3. The War Games (1969)
Patrick Troughton to Jon Pertwee
Patrick Troughton left after three years because, working on Doctor Who for about 40 weeks a year he was exhausted. Behind the scenes, the stories were falling apart, so two stories designed to fill a six-episode niche didn’t work, and neither did the final four-part by editor Derrick Sherwin. That left ten episodes to write, with the obligation to write the Second Doctor and his companion Jamie, to roll out the new Earthbound format for the next season, and also – at Sherwin’s suggestion – to invent and present the doctor’s people. Writing began in late December 1968, Wendy Padbury decided not to return the following season in January, meaning companion Zoe had to be written as well, and filming began in March 1969 for airing starting in late April. .
So it’s a miracle that ‘The War Games’ is as good as it is, really. It drags on sometimes, there’s a lot of capture and escape and extended biff scenes, but it’s very forgivable. When it’s at its best, “The War Games” is superb. With Malcolm Hulke and Terrance Dicks co-authoring, there’s a political subtext welded to a strong sci-fi concept (there’s anger directed at senior officers who sent men to their deaths, support for the meeting of the subjugated, coupled with the recognition that there are limits to what Doctor Who can do: the Doctor can’t save the day here alone; he cannot stop the horrors of war, only limit them).
There’s a strong sense of the banality of evil here: The Warchief and Security Chief, two of the aliens who run the title’s war games, bicker and petty sniping. The Warlord is a calm, still, middle-aged man with an aura of rage. He’s very calm about what they do, just like the Time Lords. When they appear and condemn the Warlord to be erased from existence, sending Zoe and Jamie back to their respective timelines (where the latter will most likely die), they almost whisper their instructions.
It is in the face of these enormous systems, capable of quietly erasing a life without suspicion of moral uncertainty, that the Second Doctor finds himself defeated. Troughton exudes here an enormous feeling of melancholy, discreet but making the public certain of his loss. This feeling of melancholy is then colossally dampened by Troughton who is sent into the void, growling as he disappears.
2. The Caves of Androzani (1984)
Peter Davison to Colin Baker
“The Caves of Androzani” – aside from the fact that the seemingly terrifying magma creature resembles a small dragon in a starched cloak – is fantastic. The only reason it’s not great is because story number one slightly fakes the reasons for regeneration when so many things that make “Androzani” amazing are completely denied by the story that follows it. .
In context, the final story of the Fifth Doctor comes after the death of one of her companions (Adric), another hand working at a medical facility from which she might not return, her oldest companion leaves him disgusted after trying to kill Davros, and in his final story, the Master apparently burned alive in front of him after killing another companion on that companion’s own instructions. More there had been two stories recently where pretty much all of the non-regular characters had died.