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28 October 2014

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Battlefield

Production Code: 7N

First Transmitted

1 - 06/09/1989 19:35

2 - 13/09/1989 19:35

3 - 20/09/1989 19:35

4 - 27/09/1989 19:35

Plot

The TARDIS materialises in the English countryside near the village of Carbury, where a nuclear missile convoy under the command of UNIT's Brigadier Winifred Bambera has run into difficulties. Lying on the bed of the nearby Lake Vortigern is a spaceship from another dimension containing the body of King Arthur, supposedly held in suspended animation, and his sword Excalibur.

Ancelyn, a knight from the other dimension, arrives on Earth to aid the King but is followed by his rival Mordred and the latter's mother, a powerful sorceress named Morgaine. They all recognise the Doctor as Merlin - a fact that the Time Lord attributes to events in his own future.

A battle breaks out between UNIT and Morgaine's men. Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart has come out of retirement to assist in the crisis and ends up using silver bullets to kill the Destroyer - an awesomely powerful creature unshackled by Morgaine to devour the world - although he himself is almost killed in the process.

Morgaine tries to fire the nuclear missile but is overcome by shock when the Doctor tells her that Arthur is in fact dead. She and her son are then taken prisoner by UNIT.

Episode Endings

The Doctor, Ace and a young woman named Shou Yuing find an armoured knight lying unconscious in a barn. This is Ancelyn who, when he wakes, greets the Doctor as Merlin. Brigadier Bambera arrives and orders them all to stay where they are. Mordred then storms into the barn with his knights and gives orders that all those present be killed.

In the spacecraft under the lake, Ace activates a defence mechanism and becomes trapped in a tank that rapidly fills with water. The Doctor tries to help her but is knocked unconscious by a defensive snake-like creature. Ace tries desperately but in vain to escape from the tank.

Morgaine decides to give Ace and Shou Yuing over to the Destroyer. A huge blue-faced demon appears in the room and the two young women look on in horror.

Ace, Shou Yuing, Bambera and the Brigadier's wife Doris set off for a drive in Bessie, leaving the Doctor and Ancelyn to spend some time with the Brigadier. The Bridadier asks Ancelyn if he is any good with a lawnmower, while the Doctor agrees to cook supper.

Roots

Malory, T.H. White and numerous Arthurian sources. (Scholars of myth may note that in the title sequence, McCoy winks the eye that Merlin is said to have sacrificed for wisdom.)

Warmsly quotes Tennyson's 'The Passing of Arthur'.

Steve Parkhouse's Doctor/Merlin comic strips.

DC's Camelot 3000.

Back to the Future.

Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The Taming of the Shrew.

Ace of Wands (Seven Serpents, Sulphur and Salt).

The Destroyer is a personification of Oppenheimer's quoting of the Bhagavad Gita and looks like the creature in Legend.

Dialogue Triumphs

Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart : "My blood and thunder days are long past."

Shou Yuing : "Can someone tell me what on earth is going on?"

The Doctor : "Well if my hunch is right, the Earth could be at the centre of a war that doesn't even belong to this dimension!"

The Destroyer : "Ah... little man. What do you want of me?"

Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart : "Get off my world!"

The Destroyer : "Pitiful. Can this world do no better than you as their champion?"

Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart : "Probably. I just do the best I can."

Mordred : [On the Brig] "He is steeped in blood."

The Doctor : "Exotic alien swords are easy to come by... Aces are rare."

Mordred : "Look me in the eye, end my life."

Continuity

Ace's art teacher was Mrs Parkinson. The Doctor can hypnotise humans with his voice, and knock out with a touch. He carries Liz Shaw's UNIT pass, his own, a catapult, and a variety of alien coinage. [Bessie, taken out of time during the Pertwee era (see The Five Doctors), was nevertheless there at its end, so we can assume that Rassilon returned it to Earth and the Brigadier just got it out of mothballs. Somewhere along the line the number plate changed.]

UNIT now have a variety of anti-alien weaponry: silver bullets, teflon anti-Dalek shells, high explosives for Yeti, armour piercing for robots, and gold tipped for 'you know what' [The quip suggests that the Doctor told the Brigadier what he'd learnt about the Cybermen's weakness, perhaps in The Five Doctors.] The Brigadier married Doris (Planet of the Spiders), and gave up teaching (Mawdryn Undead). The UNIT insignia is now a winged globe, and Czech, French and Polish soldiers serve under it. We never met any international UNIT troops during the Doctor's exile, but Zibigniev reveals that they were always present.

