Written by:
Ben Aaronovitch
Directed by: Michael Kerrigan
Starring: Sylvester McCoy
Year: 1989
Video Availability: Try

I think Battlefield was destined to disappoint from the very beginning. For the previous two years we'd seen seasons that opened with explosive, pre-credit sequences and had come to take it for granted. So a low-key opening episode starting in a garden sale seemed an anti-climax somehow.

That said, it is garbage anyway. The opening scene, all "giving up teaching?" and "No, Unit Nations Intelligence Taskforce" is like a million fanwank fantasies come all at once. Terribly bad television. It's all so stagy, though it's not helped by Angela Douglas, an actress so wooden she could give Sarah Sutton lessons. Angela Bruce is a good actress, and it's a wonderful idea to have a young(ish), female, black brigadier. Sadly, though, the character's one dimensional, a constant anger machine. Sophie Aldred gives her worst performance outside of Big Finish, though isn't helped by her most childish characterisation. She's given the dialogue of a three-year-old throughout much of the episode.

As a director, Michael Kerrigan is as good as the next man... if the next man's a chimp's back passage. Particular note here is drawn to the abysmal knight battle with Bambera. One thing about the McCoy stories is that technology had improved to the extent that you didn't have to be embarrassed any more (generally) by the special effects. That said, Battlefield is one of his weaker efforts, full of rubbish cartoon flying knights, plastic crowns and toy swords. Keff McCulloch's incidental music is also lame, a problem that beset many of the 80s stories. It makes the whole thing seem really sloppy and childish. One good thing about the story is that it doesn't really matter to new viewers who UNIT are. They're introduced quite well and subtly, so the Lethbridge-Stewart/Liz Shaw stuff is unnecessary and annoying.

Ben Aaronovitch's dialogue is awful. Really amateurish and contrived, like a bad episode of Eastenders. This episode review's a bit longer than normal as there's so many bad bits I had to go on for longer to fit 'em all in. For instance - isn't Shou Yuing irritating? But what is most notable about episode one is that it contains possibly the worst-ever scene in Doctor Who: "Boom!" "Boom?" "BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!!!" Absolutely diabolical.

The cliffhanger - "you and your freaky friends!" - is just as bad. This is really, really, really poor, much worse than I'd remembered. I'm not a McCoy basher, far from it, I think he's okay in the part and his stories are really entertaining and thoughtful. But he's ropey in this and the episode is pitiful.

The episode begins with McCoy announcing "I am the Doctor, and this is-" then leaving a huge pause as the cue for Douglas to shoot. Mind you, as his stupid brolly changes hands instaneously we can assume Stevie Wonder was behind the editing.

"Go bebfour I unleeescch a tewibble sumthhing on yuuuuuu" - to say McCoy's acting is poor in this story is an understatement. Mind you - "Yu no dees guyz den?" - he's not the only one. All the season 24 stories were supposed to be lightweight and amusing. For Sylvester's best, "dark" season, this is just ludicrous. The scene where he struggles with the scabbard is shown at acting masterclasses - under the title "how NOT to do it". How could a mostly capable actor be so crap? As someone once pointed out (I think it was in DWM) an actor who is more convincing bursting a packet of crisps than confronting the enemy is a sorry thing indeed. Jean Marsh, pretty good in Masterplan and wonderful in The Crusade, is bloody awful here. Christopher Bowen is just indescribably bad.

And I love the sophisticated exposition in the cliffhanger - "It's some form of automated defence system, isn't it?" "Yes." and the classic "Doctor, it's a dead end." This episode is a nightmare ferrago of bad acting, awful direction and lousy scripting. Sole good bit is the extra scene from the extended version - they threw away the wrong bit.

The one where the balding, paunchy one meets the little gabbler who's having a bad acting day. Again, the previously-deleted scenes are better than the ones they transmitted, and the acting is abominable. The fact that the chalk circle doesn't match the spotlight and that Morgaine's cloak crosses it shows the lack of care gone into this. Is it just me or does anyone else find the scene where Morgaine makes that female soldier kneel in front of her and then lay her hand on her head and make her scream strangely erotic? Oh, okay. It's just me then.

What makes Battlefield so annoying is that each episode is like spending 25 minutes in the company of the most irritating people you've ever met. Wouldn't you love to slap Shou Yuing? Aaronovitch shows yet more of his hackiness by shamelessly writing out the secondary characters because they no longer serve any purpose to the plot. The Doctor's mind powers are stupid, and the "humour" elements are predictable and contrived.

When Bessie is introduced I wanted to curl up and die. The flaming tracks bit is yet another "worst ever scenes" moment..

One of the few things praised about this story is the Destroyer. Frankly, I don't know why. Blue monsters look silly, and as he's so obviously made of rubber then what's the point?

The episode continues in the same vein as before... lame fight sequences, bad acting and McCoy saving the world from nuclear destruction in a portacabin with one second to spare.

The "If they're dead!" bit is unforgivably poor acting from Sylvester. In fact, he's just one big embarrassment from beginning to end. It's enough to make you pine for Colin Baker. "High drama", says Sylv, "is very similar to comedy". As he's not an expert in either, then I don't know why he thinks he's an authority on the subject. In fact, his "end the madness!" speech is what helps this episode slump to a lowly...

I remembered this as a poor but watchable tale. Seeing it again I'd have to place it as - pre TV Movie - the worst Doctor Who story of all time.