The DVD special edition
|Dates||Sept. 6, 1989 -
Sept. 27, 1989
With Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred.
Written by Ben Aaronovitch. Script-edited wby Andrew Cartmel.
Directed by Michael Kerrigan. Produced by John Nathan-Turner.
|Synopsis: Morgaine, a queen of warriors from another dimension, invades Earth again with her mystic warriors, intending to conquer the planet. The Doctor soon discovers that his role in the affair is already written...|
A Return to the Glory Days by Carl Malmstrom 26/5/97
I just watched Battlefield and I must say that I was incredibly delighted. It was a wonderful story from start to finish that had me either laughing at the Doctor or laughing at the plot, which had some holes, but not enough to detract too seriously from the story. The story had a wonderful return of UNIT reminiscent of the Pertwee era, a light-heartedness I hadn't seen since The Two Doctors (the only Colin Baker story I'll recommend completely) or before that City of Death, and the special effects, makeup, and plot maneuverings that made the Sylvester McCoy years what they were. In other words, a delightful (and successful) blend of three of the best eras (Pertwee, Tom Baker, McCoy) of Doctor Who.
It is always nice to see Nicholas Courtney play the Brigadier, but in this brief return, he was especially delightful. If you contrast his performance here with that in say, Doctor Who and the Silurians, it is interesting to see how he and his relationship with the Doctor have evolved. UNIT, too, has evolved into a larger, more cosmopolitan, better-funded, and (dare I say it) more professional organization than it was in the Pertwee era. Don't get me wrong, I loved the UNIT of the seventies with the Brigadier, Mike Yates, and Sergeant Benton, but they were always a little too family to be believable as a military organization, especially a top-secret one.
Some of the scenes, too, were classically Sylvester McCoy, such as "Open up, it's me" to the gateway to Arthur's spaceship, his nonchalant walk through the middle of Ancelyn and Mordred's swordfight and his anger and fierce devotion to both Ace and what is right when he has the opportunity to kill Mordred with his own sword and doesn't.
Even the villians are good. Jean Marsh gives an incredibly believable turn as Morgan Le Fay and the Destroyer may have the best make-up of any villian for the series, that is, right up until his head blows off.
My only complaints to an otherwise great story are that some of the Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart's lines (especially against the Destroyer or Mordred) seem like they should have been written for Arnold Schwarznegger and it looked like the computer graphics guys were having a bad day. Other than that, though, this story is almost a complete delight from start to finish and I highly recommend it as an original tale that only Doctor Who could have done and done so well.
Not a strong start by Michael Hickerson 4/4/98
More years ago than I care to think about, I heard through the grapevine (DWM) that the lead off story of season 26 was being written by Ben Aaronovich. My heart leapt for joy. This was, after all, the man who gave us the instant classic Remembrance of the Daleks just the season before. It had proved an excellent lead-off to an excellent season of Doctor Who (well, if you remove Silver Nemesis!)
Then, when I heard that Nicholas Courtney would reprise his role as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, my anticipation increased. About the only thing that marred my enthusiasm for the story were reports that this would be the Brig's swan-song-- rumors that were given fuel by not only JN-T, but Courtney himself.
So, I came to Battlefield with a sense of delight but also a slight dread in my mind.
And twenty minutes into the story, I began to wonder if Aaronovich had only had one good story in him and this was the remnants. (This fear haunted me until his brilliant The Also People). Not that Battlefield is a bad story, but I honestly went into season 26 expecting it to be a favorite and it disappointed me. Of course, I was later blown away by Ghost Light and Fenric, but season 26 did start on a downer.
For one thing, the basic plotline is a retred of the earlier Remembrance of the Daleks. You have two military forces doing battle with the Doctor and Ace caught in the middle. Yes, the Doctor is more firmly on one side and not playing them all off each other, but it really fails to hold much interest.
Add to it that the story jumps all over the place and it's a mess. And after three epiosdes of build-up, the Destroyer is dispatched far too easily. It foreshadows a bit the better build up, just all around better final confrontation between the Doctor and Fenric later in the season, but it's not really worth the ride.
Not that there isn't something about Battlefield to recommend. In isolation, there are some great scenes. Aaronovich takes on the daunting task of trying to make sense of the UNIT continuity (or lack there of!) and it's nice to see the Brig's home life. Also, some snappy dialogue at points elevates the storyline.
But, overall, I'm still disappointed. It's not the worst story of the McCoy years (that dubious honor goes to Time and the Rani) but it's not the best either. It's a weak start to what is otherwise a strong final season of Doctor Who.
A Review by Oliver Thornton 1/5/98
This story seems simple when first viewed, but each episode sends it twisting in a different direction. A war that belongs in a different dimension is brought to Earth by Arthurian warriors with blaster pistols and magic weapons, and the Doctor has to sort it all out with the help and hinderance of a group of UNIT soldiers escorting a nuclear missile which has become bogged down in the vicinity. And on discovering who the Doctor is, guess who they bring out of retirement?
The most fascinating thing about this story is not so much the basis, but the complex interactions of the characters involved. Ace finds another teenager who shares her passion for explosives, but is offended when Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart identifies her as "the latest one" -- referring to the fact that the Doctor nearly always has a companion (usually female) in tow. The interplay between the current Brigadier (Winifred Bambera) and her captive Ancelyn is a delight to behold and provides some real comic relief. If any pairing should be brought back on the Doctor's side, it should be these two (arguments like that can surely only lead to marriage!) Meanwhile, Morgaine and her son Mordred are villainous but honourable to the last. Nicholas Courtney is excellent as the Brigadier as an older man, doing one last battle for his planet. His lines may sound corny ("Get off my world!") but it is still believable as an old soldier reliving his days of battle one last time.
And one cannot help but feel that there is some element of satire in the ending when the women (Ace, Doris Lethbridge-Stewart, Brigadier Bambera and Ace's new friend) "borrow" Bessie, leaving the menfolk (Alistair Lethbridge Stewart, the Doctor and Ancelyn) to do the housework. A Battlefield of the sexes?
A Review by Dave Odgers 29/9/98
The title gives away the main theme rather effectively. Battlefield is about war, and it handles it rather well. Unfortunately, it also tackles it very inconsistently; the only two scenes that spring to mind are Morgaine's meeting with Lethbridge-Stewart and the Doctor's final conflict with Morgaine. In a beautifully simple manner, both deliver very sharp truths about the nature of War: the first in Morgaine's matter-of-fact "I want you to know I bear you no malice... but, when we meet again, I shall kill you" and the second in the Doctor's much-celebrated take on nuclear weapons "No one is safe, no one is innocent... A scream from the sky. Light, brighter than the sun. No war between armies or nations- just death. Death gone mad!"
This could have been nicely contrasted with more intimate forms of combat, such as the guns of UNIT and the swords of Mordred, Ancelyn and Co. Sadly, no such contrast is made. Instead we get a lot of waffle about honour (with Mordred endlessly falling in and out of favour with his mother), much in the way of gung-ho heroics (Ancelyn, Winifred and Alistair), and a return of the seventies' obsession with military hardware (UNIT feeling it utterly essential to use a rocket launcher against a bunch of blokes with swords).
This makes the theme of war a sadly one-dimensional one because, despite a few admirable, nothing short of a nuclear holocaust is presented as being particularly harmful. Even the Destroyer fails to come across as any great threat. This is partly due to the presentation of the violence. It's all a bit lightweight -- all advanced military hardware, boisterously swung swords and firework guns which send people flying through the air -- and apparently harmless. Most importantly, no one of any great significance dies. Morgaine and Mordred are simply thrown in prison at the end, and Winifred and Ancelyn seemed to be the miraculous sole survivors of the big battle in Part Four.
It was in either Matrix or Skaro where I read that the inclusion of Doris had centred about the decision to kill him off. She was someone for him to care about, making the moment more poignant. The article went on to say that she became unnecessary once it was decided he should survive. This is not the case because the other theme of Battlefield, what is presented to contrast the facelessness of war conducted through missile or from behind iron visors, is human relationships.
This theme, as with the theme of war, is handled with wonderful simplicity. It is presented with a gentle humour, which proves a further contrast to the very tense scenes devoted to war, and is seen in such lines as Lethbridge-Stewart's muttering "I'm going home to Doris," Ancelyn and Winifred's grunt-filled tumbling early in Part Two and their later queries "do you have a girlfriend?" and "art thou betrothed?," and the little reminder that Morgaine and Mordred are mother and son: "I'm getting a little tired hearing about your mother!" There is even a throwaway line near the end about Mordred slaying Ancelyn's beloved. Unfortunately the handling of relationships is as sporadic as that of war so that neither really makes an impression.
The impression given is one of a meandering and pointless action-adventure tale. Fair enough in itself, but sadly the budget does not rise to the thrilling action scenes required and they're all to static and drawn out. Furthermore, with no real sense of purpose to the story, well-written dialogue is essential in order to justify the scripts' existence.
The problem is that no matter how many saving graces Battlefield was granted, it wouldn't help because the story's problem isn't that it's bad (it isn't that bad), it's that it's really embarrassing.
Do give Battlefield a look, because it has got a surprising amount going for it. Just don't let anyone else know you have done, that's all.
