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3.7 out of 5 stars
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3.7 out of 5 stars
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 14 May 2014
`Battlefield' is a good story but it should have been a great one. It has clever ideas, some fine characters and performances, beautiful location photography and a fabulous `monster'. So why only three stars?

Somewhere in England, warring techno-magical Arthurian knights from another dimension have arrived to fight their final battle. Last time they tried (in 800 A.D.) they were stopped by guess who, who they call Merlin, who hid the good king (that's King Arthur) in everlasting sleep under a lake. The Doctor doesn't remember this because it hasn't happened yet but it will in his future, our past. Any `Doctor Who' fan should take wild `timey-wimey' things like this in their stride, it's a good plot idea.

Watch the extended, re-edited Special Edition on disc 2 for extra scenes, much better special effects and 5:1 sound - and they've cut one of the silliest bits too, a very good special edition which improves this often enjoyable but uncertain story.

`Battlefield' is basically about the battle between good and bad within human nature; only one character (not a humanoid) is actually `evil'. But it looks like a battle between the good and bad of 1980s `Doctor Who'. Were they making epic science fiction or children's comedy, or were they not sure? And there just happens to be a broken-down UNIT nuclear weapons convoy stuck by the lake, because obviously in the 80s they drove such things around the countryside, across archaeological sites and through boggy nature reserves all the time. Obviously.

Nicholas Courtney is back as the Brigadier, brought out of gardening retirement to help his old friend save the world again. It was a brilliant idea to have him return, a `splendid chap' as usual and heroic as ever. But he is largely wasted for the first episode, away from the heart of the action and only meets the Doctor partway through episode 3. And he doesn't get the ending he deserved, instead it's a light comedy anti-climax.

Jean Marsh is superb as the warrior sorceress Queen Morgaine, ruthless, deadly but honourable within her own rules of war. A perfectly written and acted character, faultless. But her son Mordred is far more `Blackadder II' than `Henry V' and he's supposed to be a serious character. Did I laugh? Yes, but not as loudly as he does. No wonder Morgaine was ready to let the Doctor cut his head off ...

Opposing Morgaine is Brigadier Bambera - a female, black UNIT commander, a good idea given more impact in 1989 by the fact that she's a British officer (not USAF as originally planned) and very good casting of Angela Bruce. But the character is mostly wasted, with some daft stunts (heroically taking on a whole troop of the enemy - but from a tiny little 2CV not a tank or even a jeep!), truly silly dialogue ("You're under arrest - you and your freaky friends!" (!!) ) and spends most of her time in a `Taming of the Shrew' romantic sub-plot with good knight Ancelyn; even when under fire they're sparring and chatting each other up. Exactly the sort of `distraction on the front line' idea that opponents of women soldiers like to imagine, undermining the character for the sake of `comedy'.

A fabulous demonic monster, `The Destroyer' is conjured up by Morgaine as the ultimate weapon. The costume looks fantastic, it's a fine performance from Marek Anton and he will obviously feature as the climax of the story. Except he doesn't. No, they still have to wake King Arthur so obviously he will fight Morgaine as the climax of the story. Except he doesn't, because Arthur is dead and dust, it was all a myth. Why? To make some point about `national myth'? Why base an interesting story around an alien `once and future King' and then find him boringly dead?

Instead we get what felt like a tacked-on final section where Morgaine tries to explode the broken-down nuclear missile, which seems to be there mostly so the Doctor can make a speech about the horrors of nuclear war. (Actually in the 1980s we were all too aware of that, but the Soviet Union took a lot of convincing.) Happily, Morgaine is much easier to convince, and surrenders. So they lock her up. They simply `lock up' a dimension-hopping sorceress who can call planet-eating demons like you'd phone a friend. That will work won't it? A poor ending for this excellent character - she should have magically escaped to return in a future season. (OK there were no future seasons but, with a few changes, there should have been.)

