I must admit, I don’t know what the fate of Doctor Who was in June 1969, whether it was set to return for a new series, or if this was the end of the line… but watching this now, The War Games feels to me like a finale. A culmination of six years of time and space adventures, where the themes of the show – history, aliens, companionship – all come together in an epic conclusion. And where, six years after Doctor Who first appeared on television screens, someone finally utters those immortal words… “Time Lord”.
I must also admit that I really liked this. I don’t want to go through the intricacies of the plot, as it’s one that’s worth discovering fresh, but it was extremely good sci-fi that reminded me of The Matrix (and other similar concepts). Alongside that, mysteries of the Doctor and his origins are finally revealed, friends depart forever, the Doctor is put on trial, and it all felt like the writers were going all-out on making this one epic conclusion.
I really liked the slow reveal of information, seeing the Doctor react to the realisation of who could be behind all of this, an insight into his character that we haven’t seen until now. Even at ten parts long (nearly four hours), it rarely felt like it was dragging, as each episode ends in some sort of cliff-hanger and I always felt compelled to watch the next part. Truly exciting stuff. Yes, some of the action is still laughably bad, the fights are often badly staged, but overall this had a compelling quality to it, enjoyable performances, a well-paced mystery and ended with the rarest of events… a regeneration.
Much of the plot whizzes by amidst the action, but towards the end things slow down, the Doctor reflects on his adventures and says goodbye to his friends.
As it appears this is where Jamie and Zoe are leaving the Doctor, it’s time to reflect on their characters.
Zoe wasn’t with the Doctor for all that long, and mainly served to replace Victoria as the obligatory young female companion. Her defining personality trait was her intelligence, which was occasionally (but rarely) used in the story to their advantage, not least of which in this story, where she is able to memorise the locations and names of the resistance fighters at a glance. When they first met, she was almost devoid of emotion, but it did seem like she developed a sense of humour and a friendship with her companions over time.
She ends up back where she left. The Time Lords send Zoe back to where she first met the Doctor and erased the memories of their adventures together. While she remains safe, I can’t help feel she’ll have lost a certain something… but from the way she looks back one last time, she has a vague recollection of what happened.
Jamie has got to be the longest-running companion yet. He came aboard alongside Ben and Polly, so I expected him to always be something of a third wheel. But somehow, despite everyone coming and going, he stuck it out until the end. He is fiercely loyal, morally-grounded and closer to the Doctor than any of his companions yet. Despite his 18th century highlander origins, he showed remarkable adaptability to whatever situation he was thrown into. He retains some mild misogynistic qualities, but his heart was always in the right place.
Like Zoe, the Time Lords returned him to his own place in time and space, with no memories of having joined the Doctor. I can only hope that something of their time together remains within him.
Now, with the trial over, the Doctor is exiled to Earth. Stripped of his visage and the use of his Tardis, he is forced to undergo a transformation. This is not the end… but a new beginning.