3. The War Games (1969)
Patrick Troughton to Jon Pertwee
Patrick Troughton left after three years because, working on Doctor Who for around 40 weeks of the year, he was exhausted. Behind the scenes, stories were falling through, so two stories designed to fill a six episode slot didn’t work out, and neither did Story Editor Derrick Sherwin’s final four-parter. This left ten episodes needing to be written, with the requirement to write out the Second Doctor and his companion Jamie, set up the new Earthbound format for the next season, and also – at Sherwin’s suggestion – invent and introduce the Doctor’s people. Writing began in late December 1968, Wendy Padbury decided not to return the following season in January, meaning companion Zoe also had to be written out, and filming started in March 1969 for a broadcast starting in late April.
So it’s a miracle that ‘The War Games’ is as good as it is, really. It does drag at times, there is a lot of capture and escape and scenes of prolonged biffing, but it’s very forgivable. When it’s at its best ‘The War Games’ is superb. With Malcolm Hulke and Terrance Dicks co-writing there’s a political subtext welded to a strong science fiction concept (there’s anger directed at the senior officers who sent men to their deaths, support for the subjugated coming together, coupled with the acknowledgement that there are limits to what Doctor Who can do: the Doctor cannot save the day alone here; he cannot stop the horrors of war, only limit them).
There’s a strong sense of the banality of evil here: the War Chief and Security Chief, two of the aliens who are organising the war games of the title, bicker and snipe at each other pettily. The War Lord is a quiet, still, middle-aged man with an aura of rage. He is very calm about what they’re doing, and so are the Time Lords. When they appear and sentence the War Lord to be erased from existence, to send Zoe and Jamie back to their respective timelines (where the latter will most likely die), they almost murmur their instructions.
It’s up against these huge systems, capable of quietly erasing a life without hint of moral uncertainty, the Second Doctor finds himself defeated. Troughton gives off a huge sense of melancholy here, understated but making the audience certain of his loss. This sense of melancholy is then colossally undercut by Troughton being sent off into the void, gurning as he disappears.
2. The Caves of Androzani (1984)
Peter Davison to Colin Baker
‘The Caves of Androzani’ – barring the fact the apparently terrifying Magma Creature looks like a small dragon in a starched cape – is fantastic. The only reason it isn’t top is because the number one story slightly fudges the reasons for regenerating whereas so much of makes ‘Androzani’ incredible is completely negated by the story that follows it.
In context, the final Fifth Doctor story comes after one of his companions (Adric) dies, another leaves to work in a medical facility she might not come back from, his longest serving companion leaves him in disgust after he attempts to kill Davros, and in his last story the Master apparently burned to death in front of him after he’d killed another companion on that companion’s own instructions. Plus there had been two stories recently where pretty much every non-regular character died.