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On First View: Battlefield

Guest contributor Antti Björklund concludes the series offering a first time view on a Classic story.

battlefield-dvd-art

In Doctor Who Magazine’s 2009 poll, The Mighty 200, Battlefield came in at number 146. This makes it the fourth most liked Seventh Doctor story according to that poll.*

In case there are readers for whom this is the first article of this series they read, here is a reminder about what this series is about: in this series, I will try and evaluate exactly how good the episodes I have not seen before, or have seen only a couple of times, are from the viewpoint of someone watching the episodes for the first time. I will try and make note what are the episode’s strengths and weaknesses.

Battlefield opens Sylvester McCoy’s third season as the eponymous Time Lord. It also began the 26th and final season of the Classic era. Afterwards, the show would be off the air until the 1996 TV Movie when McCoy handed over the figurative torch to Paul McGann.

* For the sake of continuity with the earlier articles in this series, I’ve kept referencing the ”Mighty 200” poll, even though Doctor Who Magazine’s latest poll results have already been released.

The Characters

The Seventh Doctor is portrayed by Sylvester McCoy, who took on the mantle as the Time Lord after Colin Baker was untimely (get it?) fired from the role after Season 23, also known as ”The Trial of a Time Lord”. Initially portraying the character as a slapstick character, with him playing spoons, by the time the final season of Classic ”Who” came, his character had turned into a more darker and scheming character.

The Doctor’s companion, Ace, is portrayed by Sophie Aldred. She was conceived as a ”streetwise” teenage character from contemporary Britain. Aldred portrayed the character from 1987 until the close of the Classic show in 1989.

The Doctor

mccoy-b-sevenThe first impression I got of McCoy’s Doctor is one of a friend. He and Ace get along very well, and it is very nice to watch them interact. He shows signs of humor here and there, but also a darker side. McCoy’s Doctor, to me, shows clear signs of being a ”brains over brawn” character – he relies more on wit than strength.

McCoy’s Doctor is a somewhat darker, Doctor. He is not afraid to turn into a manipulative character. This is evident in a scene in which he attempts to manipulate Morgaine into surrendering by threatening to kill Mordred. The words Mordred uses – ”look me in the eye, end my life!” – were used by McCoy’s Doctor in the previous season’s The Happiness Patrol, which just shows how McCoy’s Doctor has become so dark other people are using words he himself used to use. He seems, too, like a calm Doctor, which is evident in the scenes in which he just walks through a scene, even though the surroundings are unruly in some way or another.

The Companion(s)

ace-battlefieldSophie Aldred’s Ace comes across as the classic, maybe even stereotypical, companion. By this I mean that she is there to ask the questions the audience is thinking. That said, she does also have moments where she isn’t just an assistant, but a fully fleshed-out character. As a character Ace seems, on the other hand, exactly as she was meant to be – a streetwise teen – but on the other hand she’s also something more. Ace has been mentioned at least once in The Sarah Jane Adventures, the spinoff to Doctor Who. Although, I must say I find it a little bit hard to understand how a teenager from 1987 would know about Clarke’s Third Rule – ”any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Although not strictly speaking a companion to the Doctor in Battlefield, I can’t help but talk a little about Brigadier Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, who makes his last appearance in the show in this serial. He clearly is a man of action, as is evident by his remark that it is great to be back working for UNIT. In some way it is the Brigadier who saves the day, not the Doctor. This is because the Brigadier is the one who kills the monster of the serial. The Brigadier presents one way in which this story can be introduced to a first-time viewer, as he has been mentioned a couple of times in the post-2005 series of Doctor Who, most recently in The Power of Three.

The Monsters and Villains

doctor-who-battlefieldThe villains of the story come straight from Arthurian legend, namely Morgaine and Mordred. Out of the two, Morgaine seems the more fleshed out character of the two. She is the instigator of the plot, whereas Mordred is more of a pawn in the bigger picture.

Morgaine is portrayed by Jean Marsh, who portrayed two characters during William Hartnell’s tenure as the Doctor. The first of these is princess Joanna in The Crusade and the second is one-off companion Sara Kingdom in The Daleks’ Master Plan. To a wider audience she is most famous as an actor in both the original version and the sequel series of Upstairs Downstairs. Both of these facts can be used as a way of introducing the story to a first-time viewer.

