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U.N.I.T. Adventure with the Seventh Doctor and Ace
‘Doctor Who’ faces the axe! But don’t worry! It won’t be for long!
Nowadays, I look forward to whenever a Blu-ray box set of classic ‘Doctor Who’ comes out. Whilst people are still divided over the current series, I find myself lucky in having to enjoy both the latest era on TV as well as former eras shown from 1963 to 1989 that often receive a Blu-ray treatment. 😀
It’s always exciting when the ‘Doctor Who’ YouTube channel release trailers for Blu-ray box sets of classic seasons. By the time of this review, I’ve already seen the trailer for the Season 14 Blu-ray box set of ‘Doctor Who’ with Tom Baker on YouTube. Hopefully Season 20 will get a YouTube trailer soon.
Season 26 was no exception when it was announced back in September 2019. I was excited to see Sophie Aldred reprise her role of Ace in that trailer as well as see a preview of new extras including ‘Behind the Sofa’. Sarah Sutton was in them with Janet Fielding and Anneke Wills this time around. 🙂
The Blu-ray box set of Season 26 of ‘Doctor Who’ is a 7-disc set. Discs 1 and 2 contain various versions of ‘Battlefield’. Disc 3 contains ‘Ghost Light’. Discs 4 and 5 contain various versions of ‘The Curse of Fenric’. And Disc 6 contains ‘Survival’. Disc 7 contains some brand-new bonus material on it.
Yeah, I was spoiled for choice in terms of which version of the stories I should see, considering there many versions of them. In the end, I decided, oh what the heck! I’ll watch all two or three versions of the same story I’m reviewing in this Season 26 Blu-ray box set in order to provide insightful reviews.
In many ways, that’s a good thing when you want to watch seasons of the Sylvester McCoy era of ‘Doctor Who’. Very often, scenes get cut out from the final versions of the Seventh Doctor stories shown on TV. So, to see extended versions of the story whether Special Edition or VHS is quite good!
Season 26 is a very pivotal and significant season. For you see, this is the last season of the classic run of ‘Doctor Who’. It was the last season of the John Nathan-Turner era of ‘Doctor Who’ as producer; it was the last season of Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor and last season for Sophie Aldred’s Ace.
For whatever reason, ‘Doctor Who’ was cancelled in 1989. It had gone through a rough patch in the late 1980s with pressure from BBC bosses who wanted the show to end. They believe it had past its prime. They thought it couldn’t live up to the standards of other sci-fi TV shows going on at the time.
Little did the BBC bosses know that the show would triumphantly return in 2005 with new vision and new vigour! But that’s another story. As well as for the criticisms of violence; visual effects and storytelling, ‘Doctor Who’ was considered poorly made especially with its theatrical set-up in stories.
That in itself is true and whilst script editor Andrew Cartmel was trying to find new ways of revitalising the show, especially with exploring more of the Doctor’s past and giving him a darker backstory, it wasn’t meant to be. The BBC couldn’t see potential in the ‘Doctor Who’ show anymore.
This is a real shame. I was born in the May 1989 before Season 26 of ‘Doctor Who’ was shown on TV. I never got to experience what the TV show was like had it lived on in the 1990s. There were plans for ‘Doctor Who’ to continue had it not been axed, but those plans were scrapped once the axe arrived.
‘Doctor Who’ also suffered in terms of having truncated seasons in Sylvester McCoy’s era. Whilst Sylvester was given opportunities to play a darker version of his Doctor during Season 26, it wasn’t enough to present that in 14 episodes divided into four stories each season. It seems short-changed.
I’ve been able to enjoy the further adventures of the Seventh Doctor era in Big Finish audios as well as a few books I’ve read. It would’ve been interesting to see how the Seventh Doctor era was explored in the 1990s had the show continued. I’m sure it’d match to what the Big Finish audios did.
Sadly, Sylvester McCoy’s era of ‘Doctor Who’ wasn’t to last long and it’s a shame Season 26 had to be the last one of his era as well as the classic series. But is that to say the stories featured in Season 26 aren’t very good. Could there be some merit to be found in the final tales of classic ‘Doctor Who’?
