The televised version
DVD Special Edition
|Released||Released on DVD in 2008|
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...|
I Just Do The Best I Can! by Matthew Kresal 8/11/09
I was rather intrigued when I first learned of Battlefield. Featuring my favorite Doctor Sylvester McCoy, the return of UNIT and tying into Arthurian legend (which I'm rather intrigued about), it was going to be an interesting story to view. While Battlefield turned out not to be a classic along the lines of say The Curse of Fenric or Ghost Light, Battlefield still proves to be an exciting and ever-watchable Doctor Who story, especially in the form of this new special edition version.
At the heart of it all is Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred as the seventh Doctor and Ace. Both show off their remarkable chemistry that made them one of the most successful TARDIS crews of the original series. McCoy in particular gets some fine acting moments such as the "there will be no battle here!" section of part three and the nuclear-weapons speech in part four. Aldred also gives a nice performance as Ace though the character does come across as being downright immature at times. That said, there are plenty of good things to say about Aldred's performance, especially in the special edition's scenes with Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. As always, the delight for watching a story from the McCoy era lies in the splendid work of its leading cast.
The story also features another one of the great things of the McCoy era: a fine supporting cast. Nicholas Courtney makes a welcome return as UNIT's former commander, Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, even if there are moments where he is pushing credibility. That said, Courtney gets the best lines of the story including part four's classic "I just do the best I can!" plus some fine moments with McCoy's Doctor. Also of special mention is Jean Marsh who gives a well-stated and even believable performance as the Arthurian villainess Morgaine, the result being one of the single best performances of the McCoy era. There's also a nice performance from Angela Bruce as the new Brigadier in charge of UNIT, Winnifred Bambera, which makes it a shame that the show didn't get to go on much past this story and we never got to see more of the character. There's also nice performances from James Ellis, Marcus Gilbert, Robert Jezek and Angela Davis amongst others. That said, there are some rather mixed performances from Christopher Bowen as an over-the-top (and out of place) version of Mordred and Ling Tai as the immature Shou Young. All said though, it is as good a supporting cast as any to be found in the McCoy era.
The story has some nice production values as well. The sets and costumes are nicely done considering the low-budget the show was forced to work within. Thi is especially true of the Knights' armor which, while not the sort of futuristic thing originally envisioned, stands up well today precisely because it isn't futuristic. There's also the Destroyer in parts three and four who in a short space of time leaves a huge impression. The Detroyer is a brilliantly realized creation as not only a fantastic monster but as a personification of Oppenheimer's "destroyer of worlds" as he described nuclear weapons, which gives the story a nice piece of symmetry as well. That said, the production values aren't perfect.
Battlefield's original TV version suffered from two very distinct problems in the forms of its special effects and music. While special effects in the original Doctor Who series have always been a mixed affair anyway, here they are sadly lacking at times, such as he Knights guns that do little more than shoot sparks or the sad-looking exterior effects related to the Destroyer towards the end of the story. There's also the mater of the score by Keff McCulloch which works for the most part but is at times seeming out of place then too loud and too brash at others, especially in the action sequences. Thankfully there is an answer to some of those problems (more on that later).
One of the more successful elements of Battlefield is the script by Ben Aaronovitch. Doctor Who has time and again proved itself capable of adopting mythologies for its own purposes and Battlefield is no exception. The story makes fine use of the Arthurian legend with its use of its heroes and villains, giving the story an anchor in on the long-lasting and best-known mythologies of the Western world. Even more interesting from the Arthurian standpoint is that the Doctor is identified as being as Merlin which not only makes for a nice plot device but adds a nice bit of mystery back to the Doctor. There's also a nice return to some of the elements of the series' own mythology, including the return of UNIT and its original commander Lethbridge-Stewart, the Doctor's old car Bessie and the morality about war and diplomacy that ran throughout the original UNIT stories of the 1970's. The latter is particularly evident in the Doctor's speech on nuclear weapons (written in fact by script editor Andrew Cartmel) towards the story's conclusion. While the story has some structural issues (such as a slow-moving first episode and the Lethbridge-Stewart sections taking half the story before really making an impact on events), the script is a good one and it stands up well.
The second disc of the DVD release contains a special-edition movie-length version of the story. First off, it contains some deleted scenes which add not only some explanations but add onto the relationship between Ace and Lethbridge-Stewart. Yet the biggest improvement to the story is the incorporation of new CGI effects. The aforementioned knight's guns now have beams with the sparks which help to make them believable, plus there are some nice improvements to effects all through the story. Of particular mention is the effect of Morgaine summoning the Destroyer's shadow from her crystal ball which even had my little brother saying "whoa!" The special edition also attempts to fix the issues with the music as well though this is only a partial success and it is a shame that Mark Ayers (who supervised the special edition and created the best scores of the McCoy era) didn't take the opportunity to redo the music entirely. Even with the issues, the special edition is a considerable success and something of an improvement over the original.
So where does Battlefield stand with this new special edition? Well, while it has its issues (even with the new special-edition version), it is still an enjoyable and ever watchable piece of Doctor Who. While it might not be a classic story along the lines of say Genesis of the Daleks or later McCoy stories like Ghost Light or The Curse of Fenric, as an adventure story is a fine one. What more can you really ask for?