Sunday, 24 April 2016

Story 152 - Battlefield

In which the Doctor picks up a very weak signal in the TARDIS. The ship materialises in the English countryside not far from Lake Vortigern. Nearby, a UNIT convoy transporting a nuclear weapon has run into difficulty - crashing into the archaeological dig which Peter Warmsly is conducting beside the lake. This area has a number of associations with the myths of King Arthur. Brigadier Winifred Bambera is on her way to take charge of the convoy. Knights in armour - but carrying laser weapons - begin to land in the surrounding woods. The Doctor and Ace reach the convoy, as the Doctor's signal seems to be coming from the lake at this point. Bambera is not impressed with their out of date passes (of the Third Doctor and Liz Shaw), but her sergeant informs her of the man who used to assist her predecessor - a man who could change his appearance. The Doctor and Ace then travel to the local hotel - the Gore Crow Inn - and here they meet Warmsly and his assistant, Shou Yuing. There is an antique scabbard on the wall, which Warmsly likes to think might have belonged to Excalibur. The Doctor senses some powerful force emanating from it. As Ace gets to know Shou Yuing there is an explosion nearby, and something is thrown through the roof of the pub's brewery. This proves to be one of the Knights. His name is Ancelyn - and he recognises the Doctor as the wizard Merlin. More Knights arrive, led by Mordred. They are enemies of Ancelyn. Mordred also recognises the Doctor as the fabled magician. The Doctor is oblivious to the events they are describing, but pretends to have magical powers to force Mordred to withdraw. He claims that his mother will soon be here, and she is an old enemy of Merlin.

When UNIT HQ in Geneva learn of the Doctor's arrival, they summon Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart to London for a briefing. He has retired to the country, and is married to Doris (who he once knew in his younger days). When Ace asks the Doctor about his role as Merlin, he explains that they are probably referring to events in his own personal future. The reason that the signal in the TARDIS was so weak is because it was calling from another Universe, parallel to our own. Magic is common there. The signal is calling to something in the lake. The Doctor does not want warriors from another dimension fighting their battle here on Earth. That night, in the ruins of nearby Carbury Castle, Mordred summons his mother, Queen Morgaine, to travel over to this world. The area is wracked by storms as she materialises, and the scabbard flies from the wall as though drawn towards the lake. In the morning, the Brigadier is about to arrive in the area when Morgaine shoots down his helicopter with energy bolts from her fingers. His pilot makes for the hotel to call for help, but encounters Mordred and Morgaine. She kills her, in order to drain her mind of knowledge about this world. The Brigadier later meets the Queen and her Knights at the village war memorial. She is impressed by this commemoration of fallen warriors, and announces a brief armistice.

The Doctor and Ace decide to blast a hole in the middle of the excavation using Nitro-9, just where an inscription says to dig. This reveals the entrance to a tunnel, like the inscription made of modern concrete. The Doctor reveals that it was written in his own handwriting. They descend through the tunnel and find themselves in a spaceship which is lying on the bottom of the lake. This contains the body of Arthur, now turned to dust. Ace pulls his sword from a dais, triggering automatic defences. The Doctor is attacked by serpent like energy forms. Ace takes cover in an alcove - but a door slides shut and it fills rapidly with water. She is ejected out into the lake. Warmsly is surprised to see her rise up from the water with Excalibur in hand. The Doctor is rescued by the arrival of the Brigadier. UNIT troops and Morgaine's forces soon begin fighting. The Doctor is given his old car "Bessie" to use, kept in mothballs by the Brigadier. Ace and Shou Yuing are sent to the hotel with the sword and told to remain in a protective chalk circle. Morgaine cannot breach this, so she summons a demon - the Destroyer. He is chained in silver, as even Morgaine fears him. The Destroyer wrecks the hotel and Morgaine seizes the sword, but Ace and her friend have been protected within the circle. A portal remains open between the hotel and the Castle, and so the Doctor, Ace and the Brigadier follow through it. Morgaine unleashes the Destroyer then flees to the site of the convoy, determined to face Arthur in battle once more. The Brigadier shoots and kills the demon with silver bullets. The Doctor goes to the convoy site, now a battlefield. He stops Morgaine detonating the nuclear missile, and tells her that Arthur is dead. She and her son are taken into UNIT custody. Bambera, Ancelyn, the Doctor and Ace are invited to the Brigadier's home for a meal.

