50 for 50 — The Greatest Stories in Doctor Who History — #20

Hot on the heels of our iconic #21 story, which carved so much of the mythology of Doctor Who into tablets of stone, we triumphantly enter the Top 20 with the astonishing and epic classic that made The Deadly Assassin, and all subsequent references to the Doctor’s race and origins, possible in the first place.

For sure, we discovered in The Time Meddler that the Doctor was not the only one of his kind, but until The War Games burst onto our screens in 1969, we had no idea that he belonged to such a powerful and influential race of beings who held the secrets of time, and who were to be feared as much as revered. Nor did we even know, until The War Games, that the Doctor and his race were known as Time Lords.

In our Top 50 we are celebrating stories that earn their place for quality, brilliance or significance. Without argument, The War Games deserves its position for significance, but also plays the brilliance card to equal effect – although the quality of the scientists’ eyewear, security guard costumes and some fight scenes is probably questionable!

To anyone complaining that this 10 episode expedition through the history of human hostilities and the trickery of alien warfare is overly long and full of padding, I argue that the gradual and steady unfolding of a remarkably mysterious and threatening scenario, leading to such a striking conclusion, is one of the masterstrokes in the writing and delivery of this tale. The War Chief, War Lord and Security Chief are impressively forceful figures and the tension and distrust amongst them is palpable. Such a pity we never had the opportunity to encounter any of them again in future stories. The War Chief’s recognition of the Doctor is a pivotal moment, as is the realization that it was the Doctor’s frustration with restrictive Time Lord protocols that caused him to steal the TARDIS and break free, but now he has no choice but to summon his people for help.

Within all the menace and conspiracy, there are also some wonderful lighter moments such as Jamie’s bravado upon meeting the Mexican leader, and I simply cannot avoid crying with laughter over Patrick Troughton’s comic genius whenever I watch the Doctor impersonating a War Office Prison Inspector!  There is never a dull moment in The War Games and the length and pace of the story is perfect for allowing us to become familiar with the characters, and for the intrigue and suspense to build nicely, before the revelations and consequences start spilling out to thrilling effect.

The final episode delivers my all-time favourite 24 minutes of Doctor Who, providing some long-anticipated answers whilst triggering further questions and skillfully setting the stage for the new era of exile that is to follow. However, as a 7 year old who had come to adore the Second Doctor and grown equally attached to the winsome Jamie and Zoe, it also provided one of the saddest moments of my childhood as I saw them separated and realized I was never going to see my heroes again…   — Alan

Andy’s #20 — The Two Doctors
David’s #20 — Human Nature / The Family of Blood
Steve’s #20 — The Brain of Morbius