"A nuclear missile convoy." "How do you know?" "It has a graveyard stench."
IN THIS ONE... The Brigadier is back and Arthurian knights are falling out of the sky.
REVIEW: Debut of the Doctor's new, darker coat because the show is embracing the darker aspects of the seventh Doctor, but more importantly, it's a second Ben Aaronovitch script which, like Remembrance of the Daleks, at once makes the Doctor more mysterious and gives fans lots of pleasant references to the past. This time, Aaronovitch has let himself be inspired by the UNIT era, and Pertwee fans should get a kick out of Battlefield. The Brig comes out of retirement, has regrown his mustache, and finally married his offstage flame Doris. Britain's UNIT (with a new logo that has lasted into the New Who era) is now being led by a new Brigadier, Winifred Bambera, which I've never really found believable. It wasn't common practice then to give actors much military training in preparation for such roles and it shows. (But then, UNIT has always been a little more relaxed than the army.) The Doctor gets his UNIT passes out and has Ace impersonate Liz Shaw. Zbrigniev remembers the old face-changing scientific adviser (he must've been a young rookie if we're now supposed to be in 1996 - oh that muddled UNIT dating issue!). Even the idea of Excalibur sending a signal "sideways" in time is from the UNIT era's Inferno, and the missile transport is right out of The Mind of Evil. Once again, Aaronovitch somehow fails to make it all seem like fanwank.
Perhaps it's because the main plot is about something completely new. I can't actually believe Doctor Who hasn't yet done something with the Arthurian legend! The Britishness of it would have seemed to make it a natural for Who. A nice twist on it is that Camelot is actually in another dimension (sideways in time) and the knights arrive in personal coffins/missiles, looking for the famous sword in the stone, apparently in a spaceship, waiting for the Once and Future King. Morgaine, played by Jean Marsh, another returnee to the program, is only seen in a crystal ball, apparently enjoying a certain measure of omniscience, or at least clairvoyance. (I suppose it's disappointing neither her nor the Brig get to the scene of the adventure within the confines of the first episode, but it makes me excited for when they do.) And then the script lays a doozy on us: Ancelyn the knight recognizes the Doctor as Merlin and is able to describe the TARDIS. Is this an alternate universe Doctor from Camelot, or a future version of the Doctor that will eventually play that role on that other world? Is the Doctor more archetypal and conceptual than previously understood? The mind reels.
What I most enjoy about Battlefield already is the attention to detail. It's the little things. The blind inn keeper, introduced visually not through dialog, reading braille when our heroes walk in. The "valuable piece of coinage" that looks like a crawling toy. Shou Yuing's crack about the beer and underage Ace trying to order a drink. The grenade explosion intercut with the girls' playful stories about homemade explosives (as little as I believe there are two teenage girls in Britain who are explosive experts). The Brigadier refusing the call to duty until he hears the Doctor is involved. The Doctor's distaste for weapons of mass destruction and the military in general. It's details like these that make you believe the production team cares about what it's doing (which wasn't always the case), and adds to the show's quality significantly.
REWATCHABILITY: High - Always great to see the Brigadier, and the quality script and epic scope look to do his return justice.