This four part adventure was written by Ben Aaronovitch, and broadcast between 6th and 27th September, 1989. It is the first story of Season 26 - the final season of the original classic series run. It sees the return of the Brigadier, played by Nicholas Courtney, making his final appearance of the classic series.
It is the only story of the original run which explicitly refers to potential future adventures of the Doctor, rather than simply unseen ones.
It also sees the final outing for the Doctor's "sprightly Edwardian roadster), "Bessie" - now plated "WHO 7".
It was a story based on Arthurian legend that Aaronovitch had first pitched to the production team. However, he then got to have a crack at the Daleks. This was originally intended to be a three-parter, all location story, but he was then asked to bulk it out to four parts. If you listen to the DVD commentary, or watch the added extras, you will know that the writer struggled and was not happy with the finished production. After his excellent Dalek story of the previous season, fans also expected much and were left a little disappointed. There is some noticeable padding, when characters travel from place to place for real discernible reason. It can be rather wordy and short on incident, and the promised battle of the title is rather poorly directed. The stunt work looks exactly like that, with liberal use of trampolines.. There appears to be only about 6 people per side. (This was always the case, but other directors made sure it didn't loom like it).
The music is rubbish as well. Especially naff is the sub-sitcom theme when the girls go off for a drive in "Bessie at the very end".
The director, Michael Kerrigan, did come on board only very late in the day, due to Nicholas Courtney's availability, and professed he did not understand some elements of the script.
Aaronovitch initially intended to kill off the Brigadier in this story, and Courtney was happy to be deaded so long as he went out bravely in a blaze of glory, saving the Doctor's life. The writer then couldn't bring himself to do the deed.
Need I tell the tale of the glass tank? For completism sake I will, though only briefly. For the scene where Ace gets trapped in the water-filled alcove, the makers of the glass sheet had not followed safety guidelines, and it was not strong enough for the volume of water. The glass began to crack, and Sophie Aldred could have been seriously injured if it had given way fully. Sylvester McCoy spotted it starting to give way and called for helping her out in time. You can see the glass start to fracture in the finished programme.
One successful aspect of the production is the realisation of the Destroyer - one of the best creature designs of the whole classic series. The mask, animatronically controlled, was designed and made by Stephen Mansfield and Sue Moore, who began working on the series from Season 24.

