Sunday 24 July 2011

244 The War Games: Episode One

EPISODE: The War Games: Episode One
TRANSMITTED: 19 April 1969
WRITER: Malcolm Hulke & Terrance Dicks
DIRECTOR: David Maloney
SCRIPT EDITOR: Terrance Dicks
PRODUCER: Derrick Sherwin
FORMAT: DVD: Doctor Who: The War Games

Not to be confused with The 1983 Film or the Space 1999 episode or even the banned banned BBC film The War Game. And many others.......

The Tardis materialises in a World War 1 No Man's Land. Sheltering from shelling the Doctor, Jamie & Zoe are picked up by an ambulance driven by Lady Jennifer Buckingham. They are quickly captured by German Soldiers but liberated by Lt Carstairs and his men who escort them back to a command post on the front line. Major Barrington send the Tardis crew to General Smythe. Lady Jennifer and Carstairs confess to each other that they're having problems with remembering things. Smythe uses a hidden communicator device with a screen to request reinforcements. While searching for him Major Ransom discovers that Smythe is not in his room but when Smythe walks in from his quarters he puts his glasses on and convinces Ransom that he was there. Later in a break in the tribunal he uses the same technique to convince Ransom & Barrington that the Doctor & friends are guilty of spying. Suspecting Jamie of desertion he is sent to a military barracks, while Jamie is remanded into Lady Jennifer's custody before transport to prison. The Doctor is sentenced to death by firing squad. When taken to prison he questions the Sergeant Major and discovers gaps in his memory. Zoe discovers Smythe's communication device while stealing the keys to the Doctor's cell but when she frees him they are both intermediately recaptured. The Doctor is taken to the firing squad, tied up and shots ring out....

Welcome to the fiftieth Doctor Who story which is also the last and longest second Doctor story. World War One is an easy location to do and as with most things involving a setting prior to the present day the BBC does it very well. Unfortunately anything World War One now makes you think Blackadder 4 as Liz, who saw the start of this story with me, pointed out as they reached the trenches. That view was confirmed the moment that Major Barrington (Terence Bayler) appeared on the screen because he looks not dissimilar to Rowan Atkinson! It's the holes in the World War One scenario that are the really interesting parts to the episode: What's the communication device in Smythe's room? Who's he talking to? How's he persuading people that what he says is right? The closest to this episode I can think of is The Time Meddler where we're asking what's the Monk doing with a wrist watch & binoculars.

Wipes the floor with any episode of the Space Pirates this does! You know the Space Pirates finished off the Lost in Time DVD set, Doctor Who's first 3 disc DVD? The War Games is the second 3 disc set.

The film recordings of the episodes that make up this story was originally sourced from two locations: Episodes 2, 5, 8 & 9 were present in the BBC Film & Video Library in 1978 when Ian Levine first visited. All ten episodes were found as negatives at the BFI, who returned them to the BBC. It was believed that the BFI returned their original negatives but when the BBC's copies were later damaged, leading to the odd patterns seen on certain episodes during the video release, and enquiries made of the BFI it was discovered that the BFI had returned copies of their negatives. New superior prints were then struck from the BFI's negatives giving a superb quality of picture used for the basis of the DVD release.

All the location filing for this story was conducted in Sussex around the Eastbourne area. Sheepcoat Rubbish tip, recently home to the film production Oh What A Lovely War, forms the majority of the First World War locations with Birling Manor Farm providing the building exteriors. Doctor Who: The War Games DVD has a Now & Then film showing the locations as they appear in the story and as they do now. There's also some excellent contemporary photos of the location in the DVD's photo gallery.

1 comment:

  1. My love of The War Games is unbounded. I remember reading the Target novelisation when I was younger and absolutely loving it, owned the grainy fungus damaged VHS release and now have it again on shiny DVD disc.

    I love the sense of mystery that is set up here - the holes in peoples memories set up a certain errieness to proceedings, and for this episode we really don't have anywhere near enough information to start making intelligent guesses so it is left tantalisingly unclear.

    The cliffhanger is a cracker too - eschewing touching on the mystery we instead get the brutality of a firing squad and a summary execution for espionage. Disturbing and very much "in period".

    For some reason this story never makes me think of Blackadder. I do sometimes catch myself expecting to see Charley Bourne sitting in the trench with a brew though.