Sunday, July 17, 2011

TV Series Review: Doctor Who (The War Games)

And now for something a little different, I've reviewed NuWho and seen all of it but this was my first time seeing any of the Classic Doctor Who. I've been curious about it for a while and found this video by Nash of TGWTG recommending which episodes would be interesting to someone whose familiar with NuWho but not Classic Who. So, after discovering that my library apparently has every Doctor Who DVD ever, I went with the earliest in the bunch which is actually a fairly significant one. It's the longest serial (back in the day, each story took multiple episodes and were called serials) consisting of 10 episodes and clocking in at nearly four hours, it was the 50th serial, the last one shot in black and white, the first time that the Doctor's race is named (the Time Lords, I believe they had already mentioned they were from the planet Gallifrey) and the final one starring the Second Doctor, Patrick Troughton. So, without knowing anything about this particular Doctor or the companions I charged right in and enjoyed this much more than I expected.

Doctor Who: The War Games

Summary: The Tardis has once again deposited the Doctor and his companions (Zoe from the 21st century and Jamie from the 18th) where they didn't expect to be and it seems that they are in 1917 in the trenches of World War I. However, even the people from this time period aren't entirely sure where they are or how long they've been fighting, the general has everyone under his absolute control and people from other times and places start showing up. If the Doctor and company want to get out of being executed as deserters/spies then they'll need to figure out just whats going on and who is pulling all the strings.

The Good: Now THAT is a plot heavy episode, one that is much bigger and more complex than it originally seems yet makes perfect sense in the end, there was some very strong writing here. The main characters are also interesting, the Tardis crew has great chemistry with each other, and not one sided (with the added bonus that Jamie and Zoe's backgrounds are alluded to, very nice for a new watcher), although the overall motivations of the villains is a little fuzzy, and they're great fun to watch. At times Zoe and Jamie (especially Zoe) seem more capable than many modern day companions, even if everyone gets kidnapped more times in one episode than most companions do in an entire season, and the Doctor seems to be having an awful lot of fun with all the trouble he gets into. It was really easy to get sucked into this serial and sympathize with the characters, despite knowing almost nothing about them, and that seems like the mark of really good writing and acting. 

The Bad: The episodes are well paced but there are some scene changes where it's a bit difficult to tell what just happened, usually when they change between a dimly lit set to another dimly lit set with different characters (if this was in color the scene change would have been more obvious and this probably wouldn't have been a problem). One character does vanish completely around the middle of the serial (the DVD commentary clears that up a bit) and the ending is a bit rushed since it has to send off so many different characters, some with better explanations than others.  

The Audio: The audio, as well as the visuals, have been very well preserved and there are very few instances when someone is miked too low to hear. It does feel a bit strange to hear another Doctor Who intro theme* but most fans have probably heard a compilation of the themes over the years anyway. Some of the sound effects (the special effects in general honestly) were cheesy and dated but that's to be expected from a 42 year old video. Could they have done better? Possibly, I'm not that familiar with video editing techniques from shows twice my age, but Doctor Who has never been a high budget show and the crew doing their best to work with what they have. 

The Visuals: The film quality does vary a bit but by and large the video looks fine (some of the darker scenes might even look a little better than the darker scenes in Buffy). The video seemed to look the worst when the Doctor and company kept running into the Romans (so that was probably all shot at the same time under similar conditions, maybe the lighting that day was strange?) and there is one point where Jamie describes an object as being large and green which seems a bit strange to hear from a character in a black and white show. The frame rate looks normal^ so if someone is holding off watching this serial because they aren't a big fan of black and white really has nothing to worry about, it looks just fine and probably better than you'd expect.

In short, I went into this expecting the episode to be hokey but okay and absolutely fell in love with it (which does make sense, I mean, this was recommended as one of the best Classic episodes). After this I'm really pumped to try more of the episodes on the list and will have to poke around the various Doctor Who communities to see what other Second Doctor stories are worth watching.

*although I was more weirded out by the Classic Doctor Who practice of having a floating head of the Doctor appear in the credits instead of the Tardis. The ending to the serial is even tripper however....
^there was a period in time when British television used a higher frame rate than American television does (I believe it was 60 frames per second instead of 30 frames per second) which made the movements look more realistic but also made the video look like it was being shot by a cheap camcorder/on the set of a Spanish soap-opera. 

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