Who Review – The War Games

Posted by Richo On July 14, 2012 4 COMMENTS

Welcome to the Twenty-fourth instalment of Who Review, my ongoing quest to review all available episodes of TV’s longest running SF series, Doctor Who. This week, we close off Patrick Troughton’s run as The Doctor in The War Games.


The War Games (10 Episodes)


19 April – 21 June 1969


Patrick Troughton


Jamie McCrimmon

Zoe Heriot


The TARDIS lands in what appears to be a World War I battlefield, where the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe meet Lady Jennifer Buckingham, a field nurse, and Lt. Jeremy Carstairs, who helps them flee from German troops. They are taken to a nearby British base, where base commander Major Barrington has them shipped to the British field command office. During this time, we learn that Carstairs and Lady Jennifer are both suffering from gaps in their memory.

At the British field command, the Doctor and his companions meet the enigmatic General Smythe, the secretive leader of the British forces. Smythe is not what he seems; he has access to futuristic technology, reports to unseen masters requesting “new specimens” via a hidden communicator, and dons a strange pair of spectacles to hypnotise those under his control. More shocking however, is that he has a TARDIS-like vehicle in his room.

Smythe orders the TARDIS crew to be court-martialled, then hypnotises the members of the military tribunal to bring a guilty verdict. The sentencing is passed and Zoe and Jamie are sentenced to prison while the Doctor is to be executed.

While the Doctor is taken to be executed, Zoe manages to escape prison. A sniper disrupts the execution, allowing Zoe to rescue the Doctor.  Together, they make their way to the prison to free Jamie.

While imprisoned, Jamie is placed in a cell with a Redcoat, a British soldier from the Battle of Culloden in 1776. He and his fellow prisoner manage to escape, and after some fighting and subterfuge, Jamie is reunited with Zoe and the Doctor. Unfortunately, they are soon recaptured.

Growing more and more suspicious of Smythe, Carstairs and Lady Jennifer help the Doctor and his companions escape. Before they leave, however, they break into Smythe’s room and discover some of his hidden technology.

Fleeing in an army ambulance, they pass through some strange mist, entering a different time on a different battlefield, surrounded by Roman centurions. They manage to escape and the Doctor deduces that they are on a planet made up of battle zones from different periods in human history. He further postulates that the mist is a force barrier that keeps the war zones separate.

Hoping to secure a map of the war zones, the Doctor and his companions return to the WWI zone and Smythe’s command centre. There, they find a map showing a series of triangles marked with dates and names of wars from different dates in human history. With the map in their possession, they escape in the ambulance once more, but are soon captured by German troops.

Taken to German high command, they are confronted by Captain von Weich, the German commander. Like Major Smythe, Von Weich has a communicator, a monocle that allows him to hypnotise others, and a TARDIS. Fortunately, the Doctor and his companions manage to escape. They decide to head to a mysterious black triangle zone marked on the centre of the map.

This black zone is Central Control, a futuristic structure populated by technicians in neutral clothes and strange glasses. Smythe is there and welcomes the arrival of his superior, the War Chief, who brings greetings from his own superior, the War Lord. News arrives from von Weich that the prisoners have escaped again and the War Chief is concerned that the fugitives claim to be time travellers. It soon becomes apparent that they are all involved in some sort of war games using models to plot real conflict between the rival armies. Amazingly, it appears that the War Chief is from the Doctor’s own race, and has provided the War Lord and his race with the TARDIS technology.

The Doctor and his companions pass through the American Civil War zone, where they must seek refuge in a barn. There, the Doctor and Zoe stumble upon yet another TARDIS. Exploring the vehicle, they are trapped inside when it dematerialises.

They find themselves transported to a docking bay in Central Control filled with TARDIS-like transporters. Disguising themselves as technicians, they begin to explore the facility, discovering soldiers from the different time zones being held in stasis and a large lecture hall filled with students. In the lecture hall, they witness a “reconditioning” of Lt. Carstairs, a form of brainwashing performed by The Chief Scientist. The War Chief attends the lecture and instantly recognises the Doctor in the crowd.

Zoe and the Doctor attempt to flee, but they become separated and Zoe is captured. The Doctor manages to free Carstairs from his conditioning and together they rescue Zoe.

Meanwhile, back in the American Revolution zone, Jamie and Lady Jennifer discover a resistance movement consisting of soldiers from the different time periods who have fought of the reconditioning.  Becoming aware of the Resistance fighters, Central Control troops to the zone to quell the rebellion. The rebels manage to fight off the invaders and commandeer their TARDIS-like transporters. They use the vehicles to transport back to Central Control to bring the fight to their enemies.

Unfortunately, the War Chief is waiting for them when they emerge, and most of the rebels are slaughtered. Jamie is captured, but the Doctor and Zoe are able to free him. The Doctor has also discovered that there are numerous Resistance groups throughout the war zones and he has Zoe memorise the names and faces of all of the Resistance leaders. They plan to unite the different groups into one giant army.

While Zoe and the surviving Resistance fighters travel to the war zones to contact the other Resistance leaders, the Doctor, Carstairs and Jamie remain in Central Control. They steal the reconditioning technology and manage to escape in one of the vehicles, fleeing into the war zones. They return to 1917, where they meet with Zoe and the Resistance troops.

The War Lord arrives in Central Command to personally oversee the project and try to halt the chaos caused by the Doctor. He gathers an army that invades the 1917 war zone and manages to capture The Doctor. The Doctor is brought back to Central Command and tortured. The War Chief witnesses the interrogation and confirms that he and the Doctor are both from a race known as the Time Lords. He also reveals the amazing information that the Doctor stole his TARDIS and absconded from their home world.

