Home Doctor Who 2024 - Season 1 Boom! Doctor Who War Stories

Boom! Doctor Who War Stories

Doctor Who goes to War.

They say demons run when a good man goes to war, and here are some of the finest examples from six decades of Doctor Who going to war

War, yeah? What is it good for? Well, strangely enough for a show about someone who just wants to have fun, it’s been good for some brilliant Doctor Who stories down the years. This week Steven Moffat returns to deliver Boom. It’s a story featuring the Doctor and Ruby trapped in the middle of a war they want no part of. Ncuti Gatwa’s incarnation may be the most happy go lucky the Time Lord has been in years. But with Ruby’s life in the balance can the former Doctor of War resist the rising anger within?

But before that, there’s time to look back at some of Boom’s predecessors as classic Doctor Who war stories. Ones that by and large agree with Edwin Starr’s classic anthem: war’s good for absolutely nothing at all.

 

Genesis of the Daleks - (c) BBC Doctor Who Fourth Doctor
The Doctor contemplates whether war crimes can ever be morally justified in Genesis of the Daleks – (c) BBC

Genesis of the Daleks

For many 1975’s Genesis of the Daleks is the ultimate Dalek story. But it’s also arguably the show’s best war story too. Writer, and creator of the Daleks, Terry Nation often took inspiration from vintage WWII films in his scripts. But pushed by script editor Robert Holmes, with Genesis Nation provided something both darker and more profound. Skaro’s thousand year war of attrition is a conflict with no real winners. The dual Kaled and Thal war efforts have drained planetary resources so much troops are reduced to bows and arrows. All around them is a blasted, toxic, wasteland as far as the eye can see, populated by the ‘genetically wounded.’

Though not quite carried through into the casting, the script describes even the generals directing the war as little more than children, fighting on a world where few grow old.

It’s no wonder, then, that Boom features its own nod to Genesis of the Daleks. Near the start of the earlier story, the Doctor (Tom Baker) stands on a landmine. The mine will detonate if he steps off it. The result is several tense minutes as his companion Harry (Ian Marter) works to make the mine safe. All the while refusing to abandon his friend. And just under 50 years later, Steven Moffat returns to same anxiety inducing premise with Boom.

 

The War Games brings Zoe (Wendy Padbury), The Doctor (Patrick Troughton), and Jamie (Frazer Hines) to what seems to be the trenches of WWI (c) BBC

The War Games

A few years earlier, Doctor Who had provided an SF twist on the futility of war that rivaled Genesis for bleakness. The War Games was Patrick Troughton’s final story as the Doctor. It formed a suitably epic ten episode swansong where the Doctor finally runs into a problem too huge for him. The TARDIS seemingly materialises in No Man’s Land during World War I. The Doctor immediately wants nothing but to whisk his friends Jamie and Zoe away somewhere safer. But they’re soon cut off from the time machine by advancing artillery. As they try and find safety, they’re swept up in a battlefield even vaster than they expected.

Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke’s script is full of biting commentary about the Great War, and war in general. It may an alien influence response for the various soldiers the Doctor encounters only having vague memories of how they came to the battlefield, or what cause they’re fighting for. The same aliens may also manipulate the Doctor, Zoe, and Jamie’s trial as spies to deliver the ‘correct’ verdict. But it reflects the reality for many combatants in the war. Men fighting and dying for unclear geopolitical reasons as part of an unfair system gamed against them.

Even the alien War Lords’ plan: to build an ‘ultimate army’ by forcing various soldiers abducted through history to fight to the death, is insane. But it’s the particular type of insanity over which wars are often fought.

 

The Curse of Fenric brings the Doctor and Ace to WWII where an experimental bioweapon is part of an ancient plan (c) BBC

The Curse of Fenric

Doctor Who’s final season before it went off air for 15 years (TV Movie notwithstanding) ironically included some of its best stories in years. Among them was the World War II set The Curse of Fenric. The script actually stays off the battlefields of Europe themselves, instead confining itself to a British naval base that’s about to be infiltrated by Soviet commandos… and vampires.

