The War Games

Region 1

Region 2
VHS Video
(Doctor Who Story No. 50, starring Patrick Troughton)
  • written by Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke
  • directed by David Maloney
  • produced by Derrick Sherwin
  • music by Dudley Simpson
  • 10 episodes @ 25 minutes each
Story: The Doctor finds himself in the midst of trench warfare between English and German forces. But many of the participants are suffering very selective memory losses, and the Doctor becomes determined to find out who is manipulating events from behind the scenes, and why. As the overwhelming scope and nature of the operation is revealed, the Doctor finds he can no longer hide his origins from Jamie and Zoe's curiosity....

DVD Extras include:

  • Audio commentary by Frazer Hines (Jamie), Wendy Padbury (Zoe), Philip Madoc (The War Lord), Jane Sherwin (Lady Jennifer),
    Graham Weston (Russell), co-writer Terrance Dicks, and producer Derrick Sherwin.
  • "War Zone" making of documentary (36 min.), with all commentators listed above except Madoc, plus
    Bernard Horsfall (Time Lord [Goth?]), director David Maloney, and designer Roger Cheveley.
  • "Shades of Grey" featurette (22 min.) on the black & white era of TV, including future director Timothy Combe,
    graphic designer Bernard Lodge, and sound designer Brian Hodgson.
  • "Now and Then" location featurette (9 min.)
  • "The Doctor's Composer - Part One" interview of Dudley Simpson. (17 min.) (Part Two can be found on the DVD for "The Sun Makers".)
  • interview with make-up designer Sylvia James (8 min.)
  • "Time Zones" - historians comment on this story's accuracy (15 min.)
  • Pop-up Production Note Subtitles
  • Photo Gallery sound effects montage (6 min.)
  • "Talking About Regeneration" featurette (24 min.) on the story concept allowing the change of lead actor on the show,
    with Peter Davison (the fifth Doctor), and Kate O'Mara (the Rani).
  • Excerpts from "Devious" (12 min.) - A fan-made film set just after "The War Games", introducing Jon Pertwee as the proper third Doctor.
    • with optional commentary by the production team.
  • Second Doctor comic strip featurette (14 min.)
  • "On Target - Malcolm Hulke" featurette (20 min.) on Hulke's novelizations for Target Books
  • Easter Eggs

Buyers' Guide Review

by Martin Izsak

(A more in-depth analysis, containing "SPOILERS" and intended for those who have already seen the program, can be accessed here.)

Patrick Troughton has saved his very best for last, as this epic-length adventure packs in the mystery, series' mythology, and plenty of historical and sci-fi action into one giant, explosive roller-coaster ride. Writers Malcolm Hulke and Terrance Dicks re-establish their old partnership and mastermind a script better than what either of them ever did on Doctor Who by themselves, providing director David Maloney with another big winner to add to his impressive roster. As excellent as "The Tomb of the Cybermen" is, it finally meets its match here, as "The War Games" overpowers it in scale and moral themes.

"Er hat mir gesagt, dass er aus einem anderen Zeitälter kommt, in einem Raumschiff namens TARDIS."

The bare minimum is done to satisfy the technical considerations of landing the TARDIS at the beginning of the story, and it and the three main characters are not as well introduced as they could be. The murky reflection of materialization is unique, but less than all one could hope for. The scene works for playing off of the fans' funny-bone once more, though it's not nearly as dependant on that as "The Ice Warriors" (story no. 39) or "Fury From the Deep" (story no. 42). However, the police box and the time/space traveling concept are not very firmly established for any first time or casual viewers, to say nothing of the TARDIS interior.

Exploration of the location begins immediately and is quite strong, offering enough tidbits in dialogue to allow viewers to figure out something of the three main characters' time-traveling relationship to the place. The TARDIS and the three regular characters get their due in introduction later on in the story, as episode three features as full an explanation as we have ever had of them on the series so far - both in English AND in German! "The War Games" isn't really lacking in the essential elements of the series, it just takes some time for them all to show themselves.

"The War Games" involves a large web of guest characters, all of which are introduced well as the story progresses. We start with just the familiar Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe, and after that each new character makes his or her entrance either by having someone we know go meet them face to face, or by having someone we know talk about them just before we cut across to our first glimpse of them. Thus the web of known characters begins small and does not attempt to grow too fast, keeping pace with the rate at which any reasonable audience will be capable of getting interested in new characters and appreciating them. So much better than stories that throw hordes of weirdos at us right away and end up having most of them killed off two thirds of the way through.

