Pick of the Week – September 21-27, 2015

Between Saturday’s season premiere and yesterday’s post, I’m in something of a Doctor Who frame of mind.  So for this week’s Pick, I want to go way back into the history of the series.  Doctor Who first premiered in November of 1963 and, in its first incarnation, ran until 1989.  At that time, each story (or serial) was made up of multiple parts.  I’m not talking about the occasional two-part episode like we have today.  These serials would normally run from 4-6 half-hour episodes, with the longest, “The Daleks’ Master Plan,” from the First Doctor’s era, running 12 episodes.

Due to some exceptional short-sightedness on the part of the BBC, many episodes from the early years of the show were thrown away or recorded over (Doctor Who wasn’t the only series to suffer this fate).  At present, there are 97 episodes missing from the tenures of the first two Doctors, William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton.

Troughton’s Second Doctor was hit particularly hard by these losses, and we have very few stories from his years in their entirety.   Fortunately, even today, almost fifty years later, we are still finding these episodes.  In 2013, nine episodes from the Troughton era were discovered in Nigeria, and each find rekindles hope of finding more. 

One serial that we do have, though, is the final adventure of the Second Doctor, “The War Games.”  This ten-part story, by far the longest of Troughton’s run, is…well…it’s really long.  And honestly several of the early episodes feel like a repeating loop of the Doctor and his companions, Jamie and Zoe, getting captured, escaping, and then getting captured again.

My Pick this week is actually the final episode of the serial and of the Second Doctor’s run.  By way of background, the Doctor and his companions have ended up on a world where an alien race is kidnapping humans from various wars in Earth’s history and making them fight each other.  Their plan is to keep the best fighters to build their own army to conquer the galaxy.  While the Doctor is able to stop the aliens and put an end to the war games, he realizes that he cannot return to the humans to Earth at their right moments in time (At that point, he wasn’t able to control his ship, the TARDIS, and it randomly took him places). 

At the end of Episode Nine of “The War Games,” the Doctor realizes that he has no choice but to call in his people, the Time Lords, to deal with the situation.  He, however, doesn’t want to stick around.  In fact, he’s absolutely desperate to escape in the TARDIS (Which we learn he actually stole) before they arrive.  As he, Jamie, and Zoe race back to the TARDIS, they are slowed by a temporal force field put in place by the Time Lords and collapse just outside of their ship. 

This is the point where Episode Ten picks up, and this episode is hugely important in the history of the series.  “The War Games” is the first time that the Doctor’s people are given a name or that we learn anything about them.  In Episode Ten we actually see the Time Lords and their homeworld (later to be named Gallifrey).  This episode also sets up the status quo for the Third Doctor years.  Yes, it can be a bit over-dramatic in spots and the last we see of Troughton’s Doctor is a little hokey to modern eyes, but Episode Ten of “The War Games” is a huge moment in the history of the Doctor and the evolution of the series.

- Alan Decker

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