Oct. 25th, 2018

purplecat: The second Doctor reading his 500 year diary. (Who:Two)
I was very much looking forward to the Randomizer getting around to The War Games. It is spoken of highly in current fan circles (though I don't recall it getting a great deal of attention back in the day). I also had fond memories of the Target novelisation but given said novelisation packs 10 episodes worth of story into 120 pages (so I figured giving approximately 12 pages to each episode) I was interested to see what else was there in televised story.

Somewhat to my surprise Tame Layman clearly had absolutely no idea about anything to do with anything to do with this story. He was by turns intrigued, surprised and then more intrigued. Perhaps the greatest triumph of this story is that it manages genuine progression across its ten episodes with a plot that unfolds slowly through a series of reveals. Almost nothing feels like padding because while the story takes its own sweet time in places, it is always heading somewhere rather than running on the spot.

The first episode is almost a pure historical, indeed Tame Layman's first reaction to the story was to express some doubts about the wisdom of a setting so much in living memory (particularly at the time) and the risk of over-simplifying issues that were potenitally very real to the audience. However the few hints at strangeness in the episode had him commenting that it was all a little Sapphire and Steel.

By episode three, he was commenting on the similarity of the SIDRATs to Tardis's without apparently any idea at all that this was going somewhere. In fact, he was genuinely suprised at the appearance of the Time Lords in episodes 9 and 10 despite the fact that, by that point, it was abundantly obvious that the War Chief was a renegade time lord.

If the story has a weak section, I would say it is the sequences in the middle set in the command centre of the "aliens" (never referred to as anything else) where the War Chief and the Security Chief bicker and manuever for position. It is watchable enough and their very manuevering drives events. However it all picks up immensely when the War Lord appears who is, I think, one of the genuinely most impressive villains the show has put on screen. He looks like an administrator but conveys a sense of total competence and self-assurance. You have no doubt that he is absolutely in charge of the situation and completely efficiently ruthless in the pursuit of his aims. There is no bluster or grandiosity. It's a truly impressive performance.

The rag tag resistance (including surprise appearance by David Troughton) were not quite as I expected. I had no real memory of Captain Russell who is probably the most clearly drawn resistance leader here (though I was interested in the way he instantly started deferring to Lieutenant Carstairs once they meet up - rank in the British Army, it would seem, transcends temporal constraints). I did clearly remember the Mexican Civil War leader from the books, though I approached his appearance with some trepidation, fearing a terrible stereotype. And yes, he is basically a one-dimensional stereotype but lacked the scenery-chewing gusto of my mental image so that he was ultimately one of the more forgettable parts of the story.

I wrote, when we viewed both The Invasion and Ambassadors of Death, that they were much better than they had any right to be given their length. This is something else entirely. It fits its length seemingly effortlessly and is, I think genuinely as good as current fan wisdom would suggest.


Who against Guns made a series of podcast commentaries for these episodes, of which I have copies. I will probably listen to these at some point.

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