Battlefield: Doctor Who: Season 26
The Doctor traces inter dimensional instability to a village in England. There he and Ace attempt to find out why a UNIT convoy carrying nuclear missiles has been stranded near the instability using his old UNIT passes. Brigadier Bambera confiscates these and reports the Doctor's presence to UNIT HQ. Knights from the middle ages are appearing and fighting amongst each other with futuristic weaponry.
Once knight named Ancelyn is sent crashing in the hotel where the Doctor and Ace are staying, he believes the Doctor to be Merlin and allies with him. The Other knights led by Mordred summon up mordred's mother, the witch Morgaine. She promptly shoots down a UNIT helicopter containing the Doctor's old friend Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart who has come ouot of retirement to help the Time Lord.
The Doctor and Ace locate the spaceship causing the dimensional instability beneath a lake and after being rescued from it's security system by the Brigadier, the Doctor and Ace conclude it belonged to an other dimensional version of King Arthur an the opposing forces have come here to fight over the possession of Excalibur.
The Doctor gets UNIT forces to evacuate the locals as battle commences against a horde of Morgaine's knights and must prevent her from getting Excalibur. But Morgaine has now summoned the demon, Destroyer and the world will now be doomed to his rampage.
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Battlefield CAST & CREW
Sylvester McCoy (Seventh Doctor)
Sophie Aldred (Ace)
Nicholas Courtney — Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart
Angela Douglas — Doris
Angela Bruce — Brigadier Winifred Bambera
Robert Jezek — Sergeant Zbrigniev
Dorota Rae — Flight Lieutenant Lavel
Paul Tomany — Major Husak
Noel Collins — Pat Rawlinson
June Bland — Elizabeth Rawlinson
James Ellis — Peter Warmsly
Ling Tai — Shou Yuing
Jean Marsh — Morgaine
Christopher Bowen — Mordred
Marcus Gilbert — Ancelyn
Marek Anton — The Destroyer
Stefan Schwartz — Knight Commander
Production Staff for Serial 7N:
Writer - Ben Aaronovitch
Director - Michael Kerrigan
Script editor - Andrew Cartmel
Producer - John Nathan-Turner
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...and now the end is near and we face the final curtain...yes it's into season 26 and the very last classic series opener
Battlefield is not a bad story nor a good one. But it does have a lot going for it. The Arthurian legend is nice premise to start on and tying it up with the long awaiting return of UNIT and the Brigadier makes Battlefield much anticipated, pity it falls short of the mark in quite a few places. Ben Aaronovitch submitted this back in 1987 and this is what won him the commission for Remembrance, pity there wasn't more effort put in to revamping and explaining elements of the plot.
For Instance we assume Morgaine, the knights, King Arthur are all from an alternate dimension, so how did they get to the 'real' Earth dimension and why arrive by hurtling out of the sky and exploding into the ground? How did they know Arthur's spaceship escaped from his dimension and came to Earth's? What was the reason behind all this? Why are all the knights and legends etc. tied up with high tech sci fi stuff on this alternate Earth? Why did having a nuclear missile breaking down near the lake have to do with anything apart from getting UNIT involved? Why does the Doctor's use of chalk make a forcefield? Nothing is really explained or given any background especially why the Doctor is cast in the Merlin role or why Ancelyn, the only good knight sent through would recognize the Doctor having not met him in his current incarnation. I thought only Time Lords could recognize each other despite having regenerated? It seemed too ridiculous.
The location stuff is good in Battlefield, although the battle scenes between the knights and UNIT soldiers look a bit dodgy sometimes. The acting varies greatly, and is severely dodgy in places. Sylvester looks great in his new darker costume and it's nice to finally see a Tardis scene, though the last we'll ever see, he is convincing as the more sinister planner Doctor but when he shouts or has to act angry which he does a bit of in Battlefield he shows he just can't really pull it off - his acting goes to shit that bit where he steps onto the Battlefield screaming for all to stop is just well embarrassing. Ace for some reason is very annoying and dialogue withstanding some of her scenes are just cringe worthy.