One of the worst by Iain MacLennan 15/10/00
The overall quality of Doctor Who varied quite dramatically over its 26 year episodic history. Good scripts bad, bad scripts. Good production, bad production. Good moments, bad moments. And, contrary to popular belief, the effects were not always bad. In most of the episodes there are good and bad examples of the above. But occasionally there comes along a story where things seem to have gone wrong in every area of production. The Horns of Nimon, Time-flight and Timelash are well documented examples - and you can, in my opinion add Battlefield to that list.
It's very difficult to know where to start evaluating this mess. The lapse in quality is all the more surprising considering how great the other stories of the season were. The story's indecipherable plot is complicated by the fact that the events which take place in it are tied to events which take place in the Doctor's personal future, the warriors know him as Merlin, even though he does not yet know them. But surely because they are from another dimension they would have in fact met an alternate Doctor? And why therefore does Morgaine want to destroy a world which is in fact in an alternate dimension to hers? If the warriors are from another dimension, why do they arrive from outer space, and not simply appear? And where on Earth does King Arthur and the spacecraft fit in to the sphere of things? Who knows. In any case I'm not sure anyone on the production team knew or cared either by this point.
The characterisation is awful. Ace/Shiu-Yung, Bambera/Ancelyn are paired off to disastrous and corny results. Ace in this story appears to temporarily revert out of character, at one point screaming when the lights go out. Screaming when the lights go out? Is this the same Ace who smashed Daleks with a baseball bat and attacked Cybermen with a catapult and gold coins? Most tragic of all though is Mordred, who is played so hamily by actor Christopher Bowen you half think he must be playing it for laughs. Yet I detect no irony in his performance whatsoever, with his 'bwah ha ha ha!'s in true Anthony-Ainley-as-the-Master style.
And what about those effects? That spacecraft under Vortigern's lake looks for all the world like a fish's toy in an aquarium. You might think this is excusable, but when you consider the excellent modelwork that was done for similar scenes in Terror of the Zygons, fifteen years earlier, I think you'll see what I mean. Then there's the interesting glitterball time-portal thing in episode 4, which the Doctor and the Brigadier feel compelled to twirl their way into. Indeed there seems to be a disco theme running through the story, judging by the lighting on the submerged spacecraft (check out the ones coiled around the staircase!). And how about that helicopter which, following its crash, appears to turn into a car. I mean come on, Doctor Who effects may have been tacky at times, but at least they had some heart and imagination put into them. It strikes me that on this occasion the production team were hit by a 'what are we supposed to do with this kind of budget?' mentality. As for the incidental music - don't get me started on that!
Perhaps they were saving their cash up for the Destroyer. While it does look great, it lasts for less than an episode and turns out to be, not unlike the story itself, utterly pointless.
Anything remotely good at all? Well I did like the Doctor's line "Among all the great wonders of the universe there's nothing so firmly clamped shut as the military mind" - probably very true, and Lavel's death scene was quite eerie. But compare all this to the story that immediately follows, Ghost Light, and it makes you wonder how such a lurch in production values could have been allowed to happen for Battlefield. Truly lamentable.
A Review by Owen A. Stinger 21/3/01
It is an unfortunate fact that only an extreme minority of the characters (including the regular cast) in any of the McCoy stories I have seen thus far, which includes Curse of Fenric, have been believable or convincing. We know that McCoy can act well by witnessing his performance in the Telemovie, and we know that a veteran Who personality like Nicholas Courtney is fully capable of fine acting, as evidenced by his countless appearances in classic Who tales. One must therefore conclude that the directors retained during the McCoy era were simply substandard. That's the only explanation. It was after reconciling this relatively major indictment of the era as a whole that I sat down in front of the tube with high hopes for Battlefield as I viewed it for the first time. Sadly, this story is another in the long list of McCoy stories that failed.
I will come to my other gripes for the production momentarily, but first I must explain the single most unforgivable flaw in the story. Although clever attempts were made to hide this flaw under a glossy veneer of fast paced action scenes, which may actually have beguiled some viewers, the simple fact remains that the script lacks any trace of a coherent plot! The major conundrum is that it is never clearly explained just why Morgaine chose to attack the earth or why she chose that particularly point in history! It is trivially hinted by Ancelyn's line in episode one that this is the time of King Arthur's arising, an underaccentuated line that is easily overlooked between the action scenes that surround it. Other than that, it's anyone's guess why Morgaine has appeared at this particular point in time.
Then we come to the more pressing enigma, what the blazes is Morgaine here for? At first seems to come at Mordred's call to oust Merlin, whom he fears. Then it seems she's after Excalibur. But she was able to seize the legendary sword of kings from a whimpering Ace and Shou Yuing just by threatening them with the Destroyer, so why does she need a battalion of Avalonian fighters? And why do said knights and UNIT end up killing each other in a battle near the nuclear missile site, which is nowhere near the location of Excalibur? Oh, now we see, it's the missile Morgaine wants with which to destroy the world, having failed to accomplish that task with the Destroyer. But wait, that's not it! She actually wants to meet King Arthur in battle one final time. Or is that not it either? Oh, I give up!
As you can see, Morgaine?s motivations remain completely obscure throughout Battlefield, whereas in the heyday of Doctor Who, the Doctor would discover some clearly defined sinister plot of the villain(s), which had hitherto been shrouded in convincing mystery. Please, don't let me hear the excuse that Morgaine just kept her intentions to herself to keep the Doctor et al off guard. This is just poor plot construction.
Angela Bruce is outrageously miscast as Brigadier Bambara. The Brigadier, whether male or female, is supposed to be an older authority figure whom we can all look up to, who overseas UNIT operations from a position of respect. Bambara is none of these qualities. An older actress portraying the role is less flippant manner would have at least been potentially convincing. The Bambara we see in Battlefield is just cringe-worthy.
Christopher Bowen?s excessively over-the-top portrayal of Mordred, complete with maniacal unceasing guffawing and melodramatic speeches, is entirely unbelievable (This again, is probably owed more to poor directing than to the actor?s talents).
Morded's line about his sword being the brother to Excalibur. No further plot development ever came of this. In the remainder of his scenes, his sword was just a plain old sword. So why include that reference in the first place. If there was a connection later on in the script that was eventually edited out, then this initial line should have been as well. Sloppy.
The comic book style directing. Witness: Ancelyn sent airborne by a grenade (not blown to bits) and through the roof of a brewery; Bambara's and Ancelyn's farcical melee in the following scene (the 3rd Doctor would slap them on their wrists for such common juvenile behavior); Ace's and Shou Yuing's scuffle in the chalk circle (never mind that their minds were being tampered with, it's still bad!); Bambara's waggish line "Let's do it with some style!" before charging into a less than convincing sword duel; Bessie leaving flaming skid marks behind (wince!); the Doctor striding nonchalantly through Ancelyn and Mordred's duel and their subsequent reaction; and soldiers generally flying about when they should be torn to shreds by all the explosions going on around them. If anything, the directing in the story belittles the act of war, showing it to be a fun game for arrogant swaggerers.
Ace is as one dimensional and unbelievable as ever. OK, so she's got guts, but did it ever occur to the production team that if a character is never afraid of the dangers to which she is exposed on the show, then neither will be the viewers?
The ridiculous "out with the girls" ending.
And the incidental music. Ouch! What an ear-sore! It sounded like it was lifted from some cheap porno video. Obviously done entirely on a synthesizer, probably by one musician, it just came across as cheap and shoddy, and detracted from the dramatic atmosphere of the serial. Those synthetic drumbeats were the worst, unfortunately a recurring motif throughout the McCoy era. Oh, where?s Dudley Simpson when you need him?
While I'm at it, why is the Tardis exterior such a pastel uniform bright blue throughout the McCoy era? In preceding eras it had a darker hue with various tones throughout, giving it a much more convincing weathered and aged look. Same case with Bessie. Did UNIT give her a new body with a new coat of paint while she was mothballed? Whereas the Pertwee Doctor?s roadster, like the Tardis, looked convincing as an antique car with its slight specks of dirt and faded color, the "Who 7" license plated Bessie looked like a plastic model in contrast.
Now that I've completely ridiculed the serial, let me mention the elements of Battlefield that did succeed in appealing to me.
Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart is portrayed fairly well, a nice mixture of the seasoned soldier and Doctor companion, and the occasionally na?e officer. "Get off my world," "I just do the best that I can," and "I'm going home to Doris" were some of his best lines in the series. The Doctor, as portrayed by Sylvester McCoy finally seems convincing in the role. And the special effects aren't bad.
It's a shame that Battlefield flopped, since once one conquers that immediate tendency to dismiss yet another take on the Arthurian mythos, the plot situation holds a great deal of potential. The mix of mythology, archeology and science fiction does have a lot going for it. Battlefield was just never able to take it anywhere interesting. While Aaronovitch's season 25 entry, Remembrance of the Daleks generally succeeded, even managing to work on multiple levels as classic Who did by including some subtle criticism of misguided concepts of racial purity, Battlefield as it was delivered to our screens was unfortunately a mess, kept barely afloat by copious action, a bit of nostalgia, and swift pacing. If nothing else, it succeeded in convincing me of the superior quality of an earlier Whovian mix of "mythology," archeology and science fiction, The Daemons, which I proceeded to view immediately following my disappointment with Battlefield. 5/10
Am I Missing Something? by Theo Robertson 9/12/01
For me Battlefield is the worst Doctor Who story ever made. I was going to claim that it was the worst story ever written, but that would be misleading because written gives the impression that it contains sentences and as a rule sentences make sense. Nothing in this script makes sense. Am I missing something? How do Ancelyn and Mordred recognise The Doctor? Why`s a now multinational UNIT driving a nuclear convoy around rural England? What`s The Destroyer and why is he a captive of Morgaine? How did The Brigadier gain access to the spacecraft? There`s umpteen more plotholes I could point out as well as the fact that almost all the supporting characters like Peter and Shiu-ying don`t have any relevance to the plot but I won`t bother.
