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U.N.I.T. Adventure with the Seventh Doctor and Ace
Is the Doctor really Merlin…or not?!
‘Battlefield’ is a four-part story by Ben Aaronvitch and was the first story of Season 26 in ‘Doctor Who’. It stars Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor and Sophie Aldred as Ace. It also features U.N.I.T. which means it’s also the return of Nicholas Courtney as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, friend of the Doctor.
I enjoyed this adventure with the Doctor and Ace. I purchased the DVD when I was away at a drama summer camp in 2009. I was looking forward to seeing how Sylvester’s Doctor meets the Brigadier for the first time. It’s not the greatest U.N.I.T. story I’ve seen, but there are moments I have enjoyed.
This is a 2-disc DVD set of ‘Battlefield’ with two versions of the story on it. Disc 1 contains the original four-part TV version from 1989. Disc 2 contains the special edition version of ‘Battlefield’, which is an extended feature-length version of the story with new scenes and special effects on it.
The TARDIS responds to a distress signal, and the Doctor and Ace end up near the village of Carbury. Something strange happens in the area as mystical armoured knights from another dimension attack the English countryside. Also people from this other dimension seem to believe the Doctor is Merlin.
With Earth at the centre of a war not belonging to this dimension, the Doctor is determined to end the terror of Morgaine and her forces once and for all. But he’s not alone, as he has Ace with him and the return of his old friend, the Brigadier, from his U.N.I.T. days. Will they stop the Destroyer?!
Ben Aaronvitch previously wrote for ‘Doctor Who’ before, as he wrote the brilliant ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’ story. In that story, he dealt with something from the Doctor’s past. In ‘Battlefield’, Ben deals with something from the Doctor’s future he plays with the idea that the Doctor will be Merlin.
There’s a lot of Arthurian legend influenced throughout this story. I found this interesting and intriguing to follow, although my knowledge of Arthurian legend only goes as far as Disney’s ‘The Sword of the Stone’. It was interesting to see the mix of medieval aspects in a contemporary setting.
The idea that the Doctor is Merlin (or will be Merlin) is something I found quite a challenge to grapple with at first. But the possibility is hard to avoid, as it could be one of the Doctor’s potential futures. After all, the Fourth Doctor could end up as the Curator as seemed in ‘The Day of the Doctor’.
I enjoyed the U.N.I.T. aspects of ‘Battlefield’ in this adventure. It was a familiar aspect of ‘Doctor Who’ in the 1970s and it was good to see this portrayed in a story towards the end of the classic run of the series. This adventure is presumably set in the 1990s when the Doctor and Ace meet U.N.I.T.
Sylvester McCoy is great as the Doctor in this adventure. By this point, Sylvester’s Doctor gets to be more mysterious and darker compared to his previous outings in the first two seasons. He’s intrigued by what’s going on in ‘Battlefield’ and doesn’t deny the possibility he will become Merlin.
I liked the Doctor’s scenes with Ace when they discover spaceship underground with King Arthur inside. It was funny when he demanded to the ship, “Open up! It’s me!” and the doors opens for him. It was interesting to see how he deals and confronts Morgaine through and at the story’s end.
Sophie Aldred is equally great as Ace. She’s very forthright throughout this story and makes new friends with Shou Yuing. I like how he questions the claims made that the Doctor is Merlin and liked the scene when she asks him whether he is Merlin or not. She enjoys blowing things up again in this.
Ace gets to pull out the sword Excalibur from ‘the stone’ in the spaceship with King Arthur inside. The moment when she rises from the lake with Excalibur in her hand was exciting and the scenes where Ace and Shou are in the inn, facing Morgaine and the demon-like Destroyer were quite scary.
Nicholas Courtney returns as the Brigadier. It was interesting to see the Brigadier now retired from his U.N.I.T. days and being a teacher in ‘Mawdryn Undead’. He’s now happily married with his wife Doris and doesn’t intent to go back to be a soldier. That is until he hears the Doctor is back in town.
I liked that scene when the Brigadier rescues the Doctor and meets him for the first time. It was a magical moment between them. It was also good to see him as brave as ever, especially when he makes a sacrifice to kill the Destroyer. That scene when the Doctor thinks he’s dead was touching.
Angela Bruce makes her first appearance as Brigadier Winifred Bambera in ‘Doctor Who’. Bambera is the new person in charge of U.N.I.T. in the UK, taking over from the Brigadier. She’s a black, no-nonsense woman, determined to see things done her way and loves fighting with a gun or a sword.
Bambera doesn’t trust the Doctor and Ace when she first meets them and quickly suspects them for not who they say they are. She has an interesting relationship with Ancelyn who she doesn’t being called ‘my lady’ by him. It was an interesting moment when the two Brigadiers do meet at last here.