It's good that Nicholas Courtney returns for Battlefield and helps raise the leads acting levels returning as the resplendent Brigadier. Despite being a bit heavier and noticeably older he slips into character perfectly and suits the role well as the elder statesman figure. Jean marsh as Morgaine drips slimey evil with a type of honorable moral code very well and Christopher Bowden as her son Mordred is suitably sinister though his prolonged laughter while his Mum was arriving was a bit OTT. Whoever plays Ancelyn needs acting lessons wasn't convinced by him at all and the Brigadier Bambera seemed to overdo the "I'm macho, even though I'm a woman" thing. Her 'fight' with Ancelyn was another of those cringe worthy moments of Battefield. All the locals, especially the guy playing Peter Warmsley are all believable but then get bundled out of the story halfway through part 3 because the writer simply had too many people hanging around with nothing to do. Oh the lady helicopter pilot is really hot too!!
There were plenty of nice touches in battlefield, we find out the Brig has married Doris and that the grounds to his house are big enough to land helicopters in, though it does take him a while to get into the main part of the action but when he's there he dives into it like he never did in the 70's, from shooting down things and taking on and destroying the Destroyer. His scenes with McCoy were always good, showing the Doctor through UNIT's upgraded ammo that can now actually take out aliens (why did UNIT not use this for their most recent-appearance?) and a nice touch where he knocks out McCoy in order to sacrifice himself fighting the Destroyer. The Destoyer himself is very well realised and threatening but he's only wheeled out for half an episode and we don't really get to see his threatening potential!!
The bit's in Arthur's spaceship were good, quite liked the part 2 cliffhanger with McCoy knocked out by the serpent autoguard and Ace's near drowning, although in contrast the part 1 cliffhanger is one of the most amateurishly acted of the entire series. Bit of a let down in the ending too so UNIT is just going to put Morgaine the sorceress in jail? Yep that'll hold her, she should have said 'curses when being led in handcuffs Keff Ballcock's music doesn't help with dragging Battlefield away from the amateur look it's still bloody awful. So there it is, has many elements that should have made it classic but is let down by lack of substance and thus probably why it ended up being the lowest rated story ever at only 3 million beating even the Mysterious Planet and the Gunfirghters! Hmmm will give it a 4.6/10 for effort.
A windswept and rainy landscape, a rural pub with its battered sign, an archeological dig, a horned beast rising from the earth, the Brigadier and UNIT. No its not The Daemons (sadly) its.....
BATTLEFIELD On first hearing the premise of this story through the Doctor Who Club of Victoria's newsletter Sonic Screwdriver back in 1989 I thought this sounded like the revamp that the series needed. In addition to the above mentioned items, there was also a return to a darker Doctor with a more suitably dark costume, some very real threats, the possible death of the Brigadier and the return of writer Ben Sonofabitch who wrote the very excellent Remembrance of the Daleks. So how could it go wrong?
Quite bloody easily. Sadly, Battlefield is one of those stories that promises a lot, but the execution of it leaves a lot to be desired. Firstly, the whole Arthurian legend thing was pretty dated any way back then and Dr Who was about fifteen years too late at having a crack at it. Then there is all those ridiculous looking knights trampling around the English greenery looking like something out of Monty Python aided by weapons consisting of a $3 party sparker from Coles. If those knights weren't bad enough then watching them fly though the air in some very badly staged "battle sequences" is almost freaking laughable. Then when you find out that even though they are working for Morgaine it is prety pointless when you discover she has the Destroyer at her fingertips.
