Saturday, 18 January 2014
Battlefield written by Ben Aaronovitch and directed by Michael Kerrigan
This story in a nutshell: The Earth is dragged into a war that doesn’t even belong to this dimension!
Oh Wicked: And I thought the characterisation for the Doctor was bad enough…Ace’s is ten times worse! Whilst it is nice to see Ace pairing up with a young contemporary character their relationship isn’t even slightly believable and the dialogue for both characters beggars belief. Thinking about it plausibly for a moment who on Earth would go about with explosives in a rucksack and call themselves Ace? I can make some pretty big leaps but that’s quite a hurdle you have to make before you reach the appalling slang and embarrassing attempts at cool. She is so unconvincing, boasting about her explosive actions at school and where any sane person would politely retire and get as far away from her as possible but fellow pyrotechnic junkie Shou Yuing seems to love it. Wouldn't Ace be locked up in a remand prison for young adults if she really let off explosives at school? When she’s under pressure her own racism slips out, an interesting aberration given her expressed of people with xenophobic views. ‘Looks like Colonel Blimp has a fancy taste in hardware’ – Ace’s dialogue is frequently painful and chokes Sophie Aldred of any credibility. I wish she had been allowed to play the character as a cockney, Aldred's middle class accent doesn't marry at all well with the dialogue. It’s a shame because both the character and the actress (especially the actress) can be very good (go and watch Ghost Light) but this is the norm with Ace, hideous hip language and false bravado. As much as I complain about Tegan (and even Peri in her whinier moments) neither of those two characters can touch Ace in the embarrassment stakes at her worst. And this is her worst.
Colonel Blimp: Finally I can say something nice! Whilst the Brigadier does have some questionable moments, Nicholas Courtney is such a seasoned pro at this by now he can make pretty much anything sound good. The Brigadier has done alright for himself, bagging the fabulous Doris (a charming woman) and a gorgeous house in the country. I would have no complaints if I was in his position at his age. He has retired and decided to fade away, the only think that can tempt him to put on the (ill fitting) uniform is mention of the Doctor. Bureaucracy according to the Brig is ‘inch thick forms and half a pint of blood’. Once his helicopter is shot down and destroyed he begins to enjoy himself, the old daredevil. It’s really nice that he recognises the Doctor: ‘Who else would it be?’ It doesn't matter which actor is playing the part, Courtney seems to find a way to relate to them (check out his chemistry with Colin Baker in the Big Finish audio The Spectre of Lanyon Moor as well). The Brigadier is a bit rubbish with the ladies, it’s not really his thing but at least people will be shooting at him soon. UNIT looks after its own, alive or dead, a lovely touch excised from the transmitted version. He is steeped in blood. Such a brainless thug at times, he pumps bullets into the Destroyer without thinking about his actions and the capabilities of his opponent. He thinks he is too old for this malarkey and wants to go home to Doris and leave the action to young kids like Ace from now on. What is really highlighted in Battlefield is that the Brig is the Earth’s protector: ‘Get off my world!’ A role that he was born to play.
Sparkling Dialogue: Yeah, that’s a good one.
The Good Stuff: Bambera makes a fine new Brigadier for the next generation and Angela Bruce is perfectly cast, it’s a shame we never got to see more of her. I instantly fell in love with her when she chose to ignore the hitchhiking Doctor and Ace, driving past them and shaking her head the eccentrically dressed pair. The TARDIS looks gorgeous in the English countryside, glowing in the morning sunshine. Ancelyn and Bambera’s blossoming romance works almost entirely because of the performances and not because of the script. I love how violent she is towards him, he really seems to appreciate this physical form of communication. Jean Marsh might be typecast but by God she’s good, utterly convincing as an avenging heartbroken war queen. Marsh’s icy blue eyes give me the shivers. She gives the story a degree of credibility, which is some feat given how it plays out. Ace being spat from the airlock and emerging from the sea holding the sword like the Lady of the Lake sees Aaronovitch finally do something interesting with the Arthurian myth. The scene where Morgaine takes information from Lavell’s mind is chillingly played and I love Morgaine’s benevolence at restoring Elisabeth’s sight. It makes her far more interesting than a cut-price villainess. The Destroyer is one of the most impressive Doctor Who monsters, truly demonic and frightening. It's not often that we get to see such detail as a monsters drool dripping down his face and hair bursting from its chest. Morgaine's 'die well, me son' came at precisely the right time, I was waiting for somebody to dispatch Mordred. The pan across the corpse-strewn battlefield manages to make a poignant statement about war thanks to Bambera’s reaction to Ancelyn’s comment. Morgaine even manages to exit on a high point where she discovers that her love is dead and Marsh plays her lament over her dead lover sensitively. The last scene is lovely and precisely the sort of thing this story needed more of, moments of unforced genuine charm.
