BBC Video // 1969 // 244 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Eric Profancik (Retired) // November 6th, 2009
"All these evils I have fought, while you have done nothing but observe! True, I am guilty of interference. Just as you are guilty of failing to use your great powers to help those in need!"
I have been a Whovian since sometime in the mid-'80s. In the 25 or so odd years of my fandom, I had yet to see an entire story featuring the second Doctor, Patrick Troughton. Yes, I've seen The Five Doctors, The Two Doctors, and The Lost in Time Episodes, but I don't consider them Patrick stories. Finally, after many years of pining, that opportunity has arrived. I can finally know I've seen original stories from each incarnation of the good Doctor.
The Doctor, Jamie (Frasier Hines), and Zoe (Wendy Padbury) materialize on Earth in 1917, in the middle of a World War I battle. Or so they think. Taken prisoner by the Allies, the trio is believed to be enemy spies. But as they escape the firing squad, the Doctor becomes suspicious that there is more going on. Soon he discovers that they aren't on Earth but on some distant planet where humans are kidnapped out of time, from times of war and tricked into believing they're still on Earth fighting. It's all part of a grand experiment conducted by the War Lord and the War Chief. As the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe struggle to find the truth, crossing through time zones into various wars, they are about to discover a horrible truth: Is another one of the Doctor's race, another Time Lord, controlling these events?
Doctor Who: The War Games is an odd way to introduce oneself to the second Doctor. It's peculiar in that it's Patrick's final episode and that it's Doctor Who's one and only ten-part story. The details of the genesis of the ten-story arc are well detailed in the bonus materials so I'll not run spoiler on that for you here. Instead, I'll take just a brief moment to talk about a seasoned Whovian's impression of a story from 40 years ago.
I didn't have any preconceptions about this story before I started. I was simply excited to view a Troughton story, but I will admit a bit of worry about its length -- a good four hours. So as I sat down and watched, I immersed myself in the world of the second Doctor and his final adventure. It seemed that in no time the first episode was over, then the second, the third, and so on until the end. For such a lengthy story, it goes by quite briskly. It's another enjoyable romp in the wild adventures of the Doctor. I've heard and read a few comments saying that the episode has too much filler, and that it needs a good trimming. In fact, many say it's a good four-part story. While it's true that filler is abundant and you get a bit nauseous watching the Doctor go in circles, the back-story validates -- if not excuses -- the redundancy and story stretching. I give it a pass, especially when taken in the bigger historical significance of the Great Story Purge.
Perhaps what kept me interested and made the time pass quickly is the fact that "The War Games" is a regeneration episode. What Whovian doesn't salivate over the regeneration stories, even if you hate to see your favorite Doctor leave? Akin to my circumstance with "The War Games," I also have not seen its successor episode, "Spearhead from Space," that introduces the Third Doctor, Jon Pertwee. I was thus unprepared for the lack of a regeneration sequence. All previous episodes show one Doctor to the other (in some manner (I know about Colin/Sylvester)), but there's nothing in this one. He's propelled down some temporal corridor, asking the Time Lords to stop. My main disappointment is nine episodes of build-up to a lackluster, missing regeneration.
Do I go into the bigger significance of the tenth episode, where we learn more of the background of the good Doctor? I don't think that's necessary. Any Whovian already knows how the first inklings of the mysterious Time Lords are detailed, so I'll leave it at that. Forty years ago I'm sure it was quite the buzz, but looking back at it from my context left me a bit flat -- seeing how I already knew these revelations and how the new series has changed just about everything.
This release from the magicians at The Restoration Team is, sadly, the worst I have seen from them. You can always expect top-notch work, turning old marred prints into clean, lustrous transfers; but it wasn't so for me in this case. That is not to say I think they slacked off on this release. I went to their website and read their article on this release (you should too) and was expecting a discussion that would corroborate and explain the various flaws and defects I saw. That was not the case. It appears, from their end, they found quality negatives and have a clean transfer. That is not what I saw. Throughout the presentation were all manner of video flaws and noise. The worst of it was the obvious horizontal and vertical banding and said noise. Specifically, in one of the episodes someone is firing a machine gun towards the camera. The flash from the gun is causing coincident noise all around the gun on the print. The gun shoots and the noise appears. In addition to this, there were many instances of poor black definition (this is a black and white print) and poor detail. None of these problems occur throughout the entirety of the story, and you are often treated to scenes with excellent detail and black resolution. But as I stated, I expected validation of this in their article; as they are always very forward and truthful in the problems they face and problems they leave behind. In that my print doesn't mesh to their article, I am curious if I somehow received a bad pressing. With all this pointed out, I am not especially bothered by the problems. Yes, they are annoying and I expected a better presentation, but knowing of this story's age and of the dilemma of the Great Purge, I am willing to cut this story a lot of slack. The audio portion of the disc is far less problematic, as the Dolby Digital mono track presents all dialogue, music, and effects cleanly without distortion.
