easy to see why they came up with The Master so soon afterwards. Less successful was the Security Chief, who seemed to think he was a Dalek, barking his weirdly-enunciated proclamations at nobody in particular. The stuff in the alien complex wasn’t generally as strong as the bits in the historical war zones, but it was all necessary for the brilliant unraveling of The Doctor’s past, and the desperation that led to him reaching out to the Time Lords.

Much like the even-more-epic Daleks’ Master Plan, I come to the end of this serial after what seems like an age since it started, but this time that’s not a bad thing. I kind of didn’t want it to end, because as excited as I am about seeing Jon Pertwee take on the role, I’m absolutely gutted that I’ve reached the end of Troughton. Unlike Hartnell, I don’t feel satisfied that I’ve seen enough of him – it seemed like he had years left in him.

Before I’d seen his entire run, I knew that Troughton was one of the best Doctors ever, from the bits that I had seen. And now? He’s not just *one of* the best. At this stage, I’m comfortable with saying he’s my all-time favourite Doctor, new series or old. Although I reserve the right to change that opinion when I’ve seen complete runs of the others.

RATING: 10

And so it’s with some degree of sadness that I reach another milestone:

SEASON AVERAGE RATING: 8

  • Seasons/Series watched: 6 of 34
  • Stories watched: 50 of 253
  • Individual episodes watched: 253 of 813

And what a milestone it is. Season 6 was the last of its kind in so many ways – the length, the number of stories and the format are all about to change, not to mention the most obvious difference. Bring on that glorious colour…

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