The Bad Stuff: Prepare yourselves people. Season 26 of Doctor Who begins with two old dears walking around a garden centre – cancel this show immediately! The music is so tacky and detrimental to the story’s atmosphere; go listen to the bland lift music as they reach the hotel. I think this story would play out far more effectively with no music at all if this is the only alternative. I'm not sure what is worse; the unconvincing and stagy sword fights or the appalling spark guns which release all the strength of a wet fart but seem to do extreme damage to the English countryside. The direction is so slow in places, reaction shots take forever and the scenes are edited awkwardly together (it is especially obvious when compared with the fluidic storytelling of Greatest Show). Like plenty of the Cartmel scripted stories the opening episode is a number of unconnected scenes fighting for attention. ‘If my hunch is right the Earth is at the centre of a war that doesn’t even belong to this dimension!’ – what the fuck? Where did that come from? Is the Doctor in another story? Where have we seen anything to indicate a statement like that? Get a new script editor quick! The Special Edition gets it right but the televised version failed to include any establishing location shots of the helicopter arriving at London. Mordred’s laughter – cancel this show immediately! His mirth seems to go on for a lifetime and there is no escape from it. The attack on the helicopter is clearly beyond the shows resources and it really shows, the shell that combusts is clearly made out of cardboard. There’s some really dreadful pacing issues…it really slows down...an action set piece…crawls to a halt again...another abysmal set piece...oodles of exposition... ‘What manner of man are you?’ – what is this nonsense about Morgaine and the Brigadier having a gossip for no reason whatsoever but to slow things down. It seems to serve no narrative function whatsoever. ‘When we meet again, I shall kill you’ – why don’t they just get it over with now? The fairy light staircase…cancel this show immediately! The exterior spaceship looks like a model in a fish tank and the interior feels like a tacky children's television studio set. How can the budget have been swallowed up right at the beginning of the season? The end of episode two might be the nadir of the era, the camera rushes at McCoy and hits him right in the face as he does pratfalls all over the place whilst Ace runs into a passageway that clearly isn't a passageway and waits patiently whilst the glass slides down and a dodgy effect swoops around the room. Probably the most obviously choreographed sequenced in the shows long history with clearly no room to manoeuvre despite what is expected of the actors. There are too many extraneous characters (and clearly unnecessary as they are shipped out of the story in episode three never to be heard of again) taking up space. The knights hide in plain sight (you would have to be blind not to see them!) and have a penchant for shooting out windows rather than taking out tires of aiming straight for the engines. Plus they miss Bambera when she is a standing target. Plus they fail to hit the deckchair when it ambles around a corner at an ambling speed. They are the worst army ever...and we've seen some pretty duff examples in the past. There is a scene in the special edition version where the Doctor, Ace and the Brigadier discuss and explain important plot points about Arthur, the spaceship and the sword which was excised in the transmitted version – cancel this show immediately! Why on Earth would you excise such a vital scene and keep in so much of the extraneous bollocks like Warmsley and his archaeological obsessions. The argument between Ace and Shou Yuing is the perfect example of the banality of the dialogue (‘I bet even your parents hated your guts!’). Simon said watching this scene was like listening to fingernails scraping down a blackboard for five minutes. Bring back HAVOC – this battle seems to be more about gymnastics (watch as soldiers somersault across the screen) than combat. I cannot believe they gave Bessie fire tracks – cancel this show immedia...oh you get the idea.. The green sparks and smoke wafting from the castle are hardly the apocalypse we were promised by the Destroyer. To top it all off the final explosion looks exactly like what it is…a model going phut.
The Shallow Bit: When Ancelyn turned up I perked up for a little while.
Result: Battlefield is exactly the sort of thing they needed to be doing in 26th season, a contemporary thriller but it exactly the way they shouldn’t be doing it. The production is plagued by poor direction and a script that should have come with a career destroying warning. There are so many attempts to be hip that fall flat on their face that I am forced to grip hold of the remote in case my husband walks into the room and spots what I am watching, particularly the attempts to make Ace appear contemporary and hip. The material is beyond McCoy’s ability to bring to life with any kind of realism so he ends up throwing himself all over the sets and screaming his head off to get some attention. Too many characters, too much filler, too little coherence and too many scenes that make you want the ground to swallow you whole, Battlefield fails on practically every level. The best thing on offer is Morgaine who deserved a far better vehicle and a return appearance in a much superior story. Panto villains, unconvincing action sequences, dreadful music, wasted monsters, unimpressive hardware, banal dialogue...the list goes on and on. Why was the show cancelled in its 26th year? The execs watched Battlefield and decided that enough was enough. You might be able to watch this story through rose tinted glasses and with the rosy glow of nostalgia but for me it is another example of how shockingly inconsistent the McCoy era turned out to be. A spin off featuring Bambera, Ancelyn and Mogaine would have been great but the rest can be jettisoned with my blessing: 4/10