Scenes of captivity and confinement are sprinkled throughout the story, and they are perhaps at their most numerous in episode one. None of them waste any screen time or drag the plot, so it is worth taking a good look to see what dynamics are at work to keep the ball rolling. Firstly, each capture allows our main characters to meet a new guest character and get to know something of them, and secondly, each character they meet in this way either adds something significant to the mystery and peaks their curiosity, or their interaction is simply a darned humorous scene, or in many cases both.

A study of old-school war characters manages to bring forth a wave of warm and cosy nostalgia for an essential British solid "keep your chin up" stoicism, an optimism that will see any chap through the hardest of times. Even with the war peppering the plot with action, much time is spent in trench dug-outs and the chateau, which serve as psychological islands of safety from the constant bang and rumble going on outside.

Captain Ransom is perhaps the best of these archetypal British war characters, as Hubert Rees does such an amazing job of playing him in a manner that is believable, charismatic, humorous, and sympathetic all at the same time. Noel Coleman's General Smythe also fits the bill in his stern appearance and mannerisms. Major Barrington, Sgt. Major Burns, Lieutenant Carstairs and Lady Jennifer all make excellent contributions to the same stoical atmosphere. The near perfect recreation of this believable "straight" setting is what gives many later ironic twists so much emotional power.

It isn't long before the well-disguised capture and escape routines have served their purpose and are largely abandoned. The seeds of heroic involvement have taken root for the three main characters instead, and sprout beautifully from here on.

"Sorry, my French isn't up to it."

The story soon offers revelations aplenty, as the full scale of the War Games' setting is discovered and explored bit by bit, and Dicks and Hulke are wise enough to involve the three regulars in this as much as possible.

Foreign languages feature more heavily in this Doctor Who story than in any other, and are effective in broadening its scope. The actual lines of German and French scattered about in it are basic enough that one can understand them fairly easily without having to know a great deal about either language, while clever scene and story structure make subtitle translations completely unnecessary. David Garfield playing General Von Weich and his foreign speaking co-stars all manage to speak their lines with excellent clarity and believable fluency, although the German grammar contains a few oddities I've never heard anywhere else and would never use myself.

Garfield makes an excellent German general, but later on his Yankee accent is far less entertaining than his previous linguistics.

The proliferation of foreign language in this story does at first appear to throw a spanner into the series' continuity, as all manner of civilizations have thus far appeared to speak perfect English with all members of the Doctor's parties throughout his travels, from the aliens of Skaro and Marinus, to the primitive cavemen of 100,000 BC, to the Italians and Mongols abroad in China, to the ancient Aztecs of Mexico, and on and on to the series' last days. Very few stories tackle racial language problems, but in cases like the Zarbi's Animus or the Rills, it can be argued that they don't habitually use a spoken language to begin with, and don't pattern their thoughts on it. Usually, if it speaks, it speaks English.

The only explanation that the classic series has ever offered for this occurs in "The Masque of Mandragora" (story no. 86), in which Sarah wonders how it is she can understand all those Italians so perfectly. "It's a Time Lord gift I let you share", explains the Doctor enigmatically. "The War Games" would seem to upset this, but one plausible explanation would be .... something containing spoilers that I save for those who have seen the story and who are reading the in-depth analysis version of this review.

In any case, the foreign languages are a uniquely nice touch that I personally enjoy enormously.

Dudley Simpson's musical score is exceptionally excellent this time around - tasteful all the way through, and thematically based in a way that allows it to enhance and reinforce the common threads weaving themselves throughout this vast setting. In some cases, the best cue hasn't always been selected from the story's collection for each situation, but, confusion between threats and heroics aside, the music is always good to listen to, and each of the mismatched pieces does find more appropriate scenes to back as well at other points in the story.

