Battlefield

My blood and thunder days are long past.

Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart

Synopsis

The Doctor and Ace arrive near Carbury, where the Doctor re-encounters UNIT, headed by Brigadier Winifred Bambera, who has a nuclear convoy nearby Lake Vortigern. At the bottom of that lake is a spaceship from another dimension, containing King Arthur held in suspended animation and his sword, Excalibur.

A knight, Ancelyn, arrives on Earth to help his King, but is followed by the villainous Morgaine and Mordred, all of whom recognise the Doctor as Merlin. The involvement of the Doctor ultimately brings Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart out of his cosy retirement to join the inevitable fight.

Mini Review

The Brigadier is in this. So clearly this is a 10/10.

What? You want a full review? Oh, go on then.

Review

Battlefield is probably the weakest story in the final season, but it is not as bad as that would suggest. The final season of the original show’s run is known for perhaps being one of the strongest in its history and Battlefield kicks things off with a nod to the show’s past in the shape of the Brigadier and a romp of a story concerning Arthurian mythology with knights from other dimensions. It’s reputation is probably not helped by the fact that it came from the pen of Ben Aaronovitch, who wrote the superb season opener for the previous season, Remembrance of the Daleks, which I think we’d all prefer to remember as the real 25th Anniversary story than Silver Nemesis. There are flaws, as with a lot of Doctor Who, but to me, Battlefield feels like a comfort blanket.

The problems with this story really circulate around the writing, direction and music. Keff McCulloch’s score feels really overblown and intrusive. Those who find Murray Gold’s early scores to be too over the top should watch this story and see how understated Gold’s music is in comparison. When it comes to the direction, it is interesting to compare this story to the early Jon Pertwee era where the HAVOC team performed a lot of the stunts. Meanwhile here, the action scenes feel rather flat and lifeless, in particular the battle between Mordred’s forces and UNIT, which does make it difficult to take them seriously. When it comes to the writing of the story, there are some really poorly written aspects, such as Ace and Ling Tai’s dialogue, which makes it feel like nobody on the production team had ever spoken to another teenager, and, like in previous review of The Ultimate Evil, Mordred has moments where all he seems to do is manically laugh for what feels like five minutes at a time. It does feel as though there are too many characters here, and perhaps this was realised by the production team as they remove characters like Warmsly and the owners of the hotel later on in the narrative. Additionally, there are some logical leaps, like why Morgaine’s army fight with a combination of laser guns and grenades, but on the other hand, just normal medieval swords. For all the writing problems, there are moments like where the Doctor explains to Ace that the reverse of Clarke’s Law is also true, which reminds me of when Thor explains how Asgard works to Jane Foster in his first movie.

Can someone tell me what on earth is going on?

Well if my hunch is right, the Earth could be at the centre of a war that doesn’t even belong to this dimension!

Shou Yuing and the Seventh Doctor

I’ll move on to something that I think is more positive: the return of the Brigadier. This is a different Lethbridge-Stewart to the one that was last seen in The Five Doctors and Mawdryn Undead, as he is domesticated, only interested in getting involved when he knows that the Doctor is there. It’s a lovely moment between Sylvester McCoy and Nicholas Courtney when the Brigadier immediately recognises him as The Doctor. He is a bit more uncomfortable when it comes to dealing with Ace, addressing her as the latest one, but it is perhaps a poor bit of writing for her reaction. Ace came in immediately as her predecessor, Mel, left, so she doesn’t have the excuse of not knowing that the Doctor has travelled with others before her. Perhaps it is supposed to denote that Ace isn’t like the previous companions, but it is poorly written and makes Ace seem rude to someone she has just met. Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart acts as a comparison to Brigadier Bambera, played by Angela Bruce. Bambera comes across as much more cold and clinical, perhaps understandably as she doesn’t have the same back catalogue of appearances as Lethbridge-Stewart. Her appointment is just one of the sweeping changes that seem to have occurred since we’ve last seen UNIT, which seems to have come on leaps and bounds as a military organisation since we last saw them briefly in The Five Doctors. They seem a lot more capable than they were in the Pertwee era and have made developments It is perhaps surprising, however, that Bambera has not been briefed as to the possibility of encountering the Doctor.