The location filming is excellent, glorious weather and choice of views creating an idyllic, almost Arthurian vision of rural England which is then undermined by the 80s musical style, which I felt was out of place in this story - it needed the classical orchestral style of 70s `Doctor Who' to evoke the correct `legendary' atmosphere.

Parts of `Battlefield' are 5-star `Doctor Who' at its very best; parts of it are no-star silliness, so I gave it 3*. On one of the DVD special features, writer Ben Aarononvitch says "`Battlefield' is my first failure". It's better than that, a good story with its hearts in the right place; probably his same basic story going through the `Doctor Who' production process a decade earlier would have come out as one of the all-time classics.

`Battlefield' is worth watching and proves that even this late in the day `Doctor Who' still had its vital spark, but if you are new to the Sylvester McCoy years I'd start with Aarononvitch's earlier `Remembrance of the Daleks' - now that is a classic.

Thanks for reading.

DVD Special Features:
On Disc 1:
The usual interesting commentary and production subtitles, including the embarrassing fact that this was the least-watched `Doctor Who' story - ever! But it's definitely not the worst, by a long way.
`Storm Over Avallion' - the `making of' documentary, very good set of contributors. Nice to see Nicholas Courtney ask the question that had occurred to me - how did a retired Brigadier own a manor house like that?! Probably a gift from a grateful Queen and Country, he deserved it for saving the world so often!
`Past and Future King' - how `Battlefield' was written.
`Watertank' -a Health-and-Safety moment on set which could have been very serious, watch this from behind the sofa...
`From Kingdom to Queen' - looking at Jean Marsh's three appearances in `Doctor Who' including two shows with William Hartnell.
`Studio Recording' - 20 minute behind-the-scenes view, interesting.

On Disc 2:
The movie-style Special Edition, very well done.
Trailer for the final Season 26 - four stories, all inventive ones including the excellent `Curse of Fenric'. Shows why the programme should never have been cancelled, just overhauled.
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on 10 February 2013
Battlefield kicks off my favourite season of Doctor Who (26). I know it may not be everyone's cup of tea but it is mine. Stories set on contempory Earth were always my favourites and this one is no different. Jean Marsh steals the story with her performance as Morgaine and the episode 3 cliffhanger when the Destroyer is summoned is amazing. In fact all the supporting cast shine in this story which is unique in such a large cast (although there is a point where half the cast is 'evacuated' and you don't see them again!!) The Doctor and Ace's relationship continues to build in this story and it sets up the rest of the season. All in all an amazing story, buy it!!
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VINE VOICEon 24 December 2008
Watching BATTLEFIELD is a frustrating experience, even if like me, you're a die-hard fan of the Sylvester McCoy stories. Despite the excellent idea of having a sci-fi spin on the Arthurian legend; despite great performances from Angela Bruce, Nicholas Courtney and especially Jean Marsh; despite some good lines, the occasional good joke and some impressive visuals (considering the show's budgetary restrictions), the story has to be considered an interesting failure.

From the disc's extras one can see that there was a far better, (possibly extraordinarily good) story buried under what was actually transmitted. The original ending which involved the Brigadier's death would have ensured that viewers would not have forgotten BATTLEFIELD for a long time. Writer Ben Aaronovitch claims he was forced to introduce an extra episode to his original 3-part story and perhaps this is why the final episode seems not to have a satisfying climax - it's always seemed to me to be a very poorly thought out denouement to have UNIT "lock up" Morgaine and Mordred. Is a conventional prison really going to pose any problem at all to an extra-dimensional sorceress who can blast down helicopters and drain people's memories? Examine the plot in detail and it falls apart.

For this viewer though, BATTLEFIELD's biggest flaw is one of tone. The script can't quite decide whether it wants to be comic, heroic or tragic. What are we to make of the relationship between Ancelyn and Bambera for instance? It's difficult to be either touched or amused by a relationship that seems to be based on them beating the living daylights out of one another(and other people). The script also seems to have difficulty deciding whether to pitch itself at an adult or a child audience. In light of the fact that there are some good lines here, I wince at some of the things some of the characters are given. For instance, would Bambera, a tough, professional soldier, really say something as absurdly camp as "I'm putting you under arrest - you and your freaky friends!"?