Apart from those faults the story suffers from some very silly moments. I find it impossible to watch - even on my own- scenes like The Doctor walking through Ancelyn and Mordred`s swordfight or Bambera and Ancelyn`s fisticuffs without turning a deep shade of purple. I didn`t feel this ashamed watching The Twin Dilemma in front of my parents which just goes to show how poor Battlefield is, and I haven`t even mentioned the reprise of episode 2`s cliffhanger or the worst musical score in the show`s history yet.
The BBC cancelled Doctor Who after season 26. Do I miss it? No!
Oh give it rest! by Joe Ford 20/1/02
The Ark, Timelash, The Keys of Marinus even Delta and the Bannermen.... these are recnetly released Who stories that people seem to praise to high waters and yet Battlefield gets a universal panning! Well I'm here to redress the balance, not only are the aforementioned stories poorly acted, atrociously written duds but I will gladly stand up and say Battlefield started off the 26th season superbly, setting the scene for the near flawless last year the show had.
I guess this story sticks in my mind because it was one of the ones I watched on it's original broadcast and I can still remember, aged nine, screaming with excitement at the end of episode two and then crying my eyes out when it ended because I just didn't know what happened to Ace! But even re-watching it now I remained impressed by it's simpole ability to ENTERTAIN. This is a word I would point to the majority of the Graham Williams era but not one I would point at JNT's, and especially not McCoy's era. Ghost Light was thought provoking, The Curse of Fenric is dramatic, Greatest Show is fun but Battlefield is entertaning and why not just leave it to be that. It doesn't try to be one of the greats, it's just four episodes of nice set pieces, sparkling dialogue touches and good, rounded characters.
It has a great selection of characters, some admittedly underused but everyone gets a few moments to shine...Bambera - "You call me 'my lady' once more and I'll break your nose!", Ancelyn - many golden moments but his initial fight with Bambera and her horrified reaction to his 'A good fight' after all the carnage are particularly noteworthy, Morgaine has the rare chance to be a decent smypathetic villan and her speech after realising Arthur is dead is a nice touching finish. And of course the three central figures of The Doctor, Ace and The Brigadear have the best moments. "Does it run on petrol or steam", "I thought you said this was a piece of antiquated junk?", "I just do the best I can!", "Is this war? Is this honour? Are these the weapons you would use?"... the list goes on... they work fine on their own but make a unbeatable combination!
Yeah some of the effects are terrible, the musical score isn't the best of the series and it veers towards the childish quite often but it's a pacey, witty, well acted (SHUT UP ALL OF YOU!) delight.
Oh and it's got the Destroyer too. Can you think of a better designed monster in Doctor Who?
A Review by Matt Dillon 18/3/02
Okay, let's get this out of the way -- I'm not the world's biggest Doctor Who fan. Don't get me wrong, that doesn't mean that I don't like the series, far from it in fact. But I don't have all of the videos, books or audios (in fact I've probably got about three of each), I can't name all of the companions in order, and I certainly couldn't tell you which Doctor was the focus of season fifteen, etc. I don't care one jot whether John Nathan Turner or Phillip Hinchcliffe was involved in a particular story.
But I do love the show, and have done ever since I was a kid.
I'm currently being re-introduced to the high points (Vengeance on Varos, Tomb of the Cybermen, Frontios), low points (The Web Planet, Time and the Rani) and the plain absurdity (The Chase!!) by my best friend/room-mate - you may have heard of him, the mighty Peter Davison-loathing Joe Ford? Yes. HIM (don't shoot, Davison fans, I have my own opinions on your favourite Doctor)! We've been watching the stories in no particular order, depending on our mood, and yesterday he whacked Battlefield into our trusty VCR. The first thing Joe told me was that this particular story has been one of the most criticised and complained-about of McCoy's final season. Upon reaching the end, I wondered only one thing.
Why??? Battlefield is FANTASTIC.
A Long Day's Journey into Knights by Andrew Wixon 18/8/02
Watching the start of Battlefield, it almost seems like Eric Saward's suddenly reappeared in the script editor's chair and the story is about to be sacrificed on the altar of the great God continuity: in the first five minutes there are references to Mawdryn Undead, Planet of the Spiders and the UNIT era as a whole. The appearance of the bullet-spittingly cynical and macho Bambera a bit later on only adds to this impression.
As things go on, though, we are back in reassuringly quirky Cartmel territory. Although... well, you know when you go to the cinema and the trailers come on, and the trailer consists mainly of clips from the most spectacular set-pieces in the film being advertised, with none of the actual story or exposition? Battlefield sometimes feels a bit like that. That's probably not entirely fair, because all the clues to what's going on are there if you know where to look for them, but I expect people coming fresh to the story would have to squint a lot and make notes. And, for another thing, most of the 'best bits' aren't that good: you've got Mordred's silly manic laughter, two really very average performances from the leads, the cheap looking knights and ray-guns, the Doctor's sudden facility with Jedi mind tricks and the Vulcan nerve pinch, the excessively twee final scene...
All this would be forgivable if the story had gone for the jugular and opted to be the Brigadier's last stand, going out in a blaze of glory while saving the world. That would have been great. But as it is the old boy just seems to have been parachuted in at the last minute: he doesn't really arrive until over halfway through and once he's there the story takes him for granted. Instead of a great finale and some closure, we just get offered nostalgia. Not that there aren't some nice moments along the way: the Destroyer is a great monster, Marcus Gilbert is rather entertaining, and there's Mordred's wicked reversal of the Doctor's Happiness Patrol ploy in the 'look me in the eye and end my life' scene.
But on the whole, Battlefield just about stays watchable. With a plot consisting of characters zooming from place to place being chased by low-budget alien warriors, comic-relief locals, one decent make-up job and an unconvincing romance, you get the impression that Ben Aaronovitch was aiming for a pepped-up version of Remembrance of the Daleks, but wound up with a dulled-down retread of Delta and the Bannermen. To quote the other Brigadier, shame.
Old soldiers never die by Tim Roll-Pickering 29/7/03
For years fans had wished for the return of UNIT. Battlefield finally brings it back, albeit radically updated. Gone is the organisation that prevents the world's invasions over a cup of tea, aided by a scientific advisor who does all the real opposition whilst government officials muddle things up and get in the way. Instead we get an internationally comprised force of UN troops, with women in front line combat, that are properly equipped and armed to deal with menaces. Throughout the story a key theme is how this is not Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart's UNIT anymore. There are still some signs of the old days - such as the uncertain 'near future' dating that can give fans plenty to debate and argue for years to come (there's a King, a round of mostly soft drinks costs a fiver, car phones are far more prevalent than mobiles and so on...) - but overall this is a step forward for the series. The opening scene is thus highly appropriate for the way in which it establishes that Lethbridge-Stewart is now retired and 'those days are long gone'. This is reinforced throughout the story by his uncertainty about how to deal with Bambera - an untransmitted scene included in the video release helps spell it out when Lethbridge-Stewart admits that he doesn't really know how to handle women - as well as a general sense throughout the story that this is his last mission. Killing off the character would have been a bold step forward for the series, showing that it was not just resurrecting the old mythology but actually developing it, but wisely this step is not taken given Lethbridge-Stewart's solid position in the series. Nicholas Courtney resurrects the character superbly, playing the role like an old man suddenly given the chance to go back to his old ways and it works.
Battlefield is also notable for taking the series into the realm of sword and sorcery, some twenty-six years after the question was first asked amongst the series' originators 'Was Merlin Dr. Who?' The series has never shied from shamelessly lifting elements from other stories and legends so it is a good touch to see a story of Arthurian warriors alongside the resurrection of one of the series' own warriors. Morgaine is superbly performed by Jean Marsh, bringing with her a full army of knights albeit armed with stun guns. This provides for much action but rarely does this detract from the story's plot. The concept of the Doctor encountering events that originate from actions in his future has now been done to death in the Virgin and BBC Books but back in 1989 this was a novel departure for the series and it provides a contrast to other McCoy stories where the Doctor knows far more about what is going on than he reveals. This story is also similar to the books for the way in which it shamelessly lifts bits of old continuity as obscure as Doris - previously only mentioned to embarrass the Brigadier in Planet of the Spiders - and using them to the full. Never once does this detract from the story though and throughout it's clear just what Bessie means to the Doctor.