The villains of the piece are a bit of a mixed bag: on the positive side, there are Morgaine and the Destroyer, on the negative is Mordred. Jean Marsh does really well with Morgaine, who could become overblown in different hands, but she takes this part and makes it really good. Her scene with Courtney after his helicopter is blown up is great and she does certainly carry off her performance with a sense of majesty. The Destroyer is, from a technical point of view, spectacular especially in a story where the lack of budget is painfully obvious. Unfortunately, as mentioned above, Mordred is rather poor. It’s rare that I find a character so annoying that I was glad when Morgaine was willing to let him die at the hands of the Brigadier, then frustrated when he cropped back up. Having been slightly obsessed with Arthurian legend in my childhood, I liked the idea that they were from an alternate dimension where Arthurian legend was closer to reality.

The Seventh Doctor is central to this story, trapped in a situation orchestrated by his future self, known as Merlin and this is a good performance from McCoy. At times he is utterly bluffing his position but at others, he is utterly in control. He is in his element when he is dealing with the Brigadier and it is utterly believable that he is a future incarnation of Pertwee’s Doctor. Sophie Aldred doesn’t have a lot to do here, and isn’t terribly well written. This story does include her throwing a racial slur at Shou when Morgaine is trying to manipulate them to get her own hands on Excalibur, which is troubling. It also does go some way to explain that Ace is a bit of an outcast and doesn’t really have friends outside of her travels in the TARDIS, something which would be explored more in the season to come.

Verdict: This is no Remembrance of the Daleks, but frankly, few things are. Aaronovitch’s difficult second episode is good fun, if littered with issues around writing, direction and music, but ultimately is quite easy watching. 7/10

Cast: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Sophie Aldred (Ace), Jean Marsh (Morgaine), Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart), James Ellis (Peter Warmsly), Angela Bruce (Brigadier Winifred Bambera), Christopher Bowen (Mordred), Marcus Gilbert (Ancelyn), Angela Douglas (Doris Lethbridge-Stewart), Noel Collins (Pat Rowlinson), June Bland (Elizabeth Rowlinson), Ling Tai (Shou Yuing), Robert Jezek (Sergeant Zbrigniev), Dorota Rae (Flight Lieutenant Lavel), Stefan Schwartz (Knight Commander), Paul Tomany (Major Husak) & Marek Anton (The Destroyer).

Writer: Ben Aaronovitch

Director: Michael Kerrigan

Parts: 4

Behind the Scenes

  • This story marks Nicholas Courtney’s final appearance in televised Doctor Who ahead of his passing in 2011, and the Brigadier was written out in The Wedding of River Song. Courtney did reprise the role in The Sarah Jane Adventures and in the independent production Downtime, as well as for Big Finish.
  • In the original outline for this story, the Brigadier was going to die, however, when the production team realised that this was going to be largely overshadowed by explosions, they reconsidered.
  • Graeme Harper was approached to direct, however, he was busy working on Boon.
  • The water tank sequence at the end of Part 2 almost caused catastrophy when the glass began to crack, sending water over the studio floor towards live wires. Sylvester McCoy alerted the crew by breaking character and swearing to get Sophie Aldred out of the tank. The majority of the cast and crew, including Aldred, believe that she would have died without McCoy’s intervention, however, Gary Downie disputed that Aldred was at any risk, but the floor crew were.
  • The last story to feature Bessie, the Third Doctor’s vintage car, in original footage. Bessie would appear in The Name of the Doctor, but only in archive footage.
  • The last serial of the original run to feature the TARDIS interior. The scene in Part One was shot on a hastily constructed set, covered up by shooting in semi-darkness. The regular scenery had been accidently disposed of after recording The Greatest Show in the Galaxy.
  • Working titles for this story included Knightfall, Storm over Avallion, Lakes Over Avallion, Pool of Avallion, Song of Avallion, Stormtroopers of Avallion and The Battlefield.
  • Part One had the lowest rating of an episode of Doctor Who at 3.1 million viewers.

Cast Notes

  • Jean Marsh had previously appeared in The Crusade and The Dalek’s Master Plan. Coincidentally, Nicholas Courtney was also in The Dalek’s Master Plan.
  • June Bland had previously appeared in Earthshock.
  • Angela Bruce would reprise her role as Brigadier Bambera in the Big Finish audio story, Animal.

Best Moment

As someone who is fond of the Brigadier, I do quite like his face-off with the Destroyer, followed by the revelation that he is not dead, but prepared to hand his responsibilities over to Ace.

