Sunday, September 25, 2005

'The War Games' episodes IV - IX

THE WAR GAMES continued

Phew - this is a long haul, but I'm really enjoying it. The knowledge that you're working up to a pivotal moment in Who history means that the leisurely pace the story is taking in getting there doesn't feel tiresome. It would admittedly be an understatement to say that there are repetitive elements, with the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe getting caught in an almost endless cycle of capture and recapture, and there are a huge number of firefights, brawls and other skirmishes - but then, these are war games, after all. Our heroes manage to infiltrate the alien base from where the games are being manipulated and we find out all the combatants in the various zones have been lifted wholesale from their own times and placed here, brainwashed, to eliminate each other until only the elite are left to form an unbeatable fighting force to use in galactic conquest. The truly creepy scarred German general von Weich turns up again as a Confederate general, whose use of his monocle to focus his hypnotic suggestions is really unnerving, and and there is later on a glimpse of Patrick Troughton's son David as a nervous private holding him prisoner immediately before von Weich thankfully suffers an abrupt demise. Likewiase does the nasty 'British' general Smythe, as Jamie leads a band of control-resistant freedom fighters from the various zones to form a resistance base at the 1917 chateau, and despite the best efforts of the aliens back at the command centre to rout them out.

During this we get to see a lot more of the War Chief and the Security Chief, the two main controllers of the experiments, who delightfully happen to hate each other. The former, with magnificently sculpted facial hair, is a joy as he schemes with a seemingly-duplicitous Doctor to take sole control of the project, and it is revealed that he is the first person we've seen since the Meddling Monk who is of the same race as the Doctor. The powerplay between the Chiefs is highly enjoyable, although the Security Chief has a bizarre, slightly-Germanic accent and delivery reminiscent of Von Smallhausen in 'Allo 'Allo at his most pompous... The shifting dynamic between the two is thrown into sharp relief, however, by the arrival of their superior and ultimate commander the War Lord. A brilliant performance by Philip Madic (making a swift return after 'The Krotons'); what might have been expected to be a raving dictator is portrayed as a quiet, unassuming figure, whose pronouncements only seem more emphatic for being so softly delivered. The fued between the War Chief and Security Chief ultimately results in the latter's death at the hands of the former when the resistance - comedy Mexican and all - storm the base sector via the SIDRAT (silly name!) travel devices, the Doctor's easy use of which makes him rather uncomfortable to explain. Oddly, these seem to have replaced conventional control panels with fridge magnets. It is a real shock to see the War Lord suddenly snap and order the execution of the War Chief for his devious actions - maybe it's just the odd magnifying spectacles, but there is momentarily a bug-eyed lunacy floating dangerously close to the urbane surface.

Meanwhile, the Doctor is finally forced to admit he cannot resolve the plight of all the displaced fighters. We discover the seminal truth that the Doctor is of a race of people known as the Time Lords, but exactly who are they and what is it about them that is worrying the Doctor so much? He summons them only with the greatest reluctance; Troughton's portrayal of the Doctor's total terror at the thought of running into his own kind is tremendous from here on in. He promptly flees in a SIDRAT for the safety of his TARDIS - and the nebulous power of the approaching figures is wonderfully conveyed by the airborne throbbing sound that follows, and the War Lord's almost-awed, foreboding "They're coming...". The cliffhanger is superb, as the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe stumble as if through treacle towards their ship, the Doctor desperately reaching in slow-motion for the keyhole, and at the very last his fingers slip from the key...

Episodes watched: 144
Episodes still to watch: 578

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