The BBC just released the latest Doctor Who supercut: the 7th Doctor adventure "Battlefield" has been cut down to 30 minutes and uploaded to the official Doctor Who YouTube Channel. The would-be epic story for Season 26, broadcast in 1989, is one of the most ambitious and also most flawed stories in the history of the show, especially the 7th Doctor era. Now you can see the cut-down "For Dummies" version.
Then Story Editor Andrew Cartmel, who was sort of the showrunner but had to take orders from producer John Nathan-Turner, had grand plans for the story and the show. Architect of the so-called "Cartmel Masterplan", Cartmel was in the process of overhauling the mythology of the show to make The Doctor much more mysterious and epic. A fan of Science Fiction novels and Alan Moore's deconstructionist approach to stories, Cartmel wanted to restore the sense of epic Science Fiction and mystery to Doctor Who. A shame he had to deal with the BBC's lack of vision in that department.
"Battlefield" was written by Ben Aaronovitch, an extremely savvy writer who has since gone on to write the hit Rivers of London novels, was full of grand ambition and interesting bits that stuck in the minds of fans who watched it. It reveals that The Doctor was Merlin in Arthurian Britain and advised King Arthur – or he will be Merlin as it may not have happened yet. Morgana Le Fey (Jean Marsh, who had previously played Sara Kingdom on the show in the 1960s) has returned from the future in search of Excalibur so she can find Arthur for one final epic battle. UNIT made its first reappearance on the show since the end of the Tom Baker era. Nicholas Courtney also appears as The Brigadier for the last time on the show.
Doctor Who "Battlefield": A Flawed Production
Unfortunately, the production was also a mess. It's not very well-directed, and moments that should have felt epic just looked like a LARPing weekend in the country. The script called for knights in futuristic armor, but the costume department misread and supplied them with clunky medieval armor instead, which drove Cartmel apoplectic with frustration.
There are plenty of enjoyable moments, though, like The Doctor reaffirming his friendship with The Brigadier, Courtney's drily mischievous performance as The Brigadier, the mystery of The Doctor's future role as Merlin, Morgaine's complexity as a villainess who adheres to her own noble code and her grief over King Arthur's ignoble death centuries earlier that deprives them of one last encounter. Cartmel and Aaronovitch's take on Arthurian legend linked to Science Fiction ideas is great fun. Ace and her love for things blowing up good and loud. And of course, there are Aaronovitch's wonderfully snarky lines. Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred at the height of their skills as The Doctor and Ace. Alas, the flaws of the production played up the cheesiness that haters of the show always dismissed it for.
But the story is full of big, swing-for-the-fences ideas that serve as a template for the return of the show in 2005 and ever since. Russell T. Davies, Steven Moffat, and Chris Chibnall have all been hugely influenced by stories like "Battlefield" to give Doctor Who the big, epic scope that they and the fans always thought it deserved.
Doctor Who: Season 26 – The 7th Doctor's 3rd season is now available on Blu-Ray and DVD.