A lot of Battlefield suffers from very, very bad direction. Michael Kerrigan who is fresh out of the Chris Clough School of Lifeless Directing simply has no idea of what to do. Battlefield has a very cheap look to it which isn't helped by it being filmed entirely on video. The performances that are given by a number of the cast also aren't up to scratch. Sylvester looks a lot better in his more sombre costume but physically he looks a bit like an unkempt tramp. There are times in this story when he really nails the character of the Doctor but other times he looks very amateurish. His shouty scenes don't help matters either. Sophie Aldred is absolutely dire as Ace and to this day I can't see the attraction some people have for her character or her acting abilities. That scene where she is talking to Shou Yuing about her bloody homemade dynamite and finishing up with a cringe-worthy "BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!!!!!" is absolutely embarrassing.
Another problem with Battlefield is that it is overloaded with characters. The writer seems to want to capitalize on what he did with Remembrance of the Daleks. Okay, no prob there, but there are just so MANY characters vying for attention that by episode three he clearly has no idea what to do with them so he evacuates half of them off in a UNIT truck. Of course if there was a decent script editor on hand to help him out then it may have been better, but there wasn't. Instead its useless Andrew Cartmel with one hand propping up is ever-increasing ego and the other hand yanking his ever-decreasing knob. I guess its a bit much to ask someone who has now been in the job THREE WHOLE YEARS to actually DO something, but hey.
Lets not forget good ol' Keff McMuffin who uses his very very very tiny amount of talent to come up with a musical score that is so appalling that you gotta wonder if he missed his calling as a bagpipe fucker. The three elements that DO work for Battlefield are the return of the Brigadier, once more brilliantly played by Nicholas Courtney who still retains his air of "what the hell is going on?" whenever he catches up with the Doctor. He is a lot more the action man here than he was in his seventies heyday as he goes flying through windows, jumping out of exploding helicopters and shooting down Destroyers.
Having him married to his sweetheart Doris was a very good move (by the writer. You wouldn't think for one moment that the script editor would have done any research here would you?) Its also a nice moment when he stuffs himself back into his old soldier uniform to go fight the cause. Although, how in fuck do you fall asleep in a helicopter??? Morgaine is another good addition to battlefield and she is very well played by Jean Marsh. She looks and sounds and moves like an evil sorceress. There is a real depth to her character (good on yer Ben. Andrew, take note) as she coldbloodedly kills a UNIT soldier then restores the sight of the blind woman by way of payment for drinks later on. She has morals and complexities and her sadness when she learns that King Arthur is now dead was very well realised.
Finally the Destroyer was awesome. Its great to see a monster that will just blow the living fuck out of everything it can when it can because it can. It is very impressive looking and is very well designed and acted. He deserved a lot more screen time than appearing at the end of part three and being shot dead before the end of part four. It would have been great to see him in action right from part one and have him REALLY destroy everything. That would have been riveting and a hell of a way to start the season.
I give it a five out of ten, Margaret.
As a final note, lets remember good ol' Andrew Cartmel who in a Doctor Who magazine interview in 1995 said that in ten years time BATTLEFIELD will be looked on as a classic. Ten years passed Andrew and its clear your head is still up you own arse. Stop trying to sell yourself as someone who actually contributed intelligently to the series and simply piss off. Anywhere.
Part 1 is great. It sets up everything as well as any part 1 has done - although I'm still not sure why UNIT are there with the Nuclear convoy in the first place. UNIT's return is done well though - it's kind of nice to know that they've been continuing on in the background while the Doctor's gone off to do his own thing. I like the fact that the Doctor can't just walk in with his 15 year old passes (if only psychic paper had been invented) - and it's also good to see that they don't just hire women to make the tea... although the "shame!" lines are a bit crap. Brigadier's "this Bambeera - good chap is he?" is a nice little nod to the old UNIT. And just seeing the Brigadier again is nice too... the mixture of unknown past and known past works well. The mysterious appearance of battling Knights, a sorcerer and her crystal ball, strange cutaways to a flashing sword and the quirky crew at the Gore Crow Inn, coupled with the standoff and the "aren't you Merlin" ending make for a classic opening.
