Doctor Doctor Who Guide

Reviews


List:
25 Feb 2004Battlefield, by Sarah Tarrant
04 Sep 2004Battlefield, by Paul Clarke
14 Dec 2004Battlefield, by Kathryn Young
29 Oct 2005Battlefield, by Ed Martin

When most people think of Ben Aaronovitch’s contribution to the television series of Doctor Who they automatically say ‘Oh yes, he wrote that one with the Daleks’. Having watched ‘the forgotten other story’ recently I would like to mention a few points in its favour. I get the impression that this opening story of the twenty-sixth season is a neglected classic of the McCoy era with many references and influences from other stories that have preceded it. Some of which are more obvious (the inclusion of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, and the yellow roadster ‘Bessie’ (however one thing I thought was a bit too much of a coincidence was when it was finally uncovered after however long it’s been that it now surprisingly has the licence plate ‘WHO 7’!), whilst other are more subtle. Examples of which would be the use of a Citroen 2CV (echoes of the vehicles used in ‘The Sea Devils’) and King Arthur’s spaceship under Vortigern’s lake (sounds a bit like ‘Terror of the Zygons’ if you ask me!). Also it was probably a throw away line but when first encountering the UNIT personnel by the lake the Doctor is conviently carrying ‘antiquated passes’ presumably originally issued to the third Doctor and Liz Shaw. I say throwaway as Brigadier Bambera quickly ignores them, although it is enough to prompt her assistant Sergeant Zbrigniev to recall his time spent working for Lethbridge-Stewart.

We open with the garden centre scene and the remark of ‘Do you regret leaving teaching?’ directed at Lethbridge-Stewart clearly links to the 1983 Mawydrn Undead story. As far back as ‘Planet of the Spiders’ we knew of his romantic involvement with a lady called Doris, and it is here that we finally have the chance to briefly meet her at either end of the story. In the timeline of the series, having now retired from UNIT it is heartwarming to see they are now married and enjoying their more relaxed life together. An impressive Tudor residence set in beautiful gardens coupled with glorious summer weather is certainly one of many pleasing and memorable images this story presents. As he prepares to temporarily leave this tranquil setting, having once more dusted off and put on his uniform I thought it a nice bit of continuity that the case containing his service revolver and bullets had, in gold lettering, the inscription ‘AGLS-6’ (an acronym of Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart).

I feel this story succeeds in reaffirming the mystical quality of the Doctor who gains the identity of Merlin from those ‘star travellers’ from another dimension, visiting the Earth of the future. This is further supported by Sylvester McCoy’s interpretation of the Doctor whilst dealing with Ancelyn, Morgaine and her followers.

What we appear to have here is, in broad terms, a medieval knight society visiting a future Earth in our dimension attempting to acquire King ArthurÂ’s sword Excalibur. I suspect from the battle between good and evil forces using some element of magic which has caused a time slip into our reality.

A criticism levelled against this story is the use of a lot of armour clad knights clonking about with broadswords with a lot of macho posturing. I personally think this is underserved as these brief medieval jousting is entirely appropriate to the piece. It is, at this point worth mentioning that the use of sword fighting is well documented throughout the series. Who could forget the Doctor battling the Master at the Fort (The Sea Devils) and in the banquet hall of Ranulfs castle (The Kings Demons). Not forgetting a tussle with Count Grendel (The Androids of Tara). And armour clad warriors brings memories of the Gundan robots (Warriors Gate). Here the protagonists really go for it coupled with some rousing incidental music to engage the viewer. Of course this is merely a prelude to the main medieval warriors against UNIT soldiers battle waged during the fourth episode, a suitably engaging piece filled with explosions, roars, swords, guns, and men flying through the air, all accompanied by more appropriately composed music.