The War Chief explains to the Doctor that the war games are designed to whittle out the weakest humans to create an unstoppable army the War Lord will use to conquer the galaxy. He sees conquest as a means of achieving a greater peace and asks the Doctor to join him. The Doctor refuses, condemning the War Chief for sharing Time Lord technology with the aliens.

Back in the 1917 War Zone, Zoe manages to bring all of the Resistance leaders together. They once again attack Central Command but are captured by a seemingly turncoat Doctor. It is all a ruse, of course, allowing the rebels to gain access to the facility.

Meanwhile, the War Lord discovers that the War Chief is planning to turn against him and has the Time Lord arrested. The Resistance fighters, staging a coup, manage to free the War Chief and he joins them in defeating the War Lord.

Unable to return all of the humans to their respective times, the doctor is forced to call on the Time Lords for assistance. Fearing retribution from the Time Lords, the War Chief attempts to escape, but is killed by the War Lord’s soldiers.

The Doctor and his companions also try to slip away in the TARDIS, but are prevented from escaping by the arrival of the Time Lords. The Time Lords return all of the humans to their relevant time periods then transport the TARDIS crew to their home planet.

There, the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe are taken to the trial of the War Lord, who is found guilty and wiped from existence. His planet is trapped behind a force field, cut off from the rest of the galaxy.

The Time Lords then formally charge The Doctor with breaking the laws of time and interfering in the histories of other planets. The doctor defends his actions by stating that sometimes interference is necessary to fight evil.

The Time Lords are unconvinced, especially after the Doctor and his companions attempt an escape. After allowing them to say their goodbyes, they transport Jamie and Zoe back to their own times, removing all memories of their adventures with the Doctor.

The Time Lords then exile the Doctor to 20th century Earth and force him to change his appearance for the second time…


There is a belief amongst Who fans that The War Games consists of 9 dull episodes followed by one brilliant final episode. This couldn’t be further from the truth. From the beginning, The War Games presents a captivating mystery that slowly unravels throughout the story. The revelations about the Doctor’s past are beautifully paced and there are no lulls in proceedings despite being a lengthy 10-parter.

More importantly, it adds so much to the history and mythology of Doctor Who, introducing the Time Lords and revealing the Doctor’s rebellion against his own seemingly stifling culture. Surprisingly, the episode in which we learn that the Doctor stole his TARDIS is one of the least-watched episodes in Who history.

The War Games is a fitting send-off to not only Patrick Troughton’s Doctor, but Jamie and Zoe as well. Each character is given their moments to shine and we’re reminded constantly of why this particular grouping of Doctor and companions works so well. Their final goodbye is a truly moving scene, made heartbreaking by the loss of memory Zoe and Jamie suffer as they return to their own times.

In many respects, The War Games signifies the end of an era. Not only is it the final Patrick Troughton story, but it’s the final storyline of the 60’s and the final story to be shot in black and white. It also brings to an end the Doctor’s time as a space-faring wanderer, at least for a few seasons, as he is exiled to Earth.


And so we bid farewell to Patrick Troughton. It’s unfortunate that so much of his time as the Doctor is missing, as he embraced the role and truly made it his own. This is no mean feat given that he is the first replacement Doctor, but by the end of The War Games he has completely overshadowed William Hartnell and added greater depth and nuance to the Doctor.


Like the departure of Patrick Troughton, it’s a shame to see Zoe and Jamie go. I feel that the writers had finally achieved the perfect Doctor/Companion balance with these three characters. Both Jamie and Zoe served an integral role in almost all of the storylines they were involved in, perfectly complimenting the Doctor’s strengths and offsetting his weaknesses.


The standout villain in The War Games is easily the War Chief, who establishes the prototype of the manipulative, cunning Time Lord that would come to greater prominence in later seasons with the introduction of The Master. He is far more villainous than the Meddling Monk, the only other Time Lord we have seen to date outside of the Doctor and Susan, his granddaughter.


The War Games is a true masterpiece, one of the best storylines to appear to date and a fitting send off for the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe.

5 Lukes


We usher in a new decade, a new Doctor and the advent of colour television in Spearhead From Space.

4 Responses so far.

  1. Peter Nickless says:

    Thanks Richo! It’s great to read of a review of the War Games that promotes it so highly. Pat Troughton was such a well realised doctor and so fun to watch that it was fitting he received an epic story to finish on. Good luck with the next doctor!

    • Richo says:

      I’ve enjoyed Throughton’s time as the Doctor (what little there is of it). It’s a shame so many episodes have been lost, but his final season is strong and The War Games is a brilliant sendoff. hopefully more of Troughton’s episodes will be discovered eventually.

  2. Melthoid Serendipity says:

    Agree with all the above…it’s a complete tragedy and creates a huge black hole in the Doctor Who legend that so many Troughton episodes are missing…at the same time we are are extremely lucky to have two of the best in Tomb and War Games…I’m not familiar with the point of view that the first nine eps are ‘dull’ but more that the last episode is of such importance to Who history that like An Unearthly Child it has a reverence and importance that elevates it from any possible objective discussion. Interestingly in group discussions at conventions, Hartnell and Troughton were often voted the Doctors you’d least like to be with as a companion because their absent-mindedness and scatter-brained antics were more likely to end up in your death than any other (although many cited the possible suicides of themselves if they were stuck with Colin Baker!) I’m disappointed with how Zoe left. She should’ve been transported to Carrum to marry the love of her life…perhaps the fact I was only 5 might’ve created some unsettling at the BBC

    • Richo says:

      I’ve read some online comments and reviews about episodes 1-9 being dull, with 10 being the only reason to watch the storyline. I don’t see it myself, although I agree that episode 10 is possibly the most important episode to date as far as the Who mythos is concerned. An Unearthly Child and part 4 of The Tenth Planet (featuring the first regeneration) would be contenders as well.

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