[The Doctor says that the Brigadier was 'supposed to die in bed', which is either an insight into the Brigadier's future or the Doctor speaking metaphorically. Perhaps, thankfully, the Brigadier seems not to hear this.] The Doctor's cry of 'Yeti, Autons, Daleks, Cybermen, Silurians' doesn't rouse the new Brigadier to action at all [Some details of all these events leaked out to the media, hence Sarah's knowledge of UNIT in The Time Warrior.]

QV

Merlin

UNIT Call-Signs

Season 6(b)

Location

Lake Vortigern, Carbury, [possibly Wiltshire]. The year is never specified, but there's a King, roadsigns in kilometres, 5 pound pieces, voice operated phones and a round of vodka and coke, lemonade and water costs 5 pounds. Given Zbrigniev's age it cannot be later than about 1995. There are obviously many parallel universes, and we can't be sure if the near future world of Battlefield takes place is the usual one.]

Links

Trivia

The Brigadier's wife, Doris, is apparently the same woman mentioned in a scene in season eleven's Planet of the Spiders.

The Doctor pays for his drinks with a five pound piece - they are in the future, he tells Ace.

During recording of the sequence where Ace is trapped in the water tank, the tank cracked, causing Sophie Aldred to sustain minor cuts to her hands and creating a major hazard as water flooded out onto the studio floor. The moment when the tank first cracked can be seen in Part Three as the Doctor struggles with the controls and Ace is lifted clear of the water.

James Ellis, well remembered for his role as Lynch in Z Cars, appears here as archaeologist Peter Warmsly.

Jean Marsh, former wife of third Doctor Jon Pertwee, makes her third Doctor Who appearance. In season two's The Crusade she was Princess Joanna; in season three's The Daleks' Master Plan she was Sara Kingdom; here she is Morgaine.

Myth

The incidental music for this story was originally to have been provided by the rock group Hawkwind. (It wasn't.)

Goofs

The scabbard is given huge emphasis, then ignored.

Mordred drinks at least four pints of real ale without apparent effect.

The flying Knight is Pythonesque, the Brigadier gives the Doctor a rather listless karate chop, and the Doctor obviously realises the futility of his command that UNIT 'lock up' Morgaine and her son.

Fashion Victim

Shou Yuing's red tights.

The Brigadier should have found a more flattering sweater.

Cast & Crew

Cast

The Doctor - Sylvester McCoy

Ace - Sophie Aldred

Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart - Nicholas Courtney

Ancelyn - Marcus Gilbert

Brigadier Winifred Bambera - Angela Bruce

Doris - Angela Douglas

Elizabeth Rowlinson - June Bland

Flight Lieutenant Lavel - Dorota Rae

Knight Commander - Stefan Schwartz

Major Husak - Paul Tomany

Mordred - Christoper Bowen

Morgaine - Jean Marsh

Pat Rowlinson - Noel Collins

Peter Warmsly - James Ellis

Sergeant Zbrigniev - Robert Jezek

Shou Yuing - Ling Tai

The Destroyer - Marek Anton

Crew

Director - Michael Kerrigan

Assistant Floor Manager - Matthew Purves

Assistant Floor Manager - Julian Herne

Costumes - Anushia Nieradzik

Designer - Martin Collins

Incidental Music - Keff McCulloch

Make-Up - Juliette Mayer

OB Cameraman - Paul Harding

OB Cameraman - Alan Jessop

Producer - John Nathan-Turner

Production Assistant - Rosemary Parsons

Production Associate - June Collins

Script Editor - Andrew Cartmel

Special Sounds - Dick Mills

Stunt Arranger - Alf Joint

Title Music - Ron Grainer and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, arranged by Keff McCulloch

Visual Effects - Dave Bezkorowajny

Writer - Ben Aaronovitch

Bottom Line - from The Discontinuity Guide

Apart from the need for a few more immediate explanations, this stands up very well as a heroic action yarn with a charming final scene. We have some of the first use of metaphor in Who, the Destroyer being the personification of nuclear destruction.

Trying to do too much at once isn't the worst of sins, and we were cheering when it was first shown. The Doctor's always been Merlin, symbolically speaking, so it's good to know that he finally gets to play the part.

Analysis - from Doctor Who, the Television Companion

Back in the days when each Doctor Who season consisted of half a dozen stories or more it arguably didn't matter too much if the occasional four-parter happened to slip a little below par. In a season of only four stories, however, if one of them turns out to be a disappointment it is a much more serious problem. Battlefield, sadly, falls very much into this category. Although by no means the worst season opener the series ever had, it is decidedly lacklustre and a great disappointment after the same writer's excellent Remembrance of the Daleks the previous year.