Another criticism levelled against this story is regarding the temporary interest shown by the Doctor towards the scabbard hanging up next to the fireplace inside the Gore Crow hotel (an apparently long established building if the figure of 1684 carved into the stonework is to be believed). My opinion is that as the story progresses it is merely a red herring as there are more important things for our heroes to concentrate on. I think it is possibly because of Carbury Trust archaeologist Peter WarmsleyÂ’s action of removing the scabbard from its buried position Morgaine, Ancelyn and the other knights were able to lock onto the general location of Excalibur. It is when Morgaine and Mordred reach the Gore Crow hotel they then realise that it is merely an empty container and they then focus their attention elsewhere. Although it is interesting to note that whilst Mordred is performing a summoning ritual the scabbard is affected. We know that Excalibur poses magical powers, I suspect some of these rubbed off on the scabbard which had been in contact with it. It does indeed appear to be the same length as the mystical sword when the two objects are later held together by Ace and Shou Yuing whilst they dwell in the chalk circle thus supporting the supposition.

The future as depicted in the story is not so very different from our own, although inflation has certainly spiralled ever higher (£5 for three drinks at the Gore Crow hotel in the first episode – sounds like daylight robbery!). The only changes to UNIT appear to be pale blue berets and, now in command, a seemingly resolute determined young black female Brigadier in the shape of Winifred Bambera (taking charge on her arrival at the Gore Crow hotel, and threatening the assembled group at the end of the first episode spring to mind). Whilst most of the people seemed to accept her authority it is the attractive blond haired Ancleyn who delights in belittling her position of command from their first meeting. The character interaction between them during the remainder of the story (she trying to assert her authority, he belittling her) is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the story. Bambera finally appears to win this light hearted conflict during their journey in the 2CV when they encounter Morgaine’s troops blocking the road. You can understand the Knight Commander’s comment of ‘Magnificent’ when she pulls the top back and, having got Ancleyn to hold the steering wheel, climbed up, machine gun in hand and proceeded to coldly and clinically force the obstructing soldiers out of the way with abrupt precise rounds of her weapon.

The pairing of Ace with Chinese student Shou Yuing definitely worked well and providing the opportunity to probe into Ace’s past as the two girls enjoy their drinks outside at the rear of the Gore Crow hotel. The humorous story of the ‘home made gelignite’ and schoolteacher Mrs Parkinson’s inquiry and attempted confiscation of said questionable material further reaffirms her ultimate arrival on Iceworld (‘Dragonfire’).

As the main protagonist Jean Marsh, I feel, portrays the character well, thanks in part to an impressive bronze costume of plate and chain mail finished off with a subtle full length cloak. The finishing touches of long ‘witch’ nails, long crimped red hair and a tall plainly detailed regal crown added to her imposing presence. I particularly remember her encounter with Lethbridge Stewart’s pilot, Lovel in the Gore Crow hotel bar. Lovel uselessly fires her revolver at Morgaine who catches the bullets, grinds them into dust, then casually scatters them over the floor. With an air of subtly she moves in, fingernail talons extended towards Lovel’s head, the soldier slowly sinking to the floor in meek submission. Having gained the necessary information, the continued mind probing finally causing Lovel to scream out as her brain fries. Having been prompted, a brief extension of a taloned hand and the still figure of Lovel is dispassionately disintegrated.

The only aspect I found disappointing would be ‘The Destroyer’ character whom seemed to offer a threat to humanity but didn’t really deliver. However credit though is deserved to the make up team for realising this chained enemy who is easily despatched, via a polished performance from Nicholas Courtney, towards the end of the story.

In summary this is an enjoyable romp with a healthy mix of series history, magic, humour (McCoy’s creeping about early in the morning at the Gore Crow hotel, using a blown up crisp packet to wake Bambera and Ancelyn from their slumber is a good example of this) and armed conflict combined with an engaging incidental music score. If you are one of those people who have previously looked unfavourably on this story I hope you will return to it, give it another chance and possibly, just possibly you might realise that it isn’t quite as bad as it’s unjust reputation would suggest. For myself I sincerely hope that it might eventually be considered at some point in the near future, for membership in the ever growing ‘exclusive DVD title release club’, complete with deleted scenes and maybe, if applicable, with a stereo soundtrack.