The cast for the story is strong, with Christopher Bowen (Mordred) and Marcus Gilbert (Ancelyn) providing a strong contrast between them, whilst Angela Bruce gives a fully competent performance as Bambera and proves a far superior replacement UNIT leader than earlier efforts such as The Android Invasion's Colonel Faraday. The production is also strong, with Michael Kerrigan directing some excellent action scenes that are enhanced by Keff McCulloch's score as well as by touches such as the intercutting of the fight towards the end of Part One with the scene of Ace telling Shou Yuing about how she blew up her school art room. Battlefield may be more straightforward than many of its contemporaries but it still succeeds in providing a strong action adventure that also shows the horror of war in moments such as Bambera's lifting up the faceplate of a dead knight and finding a teenager's face or the Doctor's speech to Morgaine in an effort to convince her not to fire the nuclear missile. The message is clear that the old values of the 1970s UNIT stories can not go on, even though old soldiers never die. 9/10
Bwahahaha! Ahahahaha! Ahahahahaaaaaaaa! Ahaaaaaaahaaaaaaha! Ahahahahaha! Aha. Aha. Aha by Will Berridge 20/8/03
If they were all counted up, the plot holes in this story would probably constitute the greatest number ever to appear within 90 minutes of television. Everyone who has come on this site to criticise the story seems able to come up with two or three of their own, usually relating to the unexplained motivations, or arrival on earth of the extra-dimensional characters, or they way characters get from place to place for no obvious reason.
I'd better think of a couple of my own now I've said that. For one, it's wonderfully exemplary of the Doctor's ability to use revere psychology on Ace that he tells her not to enter the portal, and is confident even before she arrives that she will bring the silver bullets ("it's all a matter of timing"). But why doesn't he just bring the silver bullets himself? Or even better, get the Brig to load them into his gun before they set off? Moreover, when they've finished with the Destroyer, the Doctor recalls they still have to deal with "the small matter of a nuclear missile bogged down in a nature reserve." The next scene, they seem to have found time to meet up with Ancelyn, and started concentrating on revitalising Arthur (whose relevance to the plot is somewhat ambiguous), forgetting all about the prospect of nuclear destruction until the Doctor comes across a note reminding him and the plot gets back on track.
The problem a lot of people have with Battlefield isn't that the plot is just wrong, it's just absolutely nothing is explained. I could even think of possible explanations for my own two favourite plot holes. Maybe the Doctor didn't bring the silver bullets initially because he anticipated the Brigadier's "shoot first, ask questions later" moment and didn't want him to blow everyone to bits. Maybe he hoped Arthur would help UNIT wrest control of the nuke back from Morgaine. Often explanations for why convenient plot events occur only undermine the story with their lack of credibility. It isn't important to know why the nuclear missile is where it is, or why Arthurian warriors suddenly appear from another universe, if you just accept it, sit back, and enjoy the action. And if you are a little soused, the camped up incidental score. Battlefield's a good story to watch if you're inebriated, or stressed out and in need of mindless entertainment to cheer you up, but not if you're feeling intellectually profound and convinced you're wasted as a DW fan.
Because there's an incredible amount of material in here to be enjoyed for its own sake. The script is witty, action-packed and on the whole generally well acted. So how come people are willing to heap praise on City of Death for that alone and not this story?
The Destroyer is an awesome creation, a drooling, otherworldly fiend, with beautifully fiendish dialogue to match. Ace asks what he wants the world for, and he merely hisses "why... to (*drools*) devour it." With a superbly crafted costume, it leaves one wondering how impressive DW might have become if the BBC had let it survive and splash out more funds realising the writer's ideas in such an effective way. I don't agree he appeared for to short a space of time as (a) his final appearance makes for a genuinely stunning cliff hanger to Episode 3, (b) you can't let a monster which obliterates whole planets when it gets lets loose run around in a plot for too long. Besides, it makes virtually every scene the demon appears in stand out, especially its confrontation with the Brigadier at the end, one of my favourite DW moments. The Brig gets to kill a monster! With bullets that aren't useless! It's great to see him come back with a bang, and Courtney's performance is a sterling effort, with little of the caricature which blighted some of his later performances in the UNIT era. UNIT return with a genuinely international feel rendered by characters like Husak and Zrbegniev. Bambera also adds a lot as the "Brigadier" for the next generation; she's non-nonsense, likes to get stuck in (something the increasingly desk-bound original never did enough), and, of course, is female, which leaders to some amusing tension. Her Christian name, Winifred, often forms the basis of some classic comic moments as the characters interact:
Brigadier: Winnifred? (*chortles*) Is that her name?Sylvester McCoy gives one of the wittiest and most assured performances as the Doctor that isn't by Tom Baker. I can't help but love the trademark doffing of his hat as he passes the two sword fighters. He also has great fun taking the mickey out of Bambera ("Now, er Winnifred, we've got to be somewhere urgently, so... please get out of the way!"), and his chemistry with just about everyone is wonderful. In fact the interaction between all the good guys generally is so fantastic I wish there had been another UNIT era with them as the central characters. (This excludes the rather useless Shou Yuing, who was presumably included to give the target teenage audience someone else to identify with.)
Bambera: NOW I'm vexed.
Ancelyn: (*doesn't understand*) My Lady?
Unfortunately Mordred and Morgaine don't impress quite as much with their dysfunctional mother and son relationship. It doesn't help that Mordred's such a mother's boy as well, given the somewhat juvenile fashion in which he begins most his lines "My mother...". And he laughs at his own jokes. Chump. He's hardly the most intimidating villain, therefore, even if he does manage the single longest "Bwahahaha!" of any TV villain. This was another moment the downright silliness of which I just had to revel in, along which the preceding convocation, during which he thrusts his hands against his chest as he delivers the curiously amusing line "BIOMASS to BIOMASS!". He also adds some genuine drama by telling the Doctor "look me in the eye, then, end my life..."
His mum's an altogether more competent adversary, but still more difficult to take seriously than a Sutekh or a Fenric, partially due to the "daft costume" affliction. Still, she has great moments with the Doctor, the Brig and Destroyer, though, so she's a worthy villain.
It's arguable that some of Battlefield's attempts to bring out all the depression and injustice of war are undermined by the light-hearted approach and lack of blood and guts (caused by the show still living through the legacy of Mary Whitehouse). I frankly couldn't care less no-one's head gets chopped off, DW was conceived as a kid's show, and even if I am 18 and counting, there's a part of me that never grew up past 8. The part that makes me love this story more than it probably deserves. 9/10.
Ten Reasons Why Battlefield Stinks by Brett Walther 26/1/04
Battlefield is unfortunately one of Doctor Who's all time clangers. Despite trying to find some redeeming qualities, all I could come up with was a list of reasons why it fails so miserably. Here goes...
A Review by Rob Matthews 5/5/04
All flopped out and fighting off a dirty great headcold a few weeks back, I decided to entertain myself with a bit of a McCoy-era marathon; all twelve stories, as they stand in my own personal archives, viewed straight through over two or three days. Joe Ford has often advised against doing this with this particular era as in his opinion it all gets a bit much, but it's something I've done before and I always find myself impressed all over again by just how bloody good this period got in what was really a very short run of stories, and how well they all complement each other, diverse in some ways, similiar in others. It's really a shame those working on that new series don't seem to want to acknowledge anything post-Hinchcliffe (this Gatiss-Cornell seventies Who mafia gets right on my wick), since there's as much to be learned about great Doctor Who from Eric Saward and Andrew Cartmel as there is from Terrance Dicks and Robert Holmes, so long as you focus on their best work and ignore the worst. Yes, I am being serious.
'Focusing on the best and ignoring the worst' is something I want to yak on about in regard to Battlefield. See, I should explain here that when I referred to 'my own personal archives' I wasn't just giving a pretentious name to my video collection. Couple of years ago, when shelving away for posterity the occasional - but whopping - stinkers of the McCoy era (Silver Nemesis and Time and the Rani spring most readily to mind), what I did was tape the stories off UK Gold then edit them down onto one of my Doctor Who compendium tapes, trimming out the crap and getting stories like Rani, Paradise Towers and Silver Nemesis to a lean 30 minutes (or perhaps less!) each. Might sound odd, but I reckon the 'fan edit' is a cool idea, it's actually a fun thing to do if you have the time, and it's rewarding when you can sit down and watch the rubbish-free versions of the 'mixed-bag' sorta stories later on; believe me, my half-hour Nightmare of Eden is a thing of slick beauty...
And my fifty minute-ish Battlefield isn't too bad either. It's not a difficult story to cut down really, because there's no coherent plot there to mangle anyway, and because you can lose about forty minutes just by taking out Mordred's laughter as he summons Morgaine.
Brett Walther has conveniently provided above a list of ten reasons to hate Battlefield. Just re-read that if you like as a general guide to the sort of things I removed ('BOOOOM!' obviously; 'If they're dead!' naturally; Ancelyn flying though the air, indubitably), and imagine a Battlefield no less free of plot, but packed with all the greats moments like those with the Brigadier and Doris ('You don't need to go. you don't need to go on playing soldier'), Morgaine ('I must... get the tab'), Ancelyn ('She vanquished me, and I threw myself on her mercy') and the Doctor ('It has a graveyard stench')... Shortened thus, you realise what a good three-parter it might have made, one very much along the lines of the season's closing story, Survival.
Survival, too, is a story that's sketchy on certain plot details but one that's rarely criticised as harshly as Battlefield. Not that Survival doesn't have it's detractors also - a big and I suppose valid criticism common among McCoy-Cartmel haters is the way linear plots are so often hung out to dry (think Greatest Show in the Galaxy). But many fans, and I should mention I'm one of them, consider Survival a classic of a sort despite its having the same kind of plotting inadequacies that hurt Battlefield - the Cheetah People are psychically linked to their planet just because... they are, the Kitlings can hop around the universe because... it's convenient. I'd suggest this is primarily because of the serial's shorter length, the potency of its metaphor, and of course its lack of the sort of truly embarrassing moments that crop up in the earlier story.