Despite that, the nature of war is at the heart of the drama. Even though Russia and the UK are allies in the fight against Hitler, both are already taking steps to prepare for the next war. The conflict to control a bioweapon developed by the British is only the surface of the threat. Everyone is being manipulated by the ancient evil called Fenric, and the global power plays simply part of Fenric’s scheme to unleash the weapon on the whole world. The story’s most powerful image hammers the message home even further. The solution to a chess problem set by the Doctor is simply for the two pawns to refuse to fight.

 

The Doctor faces the most terrible decision of his life to end the Time War in The Day of the Doctor (c) BBC Studios

The Day of the Doctor

No story on this list places the science fiction elements as front and centre as The Day of the Doctor. But the 50th Anniversary special, as well as a stunning celebration of the show’s golden anniversary, provides our first true look at the Time War. The last great Time War had cast a shadow over Doctor Who ever since its return in 2005. In Rose, the Ninth Doctor declared “I fought in the War! I couldn’t save those planets! I couldn’t save any of them!”

The very question of how vast a war must be, with what could compel the Doctor to fight in one, was thrilling. Over the next several years we got some answers about the Time War. But the actual fighting of it was something unseen and perhaps even impossible to depict on screen.

In some ways, The Day of the Doctor reducing the final day of the Time War to Daleks and Time Lords shooting at each other was a disappointment. But that’s only a small, if spectacular, component is a story about the cost one pays for fighting. It’s a familiar theme for Doctor Who, but one never brought more into focus by having the Doctor himself the man filled with regret.

Meanwhile, the parallel storyline of the Human/Zygon war brewing in the present day reinforces the point. Its direct sequel The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion deserves an honourable mention too. As the Doctor works to protect the peace treaty he helped forge on a “very important day” he delivers not just one of most blistering speeches in Doctor Who ever, but one of the most powerful anti-war speeches in science fiction television.

 

A young couple make a stand for love and peace in a time of violence in Demons of the Punjab (c) BBC

Demons of the Punjab

The 2018 story Demons of the Punjab is the only entry on this list to not technically take place during a war. All the same, its historical setting, the Partition of India, saw up to 800,000 people in the Punjab region die. And war is never far from the characters’ thoughts. The demons of the title, the Thijarians were once fierce warriors, now turned watchers of the lost and unremembered following the destruction of their own world.

The central emotional conflict, meanwhile, is between WWII veteran Prem and his little brother Manish. Prem knows full well the realities of war, while Manish is obsessed by ideas of glory and nationalism. So much so it blinds to younger man to what’s truly important in life. It leads, with tragic inevitability, to one causing the murder of the other, as the former solider appeals for peace, and the alien former assassins look on in remembrance.

Demons of the Punjab was first broadcast on the 100th Anniversary of the Armistice that brought the First World War to an end. Save for a brief flashback, we may have seen little actual war in the episode. But its principal message of a WWII veteran standing up to ultra nationalism to say that this is not what they’d fought and died for, could not have been more timely.

 

Ruby Sunday (MILLIE GIBSON),BBC Studios/Bad Wolf,James Pardon

Boom

This brings us back to 2024 and Boom. We know that it places the Doctor in perhaps the tightest spot of his entire career. Can he defuse an entire war with the power of his voice alone? We’ll have to wait until the early hours of Friday morning to know if, and how, he succeeds, and to understand what Steven Moffat has to say on the complexities and compromises of war this time. But we’ll see you in the peace time on the other side for Blogtor Who’s review.

 

 

Ruby Sunday (MILLIE GIBSON) & The Doctor (NCUTI GATWA)
,BBC Studios/Bad Wolf,James Pardon

Doctor Who continues tonight at midnight BST with Boom on iPlayer in the UK, and on Disney+ everywhere else except Ireland

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