Well, let’s take a look. The season begins with the four-part story ‘Battlefield’ by Ben Aaronovitch, directed by Michael Kerrigan. This was Ben Aaronovitch’s second contribution to the TV series as he wrote ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’ in Season 25. ‘Battlefield’ presents the huge question…is the Doctor really Merlin…or not?! 🙂
As well as featuring Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor and Sophie Aldred as Ace, this four-part adventure also features U.N.I.T.! This means it also features the return of ‘Doctor Who’ fan favourite – Nicholas Courtney as Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart. It was good the Brig came back!
Nick Courtney had been in two ‘Doctor Who’ stories before in the early 1980s following his departure in ‘Terror of the Zygons’ in 1975. They were ‘Mawdryn Undead’ and ‘The Five Doctors’. ‘Battlefield’ would feature the Brigadier’s final appearance in ‘Doctor Who’. At least in the TV series!
I enjoyed this adventure with the Seventh Doctor and Ace. I purchased the DVD of it when I was on a drama summer camp in 2009. I was looking forward to seeing how Sylvester’s Doctor met the Brigadier for the first time. I was so disappointed Sylvester’s Doctor didn’t meet the Brigadier earlier.
Yeah, I didn’t find ‘Battlefield’ to be one of the great U.N.I.T. stories I’ve seen in ‘Doctor Who’. There are moments I’ve enjoyed from it, but with the lack of Doctor and Brigadier together as well as other things, this tale was quite average for me. I know people praise the heck out of it and good for them.
It seems I’m not alone in this. Apparently the writer Ben Aaronovitch has mixed about the story either. ‘Battlefield’ was originally meant to a three-part adventure instead of a four-parter. Ben was asked to include one more episode into the story and from his interviews; it was a bit trial and error.
It was also originally planned to kill the Brigadier off at the end of ‘Battlefield’. Whilst I’m not a fan of killing characters off, even I might do it to supporting ones in my stories, I’m glad the Brigadier wasn’t killed off in ‘Battlefield’. But it did ruin Ben Aaronovitch’s original intention of the tale as he wrote it.
When I originally purchased the 2-disc DVD set of ‘Battlefield’, it had two versions of the story on it. Disc 1 had the original four-part TV version from 1989 and Disc 2 had the Special Edition version of the story, which was an extended feature-length version that had new scenes and CGI effects in it. 😀
Now for the Season 26 Blu-ray, there are three version of the story. There’s the original four-part TV version, the Special Edition version and the extended VHS version. I watched all three versions of ‘Battlefield’ on Blu-ray in order to help me gain clarity and understanding on what the story is about.
In the story, the TARDIS responds to a distress signal. The Doctor and Ace end up near a village called Carbury. Something strange is occurring there. Mystical armoured knights from another dimension appear and attack the English countryside. People of this dimension also see the Doctor as Merlin. 😀
With Earth at the centre of a war belonging to another dimension, the Doctor is determined to end the terror of Morgaine and her forces once and for all. But he’s not alone. He has Ace with him as well as the return of old friend the Brigadier from his U.N.I.T. days. Will they stop the Destroyer too?
Now whilst I find ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’ brilliant compared to ‘Battlefield’, I could see what Ben Aaronovitch was trying to do in both stories. In ‘Remembrance’, something was dealt with from the Doctor’s past. In ‘Battlefield’, something is being dealt with from the Doctor’s future. Interesting!
This is where the idea gets played that the Doctor could be Merlin in the future. There’s a lot of Arthurian legend featured throughout this story. I found it quite intriguing to watch in the three versions of ‘Battlefield’ I saw on Blu-ray, although my knowledge of Arthurian legend is quite limited.
My starting point was with Disney‘s ‘The Sword in the Stone’. I have gained clarity over the years in terms of Arthurian legend from watching ‘Battlefield’, including some references featured in ‘The Moon Stallion’ with Sarah Sutton as well as the film ‘The Kid Who Would Be King’ that I saw in 2019.
The idea that the Doctor could be Merlin or will be Merlin was something I found quite a challenge to grapple with when I first saw this story on DVD. Mind you, the possibility is hard to avoid. It could be in one of the Doctor’s potential futures. We’ve yet to see it since it has not been addressed again.