Nevertheless, the similiarities are quite pronounced if you think about it. For me Survival is a successful example of what I guess could be called a magical realist approach to a Doctor Who serial. It's an approach unique to the Cartmel era, and characterised by stories where the overall theme is made to feel more important than details of the plot - I say 'made to feel', because when these stories work it's always, always a result of great direction. And when they fail, IMO it's a result of substandard or pedestrian directing. What do Greatest Show, Ghost Light, Fenric and Survival have in common? They're the classic stories of the latter (let's say 'mature') Cartmel era, they each have strong stories but plots that are marginalised or unclear, and they're each made great by a combination of great acting (of course) and superior direction, combined with nigh-on cinematic music. Dominic Glynn's score for Survival, for example, powerfully evokes a scorched, dying wilderness (and sorry to poor Mr Glynn for mistakenly attributing his work to Mark Ayres when I reviewed season 26!).
Remembrance of the Daleks is of course the other classic (sic) story of the Cartmel era but it's a relatively early one and has a noticeably different patina from the four I mentioned above. Unlike those, it's driven by a straightforward action-thriller plot and thus benefits from a zippier style of direction. It has a musical score that's sometimes effective, often atrocious, but that's easy enough to overlook because all that music really needs to say is 'Oo, something exciting's happening!'. Because of this Remembrance has a feel to it that's entirely different from those others I mentioned. With Remembrance the direction is all about telling an event-driven story briskly. With the others the direction - coupled with the music, let's just take that as a given - is more about immersing us in a world and emphasising atmosphere. And while Remembrance does have a strongly evoked sixties setting, do you really feel that same intensity of atmosphere from it that you do from Greatest Show, Ghost Light, Fenric or Survival? Does the Hand of Omega feel as important as Deadbeat's medallion? Well, I don't think so anyway. And I'd argue that fantastic direction is actually more crucial to the Cartmel years than it is to any other period of televised Who - I'd go so far as to say it's its defining feature. It's as important to those years as the writing was to the Williams era, say; Pirate Planet and Horns of Nimon I love for scripts which outshine run-of-the-mill direction and xylophoney fiddlings from a clearly can't-be-arsed-anymore Dudley Simpson. Greatest Show I love for direction and music which elevate a so-so script. Not that I'd suggest other factors like writing and acting are unimportant, because they're not, but for me the direction is the make or break factor for latter Cartmel era stories.
I mentioned Battlefield having similiarities to Survival. Here's the comparison -
Survival. The title says it all.The serial is in effect variations on a theme of survival. It adopts a magical realist approach which mixes a contemporary, urban survival-of-the-fittest scenario with a more archetypal, extreme and primal one - the idea of survival-of-the-fittest expressed through a vividly iconic portrayal of savage animals fighting for carrion in an arid, dying environment. The return of a long running Who stalwart (the Master) whose characterisation is bound up with the story's themes reinforces our emotional investment. Food for thought: If we fight like animals, we die like animals. <
Battlefield. The title says it all. The serial is in effect variations on a theme of battle and warfare. It adopts, via talk about parallel dimensions and such, a magical realist approach which mixes a contemporary scenario of a world still obviously chilly from the Cold War with a more archetypal and extreme idea of what war 'should' be - a vividly iconic portrayal of the demise of honourable warfare expressed through the ironic contrasting of Arthurian knights, wizards and sorceresses with a modern, politicised paramilitary organisations shepherding a nuclear missile though the English countryside. The return of a long running Who stalwart (the Brigadier), whose characterisation is bound up with the story's themes reinforces our emotional investment. Food for thought: Is this honour? is this war? Are these the weapons you would choose?
Point I'm getting to is that it would be easy to suggest that Battlefield's main failing is the lack of clarity in the plot. A lot of people have criticised it on that basis and it's a fair, objective point. Compare it to something from the Tom Baker era - Seeds of Doom, say - and it looks ridiculously unfocused. But I haven't done all these paragraphs of contextualising for nothing, you know; I'm trying to point out that there are plenty of different ways to tell stories, not all of them strictly linear, and when you consider that Battlefield's more popular neighbouring serials have a similiar vagueness which they manage easily enough to shrug off - well, I personally don't think an absence of nuts'n'bolts plotting is as fundamental a deficiency as all that.
Where Battlefield goes wrong, I think is in not so much in having a load of faults as in not being able to disguise those faults as consummately as its counterparts.
I mentioned the importance of establishing convincing, atmosphere in these stories; Gabriel Chase is perhaps the most claustophobic, eccentric and scary single setting in all of Doctor Who's run (comparable to the strong realisation of the original Dalek City); Maiden's Bay has a character and a history, both a naval base and a Viking settlement, and feels elementally real because of the OB shooting and the convincingly drawn characters who are in all sorts of ways connected with their environment (Jean and Phylis with the bay, Millington with the underground poison well, Judson with the Viking runes); the planet of the Cheetah people is jaggedly threatening and terrifyingly primitive, a place where a predator can leap out and tear into you at any moment - and the 'dead' Perivale carries an underlying menace of its own.
Whereas in Battlefield... well, the few scenes that are effective in terms of mood call attention to how lacking the rest is; the Brigadier's departure from Doris is a beautiful little scene, helped immeasurably by what I believe (?) is an excerpt from the Requiem as his helicopter takes off. Morgaine's menacing of Ace and Shou Yuing with the help of the Destroyer is moodily lit and one of the most memorable parts of the story. The Brigadier's 'Try me' to Mordred is excellent, with even Keff McCulloch getting the music right for once, both militaristic and mournful. Ancelyn's 'A good fight' remark comes as the grim punchline it ought to.
But what with the frequent tackiness of the production and the often inappropriate direction - rightly criticised as 'comic book style' by Owen A Stinger - the believability of this world is often undercut. Hence there's no proper flow like there is with those other stories. And coupled with this there's a retrospective sense of disappointment; once we get to the end of the serial we realise that the motives for Morgaine's actions were at best changeable and at worst unexplained, and the story comes to look worse in retrospect and on repeat viewings. The mysterious hot-cold flying scabbard, for example, gets built up and then forgotten about. The result of all this is that the good bits - and there are actually a lot of them - are broken up into lots of separate lovely chunks, teasing slabs of what might have been.
As I've mentioned, it's just those chunks that I chose to keep for my own personal version of this story - what Battlefield amounts to in (oh the pretension!) my edit is two things: the story of a man's bravery, and willingness to sacrifice himself for friendship and the greater good; and an allegory of how the evolution of modern warfare and weapons of mass destruction - with which we're familiar enough a decade later, lucky us, to know by the pet name WMDs - have destroyed any notion of honour that remained in 'traditional' warfare.
The former story is of course the one about the Brigadier. And if it achieves nothing else, Battlefield is notable for being maybe the only TV Who story to actually be about the Brigadier, rather than just featuring him. It's set up as a tragedy really - having married the love of his life, retired and decided to 'fade away' in a seemingly idyllic lifestyle that he nonetheless seems uncomfortable with, Alastair can't resist a call to arms when he hears that one of his oldest friends is involved in the fracas; the Doctor, a comrade from the blood-and-thunder days we suspect were the happiest time of his life (Doris: "This isn't duty. You want to go. I mean, I... all this means so little to you'). His saying goodbye to his wife and his eerie awakening in the helicopter when Morgaine arrives on Earth both strongly suggest that this may be the Brig's last stand. The serial, in a sense, is preparing us for his death. And indeed when he returns to the fray he is confronted with an opportunity for heroic self-sacrifice, one we suspect he has been secretly waiting for - the opportunity to die in battle saving the whole damn world. And so in killing the Destroyer, he dies.
Or rather he doesn't, because he manages to escape the destruction just in time.
Cop out? No, I don't think so, since what matters, what his story is about, is what he was willing to do, and his final survival is just a tasty cherry on the cake which doesn't actually harm what came before. Having absolved himself of his need to perish in battle (a sort of survivor's guilt impulse?), the Brigadier can return to his wife, live out his golden years and die content. And for me it's a wonderful moment when the seemingly dead Brigadier awakens, because his death has been so heavily signposted that it's a genuine and wonderful surprise to see this old friend survive. Just for the, um, Ballad of the Brigadier, Battlefield's worth your time.
... er... where was I? Travis Fimmel just came on the telly (drool) and my concentration went out the window...
Oh yeah, the other worthwhile strand, the nuclear pulava.
This is expressed through the deliciously acted character of Morgaine. Not the straightforward villain she initially seems when she turns up and starts zapping helicopters for spite, her values are probably best expressed by her remark to the Brigadier "I wish you to know that I bear you no malice. But when we meet again, I will kill you", as well as the clear respect she has for the dead soldiers of our world - a strong enough respect for her to dismiss Mordred from her sight when it's revealed he's violated that sanctity and brought dishonour upon her.
Thus when she drains the mind of that UNIT officer then turns her to dust, it's without malice or sadism; she's doing what she believes she must in preparation for war, and as a 'warrior' the woman is a legitimate, 'honourable' victim. The local civilians she has no quarrel with, and she proves it by tipping the local bar staff pretty damn generously. Cold comfort to the UNIT officer who's dead of course, but Morgaine is equally willing to sacrifice her son to the rules of warfare to which she adheres. And there's nobility in her belief that war is for warriors, and that civilians from the opposing side are not targets.
