Doctor Who 06/09/89 – Battlefield

While a lot of people think Curse of Fenric is the best Sylvester McCoy serial, my favourite story featuring the 7th Doctor is probably Battlefield. Battlefield finds the Doctor teaming up once again with the Brigadier to fight invaders from a parallel dimension. Filled with references to previous series without being too indulgent, the story deftly mixes old myths and legends with Doctor Who continuity, as well as showing more of the darker side to the Seventh Doctor that would be explored throughout McCoy’s run.

As well as showing the darker side of The Doctor, we also see the consequences of some of his unseen travels, as the group of interdimensional invaders, based on Arthurian legend believe him to be the wizard Merlin, suggesting a parallel universe Doctor, or perhaps or the one we’re familiar with using a pseudonym. A lot of this is referenced by Steven Moffat in the most recent series, particularly River Song’s claim that most wizards in stories usually turn out to be The Doctor, as well as the The Doctor going back in time to assist himself.

The appearance of The Doctor at a UNIT site requires Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart to be called out of retirement, where he quickly (after a lengthy helicopter ride) finds himself face to face with the main villain of the story – Morgaine. However, unlike the shoot first, ask later Brig we all know and love, he appears to have grown a bit wiser in his old age and has a discussion with the witchqueen, in which we find out that while she may be an evil witch, she still has her morals and her honour. Compared to the more traditional villains that The Doctor has faced, Morgaine is possibly one of the most interesting he has ever encountered, offering to cure a barmaids blindness in payment of her son’s large bar tab, while still being happy to kill anyone in her way.

The Seventh Doctor is known for being the most manipulative incarnation of the Time Lord, and in Battlefield this is very apparent, outthinking his enemies and even a possible version of himself. Not only is he manipulative, he shows the ability to perform a Jedi Mind Trick and hypnotise people into going against their will. We also see more of Sylvester McCoy’s serious face when he threatens to decapitate an enemy soldier, although the threat is quickly retracted, this is Doctor Who after all.

While the Brigadier has returned, he doesn’t really add anything to the story, apart from being a more violent counterpart to The Doctor. Although he does make a great return to form in the last episode when he tricks The Doctor in order to risk his own life saving the world. The Brig returning isn’t the only reference to the 3rd Doctor, Bessie makes a brief cameo, as well as a quick nod to Liz Shaw.

There are several great moments in this serial such as the relationship between the new Brigadier Bambera (a black woman which suggests that there is finally some diversity in the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce) and the lone knight Ancelyn sent to fight Morgaine’s forces. Sylvester McCoy’s performance is also one of his best, effortlessly switching from threatening to carefree to remorseful without seeming forced. I also consider Morgaine to be one of my favourite villains from the whole of Doctor Who history.

Battlefield is a fantastic example of the direction that Doctor Who was heading in towards the end of the 80s and while it is sad that it ended only a few months later, the new series starring the 11th Doctor shows plenty of similarities to this serial, especially with references to The Doctor being a mythical being.

One Response to “Doctor Who 06/09/89 – Battlefield”

  1. It is nice to read a positive review of this story for a change.
    I really love it.

    On the other hand, I do have to try really hard to be objective about it. Many fans have made severe criticisms of Battlefield and I think some of them are justified.

    Most obvious, Sylvester McCoy’s performance is not his best. I love him and I think he was criminally underrated, but he has to do a lot of anger in this story and anger was something he was not good at. When McCoy snarls menacingly “If they have been killed…” I just crack uop with laughter. He seems more hilarious than scary.

    The plot of Battlefield is also very weak. There are far too many characters who don’t get to do much.

    A lot of fans like this story because it brings back the Brigadier, but I think this was a mistake. Battlefield made the bold move of introducing a new black and female brigadier. She inevitably gets upstaged by the return of Nicholas Courtney who dominates too much of the proceedings. I think it would have been better to have left out Lethbridge-Stewart adn concentrated on the Doctor gaining the trust of Brigadier Bambera.

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