The Fourth Doctor could also end up as the Curator as seen in ‘The Day of the Doctor’. Or he could the Curator from the end of 2017’s ‘Shada’ into ‘The Day of the Doctor’ somehow. The Doctor as Merlin could look like Angus Imrie or Patrick Stewart as depicted in ‘The Kid Who Would Be King’! 😀
Anyway, Sylvester McCoy did become Merlin in his future, didn’t he? ‘The Hobbit’ film trilogy is proof of that! 😀 Okay, I’ll stop there. It was interesting to see a mix of medieval aspects in a contemporary setting with knights fighting U.N.I.T. soldiers. Quite a contrast of time periods there! 🙂
I did enjoy the U.N.I.T. aspects of ‘Battlefield’ in this adventure. It was a familiar aspect of ‘Doctor Who’ from the 1970s. It was good to see this portrayed in a story towards the end of the classic run of the series. This tale is presumably set in the 1990s when the Doctor and Ace encountered 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’. He doesn’t deny the possibility he might become Merlin.
I liked the Doctor’s scenes with Ace when they discovered a spaceship underground with King Arthur inside. It was funny when he demanded to the ship, “Open up! It’s me!” and the doors opened for him. It was so intriguing 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 she questions the claims made that the Doctor is Merlin and I liked it when she asked him whether he is Merlin or not. Ace enjoys blowing things up again here! 😀
In the story, Ace gets to pull out the sword Excalibur from ‘the stone’ in the spaceship with King Arthur inside. The moment where she rises up from the lake with Excalibur in her hand was exciting. Ace and Shou in the inn where they faced Morgaine and the demon-like Destroyer were quite scary.
During the making of the story, there was a point where Sophie Aldred could’ve drowned when an accident occurred in a water tank she was in. Thankfully Sylvester McCoy was there on set to shout loud to everyone to get her out. I’m grateful to Sylvester for saving Sophie’s life during that moment.
Nicholas Courtney returns as the Brigadier! It was intriguing to see the Brigadier now retired from his U.N.I.T. days as well as being a teacher in ‘Mawdryn Undead’. He’s now happily married with his wife Doris and doesn’t want to go back to be a soldier. That’s until he hears the Doctor’s ‘back in town’.
I liked that scene where the Brigadier rescued the Doctor and meets him for the first time. It was a magical moment between them. It was also good to see the Brig brave as ever, especially when he was about to self-sacrifice himself. That scene where the Doctor thought he was dead was touching.
Angela Bruce makes her first appearance as Brigadier Winifred Bambera in ‘Doctor Who’! Bambera is a new person in charge of U.N.I.T. in the UK as she’s taken over from the Brigadier. She’s a black, no-nonsense woman, determined to see things done her way and loves fighting with a gun and 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 whom she doesn’t like being called ‘my lady’ by him. It was an interesting moment when the two Brigadiers do meet at last.
Jean Marsh guest stars as Morgaine, an evil sorceress in the story. Jean is well-known to ‘Doctor Who’ fans as Sara Kingdom, a short-time companion of the First Doctor. Here she plays a not-so-nice character here, since she is power-hungry and she wants to see that the Doctor (Merlin) never wins.
There were times when I didn’t quite understand Morgaine’s motives. She seemed to want to conquer the world with the sword Excalibur and was willing to unleash the Destroyer on the Doctor. But there were a few moments when she wasn’t evil since 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 good side. I liked the way Ancelyn talked. He seemed able to cope with the new world he entered into from his dimension and has an interesting relationship with Bambera. He seems to like her here.
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’s fighting 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 once he was 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 they realised their minds had been played with.
The guest cast also includes Angela Douglas as Doris, the Brigadier’s wife and Robert Jezek (who played Frobisher in the Big Finish audios of ‘Doctor Who’) as Sergeant Zbringniev. There’s also Noel Collins as Pat Rawlinson and June Bland (from ‘Earthshock’) as Elizabeth Rawlinson, who is first blind.
There’s also James Ellis, who I’ve seen recently in an episode of ‘All Creatures Great and Small’, as Peter Warmsly. There’s also Dorotha Rae as Flight Lieutenant Lavel. I found Lavel a rather nice character in the story and was saddened when she got turned to dust by Morgaine during the story.
The story’s monster is the Destroyer, played by Marek Anton. The monster design for the Destroyer is effective and scary. It looks like a blue demon and the animatronics for the mask of the Destroyer are impressive for its time. It was very tense once the Destroyer got 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 the story. The model effects and the special effects were very impressive too. I was gripped by the U.N.I.T. soldiers fighting Morgaine’s soldiers in battle.
