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Doctor Who: Battlefield

"Tell them I've retired. Tell them I've decided to fade away."

Doctor Who takes on the Matter of Britain and makes a right dog's dinner of it.

I’m not one hundred percent certain, I was very young at the time, but I think that 'Battlefield' was the very first Doctor Who story I ever saw. And, much as I’m ashamed to admit it, I remember I absolutely flaming loved every last second of it. I remember loving all the talk of King Arthur and Excalibur and buried spaceships, being awfully confused as to why everyone was calling the Doctor "Merlin", wondering if a chalk circle really could protect you from evil witches, cheering as the Brigadier marched back in action despite not having foggiest idea who he was, and being amazed at the sight of medieval knights with laser weapons (my younger self was immune to the sight of naff special effects).

Looking back all these years later it’s clear from the off that, despite what my six-year-old self naively thought, 'Battlefield' is total tosh. Clearly the entire season’s budget went into producing the more lavish 'The Curse of Fenric' and 'Ghost Light' leaving 'Battlefield' to make do with the table scraps. Mixing Arthurian legend with science fiction is not a new concept, even back then, but it is certainly an alluring one. Yet 'Battlefield' completely fails to deliver on that idea, coming across more like some confused school play. There simply wasn’t enough money in the show’s limited budget to convincingly pull off this type of story.

After a long absence, UNIT returns to the show with a new Brigadier which shows that they’ve expanded their recruitment criteria to include more than just middle class white males. Despite being generally more diverse the men and woman of the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce are still as hopeless as ever without the Doctor to hold their hand and tell them it’s all going to be okay. Luckily Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart himself, Nicholas Courtney, is around to make the whole experience that much more tolerable. He’s simply brilliant. Older and a little rounder than we remember him but nevertheless still the Doctor’s most faithful ally and oldest friend. Originally, the Brigadier was supposed to die saving the world. It would’ve been a fitting end for the character, even in a story as mediocre as this. But nostalgia won out and the Brigadier lived to enjoy his retirement in the country with Doris.

By bringing back the original Brigadier and UNIT there is a sense that John Nathan-Turner and Andrew Cartmel were hoping to recapture the glory of the show’s 70s heyday when both were a regular fixture. Old Bessie is even dusted off and brought out of storage. But as with Tom Baker in 'Robot' it just looks wrong when someone other than Jon Pertwee is behind the wheel. Also, adding to the UNIT dating hoopla, 'Battlefield' is supposed to takes place in a not so distant future where England has a King, five pound coins are in circulation and late 80s fashions are back in vogue. Not too dissimilar from now actually.

Besides the Brigadier, 'Battlefield’s only other saving grace is the Destroyer. For once the production people came through and delivered one of the finest monsters that has ever appeared in the show. It’s never made clear who or what the Destroyer actually is, he just abruptly appears out of nowhere, denied the kind of build up he deserves. But from the moment he does appear you never for a second doubt the menace of this fearsome creature. Far more menacing than the story's main villain, Morgaine, who is rather bland with Jean Marsh phoning it in as she idly recycles her evil witch routine from Willow and Return to Oz.

Notes and Quotes

--This would be Nicholas Courtney final appearance in Doctor Who itself. He would reprise the role in several Big Finish audios, the independent film Downtime and spin-off series The Sarah Jane Adventures.

--This would also be the final appearance of Bessie.

--Jean Marsh previous appeared as Princess Joanna in 'The Crusades' and Sara Kingdom in 'The Dalek's Master Plan', which, incidentally, also featured Nicholas Courtney as her character's brother.

--Sophie Aldred sustained cuts to her hands during the sequence where Ace is trapped in the water tank when the tank cracked and water flooded out onto the studio floor.

--The Doctor starts wearing a brown coat in this story, which was hilariously meant to symbolise that his character was being taken in a darker direction.

The Doctor: "Among all the varied wonders of the universe, there's nothing so firmly clamped shut as the military mind."

Brigadier: "Oh dear, women. Not really my field."
The Doctor: "Don't worry, Brigadier. People will be shooting at you soon."

Morgaine: "A warrior no less! How goes the day?"
Brigadier: "I've had better."
Morgaine: "I am Morgaine, the sun-killer. Dominator of the thirteen worlds and battle queen of the S'Rax. What say you?"
Brigadier: "I am Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. Surrender now and we can avoid bloodshed."

The Destroyer: "Ahh... little man. What do you want of me?"
Brigadier: "Get off my world!"
The Destroyer: "Pitiful. Can this world do no better than you as their champion?"
Brigadier: "Probably. I just do the best I can."

The Doctor: "If this missile explodes, millions will die. You will die."
Morgan le Fay: "I will die with honour!"
The Doctor: "All over the world fools are poised, ready to let death fly. Machines of death, Morgaine, screaming from above. Light brighter than the sun. Not a war between armies, nor a war between nations, but just death. Death gone mad! A child looks up into the sky, his eyes turn to cinders. No more tears, only ashes. Is this honour? Is this war? Are these the weapons you would use?"

One and a half out of four five pound coins.
Mark Greig is the fool on the hill More Mark Greig

1 comment:

  1. We differ a bit on this one Mark, but again, not by much. I do like it more than you, but it's not a must watch. It was wonderful to see the Brigadier again, and the Destroyer's mask is really good, so while he does suddenly appear and equally as suddenly disappears, at least he is a monster they can be proud of.

    I'm glad the Brigadier didn't die here, and was happy to see him in the Sarah Jane Adventures, but what happens to him in Dark Water/Death in Heaven really did not sit well with me at all. The call back to him during Smith's tenure as the Doctor was nicely done though.

    A fun romp and Jean Marsh is always enjoyable, but nothing great here.


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