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 Greatest Show in the Galaxy

I’ve always found circuses a little…sinister.

The Seventh Doctor

Synopsis

The Doctor and Ace receive some junk mail inviting them to the self-proclaimed ‘Greatest Show in the Galaxy’ on the planet Segonax. On their arrival, they meet fellow visitors and performers, Cook, Mags and Nord, and discover that the circus is run by the villainous Chief Clown for the Gods of Ragnarok.

Review

Before I’d ever watched The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, there was a part of me that always thought that it was a case of the show trying just a smidge too hard to blow its own trumpet. Throw in the fact that it comes in the late 1980s, in the same season as the absolute garbage that is Silver Nemesis and I didn’t feel too optimistic when I pressed play. To say that I was pleasantly surprised is an understatement, as I was swept along by an interesting and inventive story with some truly engaging characters. It certainly feels with this story that Doctor Who had regained some of its swagger over the course of its twenty-fifth anniversary season, although with the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to see how this confidence might be seen to have been misplaced.

That’s not to say that this story is not without flaws. The rap that starts the story (see above) is pretty cringeworthy, a problem that 80s Who seems to suffer with in abundance when it is trying to be cool. I’d be interested if anyone liked it at the time, but in 2020 it is laughable. Amongst the strong band of characters introduced in this story, we have Nord and Whizz Kid, both of whom are very one-dimensional. Nord is a pretty stereotypical biker type, whilst Whizz Kid is a blatant attack on a certain section of Doctor Who fans who ‘never saw the early days, (but I) know it’s not as good as it used to be’. He is ultimately forced into the ring and ultimately his death by Captain Cook by playing on his fandom For the show to attack sections of its fan base in such a fashion is remarkable, but not unexpected considering John Nathan-Turner’s ‘the memory cheats’ comments about this type of fan.

That being said, the rest of the guest cast are pretty decent here. Jessica Martin, T.P. McKenna and Ian Reddington particularly stand out as Mags, Captain Cook and Chief Clown respectively. Martin plays the werewolf Mags with innocence that means that the eventual reveal is good, despite the story insisting on dropping clues to the audience that mean that the audience reach the conclusion before the Doctor does. I’d be interested in listening to Jessica Martin’s Big Finish adventures as I think she would have potentially been quite an interesting companion for the Doctor. Then we have T.P. McKenna, playing an almost anti-Doctor explorer figure, more similar to a certain Star Fleet captain than the renegade Time Lord. Captain Cook is an explorer of some renown, but it is perhaps his sense of detachment that stands out most of all and McKenna plays it beautifully. He is of course, horrible to his companion Mags, who is free of his influence by the end of the story. The real star is Reddington, who does so much with so little. I wouldn’t say that clowns are something that I am afraid of, unlike Ace, but I do find them ever so unnerving, thanks largely to the efforts of the portrayals of the Batman villain The Joker by Jack Nicholson, Mark Hamill and Heath Ledger. The Chief Clown does not have a lot of dialogue, but it is delivered largely in such a sinister fashion that he is excellently creepy. When things start going off the rails, his voice becomes deeper and more menacing. Reddington’s smile is pretty creepy and the make-up team deserve credit for helping achieve this effect.

I would like to take a moment to discuss why The Greatest Show in the Galaxy feels so different in this season. We have had two stories that have traded (with varying degrees of success) on the show’s past glories in Remembrance of the Daleks and Silver Nemesis, and a political attack in the shape of The Happiness Patrol. The Greatest Show in the Galaxy uses the Psychic Circus as a metaphor for Doctor Who, with Wyatt showing how the circus started in a similar hippy fashion to the 1960s on Earth, with characters like Flowerchild and Bellboy, and somehow lost its way over the years. The Chief Clown’s decision to sell out to the Gods of Ragnarok, who are desperate for entertainment, can be seen to be a parallel to Nathan-Turner’s attempts to sell the show overseas by bringing in companions from the United States and Australia, with the overall result being the same: viewing figures for both Doctor Who and the Psychic Circus are tumbling. It is almost critical of the show for wanting to try and survive, despite the original vision being compromised to a point that it is no longer recognisable as the same entity. It’s a strange choice to close a season, but it is perhaps this that makes it such an interesting story.