Best Quote

Ahh…little man. What do you want of me?

Get off my world!

Pitiful. Can this world do no better than you as their champion?

Probably. I just do the best I can.

The Destroyer and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart

Previous Seventh Doctor Review: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy

Further Reading

Remembrance of the Daleks

The Ultimate Evil

Synopsis

With the TARDIS working perfectly, the Doctor and Peri use a gadget from the storage locker to find a holiday destination. On arriving on the seemingly peaceful planet of Tranquelya, they find that a hate ray is sweeping the continent, turning the civilians into rampant beasts and it can only originate from the other continent, home to their ancient enemies, Ameliarians.

Review

I came into this story with quite high expectations thanks to enjoying The Elite and enjoying The Nightmare Fair. Sadly, The Ultimate Evil feels a bit of a disappointment. Whilst the idea at the story’s core is a good one, it is let down by some poorly written dialogue and overacting.

One thing that is fantastic about this story is the sound design by Nigel Fairs, which does phenomenal work in evoking the Sixth Doctor’s television era. It is small things like this that really make a big difference to these Lost Stories and gives a narrative shorthand to where we are in the timeline of the Doctor and Peri’s relationship, for instance. In all of the Lost Stories that I’ve reviewed so far, the music and general sound design has been fantastic for establishing this. Helen Goldwyn’s direction also helps to recreate the feeling of a continuation from Season 23, and largely manages to keep the guest performances on the right side of overblown. That being said, she can’t do very much about the fact that Mordant

I think the biggest problem with The Ultimate Evil is that it feels pretty derivative of Vengeance on Varos, which, in my opinion is a far superior story. The very nature of having an antagonist who is watching the Doctor’s every move feels familiar and the general atmosphere of the story feels very gritty, which is both a plus and a minus. I’m not sure that Doctor Who, regardless of trouble behind the scenes, could have survived having two back-to-back Seasons with the tone of Season 22. Ultimately, the story feels so genuine Saward-era Doctor Who because the Doctor and Peri are absent from the main action for over thirty minutes of the narrative. It is no secret that Eric Saward was not in favour of the casting of Colin Baker as the Doctor, and the way he dealt with this was by keeping the Doctor apart from the action for as long as he possibly could. As much as I liked the Doctor’s outrage and feelings of betrayal that the TARDIS is working perfectly when he has nowhere in particular to be, the longer this scene goes on it just feels like a diversion. That being said, Daly’s story does having some interesting ideas. I like the idea of weaponising emotions like anger and fear, that Mordant is attempting to sell to the Tranquelans to restart the war with their neighbouring continent. I also liked the fact that when the Doctor visited them to warn them of the impending attack, the Amelierians were not the traditional peaceful society that we see in other stories, for instance Genesis of the Daleks. There are also ideas that aren’t developed fully, for instance, the fact that Peri is a doppelganger for Mariana, who dies at the beginning of the story. Despite being mentioned a couple of times and being given as justifications for the Tranquelans being so angry when the Doctor and Peri arrive, not very much else is done with this, and ultimately it feels pointless when it is revealed that Mariana is, in fact alive in the story’s closing moments.

The guest cast here are really quite similar and there are few stand-out performances. Mordant feels like rehash of Sil as well, which is ultimately disappointing and as he spends what feels like most of the story maniacally laughing, it is difficult to take him too seriously. Robin Sebastian does his best with what is essentially a one-dimensional villain who feels as though he is ultimately dispatched too easily by the Doctor. Guy Burgess does bring some feelings of distrust and sliminess to the character of Escoval, the traitor, but otherwise they are pretty non-descript.

Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant are pretty good here, even if the narrative sees them spend most of the story apart. They are both particularly good in the opening TARDIS scenes, which highlights how their relationship has become a bit more amiable. Colin Baker and script editor John Dorney reflect on how the character has changed in the interviews, highlighting elements like the Doctor’s tendency to repeat words getting more and more outraged as a shorthand to do this, which is something that I hadn’t really noticed before.

Verdict: Sadly, The Ultimate Evil is quite bland and derivative, which is a shame because it does have an interesting idea at its heart. It’s worth a listen but probably doesn’t have much replay value. 3/10

Cast: Colin Baker (The Doctor), Nicola Bryant (Peri Brown/Mariana), Robin Sebastian (Mordant), Kim Durham (Abatan), Guy Burgess (Escoval), Jack Forsyth-Noble (Locas), Paul Panting (Ravlos), Issy Van Randwyck (Koreelya), Jack Myers (Shankel/Leader) & Wally K Daly (The Bird).

