Battlefield

DVD NTSC
Region 1

DVD PAL
Region 2
VHS Video
NTSC A
NTSC B
PAL
(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.

In-Depth Analysis Review

by Martin Izsak

WARNING: This review contains "SPOILERS", and is intended for those who have already seen the program.
To avoid the spoilers, read the Buyers' Guide version instead.


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, as it seems Morgaine might be after the sword Excalibur. Okay. But why does she want it? Most importantly, is there any good reason why everyone else shouldn't let her just walk over and take it?

In actual fact, apparently not. We do eventually find out that she only wants Excalibur in her safe keeping to ensure that King Arthur doesn't use it to wake himself up from a cryogenic sleep. And since he's long dead, unbeknownst to her, it's all a moot point. Let her have the thing and discover it all herself. It would be good therapy for her. Indeed, Morgaine seems to be obsessed with a lover's quarrel with Arthur, in which she's forgotten what she's arguing for, but she knows she needs to win. Badly. In fact, so badly that legions of troops are brought in to a fight to the death. What she really needs is a good psychiatrist. Most of the story's energy goes into empty battle sequences, yet the sole scene of psychiatry that actually tackles the main issue feels unconvincing, succeeding only because the story must end after four episodes.

One also has to wonder why the Doctor and Ace bother to remove Excalibur from the underwater spaceship, and then taunt Morgaine's forces with it for the latter two episodes, only to stick it back in the spaceship again at the end. We could have left it there all along. Most efficiently, the Doctor could have made just one trip down there, uncovering the mystery side-by-side with Morgaine, where she can be most effectively confronted with the truth about the pointlessness of her obsessions.

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 part one, where Brigadier Winifred Bambera has no one to confide in or voice her internal questions and concerns to, making her unsuitable as a cinematic exploring protagonist. Give her a subordinate, and a scene for the two to exchange thoughts on who the other combatants are and what this all means, and it's a different story.

In later episodes, big action sequences include Bambera and Ancelyn being attacked in the woods en route to the convoy, and a major battle at the convoy itself. In both cases, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart has a chance to respond to these situations, and in both cases, he is seen casually leaning back in a vehicle, acting a little too relaxed, and not caring to invest in such battles thus encouraging the audience to follow suit. Perhaps if he could articulate that it's more important that he and the rest of his party go do something else, the audience could stay engaged, but we don't really get that either.


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 needed.

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.
Click on the Amazon symbol for the location nearest you for pricing and availability:
DVD NTSC Region 1
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
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DVD PAL Region 2
for the U.K.
VHS Video
NTSC A in the U.S.
NTSC B in the U.S.
NTSC in Canada
PAL for the U.K.

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Read the In-depth Analysis Review for the next story: "Ghost Light"



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