Monday, August 10, 2009

ZZ10 - The War Games 10

The War Games is about as finite an end to an era if ever there was one. It's the last Patrick Troughton story, it's the last story for Jamie and Zoe, it's the last story of the 1960s, it's the last story made and broadcast in black and white, and it's the last story made when seasons in Doctor Who were around 40 episodes long. Even the production code, ZZ, reflects this. The biggest ending portrayed in this story, though, is the loss of innocence in this six-year-old programme.

Now, I love the films Jaws and Star Wars to bits, both of which came at the tail end of what many consider (including myself) to be the greatest era of films (circa 1967-circa 1977) in the history of cinema. Both films aren't necessarily similar to other classic films of the era (Dog Day Afternoon, All The President's Men, The Godfather, etc.), but both are definitely of that era. What troubles me about both films, first Jaws, and then, to prove it wasn't a fluke, Star Wars, was what came afterward. Never again would movies be made in the same way again. Those who made films in the post-Star Wars era could not do so based solely on creating art or making an entertaining picture as they would be forced to, or would choose to, take the financial success of Jaws and Star Wars into account when deciding if their film was worthy of being made. Thus, while I think both Jaws and Star Wars are two of the greatest films of our time, and there have been several films made since then that also warrant such lofty praise, I lament what came after Star Wars every time I see it.

I can't help but feel the same way sometimes about that which followed The War Games. While, in my opinion, the best years of Who were still ahead of it, The War Games marks a fundamental change in Doctor Who. The events and the outcome of this story have been directly or, more commonly, indirectly referred to in every story made since then. Before The War Games, The Doctor was a free agent, independent of any outside influence. After The War Games, The Doctor would never travel freely again. Forced into exile on Earth for Seasons 7-9, he was still explicitly or discreetly sent on missions by the Time Lords. Even after The Doctor was granted a reprieve, the Time Lords still, on occasion, would enlist him for special missions. Later stories were set on Gallifrey, other renegade Time Lords were often featured in stories, and, in the continuity happy 1980s, the Time Lords were almost like family. Even in the new series, although the Time Lords are all extinct (bar one. Or two.), they are always on The Doctor's mind. They have always been on The Doctor's mind.

If the innocence and carefree wandering had to come to an end, though, then what better story to do so than The War Games? The ideas and concepts of this story are perhaps the biggest ever perceived - new series not excluded. The War Games is a grand finale worthy of Russell T Davies (but concluded in much more satisfying fashion), but it's also a story that has aged remarkably well. Contemporary audiences had obviously grown tired with the notion of space travel, and were switching off Doctor Who in record numbers. Watching The War Games today, knowing in hindsight was to come after it, it's easy to get lost in the story, to not have to wait ten weeks to see the entire story as a whole.

This story was a remarkable achievement for all involved, and, being Terrance Dicks's first credited writing contribution in the Doctor Who universe, more than makes up for all the speed written Target novelizations of the 1970s and 1980s. It is superbly directed and acted, as well, and let's Patrick Troughton go out on a creative high rarely accorded to any other Doctor. It also forms a second tent pole almost as tall as that of Troughton's debut story, The Power of the Daleks, but the other stories that occurred between the two were by no means inferior. The Patrick Troughton era, while perhaps not achieving as many absolute peaks as other Doctor's eras, is quite simply the most consistently excellent stretch of stories in Doctor Who history.

As I did after the William Hartnell era, here's my picks for Troughton's time:

Best Story : The Power of the Daleks
Worst Story : The Underwater Menace
Favourite Story : The War Games

The stage is yours, Jon Pertwee...


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