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I like the plot of ‘BattlefieldÂ’. I know this because I have read Marc PlattÂ’s novelisation of the story, and I like the blend of science fiction and fantasy and the idea of other-dimensional knights and sorceresses who inspired the legend of King Arthur, equipped with pneumatic armour. I also like the idea of the Doctor running into trouble caused by his future self, the first time the series ever really explored the idea, which seems perfectly in keeping with a series concerned with time travel. Unfortunately, what we get on screen is nowhere near as interesting, due to a combination of bad acting, bad direction and generally poor production values, which at times becomes so dire that it makes it easy to understand why Season Twenty-Six would be the final season of Doctor Who. 

There are nevertheless aspects of ‘BattlefieldÂ’ that I like. The final television appearance to date of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart is handled well, with a more dignified portrayal of the character that is a million miles away from the buffoon of ‘The Three DoctorsÂ’ and ‘Planet of the SpidersÂ’. Nicholas Courtney returns to the role with his usual ease, helped in large part by some well-scripted scenes such as his early scenes with Doris, during which he discusses his reasons for returning to duty one more time once he learns that the Doctor is involved. Despite DorisÂ’ pleading with him, he remains adamant that he must do his duty, and bids her a fond farewell, promising to return later. His defeat of the Destroyer is also well handled; he knocks the Doctor out once he knows how to dispatch the demon, telling him, “Sorry Doctor, but I think IÂ’m rather more expendable than you are”, and just before he pulls the trigger in the subsequent scene, when the Destroyer asks him if he is the best champion that his world can muster, he coolly replies “I just do the best I can”, which in many ways sums up all of the best aspects of the character. Writer Ben Aaronovitch also includes some friction between the Brigadier and Ace, largely in additional scenes added to the video release, as she bristles at being describes as the latest companion and generally gets rather jealous that the Doctor and the Brigadier are old friends. Unfortunately however, it is obvious that Aaronovitch originally intended to kill the Brigadier off in this story, and the change of mind that prevented this has a result on the dramatic impetus of the BrigadierÂ’s scenes. Much as I like the character and donÂ’t especially want to see him dead, the aforementioned scenes with Doris are clearly structured to facilitate a more tragic ending, which never materialises, rendering much of the dialogue rather redundant. 

I also quite like Morgaine. Former companion Jean Marsh seems to relish her role, and although villains with a sense of honour are now thoroughly clichĂ©d, they can be used effectively. Morgaine has such a sense of honour, evident from her first scene with the Brigadier as she recognizes him as an enemy warrior, but suggests a ceasefire whilst she and her men hold a remembrance ceremony to honour the dead, having been accidentally misled into defiling a graveyard by Mordred. Morgaine also tells the Brigadier, “I wish you know that I bear you no maliceÂ… but when next we meet I shall kill you” and later asks, “What is victory without honour?” She also pays for MordredÂ’s drinks at the local pub by restoring ElizabethÂ’s sight. But despite this sense of honour, Morgaine is also terribly dangerous; she can knock helicopters out of the sky, she wipes the mind of Lavel and then reduces her to ashes, and is so obsessed with defeating “Merlin” and Arthur that she unleashes the Destroyer, which we are told is capable of destroying the world. This gives the character an unpredictable edge that makes her an effective villain, one striking example of her ruthlessness being when the Brigadier threatens to kill Mordred unless she releases Ace and Shou Yuing; her response is, “Die well, my son”. Nevertheless, her concern for honour is crucial to the storyÂ’s finale, as she prepares to detonate a nuclear missile but is talked out of it by the Doctor, who rapidly reveals the truth about nuclear weapons with a terse speech about their effects, including the line “A child looks up at the sky – his eyes turn to cinders”. Morgaine relents, and lets him abort the missile, and her subsequent grief over ArthurÂ’s death also shows her human side, as her real motivation is revealed. Except that this scene, which I superficially enjoy, is utter bollocks. I can buy the fact that Morgaine thinks a weapon that rains down fire from the sky indiscriminately is dishonourable, but only a short time before, she released a being capable of consuming the whole world. 

