Again, the repetition of some elements of the story are mitigated by the steady escalation of revelations Dicks and Hulke offer up. In this episode, Jamie and Lady Jennifer are trapped in the War Between the States, captured by Union soldiers, then rescued by Confederate soldiers under the (inexplicable) leadership of Von Weich, who immediately orders their recapture. They’re then rescued by another Union soldier, and escape again, before being recaptured by the Confederates, and are finally rescued by a band of rebels from multiple war zones.
This is all very convoluted and the perfect example of the much-derided “capture/escape” approach that’s usually used when the writer has run out of plot. However, Dicks and Hulke make it count because it’s the opportunity to introduce the human rebels who have broken their programming and are fighting back against the aliens. The first rebel we meet is Harper: a black Union soldier who can resist Von Weich’s hypnotic spectacles. It may be overly woke of me, but in light of the 1960s civil rights struggle in the USA, the fact that it’s a black man who’s strong-willed enough to defy enslavement by an alien wearing the uniform of the Confederacy feels quite deliberate – a small but important acknowledgement of which side of history the authors are on.
While Jamie and Lady Jennifer go through their routine, the Doctor and Zoe explore the interior of the TARDIS-like machine, before arriving in the central zone. Much is implied by how troubled the Doctor is by the idea of someone else having a TARDIS, and then how he recoils with horror when he comes face to face with the War Chief. Fan fiction suggests this is actually the Master, and I can understand why: the two seem to know each other, and react violently to one another’s presence. Trying to view this in context, it’s pretty clear that there is something between the two of them, and combined with the presence of another TARDIS it’s not hard to imagine that this is another one of the Doctor’s people. Long-time viewers would recall the Monk’s meddling in Earth’s history – but this is on a much larger scale. The story keeps raising the stakes. This is compulsive viewing.
Next episode: The War Games – Episode Five