The monster of the story is called simply ”the Destroyer”, and it comes from the same dimension as Mordred and Morgaine. It comes into the story relatively late, and seems rather powerless at first, being under Morgaine’s power. When it finally gets loose, it at first seems like a real threat, but sadly the solution to beating it is found quickly.

The Overall Story

Combining Arthurian legend and Doctor Who? This is what Battlefield achieves perfectly. The story is somewhat of a timey-wimey one in that it seems to Mordred and Morgaine that the Doctor is Merlin, and the Doctor even admits that in the future he might become Merlin.

The story features the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce, better known as UNIT. To me, as a first-time viewer, this is one point of familiarity. The UNIT of Battlefield seems like the UNIT of the Russell T. Davies: full of action and truly international, whereas the Steven Moffat-era UNIT seems to me more like the UNIT of the Third Doctor’s era, which, based on the stories I’ve seen, was more about science and seemed more British. This is evident by the clear signs of there being more UNIT personnel that have foreign-sounding names or that are clearly stated to be non-British. All of these points provide an entry point for a first-time viewer.

I can clearly see that the story might be very interesting to someone who is interested in Arthurian legend. It portrays an interesting take on traditional Arthurian motives such as ”the sword in the stone”, ”the lady of the lake”, ”the once and future king”, Merlin and magic. The dialogue presented by the Arthurian characters is also interesting, because it is said in a medieval or Shakespearean fashion.

The story provides lots of fanservice. There are nods to the UNIT era of the Third Doctor, such as a mention of Liz Shaw and the appearance of Bessie, the Third Doctor’s famous vehicle, but also nods to other eras of the show, such as the Second Doctor’s era with mentions of the Yeti and Cybermen. While these, to me, are quite clearly examples of fanservice, they also serve the story in some way or another. They also provide another entrance point for new viewers, as the person introducing the story can tell about the UNIT history of the show, referencing stories that might be familiar to new viewers.

All in all, I think that Battlefield is a great example to use against those who say that late-1980s Doctor Who had grown tired and was past it’s heyday. It is my opinion that by it’s final season the show was starting to get into new dimensions, new lengths.

It seems fitting that this, the final part in this series, has looked at a story from the final season of the original run of the show, when the very first part looked at a story from one of the very first seasons.

Step back in time...

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38 comments
RomseyKeith
RomseyKeith

Curiously enough, back in 1993 when the BBC were showing a story from each Doctor on Friday nights to mark the 30th Anniversary, these were the same stories they chose from Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy. Was that deliberate Antti?

RomseyKeith
RomseyKeith

For me, it's my least favourite story of season 26. The Curse of Fenric was my favourite this season. I preferred the adult themes, and dark undertones of the story, as well as bringing the chess match to an end (previously seen and mentioned in Silver Nemesis).

However, it was good to see the Brig again (I'd say one last time if it wasn't for SJA). The destroyer was  also an interesting design, and I like the idea of sorcery just being a different science (as it was later in The Shakespeare Code).

davidbrummy
davidbrummy

For me notable for several reasons.  Last time we see the Brig and the last time we see the inside of the TARDIS in the classic series.  Apparently by this time the set was in a bad way (BBC showing the love) and the walls had been junked.  It was McCoy's idea to film it in the dark to hide the damage and lack of walls.  They then erected a curtain to at least give the appearance of a wall.

TonySimmons
TonySimmons

Tried watching it on the back of this article last night, and it comes over as a bit Cbeebies! One particular silly bit where Ace and another girl are saying 'BOOM' and surprisingly there's a real boom! The incidental music sounds cheap too, miles away from the classic scores of Paddy Kingsland etc of the early eighties.

gwylock1
gwylock1

Battlefield is one of those stories which I both love and find troublesome. The monster is okay, if mostly useless, the enemies are interesting, if nonsensical; the storyline is engaging and exciting, if a bit disorganized; The Brig is back, and totally epic as always.... well, no fault there! McCoy is at his best, there are some truly wonderful moments, and there are shaky bits as well. The music is one of Keff's better scores, but still not up to the standard of other composers who worked on the series. I'm conflicted. 

beskar
beskar

Even the late 80s production team thought Battlefield was a stinker, particularly in comparison to other stories like, for example, Ghost Light. Read Cartmel's book about his time on the series for more.

Deus_Ex_Machina
Deus_Ex_Machina

Nice article. Thanks for a great series. I don't mind "Battlefield". I mean, it's nothing super special, but it was an enjoyable story none the less.