The Destroyer is oft criticised for turning up, looking impressive, not doing much and then getting bumped off with a few silver bullets. But I think in the act of summoning him, Morgaine proves that she's losing her grip on her ideals and values. She thinks of him as a baragining chip, a force to make threats with, one so powerful that her enemies will simply give up and she'll get her way. And she's so blinded by the thought of this easy victory that she gives no thought to what she'll actually do with him after getting her hands on Excalibur. The Destroyer's a massively overblown all-or-nothing weapon with which she can threaten her enemies, but really is too powerful to ever use without catastrophic consequences.
He is, in effect, a nuclear weapon. And when Morgaine releases him it directly prefigures her desperate attempt to activate the nuclear missile by the lake. A mythological demon can be destroyed by something simple like a silver bullet, holy water, crucifixes; but a technological demon, in a world where all idea of honour is gone from warfare, cannot be stopped at all.
So comes that great climactic scene, the Doctor prevents her use of the missile by showing her how close she is to losing her values. And it's revealed in her speech about Arthur that her battle with him was in some way motivated by love, or the remains of it. But as the Doctor tells her, "He's gone to dust. It's over"; Morgaine's almost romantic notion of war has no place in a world like ours, a world where death has indeed gone mad.
Which is why I'm not as outraged as some by the closing suggestion that UNIT can simply lock Morgaine up. Her war is over, and the Doctor has defeated her from the inside, like he did Helen A or the Supreme Dalek. She's not going to kill anymore because she's not fighting a battle anymore. Course, it remains pretty hard to believe that a sorceress can just be imprisoned like that - maybe she'll escape and head back to her own dimension -, but we're nevertheless left in no doubt she'll be no further trouble. And that's the important thing.
And these, for me, are the important things about Battlefield - the idea of an honorable death in war, and the idea of the death of honour in war.
As for the rest - well, the Doctor as Merlin is something people focus on but IMO it's just a red herring, an amusing whimsical aside. And there are other good things, like the nice relaxed sight of the Doctor and his companion walking into a pub (something not seen since The Android Invasion!), Mordred as a big thuggish momma's boy, James Ellis holding off the troops with an archaeology lecture, and a bunch of funny lines to balance out the cringeworthy ones. Plus Marcus Gilbert gives a really good, exuberant performance as Ancelyn, reminding me a little of Jamie with his naive yet entirely justified faith in the Doctor. And boy is he easy on the eye...
So, in conclusion: connect a couple of VCRs together and edit this one up. You may be surprised at the results!
Of course, if you edit all the bad bits together the results don't bear thinking about...
Oh yeah, one more thing - exruciatingly anal but I couldn't let it pass by; Joe's pal Matt Dillon (hmm) suggests the appearance of Bessie here is a mistake since she was zapped with a lightning bolt and left behind in the Death Zone during The Five Doctors. Actually, since Tom Baker's Doctor still owned Bessie in Robot, the car couldn't have been mislaid by Pertwee's Doctor. Therefore the mistake is actually in The Five Doctors itself... aha!
A Review by Steve Scott 31/5/04
"Battlefield" - say it loud and there's music playing, say it soft and it's almost like praying. If only...
Season 26's first night forms part of the triumvirate of genuinely bad McCoy stories (as for the other two: one features a giant brain, the other Cybermen. You do the math). It's a badly directed, near-incoherent mediocre mess with one or two redeeming features, much like treading on a large dog turd only to find a pound coin/dollar bill secreted inside.
Battlefield has many problems, both on the surface and at its core. Many criticisms have already been mentioned, such as the astonishingly awful Mordred, who is so wooden one would expect him to be encased in tree bark as opposed to chain mail. Shou Whatsherface, the "feisty" oriental student, manages the impressive combo of being both highly irksome and boring at the same time - something even Matthew Waterhouse or Bonnie "Skweem and Skweem" Langford could never quite pull off. It also has what is possibly McCoy's most diabolical performance as the Doctor. Someone really should have enforced a caveat on all 7th Doctor scripts: "SYLV DON'T DO ANGRY". Don't get me wrong: as the quiet, moody, slightly dangerous Doctor McCoy was extremely good indeed. But if I hear "IF THEAEAY'RE DEEAD" or "THERE WILL BE NO BATTLE HEEEEEEEERRRE" again apoplexy is inevitable.
The drama of the piece is also worryingly absent. The cliffhangers in particular ought to be tense edge-of-seat moments but instead they're about as perilous as used condoms. Only part three's conclusion is of any merit; part two's is the worst of the bunch. McCoy's pratfalling and that cartoon snake fail to inspire tension - hardly a moment to die for (literally it seems in Sophie Aldred's case).
All these stylistic gripes aside, there is a root problem with Battlefield that sabotages any merit the serial may have.
Battlefield is very much part of an effort to bring a cohesive, left-wing approach to the show that had been absent ever since the Third Doctor died with his leg up in the air in the UNIT lab. Even the most dim-witted of casual viewers couldn't fail to notice the liberal agenda behind much of the content of the show's declining years - The Happiness Patrol being a full-scale kicking of Thatcherism, the comments on bigotry in Aaronovich's own Remembrance - and Battlefield is very much a continuation of that theme.
Aaronovich's script attempts to present a multi-cultural, almost liberal version of UNIT after the Boy's Own, white middle-class taskforce of the 60s and 70s. It comprises non-UK personnel in positions of authority and even has a black female leader. The white, middle-class Aaronovich even attempts some rather heavy-handed comic relief between this new non-gender orientated UNIT by playing Bambera against more traditional male-heroic roles (Ancelyn and of course the Brig). This is all well and good, but ultimately the battle is fought and won not by these characters by the very own Boy's Own, middle-class types (the Brig, the Doctor, Morgaine etc.) the writer is trying to play against. This kind of half-baked political correctness may excite Paul Cornell but it does next to bugger all for me.
Battlefield also presents another in a line of successful female adversaries in Morgaine. Like the Rani, Kara and Helen A, she's more than a little like Mrs. Thatcher. Indeed, being encased in armour, she's literally the Iron Lady. Another quite eerie parallel is the manner in which both the nemesis of all mankind and Morgaine are defeated; not by going down in a blaze of glory, but in knowing there's nothing left for which they can fight.
Perhaps the most conspicuous kicking of right-wing capitalism lies in the Destroyer. As mentioned previously, he's a metaphor - a pariah, a nuclear weapon that destroys everything without discrimination. He looks wonderful too. But the metaphor is too clumsy and simply not subtle enough to sustain the drama. Thirteen years before Battlefield was transmitted Louis Marks presented a far more effective use if this tool in Masque of Mandragora - the Helix representing a metaphor for superstition against scientific and philosophical progress. In this case there was never any explicit reference to what such symbolism may mean; it was left up to the viewer to decide - based on the clues (the setting of Renaissance Italy) presented in the final programme - what deeper meaning may have lurked below the surface. But in Battlefield, it's got a bloody great missile and a not very subtle but nicely written condemnation of nuclear war.
Warfare is a central theme to this story (no shit Sherlock I hear you cry): it's evil, it's unthinking, it reduces a child's eyes to cinders but... but... here we have a production that on the one hand poetically describes the horrors of Armageddon (and by implication unrestrained capitalism) and has lines like "look me in the eye, end my life" yet on the other has the comedy grenade, Sylvester's aforementioned pratfalls, that bit when the Doctor walks between the two knights, troops armed with sparkles and slapstick tussles between Bambera and Ancelyn. It's this inconsistency that makes Battlefield such a stinker.
A major plus for Aaronvich is the handling of the Brigadier. For once, he's afforded some dignity after the comic relief of later Pertwee stories. He's three-dimensional; he's a real person and once again Nicholas Courtney plays him assuredly. But there's a big problem here. All this investment by Aaronovich in the character is for one reason - to kill him off. Up until the Brig's final confrontation with the Destroyer, he's going to die. You just know it - he gets all the best lines. Even his final words - "I just do the best I can"- are wonderfully poignant and the perfect epitaph. But he survives, just to reassure us that we're watching good old behind-the-sofa cardboard-sets Doctor Who and nothing truly daring. The Brig's survival is a cop out, a symptom of the cowardice that dominated Who's later years. It's the same mentality that brought Peri back from the dead, that baulked at the original conclusion to Trial of a Time Lord and would later produce an ultimately unsatisfying, unadventurous production in Vancouver.
Give me a copy of Battlefield and I'll be as happy as the day is long. Provided that day is in January, and I'm standing in the Artic Circle.
A Review by Brian May 18/8/04
Battlefield is a frustrating story. For every magnificent, toe tingling, wonderful moment that restores faith in Doctor Who to a viewer somewhat jaded by the missteps of the past few years, there are some truly awful, embarrassing scenes that just serve to suggest the show has not recovered at all. It's a marriage of the sublime and the ridiculous.
So, what's the good stuff? Well, for a start, Jean Marsh and Nicholas Courtney. Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart comes out of retirement, slightly older and much portlier, but in a script that does him great justice. He's not the military idiot of the late Pertwee era; it's more a harkening back to the earlier Lethbridge-Stewart, but with a slightly more mellow and compassionate edge. He retains some of his old school ways - asking "Good man, is he?" of his replacement and his "categorisation" of Ace. But these seem earnest attempts at humour, in order to lighten the mood and laugh with the character - not at him.
