Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Big Gay Longcat reviews Doctor Who: Battlefield Part One

Battlefield is the first story of season 26, the last season of Doctor Who the BBC made before they cancelled it for 16 long years... not counting one-off returns such as Dimensions in Time, I mean that this is the length of time it went without a full series being made.

Battlefield stars Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor and Sophie Aldred as Ace, and it was written by Ben A A Ronovitch who also wrote the previous season's opening story so I anticipate this being of a similar level of quality to that one.

Notoriously, when Battlefield was first broadcast in 1989 it was on BBC1 at the same time as Coronation Street was shown on ITV, which resulted in part one having the lowest number of viewers of any Doctor Who story: 3,100,000. This still seems like quite a lot of mannys to me (since the BBC only counts mannys, apparently, and the number of cat viewers in 1989 is not, to the best of my knowledge, recorded for posterity), but it is supposedly really very bad.

Fortunately by the time of part four the viewing numbers had increased to 4,000,000 exactly, meaning that in the intervening weeks 900,000 mannys had heard how good Battlefield was - possibly they heard it from their cats, I don't know - and so decided to watch it instead of Coronation Street.

Unlike with seasons 24 and 25, there is no pre-titles sequence. It starts with the unexpected appearance of Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, who we haven't seen in Doctor Who since The Five Doctors - if he has turned up for the 25th anniversary then I'm afraid he is a little late.

He is retired, telling Mrs Doris Lethbridge-Stewart his "blood and thunder days are long past." Hmm, I wonder what this could possibly be ironically foreshadowing?

In the next scene UNIT soldiers (ones who aren't retired), led by Brigadier Bambera, are having a spot of difficulty with their truck being borked. It has a nuclear missile in it, so they are understandably concerned. I mean, Gandhi might need it if he wants to play a game of Civilization.

In the TARDIS, the Doctor and Ace are receiving a distress signal from Earth and they go to investigate. They get a lift (by using the Richard method of hitch-hiking, only more successfully) from Peter Warmsley the archaeologist, who can't wait to give them the exposition they need about what's going on at his dig.
"The dig, as a matter of fact, is a hobby. A battlefield."
Clang! He drops the story title.

Some space knights come to Earth using a bad special effect.

The Doctor tries to use his old UNIT pass to get involved in the plot but, because his face doesn't match his photo, Brigadier Bambera turns him and Ace away. This is far too sensible behaviour for a guest character to display. Fortunately her second in command, Lt Zbrigniev, is there to remind her that a shapechanging alien is a far more likely explanation than an enemy impersonator. Even so, she takes some persuading:
"He changed his whole physical appearance."
"His whole appearance?"
"And his personality."
"How could he be the same man if his appearance and personality have changed?"

Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart gets a 'phone call from UNIT Headquarters in Geneva, but he doesn't want to go back to W-word for them (sensible manny) until he hears that the Doctor is back. Here we see him rapidly pass through several steps of "The Hero's Journey" as he receives The Call to Adventure, then he Refuses the Call, until he Hears the Doctor is Involved.

When next we see Brigadier Bambera she has teamed up with the Doctor and Ace, with their difficulties having all been resolved off-screen to save time. They go to a hotel to meet some more of the guest cast - Pat the hotel manager, Elizabeth the blind manny, and Shou Yuing the random hotel guest/friend for Ace.

Brigadier Bambera is driving around on her own when she gets caught between the space knights having a pewpewpew gun battle. Her catchphrase appears to be "oh shame!" which is a bit rubbish really, but you probably couldn't get away with "oh for fuck's sake!" in a show that kittens might watch. The space knights start fighting with swords so Brigadier Bambera runs away.

In the hotel there is a scabbard that the archaeologist dug up, and the Doctor asks him about it.
"For the scabbard's worth ten of the sword."
"Said Merlin."
No, it was the Doctor that said... aha, I see what they did there. This bit makes sense once you know what happens later on.

Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart is now back dressed as a soldier, about to go and join in the plot. Mrs Lethbridge-Stewart doesn't want him to go. He says it is his duty to go but really he does want to go after all. He gets collected by a helicopter. There are lots of gratuitous shots of the helicopter, it must have been expensive.

The space knights are having another pewpewpew fight, this time including using space grenades. At the same time Ace is talking to Shou Yuing about explosives, and saying "Boom!" a lot. Subtle this bit is not.

One of the knights gets blown up and into the brewery near the hotel, and this is seen by the Doctor, Ace and Shou Yuing so they all go to investigate.

There they meet Ancelyn, who is handsome so must be a good knight. He calls the Doctor "Merlin," knowing him by his "manner" rather than his "aspect" and so making this one of the most evocative ways of having a character recognise the Doctor across regenerations that I have seen in the series.

Brigadier Bambera comes in and tries to arrest them (I bet Russell "The" Davies loves that bit), but then the baddy knights come in and their leader says
"Kill them. Kill them now!"

Despite some questionable SFX, and some directing choices that perhaps weren't quite as effective as the makers thought they would be ("Boom!") this is a great first episode. A lot happens, but it is clear that a lot has still to happen - Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart still hasn't arrived in the main storyline, and neither has the main baddy Morgaine (although we have seen her in brief cutaways).

The way in which Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart is (re)introduced is interesting - with so much focus on his difficult decision about whether or not to return to help the Doctor, the story seems to be setting him up for a tragic ending where he will save the day but die in so doing. If this was a war movie then that would definitely happen, or else why place so much emphasis on what he is giving up if he does not, in the end, need to make the self-sacrifice?

While that could make for a very Shakespearean ending to Battlefield, I hope that it is not the case and that the Brigadier can live happily ever after. Just like Avon, Captain Kirk, and Willie Caine.

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