MeglosProductions
MeglosProductions

Nice review, but I've never liked Battlefield. The acting was mostly poor (even Nick Courtney was a bit off), the plot was jumbled and confusing and, as a whole, it never really amounted to that much. To be honest, I've never liked Season 26 all that much either. The decent story from that season was Ghost Light.



Scribey
Scribey

Brilliant article! I adore 'Battlefield' and it is my favourite McCoy serial. The guile of The Seventh Doctor is unsurpassed in my opinion, and I think Ace is a strong independent companion, distinguished by her strong character arc which permeates her time on the show, culminating in 'Survival'.


McCoy, you're still the number one Time Lord for me! :P

ilyootha is in the Divergent Universe
ilyootha is in the Divergent Universe

Nice analysis. Although you should have mentioned that The Daleks’ Master Plan was also Nicholas Courtney's first Doctor Who story, if I'm not mistaken, where he played Sara's brother. So Battlefield had him and Jean Marsh reappear together in Doctor Who for the first time after two decades!

The story itself is not McCoys's best, but has many of his best moments and quotes.

DOCTOR: Something's wrong.

BRIGADIER: What?

DOCTOR: We haven't been attacked yet.





Xaven
Xaven

This adventure is also the one with the water tank incident. The water tank that Ace gets trapped in cracked, sending water and broken glass towards the electrical equipment. Sylvester McCoy noticed it in time and alerted the crew. Sophie Aldred was pulled out of the tank, and the studio was evacuated. The members of the cast and crew believe Sylvester's warning saved Sophie's life.

Liana21
Liana21

I love Seven and the Brigadier, I'd like a scene with Kate meeting Twelve and she saying something like "Oh, you did it again".

I like the plot and the relationship between Brigadier Bambera and the knight, it's so cool.

AndrewMarsden
AndrewMarsden

Flawed but has moments that shine (mainly involving the Brigadier. The other 3 stories that made up this season were better in my opinion. Season 26 was quite a strong season - the show was cut off too soon. Things were getting interesting...

YaelMoise
YaelMoise

I think it may very well have been my favorite 7th Doctor story. What can I say? I'm a sucker for the Brig, and having him finally recognize the Doctor without having to be told it's him... it was just adorable. 

supermoff
supermoff

Good article :) I've yet to see Battlefield, but it definitely sounds very interesting, so I'll put it in the priority pile of classic episodes I need to watch :)

Antee991166
Antee991166

I saw this story only a month ago, with relatively low expectations, and was pleasantly surprised. The story has a great amount of action, dialogue and characters that make it one of my favourite 80's stories. While the qualities of Seasons 22-25 are up for debate, I think its safe to say that the last season really was getting back on the right track. Such a shame it was cancelled.

TardisBoy
TardisBoy

I found it to be a very enjoyable serial. I find McCoy's era is definitely one of the easiest to get into; the story had me hooked straight away. I adore the Arthurian legend so this Serial was right up my street, I loved the utilisation of the characters from the legend, and how seamlessly it fitted with the science fiction genre. Another thing, I adore Aaronvitch's writing, his dialogue is always witty, and the action scenes are always very intense.  The acting was top notch, the particular highlights being McCoy (definitely one of my favourite incarnations), Aldred and Courtney (who absolutely shone as the Brigadier). I also love the relationship and the banter that 7 and Ace share, definitely one of the best Doctor/companion dynamics IMO. Overall this is definitely one of my favourite serials, and it was such a treat to watch. Great article, Finn!




Gustaff
Gustaff

I do wish they'd do a sequel to this story. Technically this story is the sequel if you think about it, so I'd like to see Capaldi as the Doctor who dealt with a younger Morgaine and setting up these events.


One thing that irked me, but it's minor is the awful inflation rate involved in this story: I don't even live in Britain and even I know that lemonade still doesn't cost £10. I'm sure there are a lot of British fans who are happy about this.


Article: Best yet! Kudos!

Monster: Even though he didn't get much screen time, I like the Destroyer. The Doctor is especially vicious in this story.

Best line: Dig hole here...my handwriting.

 

Rule 3: Ace knows about Clarke's Third Rule because she travels with the Doctor to future times as well, so she may have read up on it at some point.


On/off-topic: Just got Doctor Who: The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield today. Seven + Ace + Benny = AWESOME

The Finn
The Finn

@beskar That's very fine and all, but I still liked the story a lot.