It is perhaps surprising that Doctor Who had not previously delved into the world of Arthurian legend. Craig Hinton, writing in DWB No. 77, dated May 1990, felt that by the time it got round to doing so it was rather too late: 'Battlefield was a concept ten years out of date. The admixture of popular mythology - be it Arthurian, Greek, Tolkienian - with the motifs of popular science-fiction - time portals, energy weapons et al - was innovative when first exploited in films such as Hercules or Krull, but now seems jaded and passe.'

The sight of Arthurian knights clanking around the countryside with swords and ray-guns, the destructive capabilities of which seem to be rather less than the average firework, is distinctly uninspiring - at times, in fact, almost laughable - and their poorly staged 'battles' are made to seem even more pointless when it is revealed that Morgaine has at her disposal, in the form of the Destroyer, a far more terrible weapon that could simply have wiped her opponents out with a gesture.

Jean Marsh actually steals the show as Morgaine. She may be typecast in this 'evil witch' type of role (having played similar characters in films such as Return to Oz and Willow), but she is undeniably very good at it. What really distinguishes Morgaine is that she has a certain depth of character and is not totally unsympathetic. Her battle against Arthur goes way back, and yet at the end she is genuinely sad when she learns that her worthy opponent (and, it would seem, one-time lover) has passed away. She kills a UNIT officer, Lavel, in a marvellously eerie and cold-blooded scene, and yet restores the sight of the previously blind hotelier's wife Elizabeth Rowlinson by way of payment for some drinks. This complex character deserved a little more screen time than she was allowed.

One of the main problems with the story is that there are simply too many characters, leaving insufficient scope for any of them to be fully developed. Even though some are packed off in Part Three when the area is evacuated, this still leaves Ancelyn, Bambera, Shou Yuing, Mordred, Morgaine, the Doctor, the Brigadier and the Destroyer all heading for a showdown. Aaronovitch does at least manage to pair some of the characters off quite successfully - the combination of Ancelyn and Bambera works best, although Ace and Shou Yuing also have some good interplay at times - but the whole thing could have been greatly improved if this overloading of characters had been avoided.

In production terms, the most impressive feature of Battlefield is undoubtedly the Destroyer - a superb creation, very well realised. 'He is a masterpiece of make-up, costume and effects,' wrote Justin Richards in DWB No. 71, dated November 1989. 'Well lit, well shot, and musically impressive, he has only two flaws. One is that he appears at the end of Part Three - the flagging story needed something earlier - and is killed mid-way through Part Four (rather easily, as it turns out) so we get little chance to appreciate the monster. The other problem is that the Destroyer is too impressive. He is about to destroy the world, and there is no doubt that he can. But as the fires blaze and the world around him begins to explode, the Destroyer seems uninvolved. He has only to be there for chaos to set in. Much more interesting visually would be to have him involved in it - hurling lightning bolts about and the like.'

Another point in the story's favour is the welcome return of UNIT in a revamped form, although it has to be said that Angela Bruce's Bambera isn't really in the same league as Nicholas Courtney's Lethbridge-Stewart. Courtney's final appearance in the series finds him in good form, and one can easily excuse the rather implausible plot device of the powers-that-be calling the Brigadier out of retirement to take charge of the crisis; this is a fitting way for the character to be remembered.

Much less successful is Keff McCulloch's incidental music which, far from enhancing the story's effectiveness, positively detracts from it. (An early edit of the story, minus music, was once shown at a Doctor Who convention, and many attendees were moved to comment just how much more dramatic and enjoyable it was without this impediment.)

Battlefield is not exactly a bad story but, as Nicholas Davies observed in Stage and Television Today, it could and should have been very much better:

'The new series kicked off with a sort of King Arthur story. In this, the knights of the round table materialise in more-or-less modern Britain, possibly to heed the call of a nation in need, although this is not clear, nor is the reason why the knights are armed with broad sword and laser-gun. Although the Doctor did mutter something about wars being waged in parallel dimensions of time.

'The Doctor is ably aided by his assistant Ace... who is a lot trendier than the assistants of old, and she loves explosives, which can't be bad. But on the whole I find Doctor Who a bit much these days. It's been given a 7.30 p.m. slot but will have most appeal to the very young. What it needs is to grow up a bit. Forget spending on sets and costumes. All the Doctor needs is a good script and more blood and gore.'

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This episode guide is made up of the text of The Discontinuity Guide by Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping, and Doctor Who: The Television Companion by David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker.

The Discontinuity Guide © Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping 1995.
Doctor Who: The Television Companion © David J Howe and Stephen James Walker 1998, 2003.



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