Jean Marsh is also excellent as Morgaine, giving a restrained but sinister performance, always ensuring her onscreen moments are unsettling. The scene where these two meet is wonderful - Morgaine's realisation her son has disrupted a memorial, and the Brigadier's understanding and appreciation of this, is a truly gorgeous moment. It reveals so much more about him, and makes you weep when you think of The Three Doctors and Planet of the Spiders. The declaration of a ceasefire, followed by Morgaine's pledge to kill him next time they meet, is also an evocative Who scene, made more special by the two actors. After all, they appeared together, briefly, in The Daleks' Master Plan - in which Marsh's character killed Courtney's. This is the way to pay homage to the show's history and legend - with intelligence and respect, not with gratuity.
However, to balance out these wonderful performances, you then have the woeful effort of Ling Tai as Shou Yuing (a failed attempt at giving Ace a modern late 80s buddy for the story - she is wooden throughout); the listless, almost bored Angela Douglas as Doris; Marcus Gilbert's dire turn as Ancelyn and Christopher Bowen's annoyingly varied performance as Mordred who, in quieter moments expresses a subtle malice, but then goes way over the top whenever he's excited.
The script is great - after the wonderful Remembrance of the Daleks, Ben Aaronovitch was a name to look out for. The programme's first use of Arthurian legend (on screen at least), writing the Doctor as Merlin is ingenious, especially as it's simply taken as a given. There's no conjecture or debate - the Time Lord simply is the legendary wizard. There's some inspired dialogue and great dramatic moments. The Brigadier gets the lion's share of great one-liners: "I just do the best I can" and "Get off my world!" The Doctor gets one, when he describes the "graveyard stench" of the nuclear missile convoy. Equally and oppositely, there are clunkers such as the macho rubbish spouted by Ancelyn and Mordred as they face off; the rather silly "Biomass to biomass"; the flirting between Ancelyn and Bambera, and Ace's embarrassing "BOOM!" conversation with Shou Yuing. Other great moments include the Doctor's threat to decapitate Mordred; the latter calling the former's bluff, goading him to carry it out ("Look me in the eye, end my life!"); the Doctor and Brigadier's reunion; Morgaine healing Elizabeth of her blindness seconds after murdering Lavel; the introduction (and excellent realisation) of the Destroyer, and the Doctor believing the Brigadier to be dead.
Of course, to offset all this, there's the badly choreographed, almost slapstick battles between the knights (Ancelyn flying through the air looks like it's straight out of The Goodies). Then there's the "action" scene at the end of episode two, which is just stagy. The water tank provided some infamous off-screen drama, but the on-screen realisation makes you wonder if it was all worth it, while that snake hologram adds nothing. The special effects aren't bad - just boring. (I'd rather an enjoyable story with woeful effects than an unengaging story with decent ones.) The direction is pretty weak, while the music is dreadful - the over synthesised score is wrong for the tone of the story, taking away any dramatic gravitas (the aforementioned fight scenes already cause enough damage in this area). It's an excellent case for the return of the glorious scores of Dudley Simpson, as is most of the music of the McCoy era).
The English village location is a bit wanting, as well. All we see of it is the pub! The evening at the said pub is also rather low budget - the sole clientele are the few incidental characters. At least The Daemons had a crowd in its main pub scene.
However, there are some definite positives. UNIT is updated quite well and is, dare I say it, politically correct. It's always been a United Nations organisation, so it's good to see some nationalities of soldiers other than English thrown in. Angela Bruce does a great job as Brigadier Winifred Bambera - she is given some atrocious dialogue (see above), but she holds her own and does justice to the role. The reintroduction of Bessie I always believed would be a cringe-worthy continuity moment, but it's in fact very charming, as is the ending (especially the Brigadier's lawnmower line).
So, in summation, the mix of sublime and awful makes Battlefield difficult to assess. However, when it's good it's very very good, with some hard-hitting moments that stay long in the mind. It's an intelligently written parable on the threat of nuclear devastation, and deserves some appreciation for its positive elements that lift the story above the mundaneness it also happens to contain. 7/10
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 1/10/04
If you want Doctor Who that doesn`t necessarily make you think or work at it too much, but instead just manages to entertain then Battlefield is the story for you. It is basically an invasion story without the aliens (The Destroyer not withstanding.) It boasts great location work, intrigue (is the Doctor really Merlin?), continuity nods (the Brigadier`s marriage, Bessie), and strong visual effects.
What lets the tale down mostly is the acting. Sylvester McCoy is great, until it comes to anger. Similarly Sophie Aldred is fine except for the notorious "boom!" scene. Nicholas Courtney and Jean Marsh stand out amongst the guest cast both bringing dignity to their respective characters. Unfortunately Christopher Bowen`s Mordred and Angela Bruce`s Brigadier Bambera are way too shouty and the vast majority of the supporting players aren`t memorable enough as they are simply shipped off towards the tale`s conclusion.
This aside Battlefield does boast some great cliffhangers, a charming final scene, and a clever mix of fantasy and fiction. Compared to the rest of the season Battlefield is average, but entertaining fare.
Let This Be Your Last Battlefield by Kathryn Young 3/11/04
Through the wonders of the local council a copy of the "extended version no true Doctor Who fan would want to miss" of Battlefield fell into my sticky little grubby Doctor Who obsessed paddy paws. Well first off let me put that one straight: extended version? What extended version? Thirty seconds of the Doc and Ace climbing a spiral staircase covered in fairy lights (the staircase, not the actors)? Well whoops se do (but not in a good way).
Everyone says this story is total and utter...
And yes I began to believe the hype: Bad direction, too rushed, someone even complained that the countryside was too green and nice looking! But then I thought about it. Actually this story is rather clever. Concept wise: OK, so all the plot really consists of is a bunch of other dimensional knights poncing around an over green bit of English country side trying to recover a sword for some reason that is never actually explained, but at least they aren't your usual "oh, let's take over the Earth for the sheer hell of it" type aliens.
I think Aaronovitch had been watching Star Trek: The Next Generation. The bad guys in Battlefield are a sort of cross between the Klingons and the "Knights of Ni" from Monty Python and the Holy Grail (but without the shrubberies). On the one side there is the honour code stuff and on the other there is the cod awful overacting, complete with maniacal laughter.
However by giving them a pseudo medieval background this also gives them a bit of depth and grounds them in a culture that the viewer can relate to. The upshot of the idea that "it may be more exciting to actually think about your villain and perhaps create a bit of backstory about them rather than just write in some malevolent green slime that shimmies around the air conditioning ducts" is the wonderful scene with the head bad lady (who has the most impractical fingernails I have ever seen) and the Brigadier where they take some time out from the mindless slaughter of universe domination and universe saving to have a bit of a chat and honour Earth soldiers who have fallen in battle. And this, along with a lot of other stuff makes Battlefield INTERESTING. Not really scary I admit, but definitely interesting.
Are You Short?
I am. I am very short. Do you know how difficult it is to dominate when you can barely see over the table? This is probably why I will cut Sylvester some slack for Battlefield. Not only does he have to stop some alternately dimensional knights from unleashing bloody and unstoppable destruction on Earth, but he has to cope with being a shortass (and admittedly sort of weird looking) to boot. Perhaps six foot tall Sean Connery could have done it and still found time for a few rounds of golf, but Sylvester had to go the extra gurn just to get people to look at him.
So this is my theory. People criticize his performance in Battlefield all the time. But it is not the gurning, the question mark jumper or the hat. It is because he is short and silly looking. Well so was bloody Napoleon. And look what he did (not that I am saying starting wars and general conquering is a good thing mind you).
As a "vertically challenged individual" I know how tricky it is to make tall people take you seriously - "seven degrees, worked with Mother Teresa, ran the UN, and found the holy grail.. well that's nice dear, but you can't see over the top of the steering wheel without a cushion can you now?"
So what do you think Sylvester (a bloke who, until Doctor Who, was most famous for stuffing ferrets down his trousers and pretending to be a car) did when he was asked to stop a war?
He did everything he could.
And do you know sometimes it works. Short, silly looking and Scottish he may be, but sometimes his performance as the Doctor gives me the chills. Sometimes he totally freaks me out (god help his kids if they ever misbehave). It's the eyes. Sometimes, when Sylvester isn't wiggling around like a man with a ferret down his trousers he comes across all dead spooky and serious. Sylvester may be a clown, but he knew who the Doctor was. And he knew that the Doctor was scary.
Winifred and Ancelyn
Drawn together by a love of hitting people and gratuitous violence Brigadier Bambera and Knight Commander Ancelyn fall in love. They are like a very dangerous and violent version of the Moonlighting couple. He is a spunky blond-haired knight from another dimension (with a healthy respect for the fairer sex) and she is a spunky gun obsessed UNIT Brigadier (with a cute little beret). If you ask me this is a match made in heaven.
Very rarely do we have a love story on Doctor Who, and while I think this one was handled with about as much subtlety as Tom Baker after a late at night down the pub, it is sweet. And INTERESTING. Sometimes I get so sick of your generic scientist/soldier supporting characters who get no character at all and then usually snuff it horribly.
