On 'The War Games'. From the January 2012 issue of Panic Moon.
The last Doctor Who story of the 1960s is the high point of the show’s attempts to engage with the radicalism of that era. It was made just as the worldwide protests against the Vietnam war reached a crescendo. It’s been called an ‘anti-war’ story, but this is wrong. It’s an anti-imperialist story and, up until the last episodes, it supports revolution.
Pacifism is not advocated. Carstairs uses his pistol to protect the Ambulance and the Doctor never bats an eyelid. The Resistance kill guards all over the place. The Doctor’s aim for much of the story is to raise an army to fight the aliens. 'The War Games' supports revolutionary violence.
The violence that 'The War Games' condemns is that of imperialism. The aim of the aliens is conquest. That’s all that lies beneath everything that goes on in their War Zones. Meanwhile, ‘Butcher’ Smythe and von Weich amuse themselves playing Risk with human lives. It goes beyond noticing that top brass can be callous. The British and German commanding officers have more in common with each other than with their men ...
It's been bad lately. Loads of great actors have passed away. Freddy Treves, Peter Halliday, Dennis Chinnery. In non-Who-actor news, Nicol Williamson.
And now... Philip Madoc.
This is genuinely hard for me to take in.
Philip Madoc was a great actor. An actor who could bend his whole shape into the character he was playing. An actor who could move like an entirely different person from role to role... and watch the way he moves. Solon moves in an entirely different manner to Fenner, who moves in an entirely different manner to the War Lord. And he was a great vocal actor, able to give every character his own vocal rhythm and tone.
His performance as Solon in 'The Brain of Morbius' is burned into my memories of childhood. I imagine that's true of many of us Who fans who grew up in the VHS years.
And there's the slimey, posh, ruthless spiv Brockley in the film version of Dalek Invasion.
Later, of course, (later for me, I mean) there was the War Lord. A totally different entity to Solon.
Solon is flamboyant, jittery, vain, pompous, self-consciously machiavellian (to his own immature delight) and deeply ...
The January 2012 issue of the extremely good, fetchingly illustrated, conveniently pocket-sized and infeasibly cheap print fanzine Panic Moon will be released soon and is now available for pre-order. Click here.
This month the Editor has taken the existence of the publication very much into his hands and granted me even more space than usual. I have no less than three pieces in this forthcoming issue, looking at 'The Macra Terror', 'The War Games' and 'Invasion of the Dinosaurs'.
I see all these stories as milestones in Doctor Who's engagement with the radical movements and ideas of the 60s. 'The Macra Terror' is a much-misunderstood starting point which came just before the protest movements peaked, 'The War Games' a subversive high point which came just after the ferment of 1968 and 'Invasion of the Dinosaurs' marks the ambivalence and disillusion brought by the subsequent downturn in struggle.
There's loads of other stuff in the fanzine besides me, so don't be put off.
There is a long and venerable tradition in Doctor Who of portraying revolutions sympathetically. It does this many times. It isn't an unbroken run of support... but for every 'Reign of Terror', in which the French Revolution is given the full Baroness Orczy treatment, there is a 'Sun Makers', in which a full-scale workers' revolt topples a corporate tyranny. For every 'Monster of Peladon', where reform is touted as a solution to chaos created by extremists on both sides (right-wingers in government and looney-left wingers amongst the miners), there is a 'Happiness Patrol' in which the Doctor and Ace encourage a united rebellion by factory workers, aboriginal aliens and dissidents. Fantastical, they may be... but these depictions are also surprisingly candid about the amount of mess, pain and trauma involved in popular uprisings, while retaining a forthright sympathy.
As far as I know, this track record is unique amongst television programmes.
In light of interesting and inspiring things going on in the world at the moment, I thought it might be fun to post some of my favourite televised revolutions....
The Ood kick some sorry corporate ass.
Street protests, in which dissidents defy the security ...
The new leader of the War Lords, The War Ed, delivered his first speech as leader today, winning muted and embarassed applause when he said that "we have to face up to the fact that, in retrospect, the War Games were probably, well, er... perhaps, maybe, not all that totally a good idea... umm, sort of?"
His brother, The War Dave, looked all pouty and crosspatch and was seen to ask the senior War Politician sat next to him, The War Woman, why she was clapping when she voted for the War Games. "I'm clapping because I don't want the Time Lords to dematerialise me," she said, earning herself a curled lip and sneering glare from The War Dave.
Later today, The War Dave announced that he would be "stepping back from frontline War Politics" (apparently unconscious of the queasy irony of suggesting that he'd ever been on the "frontline" of anything, unlike loads of ordinary people that he helped send to kill and die) "to concentrate on sitting in the corner with my arms folded, sulking."
I reposted my Hartnell stuff from Timelash II pretty much as it originally appeared. I've rejigged the following Troughton stuff a fair bit, however, so you'd better read it all over again very carefully, in case you miss a syllable of my searing insight and sage wisdom.
'The Underwater Menace'
I could easily tear this story to pieces, yes? And feed the pieces to my pet octopus, yes??? But this story has sense of humour! I too have sense of humour!!!! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha haaaaaaaa!!!!!!!!
Look, if you think this story is any more silly than any other Doctor Who story... well, it isn't.
Look at the amount of thought that went into the costumes and sets. Polly spends a lot of the story with a detail from a doric column on her head! Look at the detail in which Atlantean society is depicted. There's a throne room, a temple, a lab, a hospital, a market... there are priests and acolytes, beggers and traders, slaves and workers, guards and orderlies... there are intimations of popular dislike for the forces of the state... Look at the variations in the personalities. Look at the ...
Some people think Doctor Who is inherently left-wing. This is bullshit. But… like much bullshit, there’s a fibrous grain of truth in there somewhere if you don latex gloves, break the crust and delve deeply enough into the contents of the pat.
Doctor Who started just before the worldwide explosion of dissent and protest that represents the real point of what is called (inaccurately) “the 60s”. It ran through the years of the Vietnam war, the end of the post-war economic boom, the worldwide wave of protests by students and workers, France in ’68, the Prague Spring, the height of the civil rights movement, the ascendancy (and murder) of Martin Luther King Jnr., the rise of the women’s movement and feminism, the rise of the gay liberation movement, etc. It ran during interesting times. It reflected the massive changes in social attitude that were transforming Western culture – how could it not, being a product of Western culture? It reflected something amorphous and overhyped (but real) that we call “the liberal consensus”, which is easy to take for granted now but which was a drastic change in the whole nature and consciousness ...