Doctor Who #694: Battlefield Part 2

"One of these days we're going to have a nice long talk about acceptable safety standards."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Sep.13 1989.

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.

- 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.


Anonymous said...

So much of what makes this episode work is that Morgaine and the troops have a code of honor. I don't believe it actually impacts the plot in any significant way -- I watched the whole thing and (spoilers) I don't recall any point where Morgaine's plan deviated significantly from the usual alien conqueror formula because of her code -- but it certainly places her a cut above the rest, does it not?

Mark Waid has advised would-be comic book writers that every character -- even the guy in the background -- wants something. If your characters simply exist to advance the story, it will come across like kids playing with action figures. But if the characters have more going on in their heads, every now and again it will show in how they behave, and it will add depth and flavor to the story.

I get to thinking about the Rani, and while I haven't watched any of her stuff lately, I don't recall much depth to her, just the typical arrogance of cookie-cutter amoral scientists. How about giving her a spin, like she semi-genuinely wants to improve the species of the universe, but evolution is cruel and haphazard, while her methods are at least efficient. So she'd still be in the wrong but at least she'd be a cut above the rest.

Siskoid said...

Well, in her first appearance, the Rani was strongest. She had taken over a planet and started experimenting on the population, but it had gone wrong, and she now wanted the chemical that would help her restore a balance.

In her second, it's all very much insane despot territory, with her take over of a different planet with plans to turn it into a giant device for controlling history.

Bill Doughty said...

Love the Brigadier and Morgaine scenes in this, especially the idea that Morgaine truly hates the Doctor for his cleverness and guile, but the sort of inter-soldier appreciation for honor and The Rules between her and the Brig is another matter altogether. She respects Lethbridge-Stewart - she may even like him (as much as she can like anyone, anyway) - because she understands him better. The Brigadier plays the game, while the Doctor keeps trying to change it.

Siskoid said...

Nice analysis of the relationships involved, Bill!


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