You have to hang up your wandering shoes and stop wandering sooner or later, don’t you?

So I’ve been told. Personally, I just keep on wandering.

Morgana and the Seventh Doctor

This is a key story for the Seventh Doctor. The serial opens on the Doctor juggling, whilst reading ‘Juggling for the Complete Klutz’, amusingly losing one of his balls in the process and playing the spoons, more in line with his character in the previous season. However, by the end, we are in no doubt that we have a Doctor Who is one or more steps ahead of his foes, the Gods of Ragnarok, something that would become a theme going into his final televised season and later appearances in other mediums. McCoy does pretty well here, managing to carry off both sides of the character with necessary aplomb. Ace also has a lot to do here in this story and has some good character development. Like the repeated rap, Ace’s continued use of 80s slang (which doesn’t sound as if it was even cool at the time) is a bit grating but we do see her overcome her fear of clowns and operate independently of the Doctor for long stretches of the story. Aldred again does well and I really do enjoy this pairing – they seem to be having a lot of fun together and they have great chemistry.

I am going to finish with some final aspect to praise about an episode that I thoroughly enjoyed The first are the Gods of Ragnarok and the Family that are the sole audience members of the Psychic Circus. The family are particularly eerie, stony faced whilst watching the entertainment and dishing out their ratings. When the Doctor comes face to face with the actual Gods towards the story’s conclusion, I was impressed at how good they looked – I completely bought into their costumes and thought that they looked real and in a season that has also contained the Kandyman, that’s high praise indeed. The second aspect I wish to praise are two cliffhangers, coming at the end of Part One and Part Three respectively. The Part One cliffhanger is particularly effective, intercutting between the Doctor and Ace outside the circus tent and Captain Cook and Mags inside it, with Mags reacting to Bellboy’s torture, which we don’t see but her scream is more than enough to tell us about the horror inside the tent. The Doctor is unaware of this, although Ace hears something making her uneasy, and he gives her the option of going in or not. It is a very effective cliffhanger, and again gives the audience the benefit of more knowledge than the Doctor, something which is similar to cliffhanger to Part 3. This gives us the confirmation that Mags is a werewolf, something which the audience would have previously suspected. The effective thing here is how memorable her transformation is, which feels like vintage Classic Who. Thirdly and finally, I really like the junk mail advertising the Circus at the beginning – it is a fun way of imagining what junk mail could be like in space.

Verdict: A story which is perhaps notable for not being sentimental about the past, The Greatest Show in the Galaxy is an excellent story, combining good performances and writing in equal measure. 9/10

Cast: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Sophie Aldred (Ace), T.P. McKenna (Captain Cook), Jessica Martin (Mags), Ricco Ross (Ringmaster), Ian Reddington (Chief Clown), Peggy Mount (Stallslady), Gian Sammarco (Whizz Kid), Daniel Peacock (Nord), Christopher Guard (Bellboy), Deborah Manship (Morgana), Chris Jury (Deadbeat), Dee Sadler (Flowerchild), Dean Hollingsworth (Bus Conductor), David Ashford (Dad), Janet Hargreaves (Mum) & Kathryn Ludlow (Little Girl).

Writer: Stephen Wyatt

Director: Alan Wareing

Parts: 4

Behind the Scenes

  • Up until the release of The Doctor, the Widow & the Wardrobe, this story had the longest episode name for a televised story.
  • Due to the discovery of asbestos in BBC Television Centre, the story was nearly cancelled after the completion of location work. The story’s cancellation was prevented as arrangements were made to put a tent in the car park of BBC Elstree.
  • Sylvester McCoy was coached in magic by Geoffrey Durham (stage name The Great Sporendo) for the sleight of hand magic, marking the first time since The Talons of Weng Chiang that a magic consultant had been involved.
  • The rap song in this story was the first original song commissioned for the series since The King’s Song in The King’s Demons. The next would be Song for Ten in The Christmas Invasion.
  • The explosives placed in the arena in Part 4 were overrigged and the blast was much larger than anticipated, catching McCoy in the heat blast and setting fire to his clothes. McCoy continued walking away, knowing that a second take would not be possible.
  • The first appearance of the TARDIS interior since Dragonfire and the only appearance in Season 25. It is the final appearance of the console room set introduced in The Five Doctors, but the console would appear one last time in Battlefield.
  • The final televised appearance of McCoy’s cream coat, which would be replaced by a darker brown one in the next story, Battlefield, depicting the change in persona for the Seventh Doctor.