The problem of tone also rears its head in the performances. Sylvester McCoy occasionally veers towards overacting. We learn from the extras that the idea worked out between McCoy and director Michael Kerrigan in this story was that during this story the Doctor is internally battling with human violence which is "infecting" him somehow. While it's an interesting notion it simply doesn't work on screen because there's not enough in the script to support it. What we see is McCoy gurning rather absurdly for what seems like no particularly good reason. On the occasions when McCoy is quiet and subdued, the Doctor is far more the powerful, enigmatic figure he should be. Christopher Bowen could also have benefitted from underplaying his role...

Keff McCulloch's not terribly attractive incidental score also reinforces the idea that we're watching a children's programme and that adults shouldn't bother. And this is a real shame because there are a few scattered moments where BATTLEFIELD is genuinely magical. These are mainly the quieter, more understated scenes such as the Doctor's examining the scabbard for the first time in episode 1, but Jean Marsh is nothing short of magnificent (she's helped by having strikingly piercing eyes) and holds the viewers' attention by allowing the character to be multi-layered and not just a generic villain. She's the star of the story by light years.

The SPECIAL EDITION of BATTLEFIELD on the 2nd disc with extra scenes and added CGI effects is slicker and edited a little better than the transmitted version, but the differences are cosmetic and does little to dispel my misgivings.

The extras are of the usual high standard with the Aaronovitch/Cartmel interview especially interesting and illuminating a lot of the aspects of the tale that might have remained obscure to the casual viewer. The Jean Marsh interview is also worth a look and gives an extra insight into why her performance in BATTLEFIELD is so good.
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on 1 January 2009
What is with the unenthusiastic reviews? This is one of my favourite Doctor Who stories ever. The standards of production and acting are very high and so the whole thing holds up very well today. This is Sylvester McCoy at his best.

As to the DVD itself: You get the original televised version and a feature-length film style special edition with lots of added snippets and new effects. The effects don't add much, but like with 'Curse of Fenric', after watching the extended VHS I can't go back to watching the originals which now seem incomplete. Therefore it is a bit annoying with the special editions that you can't turn off the added effects or watch them as single episodes as well.

The bonus features are very enjoyable, especially the one on the water tank fiasco. (If only to hear Sylvester swear like Tom Baker, though for better reason.)