And this is the problem with ‘BattlefieldÂ’; the script and production promise much, but then end up buggering up the delivery. Having previously written ‘Remembrance of the DaleksÂ’ and later writing the controversial but impressive ‘TransitÂ’ and what is, to date, my favourite Doctor Who novel in the majestic form of ‘The Also PeopleÂ’, I find it extremely disappointing that so much of AaronovitchÂ’s script here feels like the scribbling of a sixth form student with pretensions that exceed his talent. The cod-Shakespearean dialogue is awful, although this is partly because with the exception of Jean Marsh, none of the relevant actors can deliver it remotely convincingly; this is especially obvious with Ancelyn, actor Marcus Gilbert struggling throughout. He gets a number of lines that are clearly meant to provide comic relief, but which actually donÂ’t; his banter with Bambera is merely irritating, and lines like “I am the best knight in the world” merely detract from the potential drama of the piece. Another shortcoming of AaronovitchÂ’s script is the characterisation of Bambera, who he seems to have tried to write as a strong female role, but he has apparently confused strong and capable with stroppy and bad-tempered. Her dialogue is dreadful, from her pointless catchphrase of “Shame” to lines like “YouÂ’re under arrest, you and the rest of your freaky friends”. As for her relationship with Ancelyn, the argumentative odd couple that fall in love is such a hoary old clichĂ© that can work, but doesnÂ’t here due to its sheer tokenism. Aaronovitch also includes a scene half-way through Episode Three in which the Doctor hypnotizes the locals to make them cooperate with the UNIT evacuation; it is considerably more impressive than the hypnotism scene in ‘Silver NemesisÂ’, but it is still a blatant plot device for disposing of extraneous characters mid-way through the story. 

These problems with the script however pale into insignificance compared to some of the failings of the production. For one thing, there is some awful acting on display. Despite decent performances from veteran actors James Ellis, Noel Collins and June Bland as Peter Warmsly, and Pat and Elizabeth Rowlinson, the story is rather hamstrung by awkward and stilted performances from Angela Bruce as Bambera and Marcus Gilbert as Ancelyn, and most painfully of all by an excruciatingly bad performance from Christopher Bowen as Mordred. Bowen is embarrassingly bad at various points throughout, but the absolute nadir comes as he summons Morgaine and laughs maniacally for almost thirty seconds. And by laughs maniacally, I mean that he shouts “Aha-ha-ha-ha-ha!” in a way that would make Stephen Thorne proud. This I quite bad, but what is far worse is the performances that we get from the regulars. IÂ’ve discussed the limitations of McCoyÂ’s acting in previous reviews, but here he seems to be exceeding these limitations at every turn, in a performance that makes me fully understand his detractors. He gurns almost constantly, as he tries to convey anger or strong emotion, and especial low-points include “If theyÂ’re dead…”, “Stop! There will be no battle here!”, and “Go, before I unleash a terrible something on you!” HeÂ’s also excruciatingly unconvincing during the scene in which he threatens to kill Mordred if Morgaine doesnÂ’t release Ace and Shou Yuing, which is particularly disappointing as I rather like the fact that the script turns the “Look me in the eyeÂ… end my life” scene from ‘The Happiness PatrolÂ’ back on him and makes the Brigadier rather grim and menacing. There is also a scene in Episode Two in which Morgaine contacts the Doctor via sorcery and commands, “Merlin! Hear me!” The Doctor responds with “I hear you”, a straightforward piece of dialogue the delivery of which somehow makes McCoy look and sound constipated. 

Sophie Aldred is even worse. The script doesn’t help; returning to a less pleasant character aspect from ‘Dragonfire’, we once more get to hear Ace boasting about how she vandalized her local school with explosives and destroyed the pottery pigs of some small children as though this is a big and clever thing to do. Ace is also paired with Shou Yuing, which causes two problems; firstly she is almost as irritating as Ace, and secondly actress Ling Tai plays her which is a problem in that she turns out to be visibly more talented than Sophie Aldred. This is particularly noticeable when they start fighting in the chalk circle in Episode Three, and Tai conveys convincing emotion whilst Aldred just scowls and shouts “Toe-face!” (which I’ll concede is the fault of the script, as is the line “Geronimo!” later on). Having said that, Tai fares just as badly as Aldred during the infamous “Boom!” scene, which brings me neatly on to the direction.