Cast Notes

  • Dean Hollingsworth had previously appeared in Timelash.
  • Jessica Martin would go on to reprise the role of Mags for Big Finish, as well as making an audio cameo as Queen Elizabeth II at the end of Voyage of the Damned.
  • Ian Reddington would reprise his role as the Chief Clown for Big Finish in The Psychic Circus and has also appeared in A Death in the Family.
  • T.P. McKenna was previously considered for the part of the Chief Caretaker in Paradise Towers.

Best Moment

The Doctor’s unflinching walk away from the Circus Tent as it explodes.

Best Quote

Enjoying the show, Ace?

Yeah. It was your show all along, wasn’t it?

The Seventh Doctor and Ace

Previous Seventh Doctor review: Silver Nemesis

Posts mentioned:

Remembrance of the Daleks

The Happiness Patrol

Silver Nemesis

Silver Nemesis Nemesis

The bear will not pursue us – such things happen only in the theatre.

Lady Peinforte

Synopsis

The arrival of a mysterious comet heralds impending danger from enemies old and new.

Review

Silver Nemesis is another story, like Time-Flight, where a poor reputation can’t help but damage your impression of it going in.  As anniversary specials go, it certainly feels very different to its predecessors marking the 10th and 20th anniversaries respectively.  Sadly, I found that the reputation is well founded.  It feels very derivative of Remembrance of the Daleks, a story in the same season, and I’d far rather think of the season 25 opener as the anniversary special.  I made the mistake of watching the behind the scenes documentary on the DVD and the writer irritated me so much, so that might explain why I’m not very favourably disposed towards it!

Silver Nemesis

One of the major problems with this story is that there are just too many villains.  You’ve got the Cybermen, De Flores and his neo-Nazis and Lady Peinforte and Richard from 1638.  The Cybermen are more than capable of carrying a story on their own and Lady Peinforte is ‘essential’ to this mess of a story, and considering that we had seen a neo-Nazi group in Remembrance, De Flores’ Nazis could have been scrapped with little to no impact on the plot.  It would certainly save us from Anton Diffring’s disinterested performance throughout this story.  The abundance of villains means that it feels like there are large amounts of time where the story just completely stops for them whilst another group to do something.  This means that the Cybermen feel as though they are just there to be cannon fodder, especially considering the seeming abundance of gold that most characters just so happen to have on their person.  Their entrance into the story at the end of Part One and their fight sequence at the beginning of Part Two are nicely done, but for the rest of the story it certainly seems that they are unable to hit a barn door.

There is something that staggers me about the creation of this story.  The writer, Kevin Clarke, was able to call up the Doctor Who production office and get the 25th-anniversary story having never previously written for the show makes my mind genuinely boggle.  Add to that the fact that when he first spoke to John Nathan-Turner, Clarke admits that he did not have any idea of the story he wanted to tell and blagged it and he was not laughed out of town seems ridiculous.  Ultimately, this is a remake of Remembrance of the Daleks in the same season.  The idea of a comet with powerful and desirable contents returning to Earth at 25-year intervals thanks to a previously unseen (presumably Second Doctor) intervention by the Doctor is an intriguing one outside of this context, but along with the neo-Nazis and the conclusion, where the Nemesis weapon is both of Gallifreyan design and used to destroy the Cyber fleet just feels repetitive.  Clarke set out to reveal that the Doctor is, in fact, God, however, this idea seems to get largely lost through the narrative, only returning in the concluding moments when Lady Peinforte reveals that she knows the truth.  Ultimately it feels as though Clarke and the production team took a handful of ideas, threw them at the wall and went from there.