I'm looking forward to the E-space trilogy (pre-ordered with amazon).
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on 25 May 2014
I love this episode of Doctor Who McCoy definitely once again delivers as the Doctor and Ace has a timeless performance as usual. Also Jean Marsh delivers a great performance as the lead villain Morgaine. I definitely recommend this to anyone looking to add a classic who to their collection.
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on 11 June 2012
The plotting and special effects in Battlefield are OK; my main gripe concerns the politics. It's an exercise in equal opportunities, some would say political correctness, which may be laudable in itself but is ruined by a heavy-handed approach. Brigadier Bambera was clearly a case of someone thinking, "let's annoy all those old-fashioned, reactionary, probably racist Daily Telegraph readers by having a butch black woman in it." This needn't have detracted that much from the proceedings, in itself. The problem is Angela Bruce's OTT performance (which does suggest, without any disrespect to her, that she's on the whole better as a comedy actress). No Army officer, whatever their colour, would utter dialogue such as "You're under arrest, you and your freaky friends!" and in the way she does. I see I'm not the only reviewer to have made such an observation. Shou Yuing seems to have nothing much to do in the story and we suspect she's been put in just for the sake of gratuitously including another "ethnic" character, and in a rural area where you wouldn't expect to find that many of them; another case of the counter-productive insistence on winding up the more traditionally-minded. It's partly because the show needed to be a bit more multiracial - a black companion for the Doctor, for example, would have been a refreshing and intriguing development, and it was great when we finally got one in Frema Agyeman's character - that all this is so irritating.
On the plus side, I liked the whole evocation of Arthurian mythology (a story based around it was long overdue). And Battlefield does engage the emotions. We are appalled by Morgaine's callous destruction of Lavel, the fact that she cures Warmsly's wife's blindness at the same time only serving to highlight a certain amorality, yet can only be moved when she sees the war memorial and her attitude towards the inhabitants of Earth softens on the realisation that they, too, honour their military dead.
Battlefield is worth watching, also, for the confrontation between the Brigadier (Lethbridge Stewart that is) and the Destroyer, which encapsulates the very British spirit of the show. Looking down on its ageing, pot-bellied adversary the alien growls, "Can this world do no better than produce you as its champion?" "Probably," the Brig replies. "I just do the best I can."
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on 7 February 2014
There's nothing not to love about Battlefield. It has McCoy and Sophie Aldred's Ace on top form, it has an ageing but still spry Brigadier, plus new international UNIT characters, and its got armoured knights from a parallel dimension who think the Doctor is Merlin! The twist that the Doctor from either the future or an alternate reality has left messages to himself is very well done, and the story is immense fun, as well as being visually spectacular.
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on 12 May 2015
One of my favourites of the Sylvester McCoy years.
A nice twist on the Arthurian legend which adds another layer to the enigma of the Doctor. Some nice nods to old UNIT, not least of which the return of Lethbridge-Stewart.
I'm not going to say much, lest I spoil it for viewers who have come to the classic series, via the modern. Remember, Scrooge would have spent more on production than did the BBC in these last days. For all that, a really stinking episode
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on 18 November 2014
Love this story. UNIT are great very 80s but led by a woman; Ace is brave, the baddie is the Who experienced Jean Marsh and the story hangs together well. McCoy is a bit underrated as the Doctor but is on mysterious and entertaining form here. And teh Brigadier is in it - what could be better?
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It's interesting to read the differing opinions here but I have to say that a lot of reviewers seem to be missing the point. As a lifelong Doctor Who fan I can understand other fans becoming frustrated through seeing 'our show' lose its way and gain some of the pantomime aspects that plagued its later years. However, the programme has always (in its classic years anyway) had an extremely limited budget and relied instead upon wit, imagination and great characters. While Battlefield can sometimes seem to be an incoherent mess with gratuitous SFX and hammy performances, it is still good colourful escapism and contains flashes of greatness. Jean Marsh's accomplished turn as the witch queen Morgaine, Nick Courtney reprising his role as the Brigadier with style and panache, and the awesome Destroyer, are the highlights here, whilst McCoy's constant bellowing of 'Aaaaaace!' and the confusing and ill-conceived relationship between Brigadier Bambera and the knight Ancelyn, are the low-points.

All this aside, I enjoyed the DVD as much as I'd enjoyed the original transmission in 1989 as a callow 16 year old; the action rarely lets up, there are some typical Doctor Who moments (the UNIT soldier being turned to dust by Morgaine) and it has a cosy and familiar feel for the nostalgists amongst us. As for 'that' maniacal laughter; since when was Doctor Who not hammy and over the top? Embrace our show for what it is, warts and all.

As Sophie Aldred says in the excellent DVD extra 'Storm over Avallion', "it was the kids who told me they loved this story". In the same feature, Marcus Gilbert who played Ancelyn and Angela Bruce who played Brigadier Bambera, clearly had a great time filming the serial and their anecdotes and gentle digs at one another make for great viewing. There is also a fascinating if over-egged feature entitled 'Watertank', which tells the story of how Sophie Aldred narrowly escaped serious injury when the glass front of the water tank she was in cracked then shattered - pouring water onto a studio floor littered with live cables. An interview with writer Ben Aronovitch offers insight into the creative process, and Ben's candour when talking about his least favourite script is refreshing, if a little harsh.

Jean Marsh, who played Morgaine, and who is still looking fantastic 20 years on appears in the 'Making of' feature, proving once again that despite his flaws, Producer John Nathan-Turner had a real talent for attracting great actors to the show.
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