Friday, 15 November 2013

Time Lords at War

or, a study of the significance of facial hair in rogue Gallifreyans

The news that John Hurt's anomalous incarnation (I prefer that more mystical word, used in earlier years of fandom to the now more widely used regeneration) of our favourite Time Lord is to be officially referred to as the War Doctor hit me like the reversed polarity of a neutron flow.

The War Doctor - how redolent is that name in the continuum that is Who history.  It immediately recalls the War Chief, one of the antagonists from the ground breaking story The War Games, the last adventure to feature the Second Doctor.

In that story, the War Chief is a sort of technical genius who helps to effectuate the devilish plans in which the Second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe become enmeshed.  The War Chief is a Time Lord; he instantly recognises the Doctor when they meet and the War Chief has his very own TARDIS.  At the time, the War Chief was one of the first Time Lords, other than the Doctor, to appear.  The War Games is a very important story in Doctor Who terms as it introduces the audience to the Time Lords (who are named as such for the first time) and features the first visit to the Doctor's homeworld, albeit unnamed at the time, of Gallifrey.

The War Chief helps to effectuate the schemes of the War Lord, the evil mastermind behind the whole plot of The War Games. The War Lord is not himself a Time Lord and has much less dramatic facial hair than the War Chief.  

The War Chief meets with an ignominious end in that story, although it is easy to imagine as a later novel did that he managed to get away to regenerate.  Played by the striking looking actor Edward Brayshaw, he has been called a prototype of the Master, with his satanic features and expressive facial hair.  Indeed, with a little imagination he could well be an earlier incarnation of the Master himself replete as he is with his own TARDIS.

The War Chief is a criminal from the Time Lords, although of course the Doctor is too.  In the early stages of the Time War seen in Night of the Doctor, it is clear the Doctor is even more of an outcast than usual, at the fringes of a universal war threatening to destroy reality.  In a catastrophic turn of events, the Doctor dies and only in death does he finally seek to challenge the destruction around him and fight, even if, presumably, that means fighting the Time Lords.  He becomes a warrior, or as he is called in the credits, the War Doctor.  Who just happens to have a rather striking moustache and beard, unlike any other incarnations before or since.

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