The War Games continues to drip feed twists and surprises with each episode. Here, we get our first glimpse of the central zone, where we learn Smythe and his “German” counterpart Von Weich are not human beings, and the serial’s title becomes apparent when the two of them begin to discuss a forthcoming battle as a good test of their respective troops’ morale, like they’re in a 1960s Fringe satire. We also meet the War Chief, a mysterious, saturnine figure whose interest is piqued by the Doctor, and whose thoughts we hear: ‘Time travellers… I wonder…’ And finally, we see the arrival of a time machine that’s bigger on the inside, which whisks the Doctor and Zoe away.
If all this isn’t enough to convince us that there is something very unusual about this story, the sequence of the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe explaining who they are to a baffled German soldier is very unlike anything we’ve seen before – especially when the Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to prove that he’s from the future. Plot-wise, this reminds the audience that Zoe is from a space station and Jamie is from 1745, but after 245 episodes where the Doctor has been coy about revealing too many of his secrets, his willingness to blurt them out to a random stranger is almost shocking.
If there are a few meanders in the story (going back to British HQ a few minutes after they left, to steal another map) they’re not very troublesome given the amount Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke give us elsewhere. The regulars are as good as ever, notably Troughton’s delight at the idea of blowing up a safe, and Jamie’s distraught, ‘Oh no!’ as the SIDRAT disappears with the Doctor and Zoe. And the guest cast are brilliant too: Jane Sherwin’s Lady Jennifer is the very model of stiff-upper-lip Edwardian Britishness. Her understated, ‘Oh dear’ and look to the ground when she learns Carstairs has sacrificed himself to save them is a beautifully acted bit of repression.
Next episode: The War Games – Episode Four