Doctor Who: Battlefield (1989)

This brings the Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney) out of retirement (again) and ties off a bit of continuity to reveal that he has married the Doris (Angela Douglas) who was once - it was implied in a joke in Planet of the Spiders - his weekend mistress, and also does some updating of UNIT, who are now run by a black woman and have special weaponry to take on alien invaders. The trouble comes from an alternate dimension (the like of which we've not seen since Inferno) where in the future the Doctor will play Merlin in the familiar Arthurian story.

There are good things, mostly with one-off characters: Morgaine (Jean Marsh), the head baddie, pays for a round of drinks by curing a landlady's blindness, just after she has casually and without effort killed a likable soldier, and even calls a time-out before a battle so her evil knights can pay homage at a war memorial in an English village; Ancelyn (Marcus Gilbert) is a proper gallant knight, interestingly teamed with the modern Brigadier (Angela Bruce), who doesn't understand his approval of 'a good fight' while sitting on a bloodied field full of corpses and makes war because 'it's what we're paid to do'; and the Destroyer is an impressive man-in-a-suit monster though, not untypically, mostly stands around huffing (Ace: 'If you're so bad, why haven't you done anything yet?').

In this era, the show did a lot of serials that set themselves up as sequels to adventures we never saw or hadn't happened yet - a lazy habit which made for busy, distracted, hard-to-follow, ultimately shallow tales. Here, there seems to be some attempt to do a story about War - the chivalrous, heroic, legendary type and the bloody, messy, modern type; the ultimate point seems to be that it's a bad thing, which is nice to know. There's quite a nice finish with Morgaine about to let loose a borrowed nuke but the Doctor forcing her to think about the results, whereupon one of the series' numberless cackling fiends realises just how out of proportion that would be and pulls back from the brink - though it's a touch anti-climactic that she's just arrested afterwards.
KIM NEWMAN

First published in this form here.


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