Michael KerriganÂ’s direction is simply dire. A story with the title ‘BattlefieldÂ’ might be reasonably expected to have some fight scenes in it, but although I suspect that they are present in the script, they seem to have been replaced in the broadcast story with scenes of incompetent extras in cardboard “armour” pissing about in the mud whilst cheap fireworks are set off at random around them. Except in the case of the badly choreographed fight between Bambera and Ancelyn in Episode Two, which instead consists of a sequence of extravagant pratfalls instead. The gun/sword fight in Episode One is particularly badly staged and tacky, especially when two knights run into each other. Basically, everything is either cack-handed or badly misjudged; the script calls for an ancient lake surrounded by a forest, so the production team visit an obviously man-made lake with a few recently planted saplings nearby. And the incidental score is utter shite; guess who composed it? The BBC may have canceled my favourite television series at the end of this season, but every cloud has a silver lining and in this case itÂ’s the fact that Deaf McCulloch never got to work on it again. Did I type Deaf? I meant Keff. 

I’ve been rather harsh, I know; there are one or two other things about ‘Battlefield’ that I enjoy, such as the attempt to show a multi-national UNIT force. It’s also interesting to see the increasingly manipulative Doctor trying to second-guess his future self, and although it is enormously self-indulgent, the scene with Bessie raises a smile. But whereas some stories are simply bad, I can’t help feeling that ‘Battlefield’ had the potential to be really good, instead of a tacky runaround with a twee ending. It’s a terrible start to the final season; fortunately, things would get much better before the end…

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Through the wonders of the local council a copy of the "extended version no true Doctor Who fan would want to miss" of Battlefield fell into my sticky little grubby Doctor Who obsessed paddy paws. Well first off let me put that one straight: extended version? What extended version? Thirty seconds of the Doc and Ace climbing a spiral staircase covered in fairy lights (the staircase, not the actors)? Well whoops se do (but not in a good way).

Everyone says this story is total and utter...

And yes I began to believe the hype: Bad direction, too rushed, someone even complained that the countryside was too green and nice looking! But then I thought about it. Actually this story is rather clever. Concept wise: OK, so all the plot really consists of is a bunch of other dimensional knights poncing around an over green bit of English country side trying to recover a sword for some reason that is never actually explained, but at least they aren't your usual "oh, let's take over the Earth for the sheer hell of it" type aliens.

I think Aaronovitch had been watching Star Trek: The Next Generation. The bad guys in Battlefield are a sort of cross between the Klingons and the "Knights of Ni" from Monty Python and the Holy Grail (but without the shrubberies). On the one side there is the honour code stuff and on the other there is the cod awful overacting, complete with maniacal laughter.

However by giving them a pseudo medieval background this also gives them a bit of depth and grounds them in a culture that the viewer can relate to. The upshot of the idea that "it may be more exciting to actually think about your villain and perhaps create a bit of backstory about them rather than just write in some malevolent green slime that shimmies around the air conditioning ducts" is the wonderful scene with the head bad lady (who has the most impractical fingernails I have ever seen) and the Brigadier where they take some time out from the mindless slaughter of universe domination and universe saving to have a bit of a chat and honour Earth soldiers who have fallen in battle. And this, along with a lot of other stuff makes Battlefield INTERESTING. Not really scary I admit, but definitely interesting.

Are You Short?

I am. I am very short. Do you know how difficult it is to dominate when you can barely see over the table? This is probably why I will cut Sylvester some slack for Battlefield. Not only does he have to stop some alternately dimensional knights from unleashing bloody and unstoppable destruction on Earth, but he has to cope with being a shortass (and admittedly sort of weird looking) to boot. Perhaps six foot tall Sean Connery could have done it and still found time for a few rounds of golf, but Sylvester had to go the extra gurn just to get people to look at him.

So this is my theory. People criticize his performance in Battlefield all the time. But it is not the gurning, the question mark jumper or the hat. It is because he is short and silly looking. Well so was bloody Napoleon. And look what he did (not that I am saying starting wars and general conquering is a good thing mind you).