YaelMoise
YaelMoise

@MeglosProductions Always had problems with Ghost Light, me. It's wonderfully moody and weird, and it was nice for me to see Michael Cochrane playing someone nice (as he did in Black Orchid, too), since I mostly know him as Sir Henry Simmerson in Sharpe - a proper villain if ever there was one. 

However, I felt that the episode was too preachy. I mean, I accept evolution as scientific fact, same as any other reasonable human being, but I don't feel the need to be beaten over the head with it, as I felt I was in that episode. 

There are more than a few episodes in Classic Who that suffer from a similar malady, I feel - Rather than making the statement they wish to make, they repeatedly underline it. 

I still do like Ghost Light and I rewatch it often enough... I really do have my issues with it.

The Finn
The Finn

@ilyootha That's true what you said about Courtney and Marsh. Don't know why I only mentioned one, probably because Courtney is more known as the Brig to the wider audience.

Scribey
Scribey

@ilyootha  To be fair, it could also be mentioned that Jean Marsh was [briefly] married to Jon Pertwee! :P

The Finn
The Finn

@Xaven I know. Sylvester's said it's probably the only time he himself saved a life, not the Doctor.

Antee991166
Antee991166

@AndrewMarsden  "I am far more than just another Time Lord". We'll never get to know, at least not onscreen.

The Finn
The Finn

@YaelMoise It went straight to favorite 7th Doc story, tied with Remembrance.

Antee991166
Antee991166

Also I love the speech McCoy gives to Morgaine in Part 4, it literally had me on the edge of my seat. Possibly my favourite speech in the entire history of the show. I would say McCoy gives the best speeches, with Matt Smith coming second.

YaelMoise
YaelMoise

@Antee991166 @AndrewMarsden I don't know about you, but I'm very glad about that. 

I'm all for making the Doctor darker and more mysterious, but The Cartmel Plan? All the business with The Other... and Susan not really being the Doctor's granddaughter... and everything that they did in the novels, like Lungbarrow? Really not my thing. 

I'm happy with him being a very unusual, very special, very unique Time Lord.

It's good enough for me.

YaelMoise
YaelMoise

@The Finn @YaelMoise Oh, Remembrance IS wonderful, too! :) 


Vicar: Forgive me for saying this, but it seems to me that your voice has changed somewhat since we last met. 

Doctor: Yes, it has changed. Several times. 

Oh, and: 

Doctor: Whatever fired that weapon's trapped in there. There's no way out. 

Gilmore: How can you be sure? 

Doctor: I've been here before. 

Wonderful. <3






AndrewMarsden
AndrewMarsden

The "throw away your gun" from The Happiness Patrol is my favourite scene from any Doctor Who era!

LucasW
LucasW

I love all the Time Lord Mythology! The Looms are a really interesting idea, and I love the idea of the Other. The Susan business maybe not, but the Other... I would love that to be canonical, at least in some form.

YaelMoise
YaelMoise

@LucasW I'm sorry, but I really wouldn't. 

I think he's more special... well... when he's not THAT special. Making him some sort of mythical being means that he isn't as great as all that. He's just another "god", like Rassilon or Omega. 

A god being exceptional isn't interesting. It's boring. Being exceptional is what gods (even demi-gods, or god-like heroes of ancient history) do... so it really isn't all that exceptional.


Make him a normal, run of the mill Time Lord... ahhh... and suddenly he becomes exceptional. 

Or, more accurately, suddenly he remains exceptional. Because, that's what the Doctor was and is - a rebel Time Lord, a man unlike his peers, unique... unless you decide he IS some mythical "Third person in the trio that started Time Lord culture as it is today", at which point, to me... it calls a little "flash bang and then what?".

And as to the looms...? I don't see the point of them. There are so many better questions to ask and answer if they DON'T exist. If Gallifreyians reproduce the same way we do... then what does a family look like? What do they do if dad had an accident at work and regenerated into a female? MUCH more interesting! At least to me. ;) 

I don't really see this stuff as "Time Lord Mythology"... I just see it as Cartmel trying to do one thing (Make you wonder about the Doctor again... make you not know who he is, really) and ending up doing the exact opposite by providing you with too many answers. Answers, which... like I said, I really don't think do the character any favours.



YaelMoise
YaelMoise

@LucasW *calls=becomes 

Honestly, I DO wish we could edit these things.