The original DVD special features were as follows. As well as the original four-part TV version of the story, there were two behind-the-scenes making-of documentaries, including ‘Storm Over Avallion’ that focused on the story’s production and ‘Past and Future King’ focusing on the story’s writing. There was the ‘Watertank’ behind-the-scenes featurette focusing on the on-set accident involving Sophie Aldred and there was some studio recording behind-the-scenes footage of the story. There was also ‘From Kingdom to Queen’ which was an enjoyable interview with Jean Marsh about her career in ‘Doctor Who’. There were also BBC trailers and continuity announcements (including a BBC2 repeat) for the story and a photo gallery of the story. There were audio options including a stereo sound audio mix option for the story; a DVD audio commentary with Sophie Aldred, Nicholas Courtney, Angela Bruce, writer Ben Aaronovitch and script editor Andrew Cartmel. There was also an isolated music option by Keff McCulloch. There was an info-text commentary option to enjoy and PDF materials including a ‘Radio Times Listings’ PDF of the story.
There was also the Special Edition version of ‘Battlefield’, which gives a clearer idea of the story with it having new scenes and new CGI effects in it. There was also a Season 26 trailer to promote Sylvester McCoy’s third and final season of ‘Doctor Who’ as well as the ‘coming soon’ DVD trailer for ‘The E-Space Trilogy’ (‘Full Circle’, ‘State of Decay’ and ‘Warriors’ Gate’) with Tom Baker, Lalla Ward, Matthew Waterhouse and K-9 (now included on the ‘Meglos’ disc for the Season 18 Blu-ray box set).
On Disc 1 of the ‘Doctor Who – The Collection – Season 26’ Blu-ray, the original four-part TV version of the story; the Special Edition version of the story; the DVD audio commentary and the Season 26 trailer can be found on there. The original four-part TV version of the story and the Special Edition version of the story now have two audio options including a stereo sound audio mix option and a 5.1 surround sound audio mix option. The BBC trailers and continuity announcements; the isolated music option; the photo gallery and the info-text commentary option for ‘Battlefield’ have been updated for 2020 on the Blu-ray.
On the PDF front, as well as the ‘Radio Times Listings’ of the story, there are also production documents; scripts and design drawings. You need a special Blu-ray computer drive for that.
On Disc 2 of the ‘Doctor Who – The Collection – Season 26’ Blu-ray, the ‘Storm Over Avallion’ and the ‘Past and Future King’ making-of documentaries; the ‘Watertank’ behind-the-scenes featurette and the ‘From Kingdom to Queen’ interview can be found on there. The studio recording behind-the-scenes footage for ‘Battlefield’ has been updated into extended studio and location footage for 2020 on the Blu-ray.
The new special features on Blu-ray include the extended four-part VHS version of ‘Battlefield’. This has both the stereo sound audio mix option and the 5.1 surround sound audio mix option as with the original four-part TV version of the story and the Special Edition version of the story. There’s also the ‘Behind the Sofa’ feature on ‘Battlefield’ with Sylvester McCoy (the Seventh Doctor) and Sophie Aldred (Ace) as well as Anneke Wills (Polly); Janet Fielding (Tegan) and Sarah Sutton (Nyssa) as well as new series writer Joy Wilkinson and new series writer Pete McTighe. There’s the ‘Becoming The Destroyer’ interview with Marek Anton; gallery FX footage; an excerpt from ‘The Noel Edmonds Saturday Roadshow’ featuring Sylvester McCoy and there’s the ‘Remembering Nicholas Courtney’ tribute featuring an interview with the chap (taken from the ‘More Than 30 Years In The TARDIS’ DVD).
‘Battlefield’ has been an enjoyable adventure with the Seventh Doctor and Ace. It was great to see the Brigadier in this adventure too and to have him meet Sylvester’s Doctor in it. At first, I was baffled by the Arthurian legend featured in this story and was quite underwhelmed from watching it.
But after seeing the story more than once, especially through its three versions on Blu-ray, I appreciate ‘Battlefield’ more. It’s a decent story to start off the season. But things would progress in a very different direction, especially with how Ace’s character gets concerned and how she develops.
‘Battlefield’ rating – 7/10
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