Part 2 is a big let down.
An awesome part 1 needs a part 2 that's full of explanation - and unfortunately a lot of the explanation given in part 2 is either glossed over or bollocks. The Knights are getting through from another dimension thanks to a time riff... caused by ummmm... well don't worry about that. And the Doctor... well apparently he's been to the other dimension and built an underground spaceship thing and put the real King Arthur and Excalibur in there... and marked the entrance with "dig here"... nope... I don't buy that at all. Morgaine is clearly a great sorceress - surely she could have had a lot more to do with what's happened? It's a pity cos there's a lot of nice stuff happening along the way - but the explanation is lame.
The rest of Battlefield does go along nicely - there are two things in particular that I think provide a bit of a template to Buffy and Angel (which ironically provided a bit of a template to modern Who). The summoning of an evil Demon to do your killing is a very Buffy and Angel thing, and the fact that UNIT are prepared for such a thing (silver bullets) is not only some nice further evidence that UNIT have progressed a fair bit with their belief of the supernatural, but also makes them similar to the Watcher's Council in Buffy.
The summoning of supernatural forces hasn't happened very often in Dr Who (The Daemons being the main comparison) - and the way it's done in Battlefield is very effective. The chalk circle and the reference to such a major artifact only adds to these scenes. The showdown with the Brigadier is great too - it's very old school Brigadier... apparently originally he was to be killed off in this battle... glad he wasn't. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that the strength of the Destroyer is almost enough to forgive the shortcomings of part 2... and then we get the terrible ending.
So you've got this hugely powerful sorceress (I mean, she can cure the blind!) right... and after nearly blowing up the country with nuclear stuff that UNIT had left lying around (that's why it was there? could have done without that), we're supposed to believe that she can just be locked up? She's crossed through time and dimensions and summoned a big fuck off evil demon... and she can be held in a prison cell? OK, so maybe UNIT have the kind of cells they have at Torchwood - but even still, it's a pretty lacklustre ending. Surely such a powerful threat should deserve a "seemingly destroyed by one of her own creation / nasty spells, but maybe she did get away in time and will return to another time and place to get her revenge on the Doctor" ending? UNIT locking her in jail like they used to do with the Master is just a bit shit... sorry Ben Aaronovich, but surely you could have come up with something better than that!
Performance wise I don't think there's anything terrible in Battlefield. The regulars are all on form - in fact McCoy seems to be giving it a little bit more when the Brigadier shows up... just as well cos he was starting to look confused by what he'd been talking about in Part 2. Actually Shou Youing is pretty ordinary... very ordinary really... maybe that's why Grob couldn't find a decent Asian actress for Speaking in Tongues... there aren't any (no Grob, those "videos" don't count). Bambera is quite good - and I could see how people would think the playing around with Ancelyn could be seen as stupid, but I reckon it's kind of fun. Jean Marsh is pretty good as Morgaine too - and I'm guessing that the whole "Merlin" thing (plus the stupid ending) was intended to bring her back again at some stage... could have worked well, as there aren't many characters like her in Who History.
Interestingly Graeme Harper was approached to return to directing Who with Battlefield. Maybe under his guidance some more sense would have been made out of some of the explanations offered in Part 2... but instead of going with one of the show's greatest directors (well, in recent history), they went with a first timer. He doesn't do a bad job - as a lot of the praise I have for parts 1 and 3 are down to some interesting shots and direction, but perhaps some of the things that let this one down wouldn't have happened under a more experienced director... and I'm guessing that a more experienced Director wouldn't have let the embarrassing farewell to the TARDIS interior happen... and I reckon Harper wouldn't have tolerated Keff either!
So all up, Battlefield could have been great. There are some brilliant ideas, and some really nice iconic like moments here - and it's all done with a nice eerie darkness... it is let down a bit in the telling though... I want to give it an 8 for the good stuff, but I want to give it less than a 5 for some of the frustrating bad stuff...