Here we have something different. Instead of putative dead people standing around going "Oh my god we are going to die/the Doctor is a spy and we must kill him" we actually to seem to have characters who aren't just waiting around in suspended animation for the entrance of the Doctor (Maybe the writer had been watching The City of Death?).
I have actually read later books/fiction of some kind where the two characters pop up and they have actually got married and settled down to have little psychopaths, er sorry - kids. And, call me an old softie, but I think that's lovely.
And just think of the sex? Phoaarrrr!
Triumph and disaster bvy Damon Didcott 15/5/06
Battlefield's problem is that it keeps shooting itself in the foot.
We have a strong lead villain in Morgaine. Who veteran Jean Marsh had already played the 'evil witch' to a tee in the films Return to Oz and Willow, and Morgaine is a well-written character. While she's ruthless and cruel towards achieving her aims, they give her enough shading to stop her becoming a flat stereotype. Gifting the pub landlady back her sight just moments after killing another character; her respect for the Brigadier as a fellow warrior; and the touching moments as she realizes that fighting Arthur is nothing compared to losing him forever. She's very good.
And then they go and stick her alongside a pantomime berk like Mordred, delivering bad lines in an unconvincing way, and generally mwa-ha-ha-ing his way through the whole thing. There's one scene, where he summons Morgaine, which requires him to laugh maniacally for a very long time. Look closely and you can practically see the fear flash across Christopher Bowen's eyes, as he realises they want him to keep this damn thing going and going. I'm surprised he didn't pass out from oxygen depravation. Calm down lad, it's not THAT funny. Between trying (and failing) to sound tough and threatening people with his mummy, he comes across like a nine-year-old playing in his dad's armour.
Then we have another good bit. The Destroyer has to be, at least for "original Who", one of the best-realised monsters they've ever produced. Not just how it looks, but the facial animatronics are truly superior for the time. I'd happily match it up against anything in other monster-heavy fare like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, made on a much much larger budget and years later. The fact that the Destroyer still looks good even today, more than a decade-and-a-half after, is a tribute to David Bezkorowajny and his team for their work here.
But... all the character ultimately does is stand in a room growling threats and making a few firecrackers go off. His hype is huge, as a "doomsday" monster, but he does very little. It gives the Brigadier a wonderful 'hero' moment as he finally gets the chance to fire at a monster that's not immune to these particular bullets, but they should've done more with the Destroyer first. Buffy TVS comes to mind again, with a monster that was called "The Judge". He had a whole episode of hype as an unstoppable evil then got taken out with a rocket launcher in the first 5 minutes of the next episode. Just seems a waste... wish they would've stuck to the original idea of having him appear as a normal man in a smart business suit at first, too.
It just keeps on happening. I liked Angela Bruce as the gruff Brigadier Bambera, but she's hamstrung by having to say stuff like "Oh, shame!" because they've got to keep the language family-friendly. It makes her character look wimpy, to be honest. The idea of knights engaging in battle also sounds good on paper, but what we get is plastic bendy armour and a handful of supporting actors gingerly exchanging sword swipes at half-speed. Then you get the just all-round bad moments, like Ancelyn's bizarre Monty Python-esque 'blown into the air and through a barn roof' sequence, or the cheap cardboard and dry ice look of Arthur's 'tomb', or the knights zooming through space into the Earth's atmosphere, or the scabbard that's wildly important to begin with then gets forgotten about. Both Sylvester and Sophie veer between good to not-so-good, still playing off each other nicely but lumbered with some awful dialogue and scenes that completely play against their strengths. Ace's "Booooom!" scene has to be her worst in all of her tenure, which sounds extreme considering it's just her making bomb noises at a table, but I really like Ace and I've never found her so annoying than in this bit.
And then we have the music.
There's an apocryphal story about Battlefield being shown at a Who convention with Keff's soundtrack removed, and while opinion about the quality of the story was still mixed, most people liked the darker feel of this version. It's not difficult to see why. The music acts as a detriment to the production, usually too loud and often wildly inappropriate. The inanely jaunty themes to introduce UNIT are bad enough, but listen to the music as Acelyn and Bambera start fighting Morgaine's knights as well. Any hopes of establishing atmosphere or suspense are chucked out the window in favour of tinny synth from The Drum Kit of Keff.
Just so much stuff that shouldn't have passed quality control, if (and I guess here's the problem) they had the time and budget to fix things. And it's such a shame, because there's some silk purse amongst this sow's ear.
Nicholas Courtney gets to play the Brig one more time, notably greyer and larger of frame than before but wisely allowed to play the Brig as an accordingly older man as well. He's completely at home with the character and shows good chemistry with McCoy. I'm glad they decided not to kill him off... it's endearing to see this normal (if military-trained) guy manage to survive all manner of alien monsters and attacks throughout the years, yet still be standing come the end. His "I'm getting a little tired of hearing about your mother!" retort to Mordred nearly made me applaud, topped only by a moment that the Brig must've reveled in, as he gets to scold the Doctor for thinking a 'little' explosion would kill him. "I just do the best I can"... it feels so right.
I like the brief TARDIS scene, shrouded in shadows. It makes a nice ominous intro for the Doctor and Ace into this adventure. TARDIS scenes for the Seventh Doctor were fairly rare as it was, and in fact this was the last one until the TV Movie, so it's good to see the final showing of the 'classic' design here. As I mentioned above, I also have a lot of time for Jean Marsh's performance and the Destroyer. Even the twee ending seems very heartwarming. The fiery relationship between Bambera and Ancelyn is good for a laugh or two. Furthermore, they get that great little scene after fighting the knights, surrounded by the bodies of the dead. Bambera lifts up the visor of a dead knight and sadly looks upon the face of a young man, while Ancelyn sharpens his sword and proudly proclaims "A good battle." She shoots him a look of disgust; they're coming at it from very different perspectives.
Finally, there needs to be a mention for an often-overlooked scene, one of my (and Finn Clark's) favourites for the Seventh Doctor. When the group decides to stay overnight at the local inn, the Doctor enters the dining room to find that Bambera and Anceyln have nodded off to sleep on their chairs, heads lolling against each other. He quietly sneaks across over to the bar, picks up a crisp packet, sidles up behind the slumbering pair, blows air into the bag, then bursts it between his hands. BANG! Ancelyn and Bambera cry out and jerk to their feet, looking around wildly, just in time to catch the back of the Doctor as he leaves through the front door, hat held aloft and with his cheerful "Good morning". I love this, it's such a character moment. One of those real "What would so-and-so Doctor do?" moments. Maybe the Fifth would smile and let them sleep on, the Second gently shake them awake, the Sixth shout at them to wake up - there's work to be done, and so on. Here, we get the mischievous and manipulate side of the Seventh Doctor, just from him bursting a crisp packet. To be honest, it's far too good for Battlefield.
So what do we end up with? In terms of approach and production, it feels more like something from Season 25 (which is odd, because Greatest Show would fit right along with Season 26). It's a story that generally meanders along and makes you roll your eyes, then blind-sides you with a good bit when you're not looking. It's certainly not a boring story but it is a very mixed one. Your feelings on it are generally going to come down to whether you have the patience to tolerate the bad to get to the good.
The sword is in the stone. It's always up to you whether you pull it out or not.
Rating - 5/10 (Average)
Controversial by Nathan Mullins 25/11/09
Battlefield opened season 26 with what I felt was a terrific story that even resembles series 2's Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel as well as Season 4's The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky. This is because Battlefield was the last story we ever saw UNIT in until they were brought back for good in some of Who's most recent stories and also because the theme of the plot revisits the parallel world in relation to our own.
I felt compelled to write a review on this episode as there are some people who have so much to say, and what they say is their own opinion but tarnishing an episode 20 something years on...? I just don't get it. This episode for me is just brilliant, in its own right. Nicholas Courtney came back and met the seventh Doctor, with whom, unlike some of the others, got on together well. Apart from the scene where the Brig knocks the 7th Doctor out. That, I felt was rather unexpected, but maybe quite unlike the Brig, perhaps. But over so many years the Brigadier and the Doctor have known each other, the Doctor is still the same man and hasn't changed in the slightest.
The Destroyer is another real triumph and like the real 'baddies' behind it all, they all retain some kind of real menace that fits all their characters so well. UNIT have always been a part of Doctor Who also and for such a story that really has the Pertwee era feel, it was right for the return of UNIT.
Also, the sword fights and the action sequences are superb and not completely over the top that they spoil the overall effect of the episode. Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldread are on top form here, and the character of Ace expands massively, from the start of the episode to the very end, building up towards the very end of season 26 where Ace's character becomes a more gown up and responsible person. Sylvester McCoy had been wanting to show the Doctor to be a more complex character, darkening his personality and shedding real emotion, showing the 7th Doctor to have a real presence and a real atmosphere. I would have loved to have seen where Sylvester McCoy might have taken the 7th Doctor if there had of been a season 27, but of course, we'll never know...
Battlefield has real substance. Fans should enjoy this episode for what it's worth. It's fun and has many strengths, but perhaps because of how many fans dislike this episode for the amount of references to the past there are, may feel this episode is real letdown, but for some of us, we like the odd reference and a witty script that allows good dialogue between characters that have a lot to say for themselves.
For me, this is a terrific first episode that opens season 26 on a high note and not on a low note. If you have this episode, re-watch it and if you agree or disagree, then make your point, but for me, there's nothing that can detract from this episode. SORRY!!!