As a "vertically challenged individual" I know how tricky it is to make tall people take you seriously - "seven degrees, worked with Mother Teresa, ran the UN, and found the holy grail.. well that's nice dear, but you can't see over the top of the steering wheel without a cushion can you now?"

So what do you think Sylvester (a bloke who, until Doctor Who, was most famous for stuffing ferrets down his trousers and pretending to be a car) did when he was asked to stop a war?

He did everything he could.

And do you know sometimes it works. Short, silly looking and Scottish he may be, but sometimes his performance as the Doctor gives me the chills. Sometimes he totally freaks me out (god help his kids if they ever misbehave). It's the eyes. Sometimes, when Sylvester isn't wiggling around like a man with a ferret down his trousers he comes across all dead spooky and serious. Sylvester may be a clown, but he knew who the Doctor was. And he knew that the Doctor was scary.

Winifred and Ancelyn

Drawn together by a love of hitting people and gratuitous violence Brigadier Bambera and Knight Commander Ancelyn fall in love. They are like a very dangerous and violent version of the Moonlighting couple. He is a spunky blond-haired knight from another dimension (with a healthy respect for the fairer sex) and she is a spunky gun obsessed UNIT Brigadier (with a cute little beret). If you ask me this is a match made in heaven.

Very rarely do we have a love story on Doctor Who, and while I think this one was handled with about as much subtlety as Tom Baker after a late at night down the pub, it is sweet. And INTERESTING. Sometimes I get so sick of your generic scientist/soldier supporting characters who get no character at all and then usually snuff it horribly.

Here we have something different. Instead of putative dead people standing around going "Oh my god we are going to die/the Doctor is a spy and we must kill him" we actually to seem to have characters who aren't just waiting around in suspended animation for the entrance of the Doctor (Maybe the writer had been watching The City of Death?).

I have actually read later books/fiction of some kind where the two characters pop up and they have actually got married and settled down to have little psychopaths, er sorry - kids. And, call me an old softie, but I think that's lovely.

And just think of the sex? Phoaarrrr!

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Battlefield has suffered since it first went out, being viewed as the weak link in a generally strong period for the show and even as a nadir of 80s Doctor Who. Ben Aaronovitch has it doubly hard as far as I'm concerned as I happen to think his other episode, Remembrance Of The Daleks, to be the most horribly overrated in the series's history. On the other hand, I have very fond memories of seeing this episode when I was a kid, and I used to rave about it years ago. Consequently, I can never make up my mind about Battlefield.

It certainly gets off to a poor start, with the same continuity-tsunami that characterises much of Remembrance owing to the requirement once again to dig up the Brigadier. It suffers as well considering its status as a McCoy season opener: it's hardly the Star Wars homage of Remembrance (the best bit about the episode), and as for Time And The Rani...tacky it may be, but a regeneration is a regeneration. Aside from the very first scene though, the first episode shows a lot of promise, with an unusually multi-cultural feel that almost borders on political correctness (shock horror!). There is an enormous drag factor evident though in Keff McCulloch's appalling score, as Arthurian warriors slug it out to the sound of a Milli Vanilli backing track.

Given my general dislike of excess continuity it is still nice to see UNIT back again and the namedrops come thick and fast, with the Doctor mentioning five monsters in as many seconds Normally I'd hate this, but I'm in a kind mood. This is punctuated by the occasional piece of nice pyrotechnics, of which it seems there can never be too much in this story. Bear in mind though that this story is set in the future (i.e. now, from their point of view) and this leads to some odd jokes, like three drinks costing five pounds (innocent times) and the Brigadier dismissing a telephone call by saying "I don't care if it's the King!", the "ha ha, Queen Elizabeth has popped her clogs" subtext of which blowing my earlier remark about political correctness to pieces.

What the story is notable for, and this episode in particular, is the monumentally rubbish fight scenes: it's as if the stunt men decided to save on effects by attacking each other in slow motion. If you look at the episode though it is actually deceptively expensive but - in true John Nathan-Turner style - the money has gone on all the wrong things. For example, they hired a helicopter when stock footage would have done; I know we'd all be moaning about it but we might have got a better battle, so it would be the lesser of two evils.

