Doctor Who #695: Battlefield Part 3

"My mother hath summoned the Destroyer, the Lord of Darkness, Eater of Worlds. Look to your children, Merlin, for soon they shall be no more."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Sep.20 1989.

IN THIS ONE... Morgaine summons the Destroyer. Ace and Shou Yuing in a chalk circle. The Doctor tries to stop the fighting over at the missile convoy site.

REVIEW: Oh man, the way Ace is ejected from the death trap is epic. Warmsly quotes from La Morte d'Arthur and all of a sudden, she walks out of the lake holding Excalibur and hands it to Ancelyn, fulfilling the promise of the Lady of the Lake. It's an awesome moment that more that forgives the sketchy underlake model, much like the rest of the story makes you forget Doctor Who is suddenly about a magical, rather than SF threat! When did THAT happen? The cheat is that Ancient Gods(TM) from the Dark Times have powers that look like magic or are playing with different laws of physics. We don't know what the rules are in Morgaine's dimension, but why not there too? It doesn't really matter. When the script is good, we're not distracted and wondering if anything is appropriate for the program. GOOD STORIES are what's most appropriate to Doctor Who.

Whether her powers are mystical or based on some kind of psionic reality-tapping, Morgaine is an excellent villain. One moment painfully killing Lavel (noooooooo!), the next restoring the inn keeper's sight to pay for her son's prodigious tab (seems Mordred never does anything subtly). Though most characters in this story are combatants and fair game, it shows that her code does have her treat civilians differently. It's not just callous toying with people. Ace and Shou Yuing ARE combatants, Merlin's apprentices, and prey to Morgaine's mental attacks despite the chalk circle that otherwise protects them. It leads to one of the ugliest lines of dialog ever spoken by a companion, the racial slur "yellow, slant-eyed--", which followers of the character, especially under Ben Aaronovitch's pen, should know is purposely out of character (this and Ace's reaction to the "No coloureds" sign in Remembrance hints at an upbringing in a racially mixed environment, more on that later) and this, disturbing. Then Morgaine summons the Destroyer, a blue demon that's also her version of Bambera's Weapon of Mass Destruction. Nice parallel. And where Morgaine goes, gorgeous dramatic lighting follows. The stark light on the chalk circle and night falls only on the inn. The way she grabs the Destroyer's shadow and throws it on the wall. Wicked stuff.

The Doctor has powers of his own, specifically a Jedi mind trick that's not outside the realm of previous hypnotic tricks, but played dead seriously as opposed to Tom Baker's more comedic leanings. And there's something rather wonderful about his running into a battlefield screaming for the participants to stop, and they do (even if it IS only to gloat). His partnership with the Brig is a much friendlier affair than in the past, but then Battlefield treats the UNIT era in celebratory terms and has no wish to pick up where it left off. So the Brig readily accepts the Doctor's change of appearance, and brings an arsenal he hopes won't leave his men shooting blanks like they always used to. He even throws in Bessie, which the girls snicker at, but as McCoy is not Pertwee, he smiles along with the joke. I'm less enamored of Bambera and Ancelyn's shameless flirting, but they're having fun too, and I can't possibly begrudge them that. The battle scenes are complex and relatively well-choreographed as well. I won't say the episode is perfect - the Brig gets down to the spaceship rather suddenly and is never allowed to realize Lavel's been killed - but it's highly entertaining nonetheless.

REWATCHABILITY: High - A very memorable dip into the supernatural side of Doctor Who, with pleasant winks to the UNIT era for good measure.


Madeley said...

I love the Brig in this. And I love the way he and the Doctor are allowed to play it as old comrades-in-arms, time having mellowed the old squabbles. It puts me in mind of the more comfortable relationship and elderly Jim Gordon has with Bruce Wayne at the start of Dark Knight Returns.

Battlefield isn't too subtle with its themes- like the Lancelot/Ancelyn and Guinevere/Winifred parallel- but I'll happily take Who being over-the-top as long as the show does it with enthusiasm, as with the Doctor's posturing or Mordred's absurd cackling. Go big or go home, I say, or at least go as big as you can with a BBC budget.

Bill Doughty said...

My favorite part in this episode is the talk the Brig and the Doctor have while going over the arsenal, showing how UNIT finally learned a thing or two after all of those Pertwee/UNIT stories in the 70s/80s/decade of indeterminate nature (though I'd like to see those bullets that could go through a Dalek put to the test). I've always wondered about the Doctor's silver bullets remark, though... is that just an offhanded joke or does he have some idea of what to expect? McCoy plays it so subtly it's hard to tell.

I like that the Brigadier actually listens to him, though. It's a nice lead in to Kate Stewart talking about her father's "science leads" philosophy. It took him a while, but eventually he learned to listen!

Siskoid said...

I think he knew. At the very least, silver seems to have an effect on magic, which he knew he was dealing with.


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