Silver Nemesis De Flores and the Cybermen

Nowhere can this be best exhibited by the celebrity casting of Dolores Gray as the American tourist – I still don’t really understand why she was there – and the whole fake Queen debacle, which just feels ridiculous.  I felt that it harkened back to McCoy’s first season which was incredibly uneven and McCoy delivers a performance to match when he struggles to place where he knows the Queen from.  Surely, once the production team knew that they would be unable to get Prince Edward or any royal involvement, it would have been pretty easy to completely write out this bit.  Dolores Gray doesn’t really look like she knows why she is being asked to be in this story and the scenes in her limo are quite painful to watch.  The cameo by Courtney Pine and the members of his quartet works the best of all of them and the opening scenes with the Doctor and Ace enjoying a break from traveling are probably amongst the best in the story which is largely bereft from good directing.  The exceptions to this are the first appearance of the Cybermen and I quite liked the Cybermen chasing Ace in Part 3 through the factory.  Ultimately though, the story feels as though it has delusions of grandeur of being a better and more important story than it ultimately is, and that is certainly the impression I got of how the writer considers this story.

Normally in Doctor Who stories that have fallen flat for me, I am able to at least find solace in the performances of the Doctor and companion, however, the Seventh Doctor and Ace largely fall flat for me here.  I gather that this may have been due to lack of rehearsal time for this story and general exhaustion on the part of McCoy and Aldred, however, it does really stand out for me here.  There are some moments between the pair that do work – I particularly like the scene with Ace and the Doctor passing the bow around the Cybermen in the castle basement and Ace admitting to the Doctor that she is scared of the Cybermen are all nice moments that can get lost in this disaster.

Verdict: Silver Nemesis feels like rehash of things that worked better in this season’s opening story, and is not helped by having too many villains, uninspiring direction and flat performances from the two leads. 1/10

Cast: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Sophie Aldred (Ace), Anton Diffring (De Flores), Metin Yehal (Karl), Fiona Walker (Lady Peinforte), Gerard Murphy (Richard Maynarde), Leslie French (Mathematician), Martyn Read (Security Guard), Dolores Gray (Mrs Remington), Courtney Pine (As Himself), David Banks (Cyber-Leader), Mark Hardy (Cyber Lieutenant), Brian Orrell (Cyberman), Chris Chering and Symond Lawes (Skinheads), Courtney Pine, Adrian Reid, Ernest Mothle & Frank Tontoh (Jazz Quartet)

Writer: Kevin Clarke

Director: Chris Clough

Parts: 3

Behind the Scenes

  • The official 25th Anniversary story – the first not to feature multiple Doctors and the first to be broadcast in parts since The Three Doctors.
  • The final appearance of the Cybermen until their cameo in Dalek and return in The Rise of the Cybermen.  This ultimately means that this is the final appearance of David Banks as the Cyber Leader.
  • Producer John Nathan-Turner approached Prince Edward to appear in this story, but the Royal Family politely declined.  The use of Windsor Castle was also requested, which was also refused as permission was only ever granted to documentary crews.  Arundel Castle was used as a substitute.
  • Writer Kevin Clarke had seen little Doctor Who and met John Nathan-Turner with no story idea.  His improvised storyline involved the reveal that the Doctor was essentially God, which did not end up being realised.  John Nathan-Turner later requested the addition of the Cybermen.
  • Cameos are made by Nicholas Courtney, Peter Moffatt and Kevin Clarke, amongst others.

Cast Notes

  • Fiona Walker had previously appeared in The Keys of Marinus.
  • Leslie French had previously turned down the role of the Doctor in 1963.
  • Anton Diffring took the role so that he could attend Wimbledon, travelling from his home in France.  It would be his last role before his death in 1989.

Best Moment

It is really difficult to pick a best moment here.  I am going to go for the chase scene in Part 3, as it actually woke me up towards the end of this story.

Best Quote

You fool.  Without the bow, the statue’s power is nothing.

We will shortly obtain the bow.

From tbe Doctor? Don’t delude yourself.  He’s no common adversary.  Do you think he will simply walk in here and hand it over?