Being a Restoration Team release means that this disc will have a bounty of bonus features, and it is true to form. Before I list and briefly explain what's on the set, let me say that the bonus features in this disc have a different approach than all the other discs I've viewed. In all other instances, the bonus features really focus in on the episode and give a lot of material about the story, its background, how it was produced, and so forth. Bonus features then usually talk about that Doctor and some other ancillary, related material. In the case of "The War Games," it's the opposite. While there are features that focus squarely on this story and Patrick, the vast majority of the material is ancillary, talking about Doctor Who in general. Let's see what we've got:
* Audio Commentary with Terrence Dicks (writer), Wendy Padbury, Jane Sherwin (Lady Jennifer Buckingham from the story), and Frazier Hines: Your standard commentary track, with love. The four discuss the story and always have something throughout the four hours. It's a good listen.
* Production Info Track: Filled with all manner of detail on the ten episodes. Some of it, of course, is repeated in other bonus materials. Still, there's rather a moment where you're not reading.
* "War Zone" (36:22): This is the story specific, making-of featurette. My apologies, but oh my, bad British teeth abound.
* "Shades of Grey" (24:46): A look at the history and character of black and white television shows on the BBC.
* "Now and Then" (9:35): Revisiting the locations used in the story.
* "The Doctor's Composer" (17:33): A look at Dudley Simpson, the most prolific of Whovian composers.
* "Sylvia James -- In Conversation" (8:27): Sylvia James reminisces about her time on the show. All I could wonder as I watched is who is Sylvia James? OK, she's the makeup designer but...
* "Talking About Regeneration" (24:25): A look at all of the Doctor's regenerations.
* "Time Zones" (15:22): More history about the wars than discussion of the zones as used in the story.
* "Stripped for Action -- The 2nd Doctor" (13:47): A discussion of Doctor Who in the comics, focusing on the adventures of the second Doctor.
* "On Target -- Malcolm Hulke" (20:01): This is a fawning tribute to Malcolm Hulke, whom many believe to be the finest writer to adapt screenplays to books.
* "Devious" with optional commentary (12:17): An amateur video by people who somehow knew somebody who knew somebody which led them to getting Jon Pertwee to come in and film the missing regeneration scene. It's pretty cheesy, a bit confusing at first; but the commentary by those that put it together help smooth out the bumps.
Rounding out the features are a photo gallery (6:33) and PDF files that you can access on your computer. These PDFs contain the Radio Times listings, the BBC Enterprises sales list, and the original design plans of the SIDRAT.
Just one minor quibble and that's about the music. There's a theme in the episode that plays quite often; it's pretty much the dominant theme heard whenever you're in 1917. Seeing as we're in 1917 we hear it a lot. We hear it way too much.
I think it was 1988 or 1989 and a Doctor Who convention came to Cleveland, Ohio, where I lived at the time. I was a newbie fan, but the girl who introduced me to the show swayed me to attend. I'm glad I did as it was a two Doctor convention: Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy. As everyone is sitting around waiting for one or the other or both actors to come on stage, the lights dim and something begins to play on a projection screen. We soon see Colin Baker talking directly to the audience, in character as the Doctor, smug as ever. I don't recall exactly what he says at the start but it soon devolves into "I am the Doctor. I have always been the Doctor, and I will always be the Doctor. I am the Doctor! I am the Doctor! I am the Doctor!" During this third iteration the picture gets a bit fuzzy and Colin turns into Sylvester who takes over the mantra, "I am the Doctor." He then goes on to say, "Well, you always wanted a regeneration, didn't you?" And the crowd bursts out into wild applause.
Now I know there have been two regenerations that have been less than "complete," and I learned that with "The War Games." Despite any problems I have with this disc with odd video problems, story padding, bonus features that are a bit broad, I'm still recommending this disc without hesitation. It's an important episode in the great pantheon of Who, deserving of a place on your shelf. You get four hours of entertainment and hours more bonus material.
Doctor Who: The War Games is hereby found guilty of being giddy.
Review content copyright © 2009 Eric Profancik; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 244 Minutes
Release Year: 1969
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Info Track
* Photo Gallery
* Restoration Team