The War Games - DVD

Patrick Troughton's swansong as the Second Doctor was the ten-part epic, 'The War Games', in which the Doctor and his companions find themselves fighting for survival across multiple war-zones from Earth's history...

Shot on monochrome 625-line studio video with location film inserts as usual, 'The War Games' survives in the BBC library as a set of 16mm film recording prints and negatives. Theoretically this should be the perfect materials for our remastering... but something strange is going on.

Although there isn't an article about it on the website, veterans of the site and associated forum will know that we remastered this story once before, for a W H Smith's exclusive VHS release of three Time Lord stories. At that time, we imagined that the BBC master materials would be in excellent condition, but actually we were shocked at what we found. Six of the ten negatives were of poor quality and were afflicted with some kind of damage or processing fault which manifested itself as a snowstorm of diffuse white blobs on the screen. This aside, none of the negatives were really of the quality we expected, appearing to be dupes from another film. But these were the BBC masters, they should be the best available. What was going on?

For the answer to that question, one has to look back to the late seventies and the efforts of the BBC's first Archive Selector, Sue Malden, to try to locate the missing episodes of Doctor Who. As part of her quest, Sue contacted the British Film Institute and was delighted to discover that they held three complete stories: 'The Krotons', 'The Dominators' and 'The War Games'. These stories were duly returned to the BBC, where they have been safely stored ever since. It transpired that in the seventies, the BFI approached BBC Enterprises in regard to any TV material they might be disposing of and suggested that they donate it to them instead.

Perhaps naively, the assumption seems to have been that the BFI physically returned the films to the BBC... but was it possible that they only returned copies? In 2005, Steve Roberts contacted the BFI to enquire about this point and discovered that their library did indeed contain all ten episodes in the form of film recording negatives. The BFI responded positively to a request to have one of their examiners look at the films to see if there was any sign of the same 'snowstorm' problems seen on the BBC films, and it turned out that there wasn't. Indeed, the report stated that the films appeared to be very good recordings and in excellent physical condition.

Arrangements were made between 2entertain and the BFI to ship the films over to Television Centre under the BFI's Donor Access scheme, where they were transferred to Digital Betacam videotape by Jonathan Wood, using the Spirit telecine. It was obvious from the very first episode that these were original film recording master negatives of excellent quality.

Generally the films were in good condition, although there was some dust present, which was removed prior to transfer using an ultrasonic film cleaner. There was some scuff damage to episode five and the usual amount of videotape dropout, film dirt and scratches to be dealt with in the manual restoration process at SVS. The soundtrack was restored by Mark Ayres and is a considerable improvement over previous versions, especially for the US market where an overly aggressive noise gate had been used on certain episodes of the VHS release. All episodes were VidFIRE processed to return the original studio video look.

An obvious question arises regarding the BFI's copies of the other two stories, 'The Krotons' and 'The Dominators'. The BBC do already hold master negatives for 'The Krotons', but not for the four 16mm episodes of 'The Dominators', although they do have the 35mm FR negative for episode three. The BFI copies have already been transferred by us for future use and are indeed original negatives - with the added bonus that overseas censor cuts to the episodes are intact on the negatives. This suggests that the BFI might have originally been given multiple copies of the episodes by BBC Enterprises and returned a set which had previously been censored by another broadcaster.

'The War Games' is being released as a three-disc set, with five episodes of the serial on each of the first two discs and around three hours of extras on the third. These extras include:

Commentary, with contributions from actors Frazer Hines, Wendy Padbury, Philip Madoc, Jane Sherwin and Graham Weston, co-writer Terrance Dicks and script editor Derrick Sherwin.

War Zone (dur. 36' 23") - cast and crew recall the making of Patrick Troughton's epic swansong. With actors Frazer Hines, Wendy Padbury, Bernard Horsfall, Jane Sherwin and Graham Weston, director David Maloney, producer Derrick Sherwin, co-writer Terrance Dicks, designer Roger Cheveley, Doctor Who Magazine editor Tom Spilsbury , new series writers Paul Cornell, James Moran and Joseph Lidster. Narrated by Gerard Murphy. 

Shades of Grey (dur. 21' 45") - just how did the technical and artistic constraints of monochrome television conspire to effect the unique look and feel of early productions? With actors Frazer Hines, Wendy Padbury and Jane Sherwin, script editors Terrance Dicks and Derrick Sherwin, director Timothy Combe, production designer Roger Cheveley, graphic designer Bernard Lodge and sound designer Brian Hodgson. Narrated by Gerard Murphy.

Now and Then (dur. 9' 35") - the ongoing series visits the locations of 'The War Games' forty years on…

The Doctor's Composer (dur. 17'32") - prolific composer Dudley Simpson looks back at his first five years of work on Doctor Who.

Sylvia James - In Conversation (dur. 8' 27") - make-up designer Sylvia James talks about her work on Patrick Troughton's Doctor Who stories.

Talking About Regeneration (dur. 24' 12") - the concept of regenerating a show's main character into an entirely new physical form proved to be both a lifesaver for the show and an increasingly important part of its mythos. This feature explores the ideas involved and takes a closer look at each of the Doctor's regenerations. With actors Peter Davison and Kate O'Mara, writers Rob Shearman, Joseph Lidster and Gareth Roberts.

Time Zones (dur. 15' 21") - historians discuss the reality behind the various time zones featured in 'The War Games'. With political historian Dr. Martin Farr, military historian Crispin Swayne, Newcastle University's Lindsay Allison-Jones and author Prof. Susan-Mary Grant.

Stripped for Action - The Second Doctor (dur. 13' 46") - the continuing series of features focussing on the Doctor's comic strip adventures looks at the Second Doctor. With former Doctor Who Magazine editors Alan Barnes and Gary Russell, comics historians Jeremy Bentham and John Ainsworth.

On Target - Malcolm Hulke (dur. 20' 00") - the first in a series of features on the Target range of TV story novelizations looks at the work of writer Malcolm Hulke. With authors Terrance Dicks, Gary Russell and David J Howe, artist Chris Achilleos.

Devious (dur. 12' 15") - for over a decade, a group of friends on England's south coast met on weekends to shoot an amateur Doctor Who film - 'Devious' - which takes place between the events of Patrick Troughton's swansong 'The War Games' and Jon Pertwee's introduction in 'Spearhead from Space', and features their own previously unknown incarnation of the Doctor. To segue back into 'Spearhead', the team decided to put up the money to employ Jon Pertwee for a day… in what was to become his last ever appearance as the Third Doctor. This feature also has a commentary from the production team.

Plus of course the usual Photo Gallery, Subtitle Production Notes, PDF material and Coming Soon trailer. If you look carefully on all three discs, you might find some interesting Easter Eggs hiding away, including a somewhat different take on 'The Trial of Doctor Who'. And so might I! And so might he!

Copyright Steve Roberts,  20 May 2009. No reproduction allowed without written permission.