Writer: Wally K Daly

Director: Helen Goldwyn

Parts: 2

Behind the Scenes

  • Big Finish did attempt to obtain the rights for this story in the original run of Lost Stories, however, Wally K Daly was involved in adapting the story for a version for the RNIB. The story had previously been novelised for Target Books.
  • Had the story been made for television, it would have been directed by Fiona Cumming.

Cast Notes

  • Robin Sebastian has also appeared in The Masquerade of Death and Imperatrix.
  • Paul Panting has appeared in a number of Big Finish plays, including Revenge of the Swarm and Mistfall.
  • Issy Van Randwyck has appeared in Family Matters, Requiem for the Doctor and Carnival of Angels.

Best Quote

Look at this, Peri!

Hmm…an ostrich egg on a plinth.

You have no idea. Follow me!

The Sixth Doctor and Peri Brown

Previous Sixth Doctor Review: The Nightmare Fair

The Elite

Helping a Dalek – has it come to this?

The Fifth Doctor

Synopsis

The Doctor offers Nyssa and Tegan a trip to the paradise world of Florana, but instead the TARDIS takes them to a domed city on a planet, scarred by warfare. A world where everyone is young, and fighting for the glory of the Elite…

Hidden away in the Cathedral of Power, the High Priest is watching. It knows the Doctor, and his arrival changes everything…

Review

I don’t think that it is possible to evoke an era better than The Elite manages to. Quite simply, this felt like it could have slotted in nicely between Arc of Infinity and Snakedance seamlessly. Whilst the writing felt different, John Dorney’s writing encapsulates the Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan perfectly for me and, despite culminating in a bit of a slaughter at the end, didn’t feel as grim as a script written under the supervision of Eric Saward.

That’s not to say that it’s all perfect, however. There’s quite a sizeable guest cast here and I’m not sure that the story quite does enough with them. I personally struggled to tell Aubron and Alaric apart at times, and neither receive enough characterisation to distinguish them at times, and whilst Ryan Sampson does a solid enough job for the first three parts, he really flies off the rails and pushes the insanity well past 11 in the final part of the story. I would have liked the story to have more of Educator Stemp, however, as her character seemed to have some real promise and she is particularly good when she is sparking off Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton, but she ultimately suffers from not having much development. Ella is another character that I would have liked to have had more time with and she does interact nicely with Janet Fielding.

What the story does really nicely is evoke the feeling of Doctor Who in the early 1980s. Almost everything works really well, from the score which uses synthesisers to feels ultimately at home in this era, to the reduced role of Nyssa and some of the grittiness that Eric Saward, for some reason, felt so driven to include at all times. John Dorney, in taking on this story based on a premise by Barbara Clegg, is make it simultaneously a celebration of Peter Davison’s televised era whilst combining it with the development that the Fifth Doctor has enjoyed through Big Finish. There are scenes like the one in the TARDIS in the first part where the Doctor is obviously not sure about having Tegan back as a companion which acknowledge that more time has passed for Nyssa and the Doctor than has for Tegan. The squabbles between the Doctor and Tegan feel natural for the progression of the characters as seen on television, whilst Dorney allows the Fifth Doctor to snipe back at her times, but ultimately, when Aubron insults her intelligence, the Doctor is outraged. Despite their relationship not being fixed by the end of this story, the story almost feels like both the Fifth Doctor and Tegan coming to terms with being back together again, and all that this entails. A moment that feels as though this perfectly encapsulates Tegan coming to terms with travelling is when she and Nyssa are wandering around the city shortly after arriving.

Oh no no no! I know how this story ends. The Doctor tells us to stay put, we wander off, we get captured, lots of people are shot and it all ends badly. I’m sorry, Nyssa, but no. This time, we’re going to exactly what the Doctor says.

