Doctor Who #693: Battlefield Part 1

"A nuclear missile convoy." "How do you know?" "It has a graveyard stench."
TECHNICAL SPECS: This story is available on DVD. First aired Sep.6 1989.

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.


Madeley said...

A superb start to a superb series, even if the broadcast order was different from intended. The original order should have been Fenric - Battlefield - Ghost Light - Survival, I believe, which fits Ace's arc a little better, for reasons we might be better off discussing a few days down the road.

How are you tackling the re-edited special editions, the ones that aren't cut into episodes? Battlefield's a little bit stronger re-edited, but Fenric's extended cut is definitely the superior, essential version.

Siskoid said...

Well, controversially, perhaps, I'll actually be doing Fenric before Ghost Light, since these are the two that actually feel like they were flipped (there's actually a reference to GL in Fenric).

The re-edits will be covered in Versions at the end of each serial (as usual), and I agree, the two stories are far better as re-edited movies.

Madeley said...

It's definitely the order it needs to be watched in. Apart from the "dramatic" reveal of the Doctor's new jacket under his overcoat in Fenric rather than Battlefield, it doesn't really matter where Battlefield fits in as it's the Doctor's story rather than Ace's. But the other three stories have to be viewed in correct order, because they're about Ace's past, then her present, then her future. Also about going away from home, then finding her way back. But then, in Doctor Who, time and space really are the same thing.

CiB said...


The intended order for season 26 was Battlefield first, then the Ace arc (Curse of Fenric, Ghost Light and Survival.)

They were filmed in the order Battlefield, Curse of Fenric (then "The Wolves of Fenric") Survival and Ghost Light (with, as usual, the two three parters being done in one production block, and thus one is entirely on location and the other entirely studio bound)

Personally, I don't really think viewing order matters, as long as Survival comes last. The only reason we know Curse comes first is because Curse foreshadows Ghost Light in one tiny line- had that one short line been cut we'd have been none the wiser until the DVD showed us deleted scenes.

Madeley said...

Funnily enough, Battlefield then Fenric was the exact order I rewatched them in recently! Wasn't Fenric meant to be the first one, though, because of that business with the overcoat hiding his "new" look at the beginning?

CiB said...


Having never noticed anything particularly dramatic in how the new coat is revealed in Fenric (and it's one I watch a lot), I suspect the overcoat was there because that bit of Fenric was filmed in a particularly cold February. So cold that the inches of snow had to be manually cleared off the location before they could film.

Anonymous said...

It's difficult not to want Jessica Walter to play Morgaine le Fey. Not even because she played Morgaine in the 70s "Doctor Strange" movie, but because of Lucille Bluth.

Likewise, we need Tony Hale as Mordred. And tell me you wouldn't want Will Arnett as her sorcerer minion.

It doesn't come up again in "Battlefield", but Vortigern ("the name of an ancient British king") does have a relationship to historical Arthur, to such extent as there is a history. According to the exactly one historical report from centuries after the fact, Arthur wasn't a king but rather a battle-duke who won battles against the Saxons, who had invaded after King Vortigern failed to pay them for mercenary work. Rutger Hauer played him in "Merlin".

Anonymous said...

Also, it's going to come up that Morgaine and her knights have a serious code of conduct: harm must repay harm, debts must be paid fairly, respect is paramount. With that in mind, here's an interesting Web comic that touches on some of the same (written by John Rogers):

Anonymous said...

Last comment. I thought the new brigadier looked familiar; turns out she's Deb Lister, from the gender-swapped universe in "Red Dwarf".

And Craig Ferguson, yes THAT Craig Ferguson, is the personification of Dave Lister's confidence.

Madeley said...

By odd coincidence THAT Craig Ferguson is also (a) a Doctor Who fan and (b) a very old friend of 12th Doctor-in-waiting Peter Capaldi. They were in a punk band together in the early 80s.

d said...

God, this whole season was just so good! Even all these years later, I'm still so angry at Michael Grade for cancelling the show at this point.

Siskoid said...

The plans for Season 27 are pretty fascinating too.


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