Meanwhile, while the battle rages, the heroes have gone for a swift half in the local pub, where they find a scabbard that can mysteriously heat up and cool down (rubbish for swords, great for making hot milk). This is the first example of a very shaky plot: why have the soldiers come to Earth, why do they want Excalibur? The episode hinges on these questions, but never is any attempt made to address them. Even so, I quite like the pub scenes as there's some great dialogue; even if Ling Tai is not the greatest actress in the world, at least she looks like she's enjoying herself. Ace is annoying, but it is good for the season as it paves the way for her personal growth in Ghost Light and The Curse Of Fenric. Curse was originally intended to come before this, but Ace would never have worked if the episodes were that way round.

It is in part two where things start to fall apart, with the introduction of Mordred, woefully played by Christopher Bowen. He is from the Ronnie Kray school of Mummy's boy villains, and his remark in part four of "my mother will destroy you!" is possibly the lamest threat I've ever heard. I bet he was the school bully just because his mum was a mighty sorceress. The summoning of Morgaine is painful, with Mordred spouting ridiculously portentous sub-Tolkien dialogue, intercut with Sylvester McCoy overacting like a lunatic (not for the last time this story). Worst of all is when Bowen starts screaming "ha ha ha ha ha haaaaa!" at the top of his lungs: I'd call it laughter but there's clearly no humour. Perhaps he has a chest infection.

After this it settles down a bit more, showing that Aaronovitch is clearly better at the human elements of his scripting. The scene with the Brigadier and Morgaine just about stays on this side of self-parody, and the underwater spacecraft is impressive, if a little gaudy. The action scene with the glowing snake thing is a nice idea but badly executed, like all of the serial's action scenes, and the snake thing (no other possible description) is never adequately explained. Also, on your left you will see the infamous scene where the water-filled tank cracked, and McCoy got to be a real hero by running away and shouting for other people to do something. Unable to do the scene twice they were forced to salvage what footage they could, with the result being that the cracked glass is clearly visible. This does give the ship an air of shoddiness, but hey, it is supposed to be thousands of years old.

Episode three continues in the same vein, with dire battles intercut with better moments and the dialogue veering uncontrollably between the good and the downright ludicrous: The soldier's call of "the seabirds are still operational", when taken out of context, is a strong contender for the title of Most Surreal Moment. The killing of Lavell though is a wonderful scene, and Morgaine's subsequent gift of vision to the landlady shows her to be a more complex character than she is allowed to be.

Episode three also contains the scene where all extraneous characters get evacuated. It's a cop-out, yes, but there've been worse in better episodes so I'll let it go, and the scene with the chalk circle is excellent (if shakily acted). The episode also sees a return to some issues left hanging in part one, such as the missile convoy and the continuity references: the Daleks are namechecked, and Bessie is seen for the first time since The Five Doctors. It is a testament to the innocence the programme still had even in its last season that anyone seriously thought the flaming tracks gag would ever work. This kind of thing highlights exactly how little actually happened in episode two.

Moving on to episode four we get the Destroyer: never has such a good idea been wasted so badly. No sooner has Morgaine removed his bonds than the Brigadier has pumped him full of lead (well, silver) and that's the end of him. It. That. Whatever. Oh well, perhaps we'll see more of him in the prequel that Aaronovitch is blatantly setting up. This is in truth a very rushed episode, with the vortex between the pub and the villain's lair being another example of very dodgy deus ex machina plotting. The "is that a spaceship" line got a laugh in spite of myself, but basically the denouement is very cheesy: both the aforementioned death of the Destroyer and also the stop-the-countdown confrontation with Morgaine, with more bad dialogue and overacting. Am I the only one who considers "lock them up" to be slightly inadequate, given their powers?

After this we go back to the Brigadier's house for the final scene, which is pleasant enough - in a sense, the jumps between good and bad make for an appropriate ending for a very uneven story. However, it is still - and yes, I'm in the minority here - the best of Aaronovitch's two scripts for the series.

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