“Battlefield” is the first adventure of the twentysixth season of “Doctor Who” classic series which aired in 1989. It follows “The Greatest Show in the Galaxy” and it’s a four parts adventure written by Ben Aaronovitch and directed by Michael Kerrigan.
Responding to a distress signal, the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) and Ace (Sophie Aldred) arrive near Lake Vortigern in England. There, UNIT is having some problems with some nuclear missiles and things get worse with the arrival of some knights in medieval armors who also use energy weapons.
The situation and the presence of the Doctor lead to recalling Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) from his retirement. Together with Ancelyn, a knight of King Arthur, they’ll face the witch Morgaine and her warriors, arrived from a parallel universe, who think that the Doctor is Merlin.
This DVD is rich in extras. There are typical contents such as production subtitles, the Radio Time Billings, a promo of the “Doctor Who” DVDs to be published soon and a gallery of pictures from this adventure.
There are comments in the adventure alternative audio track by protagonist Sophie Aldred, writer Graeme Curry, actors Nicholas Courtney and Angela Bruce, writer Ben Aaronovitch and script editor Andrew Cartmel.
Storm Over Avallion. A 22-minute documentary on the production of this adventure.
Past and Future King. Writer Ben Aaronovitch talks about the creation of the story. The comments of some of the actors and the director are included.
Watertank. A behind the scenes showing the incident in which actress Sophie Aldred was involved in a seriously risky situation during the filming of this adventure.
From Kingdom to Queen. Actress Jean Marsh talks about her three appearances in “Doctor Who”.
Recording Studio. Almost 19 minutes of footage during the production of this adventure. It’s a classic DVD filler.
Trails and Continuity. Various BBC announcements of the original transmission and the repeats.
Isolated Score. The option to watch this adventure with the music composed by Keff McCulloch an an isolated audio track.
Battlefield: Special Edition. A new version of this adventure reedited like a movie with some scenes previously cut, some new CGI special effects and the audio in Dolby 5.1 surround. The difference from the original version isn’t great but there are some improvements.
Season 26 Trailer. A promo from that time for the twenty-sixth season of “Doctor Who”.
Writer Ben Aaronovitch proposed an idea that was titled “Storm Over Avallion” strongly inspired by the mythology of King Arthur for the twentyfifth season of “Doctor Who”. “Silver Nemesis” had already been approved, which also contained many medieval elements, so script editor Andrew Cartmel rejected it then reconsidered it for the twentysixth season becoming “Battlefield”.
The Return of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart was part of the plan and initially there was the intention to kill him at the end of “Battlefield”. Probably they lacked the courage to kill a character beloved by fans and the idea was abandoned.
In “Battlefield”, Lethbridge-Stewart is an old soldier who is recalled and finds situation a very different from the one he was used to. UNIT is a force more and more international and above all there are several women, including its new commander, Brigadier Bambera.
Another return was actress Jean Marsh, who had worked in two adventures of “Doctor Who” with the First Doctor. In one of those, “The Daleks’ Master Plan”, there was Nicholas Courtney as well, though in that case they played two different characters.
In “Battlefield”, Jane Marsh plays very well Morgaine and is another of the positive elements of the adventure. She’s not a one-dimensional villain because she’s roothless but at the same time has a great sense of honor and respect for her enemies.
“Battlefield” was filmed primarily on location so despite the tight budget it’s above the average classic “Doctor Who” adventures from the visual point of view. Even the special effects generally look better than usual in the original version already, especially the Destroyer.
The low budget problem, together with the limits in what could be shown in “Doctor Who”, can be seen in scenes such as the battle between UNIT and the Knights of Morgaine. It’s obviously bloody but in the end we can’t see much of it and what we see sometimes seems a pantomime.
“Battlefield” has also a number of problems related to its plot and tone. There are several plot elements that are difficult to explain but the pace is high by the standards of the classic “Doctor Who” series so it’s easier to simply follow the action. Unfortunately, the mix of drama and comedy doesn’t seem very balanced and at times this adventure seems a bit like a farce, removing strength from the dramatic elements.
The character of Brigadier Bambera was an interesting idea but the strange relationship that is created with Ancelyn makes her quite ridiculous. Of course, in the past Lethbridge-Stewart also had his funny moments but the character had always maintained a certain dignity appropriate to his role.
Other characters that don’t work very well are Mordred, played over the top by actor Christopher Bowen, and Shou Yuing, who basically follows Ace throughout the adventure so she’s a sort of companion’s companion but overall she’s useless.
Having those merits and these flaws, “Battlefield” has a quite controversial reputation. Personally, I see more merits that flaws so I find that it is all in all a good adventure but honestly it’s hard to recommend it. The DVD is overall a good product even if the Special Edition doesn’t offer radical changes compared to the original edition. It’s therefore a product that can be interesting particularly to “Doctor Who” fans.