So The War Games materialises in the always-excellent Classic Novels audio strand, despite not perhaps being a true classic of ye olde Target range. It's certainly not vintage Malcolm Hulke, but that's only because of the high standards he set with both his original TV scripst and later novelisations "Doctor Who" and the Cave Monsters (Classic Novels)
. (And there are perhaps reasons for this; Hulke sadly died shortly after the source book used here was completed in 1979.)
None of this means that The War Games isn't a welcome addition to the audios, of course: it's an important story, marking as it does the end the second Doctor's adventures and with it the introduction of `Them' - the Time Lords.
Fans will know that, for various production reasons, the original 1969 TV series was a bit of an epic - ten episodes, and as the original writers now acknowledge, somewhat reliant on padding. Unlike so many Troughton-era tales Doctor Who - Lost In Time [DVD] [1963
], it survived the Great BBC Tape Purges of the sixties and seventies and is out on DVD Doctor Who - The War Games [DVD
]. Excellent it is too and, padding or no, across its four-hour run time is rarely less than entertaining. The same can be said for this five-hour, four-CD version, but it's quite a different beast - and fascinating with it.
Hulke compresses and reshapes the material into a more gripping, focused affair. Yes, there's still a lot of running around, but it's less baggy overall, and the urgency heightens both the sense of danger (Hulke really brings home the horror, not the glory, of war) and creates a darkening mood of time running out. It's something rather absent from the TV serial until the last two episodes, but here the second Doctor is in a trap from the minute the TARDIS arrives in no-man's land, and his own awareness of not just the business in hand, but a terrible, personal reckoning ahead, infuse the whole piece.
This mood is enhanced by the excellent sound design, though here the range has perhaps added as much sonic embroidery as long-term listeners will want - any more effects or music and we'd be straying beyond true audiobook lines. It might even risk obscuring the narrator's work - and in this piece in particular, that would be a great shame indeed.
The involvement on David Troughton in this release, and the earlier, equally-satisfying Abominable Snowmen audio "Doctor Who" and the Abominable Snowmen (Classic Novels)
, is no mere whim or gimmick. Rather it's an inspired piece of casting. It goes without saying that he's a fine actor - the long career and diverse, distinguished roles speak for themselves A Very Peculiar Practice - The Complete Series  [DVD] [1988
] - and one who recently has been drawn back into the Doctor Who family (Big Finish audios, on-screen opposite the tenth Doctor Doctor Who - Series 4 Vol.3 [DVD] [2008
]; his connection with the `classic' TV series goes back to 1967 Doctor Who: The Enemy of the World
, and he did in fact appear in the War Games on TV. But he is also, quite simply, a brilliant reader in this medium, conjuring the epic cast assembled here seemingly effortlessly - Tommies and Jerry, French fighters, Russians, Romans, Greeks, Turks, Mexicans, privates, officers, humans of both genders, alien oppressors, rather eerie Time Lords... oh, and of course, the Doctor himself.
One can't imagine quite what it's like for a famous son to voice anew a character his father effectively created, then made memorable, then imperishable Doctor Who Revisitations Box Set - Volume 2 (The Seeds of Death / Carnival of Monsters / Resurrection of the Daleks) [DVD
] and beloved, but the result here is fascinating and thrilling - spooky, even. Without merely impersonating the late Patrick Troughton, David nonetheless evokes the sheer quicksilver magic of the Doctor's second incarnation: fey and casual, but steely, alien and, dammit, dangerous. "Doctor Who", the Tomb of the Cybermen (Dr Who)
Given that this is this Doctor's last adventure proper "Doctor Who", World game (Doctor Who (BBC Paperback))
, his reappearance before us, even as the end looms again, is simply haunting, and the younger Troughton lifts this release into the Essential category. There are moments when the time-lines merge and you'd almost, almost swear the second Doctor was back... David Troughton's work here is both an unforgettable turn and a wonderful, touching tribute to his father's performance, this epochal story and a whole fondly-recalled era of Doctor Who. Warmly recommended.