Good afternoon.

Doctor.

Yes, here we are.  I’m sorry we couldn’t have been here earlier, but we got held up on the way.

De Flores, Cyber Leader and The Doctor

Previous Seventh Doctor story review: The Happiness Patrol

Silver Nemesis Windsor

The Happiness Patrol

THP Pink TARDIS

I can hear the sound of empires toppling.

The Seventh Doctor

Synopsis

The Doctor and Ace find themselves on Terra Alpha, where Helen A and the Happiness Patrol have made being miserable a crime.

Review

The Happiness Patrol is perhaps one of the clearest examples of an ambitious story not having an appropriate budget, ultimately effectively meaning that the story suffers as a result.  The fundamental idea behind the story is fantastic in its simplicity – the idea of happiness being compulsory is something that you could imagine a child thinking of – however, it is executed quite well through the story.  I even quite like the Kandyman as he contributes to the story feeling like a fairy tale.  It’s just a shame that the sets and some of the lighting decisions seem to have fundamentally let down the story.

Some state that this is one of the stronger episodes of the McCoy era and I can certainly see that they are correct.  However, there are some elements that really do not work.  Sadly the special effects really let the story down, like Helen A’s pet, Fifi, who looks distinctly cheap.  It certainly feels as though Remembrance of the Daleks used up the vast majority of the budget for this series and it really shows in the set designs here, where the floors of the streets of Terra Alpha are clearly undecorated studio floor.  The scenes in both the Kandyman’s lab and Helen A’s rooms also seem really overlit, which doesn’t help when there clearly wasn’t the budget to make decent looking sets.  This story also presents a contrast in McCoy’s portrayal of the Doctor, with him being really superbly dark in scenes with the two snipers or when he is faced with Sheila Hancock’s Helen A, to contrast with him hamming it up performing on the steps of the forum.  Ace is also underused here and disappears from the story for long periods.

THP Happiness Patrol

You see, I make sweets.  Not just any old sweets, but sweets that are so good, so delicious that sometimes, if I’m on form, the human physiology is not equipped to bear the pleasure.  Tell them what I’m trying to say, Gilbert.

He makes sweets that kill people.

The Kandyman and Gilbert M

As stated earlier, I really like the basic premise of the story.  There are elements that are brilliant in their simplicity, like the Kandyman.  Some may have problems with the design of the android, but I think it is quite in keeping with the tone of the rest of the story and I find him very creepy – possibly something to do with the voice.  Like the idea of people having to be happy, the idea of sweets that kill people is one that is again effective in its simplicity – it almost feels like something that might have come from a Roald Dahl novel.  I do find the story quite dark really, with the Happiness Patrol employing undercover people to find the ‘Killjoys’, which have drawn parallels with the political environment surrounding homosexuality in the 1980s.  Yet again, the Seventh Doctor comes into a dictatorship led society and brings it crashing to its knees.

THP Kandyman

Sheila Hancock’s Helen A is perhaps one of the most famous attacks on the government in the show’s history.  Despite not being intended to be a satire, Hancock apparently found the comparison uncanny and used elements of Thatcher in her characterisation of the villainous leader of Terra Alpha.  She is perhaps the best part of this story, a truly flawed antagonist for the Doctor.  The scene at the end of the story where she finally breaks down and weeps over the dying body of Fifi is almost enough to make you feel sorry for her.

Verdict: The Happiness Patrol is one of the high points of the McCoy era, however, a lack of available funds really does damage this story.  7/10

Cast: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Sophie Aldred (Ace), Georgina Hale (Daisy K.), Richard D Sharp (Earl Sigma), Tim Scott (Forum Doorman), Harold Innocent (Gilbert M.), Tim Barker (Harold V.), Sheila Hancock (Helen A.), Ronald Fraser (Joseph C.), David John Pope (Kandy Man), Mary Healey (Killjoy), Annie Hulley (Newscaster), Rachel Bell (Priscilla P.), Jonathan Burn (Silas P.), Steven Swinscoe (Sniper), Mark Caroll (Sniper), Lesley Dunlop (Susan Q.), John Normington (Trevor Sigma), Philip Neve (Wences) & Ryan Freedman (Wulfric).