Tegan Jovanka

Another aspect that feels in keeping with the era is the appearance of a foe in disguise. In this case, the ‘High Priest’ is revealed to be a Dalek, and this is complete with Nicholas Briggs’ being credited under a pseudonym, which feels reminiscent of Anthony Ainley’s faux credits. As I am talking about the Dalek, it must be said that this is something a bit different for the Doctor’s evil adversary to do. We have seen the danger of a lone Dalek in the new series, in both Dalek and more recently Resolution, but this story sees one sole Dalek doing something a bit different: manipulating the development of society of the Elite through the Church to ensure the development of a Master Race. This Dalek is different, damaged from a crash that occurred ten years before the Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan arrived on the planet of Florana and without the access to power the ‘Cleansing Fire’ which will summon the Dalek fleet. Whilst the reveal of the ‘High Priest’ to be a Dalek at the end of Part 2 didn’t really take me by surprise, it felt like a better reveal than the one of Time-Flight with the Master. Ultimately, by the time that the Doctor and Aubron discuss the nature of the Elite’s society, euthanising those who are deemed not to be of benefit to their society and those over the age of 30, the reveal seems like a matter of time.

We are making –

A Master Race!

Aubron and the Fifth Doctor

Dorney states in the behind the scenes interviews that he even expects that some listeners will jump ahead of the Doctor and realise that the Daleks are involved before this point, and Briggs’ voice is modulated differently but still sounds Dalek-like in its cadence. That being said, the moment where the High Priest is returned to its ‘throne’ and the Dalek heartbeat is heard is a lovely moment. We then come to the twist in Part 3. Once the Dalek is revealed to be at the heart of the Elite’s society, I certainly expected it to be a more traditional story involving the Doctor stopping the Dalek’s machinations, probably involving the arrival of the fleet. The first hint that this was not going to go the way I thought was when the Dalek wanted the Doctor’s help to get off Florana, the second when the seemingly traditional acolyte Thane turns on the Dalek and kills him. This is probably one of the best twists I can remember in a Doctor Who story, and can genuinely say that I didn’t see this one coming.

The main cast all do sterling work here, even if Sarah Sutton is side lined, brainwashed and possessed by the Elite to do their bidding. Even so, it’s enjoyable to hear Sutton joining in with the exterminating towards the end of the story. The focus here is really on Peter Davison and Janet Fielding. I really like Davison’s Doctor in general, but he is particularly great here. Dorney has given him the licence to be quite funny when the story allows it, and Davison delivers these moments nicely. Janet Fielding is often maligned, but she is good here too, and I particularly liked her scenes in the prison with Ella.

Verdict: The Elite is a great story which evokes the feeling of the Fifth Doctor’s era really well. 8/10

Cast: Peter Davison (The Doctor), Janet Fielding (Tegan Jovanka), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), Joe Coen (Aubron), Ryan Sampson (Thane), Derek Carlyle (Alaric), Joannah Tincey (Stemp), Nicholas Briggs (credited as Arthur Wallis, High Priest), John Banks (Garthak) & Ellie Burrow (Ella).

Writer: John Dorney, adapted from an idea by Barbara Clegg

Director: Ken Bentley

Parts: 4

Behind the Scenes

  • This story would have fallen after Terminus if it had been made in the 1980s, the story in which Nyssa left the TARDIS.
  • If this story had been broadcast, it would have seen Nyssa’s first meeting with a Dalek. In the intervening years, Nyssa had gone on to face the Daleks in a number of Big Finish stories before this adaptation was released.

Cast Notes

  • Ryan Sampson appeared in the Tenth Doctor story The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky as Luke Rattigan.
  • Joe Coen has appeared in Binary, The Edge and The Battle.
  • Derek Carlyle has appeared in a number of Big Finish stories, including The Death Collectors, Spider’s Shadow and Brotherhood of the Daleks.
  • Joannah Tincey appeared in A Thousand Tiny Wings, Industrial Evolution and The Skin of the Sleek/The Thief Who Stole Time.
  • John Banks has appeared in multiple Big Finish stories, and has appeared alongside the majority of incarnations of the Doctor, including John Hurt and David Tennant.
  • Ellie Burrow appeared in The Jupiter Conjunction and The Four Doctors.

Best Moment

Whilst I saw the reveal of the High Priest being a Dalek coming a mile off, the killing off of this Dalek was a real shock to me.

Best Quote

Let me guess, you’re going to be quite cross with me for a while. Funnily enough, I don’t find that a terribly frightening prospect. Pretty much business as usual!

The Fifth Doctor

Previous Fifth Doctor review: Arc of Infinity

Other Reviews:

Time-Flight

Dalek

Resolution