Joining Nick Courtney in the cast we have Jean Marsh as Morgaine. This is her third appearance in the programme, having twice appeared during the Hartnell era (see below). Mordred is Christopher Bowen. Ancelyn is Marcus Gilbert. The new Brigadier is played by Angela Bruce. Peter Warmsly is Z-Cars veteran James Ellis, who almost nearly got to appear in Who in the same story as Courtney and Marsh once before. Shou Yuing is Ling Tai. She had been a Crackerjack hostess (go on - "CRACKERJACK"!), as well as an extra on The Leisure Hive and Warriors of the Deep. Inside the Destroyer is Marek Anton, and we'll get to see what he looks like in two stories' time. Talking of extras, there is someone now quite well known in one sequence - which I'll save for the factoid bit at the end.
Episode endings are:
  1. The Doctor and his friends have found Ancelyn in the brewery shed when Mordred and his Knights burst in...
  2. In the spaceship, the Doctor is seemingly knocked out by the serpent-like defence mechanisms, as Ace is trapped in a flooding chamber...
  3. Morgaine summons the Destroyer - a drooling, fanged, horned demon...
  4. At the Brigadier's home, the men are left to do the chores, whilst the women take off in "Bessie" on a shopping trip.
"I just do the best I can... Get off my world!"
Overall, a story that promised so much, but in the end fails to deliver. Some good performances, and an excellent creature design. Always good to see the Brigadier still giving it some blood and thunder. The other three stories of this season made the top 80 in the DWM 50th Anniversary poll, whilst this languishes down at no. 159. Part One was the worst season opener of the whole classic series, at only 3.1 million.
Things you might like to know:
  • Had Julian Glover turned down the role of King Richard in The Crusade, Nicholas Courtney would have been offered the part, so could have ended up sharing stories with Jean Marsh three times - twice as siblings.
  • Their first story together, The Daleks' Master Plan, has that Christmas episode - "The Feast of Steven" - wherein the Doctor and his companions run foul of the local constabulary. It had been hoped that this would have been the Z-Cars cast, which would have included Jimmy Ellis, but that series' producer vetoed the idea,
  • Question: Who was the first actor to appear in both the classic series and the new BBC Wales version? 
  • Answer: Well, if you said David Warwick (Kimus in The Pirate Planet and the Chief Constable in Doomsday) then you'd be wrong. There's a fresh-faced extra playing a UNIT soldier in the sequence where the Doctor and Brigadier discuss alien-bashing weaponry. It's Marc (Elton Pope) Warren, from Love & Monsters.
  • So what exactly does UNIT do with Morgaine and Mordred after they have captured them? She can shoot helicopters from the sky with her fingers, remember. Highly unlikely she ended up in Holloway and he in Wormwood Scrubs, isn't it? Personally I suspect that both got sent packing back to their own Universe, now that she knew there was no longer an Arthur to fight against.
  • The UNIT dating controversy comes back with a vengeance here, as a King is mentioned, and there are £5 coins.
  • The DVD for this story includes a Special Edition, with deleted scenes reinstated as well as new VFX. One sequence that they really ought to have left on the cutting room floor is one where the Doctor and Ace are on a spiral stairwell within the spaceship. It is clearly a wrought-iron Victorian staircase, with naff disco lights round the hand-rail.
  • The Arthurian connections now. Well, obviously Arthur himself is in it, although dead, and he's got Excalibur. Ace does the Lady in the Lake bit with the sword. Ancelyn's name derives from Lancelot. Morgaine and Mordred are also present. A popular version of the myth has Arthur and she as both lovers and siblings - which was also something that the original scripts for The Crusade had with Richard and Joanna, until Hartnell objected. If only Bret Vyon and Sara Kingdom were in an incestuous relationship, Jean Marsh would have the full set. 
  • Working titles for the story included "Avalon" and "Storm Over Avallion" - referencing the Isle where Arthur was laid to rest. 
  • Vortigern was a 5th Century warlord from Kent, who gained notoriety for inviting the Saxons into Britain. The ancient chronicles refer to him as a "usurper". He married a Viking princess.
  • Doris, the Brigadier's wife, is played by Carry On star Angela Douglas, She was married to the great British actor Kenneth More (Reach for the Sky, A Night to Remember among many, many others). The character started life as bit of fun in Planet of the Spiders - when clairvoyant Prof. Clegg deduces that a young lady named Doris gave the Brigadier his wristwatch at a hotel in Brighton - which the Brig quickly glosses over. Fandom has tended to accept that she is his second wife, the first being the mother of Kate Stewart.
  • Sophie Aldred has said that she was warned she could contract Weil's Disease from being in the lake where they filmed (Rutland Water). This surprised her, as the Water is a reservoir supplying Birmingham and much of the Midlands.
  • The Gore Crow Hotel was actually a private house. James Ellis did not realise this and wandered around the building, asking the owners how much it cost to stay a night.
  • Ellis bulked out his dialogue with quotations from Mallory. Apparently, if left to his own devices, he would have quoted the whole thing.
  • Which brings us to script editor Andrew Cartmel's "CND scene". It was he who wrote the Doctor's climactic confrontation with Morgaine, arguing over the morality of using nuclear weapons. So caught up in this scene was he that it went on for ages, and had to be paired right back.
  • Sophie Aldred's near miss in the water tank was later used as a Health & Safety training aid to BBC technicians.
  • A BBC strike took place during location filming, so the cast and crew had a day trip to Skegness planned for when it was going to happen.
  • A family out for a drive chose to ignore the "Keep Out - Filming" signs, and ran off the road.
  • A couple of rumours at the time were that Kate Bush was to play Morgaine, and the music would be provided by Hawkwind.
  • Bambera was originally going to be an American.
  • The Destroyer was originally going to start off looking like a handsome man in a sharp suit, then transform into a demon.
  • And Ben Aaronovitch got drunk at a fan pub meeting and told everyone the plot. He would later suffer writer's block and be unable to complete the novelisation. He has since gone on to produce a number of great London-based fantasy novels. Had there been a Season 27, he may well have taken over as script editor.

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