|(Doctor Who Story No. 156, starring Sylvester McCoy)
- written by Ben Aaronovitch
- directed by Michael Kerrigan
- produced by John Nathan-Turner
- music by Keff McCulloch
- 4 episodes @ 25 minutes each
Story: Following a signal traveling sideways in time,
the Doctor and Ace materialize in a rural British town
in the 1990's.
Why are mysterious armoured warriors
with swords, sorcery, and futuristic guns appearing and engaging
each other? Will a nearby U.N.I.T. convoy be able to protect the
de-commissioned nuclear missile it is carrying? Why do the invaders
recognize the Doctor as "Merlin"? And is this to be
Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart's final mission?
DVD Extras include:
- Audio commentary by Sophie Aldred (Ace),
Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart),
Angela Bruce (Brigadier Bambera),
writer Ben Aaronovitch, and
script editor Andrew Cartmel.
- "Storm over Avallion" making-of featurette (22 min.) adding
Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor),
Jean Marsh (Morgaine),
Marcus Gilbert (Ancelyn), and
director Michael Kerrigan.
- "Past and Future King" screenplay featurette (12 min.)
- Jean Marsh's Doctor Who career retrospective featurette (8 min.)
- Watertank featurette on Sophie Aldred's on-set accident (6 min.)
- Isolated music
- raw studio footage (19 min.)
- Photo Gallery (7 min.)
- Pop-up Production Note Subtitles
- feature-length extended edit in 5.1 surround sound
in addition to the four original episodes.
Buyers' Guide Review
by Martin Izsak
(A more in-depth analysis, containing "SPOILERS" and intended
for those who have already seen the program, can be accessed
Drawing in a host of interesting story elements and an exciting cast,
this story strangely doesn't seem to be quite sure what to do with them.
Even when delivering choice bits of action or character scenes, the
audience can easily remain at a loss to figure out how this is all meant
to fit together to form a whole cohesive narrative.
In some respects, "Battlefield" seems to want to hold back some aspects
of character motivation, partly to create mystery, partly to create
"surprise" twists late in the story. Fair enough. The chief problem
though is that it doesn't give the audience nearly enough obvious character
motivation to figure out what all these various characters are trying to
accomplish as they run around all over the countryside. The plot is too
easily lost here. It is particularly problematic whenever a battle breaks
out, and the audience has not really invested in the obscure goals of
either side, and isn't sure what is really at stake.
Why are these pseudo-medieval warriors going to all the trouble to
"slide" over to our universe? What do they
want? Though this remains vague throughout, those who focus on finding
an answer to this question might begin to get their first clues
at the beginning of part three.
Even then, we don't really get any reason why anyone else should
want to oppose them
and most of the story's energy goes into empty battle sequences.
Even this could be made to work if the story was aware of these aspects
of itself and drew thematic attention to it,
but it never quite manages that either.
There is much more to be said about the details of missing plot logic,
but I'll save such spoilers for the
in-depth analysis version of this review.
Ultimately, I think the writer became too obsessed with his various
ideas for specific scenes, battles, confrontations, and associated
characters and their mythology. Lost amidst the rewrites was successful
adherence to and articulation of both a solid plot and
a worthy thematic point for this whole thing.
From another perspective, U.N.I.T. and our local folk are faced
with a particularly rowdy set of newcomers descending on them and
behaving violently disrespectful. In that sense, a certain amount
of "policing" them and/or containing them seems to be in order. We don't
really get a sense of this being tackled reasonably, and then
believably escalating out of hand. Combat starts out full-on
in most cases, without proper exploration of who everyone is
or why conflict should be sustained, which tends to leave the
However, putting lost plot aside, there is still much to enjoy in
this story. Guest stars Jean Marsh as Morgaine and
Marcus Gilbert as Ancelyn give really excellent performances,
captivating the audience with their charisma, even if most of part one is
over before they get a chance to really make their mark. Sophie Aldred is
also in top form as Ace in this one, while fellow regulars
Sylvester McCoy and Nicholas Courtney remain largely enjoyable,
with their pairing here in this story being one of its unique draws.
Though Courtney's presence does inspire an authentic UNIT atmosphere
at many points, these moments are sprinkled sparsely throughout the
tale, largely due to the Brig's UNIT scenes being very loosely connected
to plot. Bringing the Doctor's car Bessie back also helps, and is
another highlight of the tale.
There is much merit to Angela Bruce's character of
new Brigadier Bambera, but she has little hope of replicating
Courtney's draw as UNIT's leader.... and to be fair, that was never
supposed to be her function when she was first created for the story.
Too many rewrites? Oh shame!
Perhaps most importantly, "Battlefield" simply has a fun
atmosphere. Even if the characters somewhat fail to express goals
that allow one to invest in their struggles, they're almost all still
likeable enough, and understandably normal enough, that you still want
to follow along with their adventures and see where it all leads.
I would suggest that viewers new to the series, or to the
Sylvester McCoy era, do not start their viewing here, largely because
an engaging plot is too difficult to find. That said,
our introduction to the regulars still features
some surprisingly good TARDIS interior scenes despite not
actually having the proper set anymore, along with an exterior
materialization, although bizarrely the Doctor and Ace are not seen to
actually walk out of the police box. The writing, directing, and editing
continue to be frenetic and choppy all the way through. The audience is
liable to start seeing implied connections in the editing simply because the
scenes themselves are not providing this, and such connections are sorely
However, once you're familiar with McCoy's Doctor, Ace, and the
Brigadier, it's enjoyable to come and watch this adventure unfold
between them. Also, in many ways, Courtney and Marsh seem keen
for a rematch to settle old scores from their alternate roles in
"The Dalek Masterplan" (story no. 21).
Bring it on.
The adventure boasts some cool effects for the time, including
a very interesting creature design, and a number of decent superimposed
effects. Sadly, the invaders' standard futuristic guns settle for dull spark
charges going off instead of decent lasers though. Additionally,
the process of "sliding" in this story,
or to follow the terminology set forth in
"Inferno" (story no. 54),
moving "sideways in time",
is not made all that cool by either scripting or effects work, settling for
hype instead via some unconvincing maniacal laughing. Oh shame!
Keff McCulloch creates much interesting music for this story,
particularly when the mysterious or ethereal nature of various story elements
comes to the fore. But at other times we get more synth-pop muzak
that tends to jolt the viewer out of the story's context, or whining
electric guitar notes that feel out of place. A strangely mixed bag.
In the end, I think I'd rate this tale at about the same level as
"Silver Nemesis" (story no. 154):
good fun that shouldn't be taken too seriously or watched with too
high an expectation. Although
"Nemesis" has a much clearer and more engaging plot, the characters
are much more believable and enjoyable here in "Battlefield".
This story is available on DVD and VHS video.
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