There are those who feel that "The War Games" is just too long, and that the middle episodes drag. Dicks and Hulke were certainly concerned about keeping up the momentum at that point. Personally, I don't find the pace to be lacking at all; the right elements come into play with brilliant timing and are easy to follow. At one point, the Doctor dons a pair of alien glasses, mutters "Let's explore!", and gleefully wanders off with Zoe to do just that, symbolizing what some of the middle episodes, and the Doctor Who series in general, are all about. The major conflict of the story crystallizes in the middle episodes as well, and provides us with some solid dramatic conflict for our emotional engagement. Vernon Dobtcheff's character offers us an informative foil for the Doctor to play off of humorously. The War Chief, brilliantly played by Edward Brayshaw, is a powerfully commanding figure who remains much of an enigma in his early episodes, and the revelations about him that leak out slowly thereafter help to keep the middle episodes freshly intriguing. James Bree's Security Chief is harder to like, played to be as irritating a thorn in the War Chief's side as possible, to which end the character works very well and fuels an essential "B"-plot for the later episodes. One has to wait until "Full Circle" (story no. 112) to see a really enjoyable performance out of James Bree, however.

Okay, some of the sets in the later episodes are not everything one might hope for, reflecting the low budget. However, one of the most important rooms is still particularly effective, and considering that what the story needs most are striking contrasts from the very well-done sets earlier in the story, the oddities that we get still work.

Above all else, part of the real point of this story is to deliver an absolutely HUGE challenge to the Doctor, and see him stretched to his limit in trying to deal with it and solve it all. "The War Games" needs to be ten episodes long to do this struggle justice, and it is all the more classic for doing so. Dicks and Hulke pull out the stops on their imaginations, throwing in a variety of challenges that form fresh, interesting, logical story beats all the way along.

The Doctor gets into a confrontation in Episode Eight that opens up a whole new kettle of fish, and begins one of the deepest continuing mythological arcs ever on Doctor Who. Philip Madoc comes back to the show to play the War Lord, the most important of all his roles on the series and the best performance amongst those he taped for television. The stakes are raised now, and Patrick Troughton's excellent-as-usual portrayal takes on a few new notes for the final episodes, including a sombre seriousness and a resolve to deal with the fate he knows to be inevitable.

Meanwhile, Jamie and Zoe get a chance to let their own ingenuity shine outside of the Doctor's protective wings. Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury, who have put their usual charm into their performances throughout the story, add a little extra here and milk these scenes for their humorous potential, nearly going over the top, but it all holds together thankfully due to one of the characters noticing everything that the rest of the audience does.

Brayshaw, Madoc, and Troughton build up a tremendous sense of menace and viewer anticipation as the ninth episode draws to an end. By the time the credits roll, you know that something seriously different and special will take place next week, and anyone with a hint of interest in the series will be sure to tune in.....

The final half-hour of the black and white 60's era of Doctor Who .... is something I certainly won't spoil here. Get it, see it, and come back to read all about it in the in-depth analysis version of this review.

"The War Games" has given us a bit of everything and then some, being well scripted and produced from start to finish. This big story is season six's main event in so many ways. It is a cathartic, transformational experience, a personal favourite, and an epic milestone in the history of the entire series. The crowning pinnacle of sixties' Doctor Who.

Season Six Rankings:

Best Stories:

  1. The War Games
  2. The Invasion
  3. The Mind Robber
  4. The Krotons
  5. The Dominators
  6. The Seeds of Death
  7. The Space Pirates

Best Directors:

  • Douglas Camfield (The Invasion)
  • David Maloney (The War Games, The Mind Robber, The Krotons)
  • Morris Barry (The Dominators)
  • Michael Ferguson (The Seeds of Death)
  • Michael Hart (The Space Pirates)

Best Writers:

  • Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke (The War Games)
  • Derrick Sherwin (The Invasion)
  • Peter Ling (The Mind Robber)
  • Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln (The Dominators)
  • Robert Holmes (The Krotons, The Space Pirates)
  • Brian Hayles (The Seeds of Death)

Best Music:

  • Dudley Simpson [The War Games]
  • Don Harper and Co. [The Invasion]
  • Dudley Simpson [The Seeds of Death]
  • The Mind Robber
  • The Dominators
  • The Krotons
  • Dudley Simpson [The Space Pirates]

This story has become available on DVD and VHS video:
DVD NTSC Region 1
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
in Canada
DVD PAL Region 2
for the U.K.
VHS Video
NTSC A in North America
NTSC B in North America
PAL for the U.K.

Comments on this article are welcome. You may contact the author from this page:

Contact page


Read the Buyers' Guide Review for the next story: "Spearhead From Space"

Home Page Site Map Star Trek Sliders Doctor Who Patrick Troughton Era Episode Guide Catalogue