The Doctor and Ace arrive in Britain in the late 90s, near a stranded convoy carrying a nuclear missile. Strange weather and power outages seem to be taking place all of a sudden, and the Doctor himself is mystified at the coincidences – especially since all of this is happening on the shores of the lake where, according to legend, the dying King Arthur returned Excalibur to the Lady of the Lake. The legend turns out to have a solid foundation in reality – but a different reality where one of the Doctor’s future selves was trapped for a time, assuming the identity of Merlin. Now that warriors on both sides of the ancient battle are entering Earth’s dimension, the Doctor must take on a role he doesn’t even know how to play.
Season 26 Regular Cast: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Sophie Aldred (Ace)
written by Ben Aaronovitch
directed by Michael Kerrigan
music by Keff McCulloch
Guest Cast: Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart), Jean Marsh (Morgaine), Christopher Bowen (Mordred), Angela Bruce (Brigadier Winifred Bambera), Marcus Gilbert (Ancelyn), Ling Tai (Shou Yuing), Angela Douglas (Doris), June Bland (Elizabeth Rowlinson), Noel Collins (Pat Rowlinson), James Ellis (Peter Warmsly), Marek Anton (The Destroyer), Dorota Rae (Flight Lieutenant Lavel), Robert Jezek (Sergeant Zbrigniev), Paul Tomany (Major Husak), Stefan Schwartz (Knight Commander)
Broadcast from September 6 through 27, 1989
LogBook entry & review by Earl Green
Review: Though it may be considered by many to be the weakest story of the final season, that is by no means to say that it’s a bad show. In fact, season 26 is notable for being the best season of Doctor Who in several years, and easily the best of Sylvester McCoy’s reign. If Battlefield does, in fact, have a weakness, it is that the entirety of the story seems to be a set-up for future events. The seventh Doctor has to contend with the the mess left by one of his future regenerations, we’re introduced to a new Brigadier (and she herself is introduced to Ancelyn), and there’s always the lingering hint that Morgaine and Mordred will return to shake things up another day. Sadly, these various foundations were laid for stories that would never be told since the series was cancelled after this season. There seemed to be hints of an anti-war, or perhaps more specifically an anti-nuclear-arms message running through part four, but it almost seems to have been jammed into the script at the last moment – it just comes out of nowhere. Still, with the Doctor now moving firmly into much darker waters, Sylvester McCoy plays the creepiness and shadiness of the character with a great deal of skill. It’s almost scary at times, though it also gets silly – especially when he twirls round and round past the camera…oops, sorry, uh, into an “interstitial vortex,” not past the camera!
Since this story was written as the farewell to Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, Nicholas Courtney had more to do here than he did in most of his past appearances. A lot of his character development, in fact, can be traced to Battlefield and 1983’s Mawdryn Undead, the shows in which he had the least amount of pre-requisite soldiering and skepticism to take up his screen time. The sight of him easing into old age and retirement – not to mention having gotten married! – is not only entertaining, it’s also heartwarming in a way that Doctor Who rarely manages. (By the way, the entire character of Doris was based on a brief mention of a liaison between her and a much younger Brigadier in 1974’s Planet Of Spiders.)
The new Brigadier, played by Angela Bruce, is funny, smart and immediately likable. (Some may also remember Angela Bruce as the female Lister from the Parallel Universe episode of Red Dwarf.) I also have to call attention to the Destroyer creature, probably the best humanoid monster ever seen on Doctor Who. The amount of craftsmanship that went into this creature is amazing, and it’s certainly worthy of anything ever seen on an American science fiction series.