Writer: Chris Clough

Director: Graeme Curry

Parts: 3

Behind the Scenes

  • After the airing of Part 2, the chairman and CEO of Bassett Foods wrote a letter of complaint to producer John Nathan-Turner stating that the Kandy Man infringed on the copyright of Bertie Bassett.  The BBC response said that copyright had not been infringed but that the Kandy Man would not be used again.
  • Big Finish would later bring the Kandy Man back in a humanoid form in World of Damnation.
  • Helen A is a rather thinly veiled satire of Margaret Thatcher.
  • The Happiness Patrol was referred to by the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams as part of his Easter 2011 sermon.
  • John Normington previously appeared in The Caves of Androzani.

Best Moment

The Doctor and Helen A’s confrontation in the streets to the end of part 3.

Best Quote

Get back.  Or he’ll use the gun.

Yes, I imagine he will.  You like guns, don’t you?

This is a specialised weapon.  It’s designed for roof duty.  Designed for long range.  I’ve never used one close up before.

Let him go.

No.

No.  In fact…let him come a little closer.

Stay where you are.

Why? Scared? Why should you be scared? You’re the one with the gun.

That’s right.

And you like guns, don’t you?

He’ll kill you.

Of course he will.  That’s what guns are for.  Pull a trigger.  End a life.  Simple, isn’t it?

Yes.

Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Yes.

A life, killing life.

Who are you?

Shut up.  Why don’t you do it then?  Look me in the eye.  Pull the trigger.  End my life.

No.

Why not?

I can’t.

Why not?

I don’t know.

You don’t, do you?  Throw away your gun.

Sniper 1the Seventh Doctor & Sniper 2

Dragonfire

cliffhanger

Do you feel like arguing with a can of deodorant that registers nine on the Richter scale?

Ace

Synopsis

As trouble brews on the space trading colony of Iceworld, the Doctor and Mel encounter their sometimes-ally Sabalom Glitz – and a new friend who goes by “Ace”.
Review

Dragonfire wraps up a rather indifferent debut series for Sylvester McCoy, which at times feels like it is stumbling towards the finishing line. There are some interesting ideas here but there’s no time to flesh any of them out, and as a result everything feels quite flimsy. Despite this, there are signs of promise to come in the following series coming up to the show’s cancellation in 1989, especially with the debut of Ace, played by Sophie Aldred, and hints at the sort of character that the Seventh Doctor will become. This story also features a good, if underdeveloped villain in the shape of Edward Peel’s Kane, and sadly does show the lack of budget available to the programme at this time.

ace glitz doc mel

I’ll start by talking about the two companions, one incoming and one outgoing in this story. Firstly, the outgoing incumbent, Mel Bush, as played by Bonnie Langford. Langford certainly is possibly one of the least popular Doctor Who companions, which isn’t entirely her fault, as her character feels like a regression to some of the 1960s companions, with her response to everything being to scream. I don’t blame her for wanting to leave, although it feels as though it almost takes the entire production team by surprise in the way that her departure is completely shoehorned in. It seems completely out of character for Mel to go off with Glitz, and this is certainly up there with Leela’s exit in The Invasion of Time for the most rushed way of getting rid of a companion. Don’t even get me started on Liz Shaw’s off-screen departure between Inferno and Terror of the Autons though, which is probably the only problem I have with the Letts era, however, equally, it would have been a tragedy not to have had Katy Manning in the show. With that out of the way, it is nice to see Mel get to interact with another companion and it is perhaps notable that she probably spends more time with Ace than the Doctor does. Sophie Aldred’s Ace seems much more rounded, if not entirely believable as a teenager, character than companions that came before her. Her propensity for yelling out her own name and phrases like “Mega!” make me think that no-one in the Doctor Who production office had ever spoken to a real teenager in their life.

