"One of these days we're going to have a nice long talk about acceptable safety standards."
IN THIS ONE... The Doctor and Ace find Excalibur. Morgaine and the Brig finally arrive (and meet!).
REVIEW: There's a real sense of fun to this episode. Some of it is rather goofy for my tastes, mostly Bambera trying to out-Duggan City of Death's Duggan (and not very convincingly), her fight with Ancelyn in the background, etc. And I suppose you could throw in Mordred's extended maniacal laughter that's so over the top, it goes all the way to awful and then back to delightfully camp. But then there's the Brigadier's pilot Lavel who's a charm, quick with a joke or a warm smile (love the bit where the Brig takes a nap, for example). It's really too bad she had to be taken out of the action by a pulled ligament. She and the Brig were a great double act. But then, the Doctor and Ace aren't slouches either, with some fun interplay throughout, including waking Ancelyn and Bambera with a bag, "it's only a trap", and Ace pulling Excalibur out of the stone by accident. Even the timey-wimey business of a future version of the Doctor posing as Merlin and leaving his past self clues is underplayed - a joke! - which I somehow find more daring than the new series' expository focus on similar ideas.
It's not all comedy, of course. Excitement and danger contrast the lighter moments. Morgaine, in particular, is a brilliant creation (or interpretation, I probably should say, as much by Aaronovitch as by the stellar Jean Marsh). She's derisive of our high-tech world enough to callously shoot a helicopter out of the sky, but turns on Mordred when she discovers our Earth has soldiers too. She fiercely believes in her code of honor, and notably, atones for her trespass with an impromptu Remembrance Day commemoration. And her list of titles are pretty impressive. The Brigadier of course takes it in with his usual aplomb, and earns her immediate respect. And he responds in kind, obeying the cease-fire during the ceremony. If one of this story's themes is war and soldiering, these moments are important. The traditional soldier is seen as a positive and honorable profession, while the Doctor spits venom at a nuclear missile.
The other exciting bit is the cliffhanger, not so much for the cartoon snakes flying around, but for the trap Ace walks into. The splashes down on Sophie Aldred for real, trapped behind a glass partition as the Doctor gets knocked out. For those in the know, this is even more thrilling because there was a very real accident on set, and the glass broke, spilling all that water onto studio electricals. Only Sylvester McCoy's quick thinking on seeing a crack forming saved his co-star from possible electrocution (they pulled her out at his command)! A terrifying thought, but it highlights how these two were doing a lot of their own stunts in this era, which certainly adds a layer of believability and energy.
REWATCHABILITY: High - A lot of fun, but it's not just a romp. Each aspect of the production is given a lot of care, and invites discussion.