9 September 2013

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 252: The War Games, Episode Two

Dear diary,

We've spent so much time lately stuck in scientific bases and out on alien worlds that you really do forget just how good the BBC are at creating a historical drama. Every detail of the sets and costumes in the last two episodes has been so spot on that it's a real treat to look at. It also means that when things do start to go a bit strange, and we find video screens built into the walls, they're all the more jarring and carry a much greater impact - because they look so out of place amongst all this period detail.

The locations for the story are lovely, too, especially the buildings around the Doctor's firing squad (of all the times to be admiring architecture!). I grew up on a farm with several buildings in a similar style, so it looks like just the sort of place I used to imagine Doctor Who adventures taking place. Were this a bad episode, details like the sets would be something to help bring it up a point or two in my estimations, but The War Games is still thundering along - the gorgeous design is just a bonus.

No sooner are we out of the cliffhanger to yesterday's episode (a real stunner, too, and another one to consider placing on a list of 'best ever'), than we get another shock reveal in the form of a TARDIS arriving in the General's office. It's key to remember that the last time we saw a TARDIS other than the Doctor's was during The Daleks' Master Plan, and that was over three years ago. It comes as a real shock even, I'm glad to say, to me. It's been so long since I've watched The War Games that I'd remembered these other time machines not turning up until the latter half of the tale. It came as a complete surprise, and that just made the whole thing better.

Then we've got the use of the General's glasses when he's hypnotising people. In yesterday's episode, when they're used to the very first time, it's done as he starts to read some papers. It's all framed as to suggest that the glasses just happened to go on before the need to hypnotise. As the story has gone on, it's become clearer that they're integral to the hypnotism process. It's also great to see Lady Jennifer and Lieutenant Carstairs start to break free of their own brainwashing, having seen it seeded in since their first meeting.

It almost serves to show the impact that the Doctor can have just by turning up somewhere. He's well aware that things aren't quite what they seem to be, but he's still piecing it all together. Meanwhile, his mere presence in this area has brought together two people who may never have met, and caused them to think differently. It's the great strength that this Doctor has displayed many times before and it's good to see it being used one last time before he bows out.

Elsewhere in the episode, Troughton is on absolutely blazing form. When he halts a car simply by standing in the middle of the road and shouting at the driver, it signals the start of one of his best ever performances as he smashes through the next few scenes with his volume control up to maximum. I often find myself quoting the Seventh Doctor when he says that you just need to 'act as if you own the place' to get through unquestioned (indeed, trying that once got me onto the set of a proper Doctor Who episode for a full afternoon as they filmed, but that's a story for another day), and it's this idea that's being shown at its best here.

Wendy Padbury deserves some praise again, too; she's really a brilliant foil for Troughton's Doctor, and after all my musing earlier this season that I'd like to see him traveling alone with her, I'm glad to see that the production team have obviously had similar thoughts, and keep pairing them off. If there's one thing I'm going to miss by the time this story is over, it's the developing relationship between the two.

After all that, we're sent on our way with another stunning cliffhanger, as the ambulance disappears into a strange void of smoke, and then reappears out in the English countryside, ready to be set upon by Romans. Obviously, I know what's going on, but I can only imagine how odd this must have seemed at the time. We've not had a historical story in ages and now there's two for the price of one (and there's even a redcoat thrown in for good measure!). 

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