The story here can be seen to be a bit of a throwback to the 1960s as well as being a comedy in places, however, there are some elements which are genuinely quite disturbing. Belusz’s admission that she is having doubts about signing up with Kane to Kracauer is almost looking at the naivety of youth and the idea of consent, with the Doctor stating explicitly that her debt to Kane won’t be easy to be repaid. There is also a pretty explicit criticism of capitalism, with the shops on Iceworld acting as a front and Kane confident in the belief that every soul has its price, his coin acting as a bit of an obvious but effective way of getting this message across. Kane is sufficiently menacing and sinister and despite his icy demeanour, there is clear emotion bubbling away under the surface. Edward Peel deserves a great deal of credit for doing the most with a limited character.

The story does act as a pastiche of science fiction, with elements paying homage to films like Alien and Star Wars. There are moments of black humour in there too, like Stellar drinking her milkshake in the café where everyone has been murdered and playing with her teddy bear in Kane’s dungeon. There are also hints here of more of the scheming Doctor we would see later on in McCoy’s run when he tells Mel that the signal coming from Iceworld has been going on for a little while – as if it’s been on his list of intergalactic wrongs that he will one day get round to putting right. This put me in mind of the setup for Mummy on the Orient Express, one of my all-time favourite episodes, so that’s no bad thing really!

Well? Do you fancy a quick trip round the twelve galaxies and then back to Perivale in time for tea?

Ace!

But there are three rules. One, I’m in charge.

Whatever you say, Professor.

Two. I’m not the Professor, I’m the Doctor.

Whatever you want.

And the third. Well, I’ll think up the third by the time we get back to Perivale.

Seventh Doctor and Ace

Sadly, I feel that the story has lost something from the transition from page to screen and it feels as though there is some disconnect. A much-lambasted demonstration of this is the famous cliffhanger at the end of part one, which finds the Doctor hanging by his umbrella on an actual cliff face. This is not clear in the transmitted episode, but the passage leading to the cliff was supposed to be a dead end, meaning that the Doctor would have to climb down. This seems to almost be symptomatic of the problems of the production in general. There are great juxtapositions, for instance, as the design of the dungeon looks fantastic and evokes The Tomb of the Cybermen and is all the more impressive considering the constraints of the budget, but then the caves look cheap, in no small part due to the sets being overlit. The story also never really gives us a good enough reason for Glitz to be in this story other than to give an exit for Mel, and I’m not sure what he adds to this story otherwise.

doctor and ace

Verdict: Dragonfire brings Sylvester McCoy’s first series as the Doctor to a close, and though it hints at the direction the show was going to venture into in the next two, it really hits stumbling blocks. 6/10

Cast: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Bonnie Langford (Mel), Sophie Aldred (Ace), Tony Selby (Sabalom Glitz), Edward Peel (Kane), Patricia Quinn (Belazs), Tony Osoba (Kracauer), Shirin Taylor (Customer), Ian Mackenzie (Anderson), Stephanie Fayerman (McLuhan), Stuart Organ (Bazin), Sean Blowers (Zed), Nigel Miles-Thomas (Pudovkin), Leslie Meadows (The Creature), Lynn Gardner (Announcer), Miranda Borman (Stellar), Daphne Oxenford (Archivist), Chris MacDonnell (Arnheim)

Writer: Ian Briggs

Director: Chris Clough

Parts: 3
Behind the Scenes

  • The story sees the return of Sabalom Glitz, the departure of Mel and the debut of Ace. This was Sophie Aldred’s first role on television.
  • Sylvester McCoy requested that the farewell scene with Mel was changed to incorporate dialogue from one of his audition scenes, which Ian Briggs and Andrew Cartmel inserted into the script.

Best Moment

Kane’s face melting moment is fantastic and very similar to the Indiana Jones effects.
Best Quote

I’m going now.

That’s right, yes, you’re going. Been gone for ages. Already gone, still here, just arrived, haven’t even met you yet. It all depends on who you are and how you look at it. Strange business, time.

Goodbye, Doctor.

I’m sorry, Mel. Think about me when you’re living your life one day after another, all in a neat pattern. Think about the homeless traveller and his old police box, with his days like crazy paving.

Mel Bush and the Seventh Doctor

girl and dragon