Season 6, Story 7 (Overall Series Story #50) | Previous - Next | Index
|The Doctor realizes where they've landed. Sort of.|
This is one of the few I hadn't see before undertaking to write about each available TV story, a significant gap in my viewership finally filled! Before watching, I read, among other things, Philip Sandifer's "Tied to One Planet" post and The AV Club reviews of episodes 1-5 & 6-10, so I'll attempt to restrict myself to discussing aspects of the story not already exhaustively discussed an analysed by those guys -- they're good reading for background though, and highly recommended. Given the quality of those other writers, I expect you'll find the important stuff is already covered, allowing to me to take this in a direction in a slightly different direction.
The early episodes of "The War Games" are an excuse to consider something other than introduction of the Time Lords and the changes in store for the series. We have a pretty straightforward moral question to wrestle with. Sandifer discusses how, despite the milieu of historical conflicts (M*A*S*H was ostensibly about Korea, after all), we are to understand this story in the context of its time. To be anti-war in 1969 meant, for practical purposes, to be opposed to the Vietnam War. And yet, there's a timeless, universal struggle played out that applies to all wars: the duty of the soldier with regard to orders when those orders are immoral or insane. The mind control spectacles utilized by the Generals in this story take the moral culpability off the characters who are directly hypnotized, but they in turn relay the orders down the chain of command and it's at the point where we have soldiers who are not brainwashed that we find Carstairs and the others faced with carrying out the dubious orders of their leaders.
|Alien generals with mind control spex.|
I'll spare you, for now -- since I need to read up myself before attempting it -- an analysis through the lens of Hegel, Weber, and Nietzsche -- the philosophers I think are going to give us the most accessible and intriguing touchstones for framing an understanding of the rights and obligations soldiers, officers, and civilian leadership in general, and how the actions of the characters in this story might best be understood in that light. Suffice it to say, as we have ample headline news swirling around whistle-blowers and leakers to highlight the importance, and dangers of, making independent moral judgments in the context of a chain of command. (Should we distinguish between the bravery and commitment to serving their country displayed by Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden and that of Alvin C. York and Rodger Young?)
Setting aside the intellectually exciting aspect of the story until this post is revised and expanded, we can finally let ourselves geek out a bit over what "The War Games" gets to in its conclusion ... the introduction of the Doctors' people, the Time Lords. For six seasons, viewers of Doctor Who knew their hero was time travelling alien who could regenerate to fend off impending death, but now we've been shown the glimmer of something of new, the culture from which the Doctor emerged, their self-perceived role in the universe, and also that regeneration be a punishment imposed on one of their own. (And, hey, what happened to the War Chief? He was shot but, since a Time Lord, couldn't he regenerate as well?)
|Troughton gurns as the regeneration begins ...|
But all that's getting ahead of "The War Games," because we leave off with Patrick Troughton's Doctor being broken down and don't see the final product of his regeneration. Zoe and Jamie are sent back with most of their memories of the Doctor erased, which is actually a rather traumatic for us, the viewers, precisely because the characters don't know what's been taken from them, but we know. And we know the Doctor knows. I suspect the fate of Donna Noble is in large part RTD's recognition that there's a great deal to unpack from Troughton's wistful final moments where his Doctor realizes that the bond he shared with those companions is severed irreparably, and he's going to carry the memories of their adventures alone.