Day 358 — December 24th 2021
Battlefield Parts One and Two
Battlefield — Part One
I know they decided to open the season with the return of the Brigadier, but kicking off the new run of adventures with a shot of a couple doing some shopping in a garden centre isn’t the most thrilling thing Doctor Who has ever done. At the very least open with all the UNIT jeeps rolling along in a convoy and then cut from that to find ‘our’ Brigadier enjoying his retirement!
Still, it’s lovely to have him back — it’s made me smile even more than I’d expected. It somehow feels right that he should be here to meet another incarnation of his friend, and I love that he’s willing to jump into action the second he discovers that Doctor Who’s involved. I meant to mention it last season but forgot — it’s totally my head canon that Nicholas Courtney’s cameo in Silver Nemesis (where he’s one of the people in the group of tourists at Windsor Castle) is the Brig on a weekend break, so it feels fitting that he should finally have a run in with the incarnation he just missed the year before.
What’s strange, though, is that no one seems to know anything about Doctor Who. Bambera doesn’t seem aware of him, and has to have the idea of a Scientific Advisor who can change his face explained to her. That feels bad enough (surely learning about Doctor Who is day one of training when you’re in UNIT?), but even worse is that the Brigadier’s wife has to ask who he is when he gets kitted up to charge into battle. You’re telling me the Brig has never told her about Doctor Who? I know his work was top secret, but come on! It’s only something small but it takes me out of the story a bit because it seems far more implausible to me than knights flying through space.
On the subject of which; this era is really good at doing brilliant visuals, and the idea of medieval knights crashing down to Earth then having a battle with ray guns is brilliant — it’s so perfectly Doctor Who. The execution might not be the best (it feels like a bit of a backwards step after the great shots of Earth we had in the likes of Remembrance), but I can’t fault the basic idea of it.
I’m also enjoying the little touches they’ve put in to make this story appear as though it’s set a few years ahead of broadcast. Little things like the price of the drinks at the pub (‘Remember, we are in the future,’ advises Doctor Who when Ace calls the barman out on the cost), plus Doctor Who paying with a £5 coin. There’s talk of the phones in people’s cars being down (such things did exist at the time, but they weren’t exactly commonplace), and the Brig even mentions ‘the King’, clearly intended as a nod to Charles. In hindsight that looks like the big giveaway that things are different in this story than in our world — or indeed in New Testament Doctor Who, where Liz is still on the throne at least as late as 2010. I don’t think it’s a massive issue, though, because it comes across more a figure of speech than anything.
It would be remiss of me to not mention that this is the last time we’ll be seeing the TARDIS interior as part of the programme’s original run. By this point the walls weren’t around any more, so they were forced to replace them with a curtain draped around the back of the set, and hide that fact by turning down the lights. I have to say I’m quite keen on that! The Control Room always looks great with the lights turned down, and I don’t think I’d especially notice that anything was amiss if I didn’t know.
A decent enough opening, but I’m not sure it’s totally grabbing me yet. 6/10.
Battlefield — Part Two
I said during The Curse of Fenric that it felt like they were making the show for an older audience all of a sudden, but I’d like to take that back, because this is the most ‘kids TV’ the series has been since Season Twenty-Four, and not really in a good way. There’s something about the whole atmosphere of this story which feels more lightweight than the last few adventures, and the biggest part of that is the way the cast are pitching their performances.
For the guest cast it’s sort of excusable. Christopher Bowen as Mordred is especially going quite broad — almost pantomime — in his delivery, and I think Angela Bruce is aiming towards a younger audience, too. The person who suffers the most from this, though, is Sylvester McCoy. During Season Twenty-Four I commented that he wasn’t always the best at anger, and it was this story I was specifically thinking of. It’s a later moment which sprung to mind the quickest, but he seems to be going especially broad in this episode, almost sending the whole thing up with gurning and bizarre choices of delivery. It’s a huge shame because he’s been especially good during the last few stories, and yet when I watch this one I think I can see what people mean when they say they’re not keen on his incarnation. He feels like a caricature here in a way I don’t think he does anywhere else.
I think his performance here — along with the choices of some of the guest cast — actively works to undermine the story, and that’s a pity because this episode contains some of the most interesting ideas we’ve seen in the show. I love the casual revelation of the mysterious text at the archeological dig site;
Peter Warmsley: ‘That’s a bit of a mystery. No one’s been able to decipher
Doctor Who: ‘It says, “Dig Hole Here”.’
Peter Warmsley: ‘Extraordinary! What does it say that in?’
Doctor Who: ‘My handwriting.’
That’s the kind of thing Steven Moffat would do with the show twenty years later, and it’s a brilliant idea. Cheeky, fun, and just mysterious enough to keep you guessing. I also love the moment inside the ship where Doctor Who’s able to open a locked door simply by telling it to open. Again, it’s a very Moffat thing, laces with a bit of Douglas Adams. In fairness, both of these moments are played brilliantly by McCoy, which just makes his choices elsewhere all the more frustrating.
There’s some lovely dialogue in here, too, which sounds plausibly Athurian. ‘Do you not ride the ship of time?’ asks Ancelyn. ‘Does it not deceive the senses being larger within than out?’. I’m also a big fan of Morgaine stopping her attack to pay respect to the soldiers of the world wars — it’s such a nice bit of character work which sells the idea of honour among her people incredibly well. I enjoy her first confrontation with the Brigadier, and I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated before that Jean Marsh appears in both Nicholas Courtney’s first and last Doctor Who stories — and she doesn’t appear in any in between the two, while he’s in loads.
I’m dropping to a 5/10 for this one — the great ideas are offset by the general air of CBBC.