Jean Marsh guest stars as Morgaine, an evil sorceress in this story. Jean is well-known to ‘Doctor Who’ fans as Sara Kingdom, short-time companion of the First Doctor. Here she plays a not-so-nice character in this, as she’s power-hungry and she wants to see that the Doctor (Merlin) is defeated.
There were times when I didn’t quite understand Morgaine’s motives as she seems to want to conquer the world with the sword Excalibur and is willing to unleash the Destroyer on the Doctor. But there were a few moments when she wasn’t as evil as she cured Pat Rawlinson of her blindness.
Marcus Gilbert guest stars as Ancelyn, a warrior who recognises the Doctor as ‘Merlin’ and is on the side of good. I liked the way Ancelyn talks as he seems able to cope with the new world he’s entered in from his dimension. He has an interesting relationship with Bambera and seems to like her in this.
Christopher Bowen guest stars as Mordred, the son of Morgaine. Mordred fights for her mother and relishes in the evil and harm he causes to others when he fights in battle or drinks pints at an inn. I felt sorry for Mordred in a way when her mother was willing to let him die when being threatened.
Ling Tai guest stars as Shou Yuing, Ace’s new friend in the story. It was nice to see Ace make friends with Shou. They shared things in common such as blowing things up and being feisty. It was quite tense when the two bickered with each other before realising Morgaine was playing on their mind.
The cast also includes Angela Douglas as Doris, the Brigadier’s wife; Robert Jezek (who played Frobisher in the Big Finish audios of ‘Doctor Who’) as Sergeant Zbringniev; Noel Collins as Pat Rawlinson; June Bland (from ‘Earthshock’) as Elizabeth Rawlinson and James Ellis as Peter Warmsly.
The monster is the Destroyer, played by Marek Anton. The design of the Destroyer monster is very effective and scary. It looks like a blue demon and the animatronics for the mask of the Destroyer are impressive for its time. It gets so tense when the Destroyer gets freed of its chains by Morgaine.
Bessie, the Doctor’s yellow roadster from the 1970s makes a return in ‘Battlefield’. I was pleased to see Bessie back in business in ‘Doctor Who’. Sylvester’s Doctor was pleased to see her too. I enjoyed it when Sylvester got to drive Bessie and he drove her at a super-fast speed which impressed Ace.
The location work for this story is very good as I enjoyed the familiar English countryside settings that worked well for the action sequences in this story. The model effects and special effects shots were very impressive too. I was gripped by the U.N.I.T. soldiers fighting Morgaine’s soldiers in battle.
The DVD special features are as follows. On Disc 1, there are two making-of documentaries on ‘Battlefield’. The first is ‘Storm Over Avallion’ focusing on the story’s production and the second is ‘Past and Future King’ focusing on the story’s writing. Both contain behind-the-scenes interviews.
There’s also ‘Watertank’, a behind-the-scenes featurette focusing on an on-set accident that Sophie Aldred had during the making-of ‘Battlefield’. I was shocked to discover that Sophie was in trouble when she was inside the water-tank that shattered but pleased that Sylvester managed to save her.
There’s also ‘Studio Recording’, more behind-the-scenes footage of the story. And there’s ‘From Kingdom to Queen’, a very enjoyable interview with Jean Marsh about her career in ‘Doctor Who’.
There are also trailers and continuities (including a BBC2 repeat) and a photo gallery of the story.
There’s also a commentary with Sophie Aldred; Nicholas Courtney; Angela Bruce; writer Ben Aaronvitch and script editor Andrew Cartmel and an isolated music option by Keff McCulloch. There’s also an info-text commentary option to enjoy and a ‘Radio Times Listings’ PDF of the story.
On Disc 2, there’s the special edition version of ‘Battlefield’. I saw this version of ‘Battlefield’ recently and enjoyed every minute of it. I was able to get a clearer idea of the story from watching the special edition version. I enjoyed seeing the new scenes featured in it as well as some of the special effects.
There are also two trailers. The first is a ‘Season 26 Trailer’ that was shown in 1989 promoting Sylvester McCoy’s third season in ‘Doctor Who’. The second is a ‘coming soon’ trailer of ‘The E-Space Trilogy’ DVD (‘Full Circle’; ‘State of Decay’ and ‘Warriors’ Gate’) with Tom Baker; Lalla Ward; Matthew Waterhouse and K-9.
‘Battlefield’ has been an enjoyable adventure with the Seventh Doctor and Ace. It was great to see the Brigadier in this too and have him meet Sylvester’s Doctor in it. At first, I was baffled by the Arthurian legend influence in this story. But after seeing this story a few times, I appreciate it more.
‘Battlefield’ rating – 7/10
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