Friday, October 04, 2013

Doctor Who turns 50 part 2: War Games

Going into The Daleks and knowing I was about to watch the first appearance of the greatest enemy allowed me to appreciate what I was seeing and put it into context. I didn't have that for War Games. I'd been vaguely warned of “something huge for canonicity” but nothing more than that. Half way through we got the War Chief, and I thought I figured it out. Here was the very first appearance of the Master, his identity to be revealed later... Or maybe it was retconned?... Hang on, he's dead? So he's not the Master?

What all this worrying about the War Chief meant was I totally missed this was not only the first appearance of the Time Lords, but the point where a whole lot of back story for the Doctor was established. While I'm not sure watching back story you already know can be as thrilling as going back to a “first appearance” like the Daleks, there's no denying War Games is important.

That said, War Games needs some serious editing. The first and last two could easily have been trimmed to one each without too much problem. But the middle of it is just full captures, escapes and recaptures. If there's one escape attempt there's four. It boarders on the ridiculous. War Games is a good four episodes too long.

The length does help with the secondary characters such as Lt Carstairs and Lady Jennifer who get a nice romance and almost raise to companion level. The Mexcian and US rebel fighters all get half decent screen time, even if their accents are awful. Lady Jennifer gets a little bit of a short stick, disappearing halfway through to never be seen until Carstairs decides it's time to follow his heart. If they'd spent more time with developing these guys instead of constant escape attempts War Games could have been epic.

Then there's the facial hair of War Chief and his alien buddies. Oh My God it's FANTASTIC! With swirls and curves all neatly trimmed in, (or, more accurately, drawn in with pencil) and the infighting between the alien Security Chief and the War Chief is great, if a little drawn out. Their costumes are prehaps the hokiest things yet. The acting is about on par with The Daleks in most places, but because War Games is going for more epic, with Mexicans and US Civil war and technologically advanced humans it just seems worse. Though the Thals costumes still take the cake as a whole.

Of course, I have yet to address Patrick Troughton. It's interesting that I'm watching his final regular appearance as the Doctor here. By this point his particular characteristics are well informed to the audience, yet this is my first meeting. I found myself not particularly enamoured with this Doctor. He's still short tempered, but far more dismissive about ideas he doesn't like.

This also features his regeneration, or the build up to it anyway. And it's pretty damn weird to watch too. First of all it's handed down to him by the Time Lords as punishment for nicking a Tardis. Back then it was just “changing his appearance” which resulted in a slightly different personality. With today's mythology it's basically a death sentence. It seems incredibly draconian. However, Troughton's way of dealing with it is interesting. Moaning about the options for his new face, it could be seen as him making light of the situation, but to me he was trying to buy time, get his mind round the problem and try and talk his way out of it. He clearly didn't want it just before that so it made sense he was scrambling for a delay. The 'thin' option did look rather familiar, and I can't help if this was a bit of foreshadowing for Jon Pertwee.

It was actually the companions I felt worse for. They've just had years of memories wiped from their mind. Reset so they only remembered their initial adventure with the Doctor, but not leaving with them. That was pretty fucking harsh.

Jamie, or 'that bloke from Emmerdale' as I first thought, is back to medieval Scotland, but for the rest of the adventure seems to serve the same purpose as Ian did in The Daleks. That of the Doctor's muscle. Unfortunately, he also suffers from this being my first Troughton viewing, as he follows orders and trusts the Doctor completely. I realise that makes perfect sense in context, which is what I'm missing here.

Zoe, on the other hand, is a great step up from Barbara and Susan in the previous eras. Far more independent, and seems to have a head on her shoulders, though she's still open to throwing histrionics every now and again.

My main two problems with War Games is the pacing and how so much of it relies on the fact you've been following these characters for awhile, the latter being more my fault then anything. Maybe if I go earlier it'd help. It's a shame Troughton's era is the one most savaged by the BBC's cost cutting and the tapes lost. I'd sort of would like to see of his earlier adventures.
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