There are several threads at the beginning of ‘Battlefield’ before they start getting tangled and minor details need to be skipped.
The TARDIS is receiving a single to go to Earth although the Doctor (actor Sylvester McCoy) and Ace (actress Sophie Aldred) don’t know why although they materialize 4 miles from Lake Vortigern where a UNIT operation is going on, led by Brigadier Winifred Bambera (actress Angela Bruce). The Doctor and Ace get a lift to the lake from archaeologist Peter Warmley (actor James Lynch) although Bambera hasn’t been briefed as to who the Doctor is. One of her officers worked with Lethbridge-Stewart and knows of the Doctor.
A message is sent to London and the retired Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart is notified and ordered to see what is going on. In the meantime, Bambera deposits the pair of them at the Gore Crow Hotel where they discover an unusual scabbard, Ace meets Shou Yuing (actress Ling Tai), who shares her love of explosives although neither of them are prepared to see a knight crash into a brewery at the back of the pub.
That knight came from several skirmishes between two opposing teams of knights, one of which carries pistols and already encountered Bambera returning from the hotel and getting involved near the TARDIS.
The knight at the brewery, Ancelyn (actorMarcus Gilbert), recognises the Doctor as Merlin and, despite Bambera’s presence, and facing Modred and his men, it is the Time Lord who prevents a battle as, again, he is identified as Merlin.
Modred (actor Christopher Bowen) brings his mother, Morgaine (actress Jean Marsh) from 12 centuries ago to the present who is disappointed in him for battling on consecrated ground, ie a graveyard. While they honour the dead, Lethbridge-Stewart is approaching the village after the helicopter he was in was forced to crashland and meets Morgaine who promises to kill him in battle the next time they meet.
The Doctor and Ace visit the archaeologist dig and talk to Warmley. They find a message the Doctor wrote to himself on a stone in the ground and gets Ace to blast a hole into the ground and discovers a tunnel leading into the lake. Leaving Warmley to bore anyone to death who wants to pursue them, they go down and discover a spacecraft under the lake and Ace unwittingly pulls a sword from the stone, unleashing a green snake demon defence mechanism. Ace accidentally gets herself locked in an airlock that floods with water and the Doctor is knocked senseless. Of course, the Doctor recovers enough to release the airlock and get Ace out of the spacecraft and turns off the snake demon, just as the Brigadier arrives and happy for a reunion. At the hotel, with Modred watching, Morgaine draws out the memories of a female UNIT officer helicopter pilot before killing her but restores the landlord’s wife’s sight to pay the bar bill.
A lot of it is tooing and throing between the lake and the hotel, where different factions are fighting. The Brigadier has brought Bessie for the Doctor but there are problems getting the landlord and Warmsley out of the area until the Time Lord employs mind control in a way that, until now, only used by the Master.
The Doctor instructs Ace to use chalk to draw a circle and stay in it with the Excalibur sword if there is trouble as he and the Brigadier use Bessie to back to the lake. Ace had hidden Shou Yuing but they quickly realise they need the chalk circle and it stops Morgaine from getting it and she brings the demon Destroyer to get it.
At the lake, the battle is going on with Bombera and Ancelyn aiding the UNIT troops against Morgaine’s military. The Doctor realises they are in the wrong place. When they get back, Excalibur is gone but Ace and Shou Yuing survive. It is then a matter of stopping the Destroyer and Morgaine detonating the nuclear bomb and for that, you’ll have to watch for yourself.
‘Battlefield is an odd story in that the Doctor comes across the results of an adventure he hasn’t had yet, although it does appear that it wasn’t in his current but a later regeneration where somehow the TARDIS had travelled through a different dimension that has a semblance to the Arthurian legends and he is known as Merlin. Part of me tends to think this story strays too much into fantasy, even more so than ‘The Daemons’.
There are so many grey areas in this story. I mean, how did Morgaine know there was a nuclear bomb was, even if she didn’t know how powerful it is. I doubt if the helicopter pilot would have known it was there. Equally, why is UNIT taking a nuke with them on routine exercises? Morgaine is also a complex character doing something evil and yet restoring sight to the landlord’s lady. You would have to wonder why she would need a nuclear bomb when she’s so powerful. Morgaine and Modred are imprisoned so we never find their final fate or what happens to Ancelyn.
The audio commentary is with actresses Sophie Aldred, Angela Bruce and actor Nicholas Courtney with script editor Andrew Cartmel and scriptwriter Ben Aaronovitch. There is a general consensus from Cartmel and Aaronovitch that the interpretation of the script was artistically different missing out on sound effects and medieval knights rather than futuristic and more advanced weaponry. Even when they used swords, they were the wrong size. Sophie Aldred points out that they were filming very fast so you do have to wonder if that also applied to the effects. Oh, Winifred is based off Guinevere and Ancelyn is Lancelot.
I do wonder why such name changes weren’t done with Morgaine and Modred, unless there is an implication of resurrection in new bodies. The thin glass in the airlock had started to break and Sophie Aldred points out how Sylvester McCoy called out for not only her rescue from above but also everyone to clear the studio floor than risk electrocution. Ben Aaronovitch points out where he was going to kill the Brig but relented but does tend to present a vicious streak as well as having too many cast members.
The first extra at 22½ minutes, ‘Storm Over Avallion’ goes over the making of ‘Battlefield’ from crew and cast. Jean Marsh gives an acting lesson and playing with a light fixture as nothing else was offered by props. Andrew Cartmel notes he added the lines to the scene between Morgaine and the Doctor in the nuclear bunker.
‘Past And Future King’ at 12 minutes has Andrew Cartmel and scriptwriter Ben Aaronovitch discussing how the script developed from the latter submitting a spec script. That one, ‘Knightfall’, didn’t become ‘Battlefield’ but was an indication of the quality of his writing. Aaronovitch knew nothing about Arthurian legends and had to do research. He also admits to changing his mind about killing the Brig which ultimately changed to the happy ending.
The 7 minute piece, ‘Watertank’, goes into more detail as to the glass breaking from Sophie Aldred and Sylvester McCoy. Looking at the scene objectively, Aldred and the two special effects chaps on top of the tank were actually in the safest place..
The 19 minute ‘Studio Recording’ shows the set rehearsals for several scenes within the alien spaceship. If you ever thought filming was glamorous, this should dispel that as the technical aspects of position and continuity are discussed.
‘From Knight To Queen’ is an 8 minute piece as actress Jean Marsh discusses here three roles in ‘Doctor Who’. Finally, a 7 minute ‘Photo Gallery’ which is mostly in colour.
(region 2 DVD: pub: BBC. 2 DVD 92 minutes 4 * 25 minute episodes with extras on disk #1, 95 minute film on disk # 2. Price: I pulled my copy for about £ 7.00 (UK) if you know where to look. ASIN: BBCDVD3481)
cast: Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred, Jean Marsh, Nicholas Courtney, Christopher Bowen, Angela Bruce, Marcus Gilbert, Ling Tai, Angela Douglas and James Ellis