Friday, September 23, 2005

'The War Games' episodes I - III

10 episodes

Well, here we are already at the end of the Troughton era, with a real epic to finish with. At ten episodes, 'The War Games' will be my longest complete story yet, and in the whole history of Doctor Who only 'The Daleks' Masterplan' and 'The Trial of a Time Lord' are longer.

The TARDIS lands in a truly dicey bit of human history, a front-line British trench in the First World War. Through the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe getting captured by first the British and then the German forces we learn that not all is as it seems, as both generals are acting rather strangely, possess some anachronistic communications devices and seem to exert an almost hypnotic influence over their subordinates, none of whom can remember exactly where they came from or how long they've been here. We also learn that the Doctor's sonic screwdriver can actually unscrew and screw screws...! Most of this opening run takes place in the British trench or at their general's chateau, and the settings and the various soldiers' manners are so extraordinarily evocative of the peerless Blackadder Goes Forth you almost feel like you're watching Blackadder, George, Darling and Melchett at times, which not only helps demonstrate what a good job both series did of recreating that world, but how close the latter's comedy strayed to genuine drama.

So well are these early scenes done, it is almost regrettable that this is not a genuine Doctor Who historical, these alas done away with after 'The Highlanders'. There is actually a reminder of that earlier story, with Jamie constantly aggravated by his would-be captors to the extent that he even teams up with an enemy from his own time, a lost Redcoat, to fight their way out of military prison. (Incidentally, Patrick Troughton has one of his best moments as the Doctor bluffs his way into the same place as a 'War Office inspector' through sheer force of bluster that would have done the First Doctor proud.) 'The War Games' does a superb job both in terms of effects and direction: the muddy trench underfoot where the TARDIS lands, the barrage of gunfire that erupts when the TARDIS crew try to leave the trench, the enormously evocative dawn scenes when the firing squad are setting up, ready to execute the Doctor - which leads to a fantastic cliffhanger for the end of part 1. Part 2's is almost as good, as with the aid of a sympathetic Lieutenant Carstairs and field ambulance driver Lady Jennifer Buckingham they manage to escape, and to their surprise pass through the encircling mist into a totally different bit of country where they face a force of oncoming Roman legionaries! Scurrying back to the '1917 zone' they discover that this place is divided into a whole host of adjacent but discrete time zones where different wars are going on, and manage to get separated in the American Civil War zone when Carstairs holds back to draw off some of the 'indigenous' combatants, and the Doctor and Zoe investigate something strangely analogous to a TARDIS that promptly disappears. Meanwhile, somewhere else altogether, we are treated to the surreal sight of the opposing generals conferring in a futuristic-looking war room as to how they are going to manoeuvre their respective forces next to best test the other's resolve. Curiouser and curiouser - I look forward to seeing what happens next!

Episodes watched: 138
Episodes still to watch: 584

Marvellous - only ten episodes today, but I have finally caught up with my quota... i.e. if before I started I had worked out where I'd be after 23 days at a rate of six episodes a day, I'd have located my progress at this point as being episode 3 of 'The War Games', which is precisely where I have got to!! Onwards and upwards, then...!

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