Monday, 1 October 2012

Review: Doctor Who Classic: Battlefield

The Brigadier and Bessie make their last
Doctor Who - Season 26, Story One - Battlefield
Written 25/6/12

Merlin! That great yet troubled series staring Colin Morgan... sorry? Oh, no, this is Season 26 of Doctor Who! Sorry about that. Yes, for the first time (and the last) Doctor Who decided to deal with the concept of Arthurian Legend, another of Britain's myths that the show has entrenched itself into.The writer of last season's excellent Remembrance of the Daleks brings us this pseudo-Arthurian tale, and while it tries to be like that former story, it ends up stuffing itself in the process with too many characters and too many conflicts. (The opposite, I can say, of the TV Show.)
     Having discovered a nuclear bomb at an archeological dig, UNIT are called to the scene, led by Brigadier Winifred Bambera (Angela Bruce, who previously played the Female Lister in Red Dwarf). Thunderstorms abound at a castle near Carbury and the mysterious Lake Vortigern. The Doctor arrives just in time to watch UNIT battle a group of warriors enter from another Dimension, one in which Arthurian Myth is all true and where a version of The Doctor is known as Merlin. Using his influence amongst their culture, he joins old friend Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart and a large cast of characters to defeat Mordred and his mother, Morgaine, before they bring their war to our world.
     It's certainly nice to see UNIT again, but they're nowhere near as strong as they were previously, especially with the leadership of Angela Bruce's lacklustre Brigadier, whose incompetance turns her character into humourous slapstick. Indeed, the entire story has an air of the comic, with knights running around the countryside fighting horrendously choreographed battles in an almost Pythonesque way. And after such issues with ye-olde language being thrown about in Silver Nemesis, by far the worst story of the previous season, this continues to be laughable and silly. "Ere" was used no less than three times, for goodness sake. And there are so many characters, many of which have very little reason to be there AND very little to do, to the point where this is still true after four of them are randomly carted out of the story. Luckily the Brig gets some badass lines here or there, especially in the end, where he kills the Destroyer.
Morgaine is a great villain.
     Despite having a very weak link towards actual Arthurian mythology, I thought it was a great adaptation of the concept. The Doctor's character ultimately derives from the Merlin archetype; less, perhaps, than characters like Gandalf and Dumbledore, but he shares a similar role as the mystical mentor. The best part of their role in the story was very much the character of Morgaine, who was a very complex villain in a really good way. To cross continuities, she shares a lot of features with the early version of her counterpart Morgana in Merlin, with a dark villainous streak tempered by a genuine level of respect for those around her. She wants to turn our world upside down in her battle with Arthur, but she still pauses to respect the dead at a WWII memorial and cures a blind woman. The day is only saved when The Doctor tells her that Arthur is long dead, and she mourns for her worthy adversary.
      Battlefield on its own is a great romp, and I certainly wouldn't warn you away from it. But it falls prey to the same things that Silver Nemesis did, albeit in a less dramatic way. It's overstuffed, overlong and instead of the epic Arthurian Yarn we were promised, we got a bit of a runabout. I was expecting Camelot, not Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It wasn't a complete disaster, and it certainly is enjoyable, but not in a memorable way.


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