Click here to return to the main site.

DVD Review

DVD cover

Doctor Who


Starring: Sylvester McCoy
RRP: £19.99
Certificate: 12
Available 29 December 2008

Having received a distress signal, The Doctor lands the TARDIS outside the small village of Carbury, where a UNIT missile convoy has run into difficulties. Unknown to both the Doctor and UNIT the lake beside which they are stuck hides beneath its surface a spaceship, from another dimension, containing the body of King Arthur and Excalibur. A Knight from the same dimension, Ancelyn, arrives to help Arthur but is quickly followed by Mordred and Morgaine who intent to continue their cross dimensional war with Arthur...

Battlefield was the opening story for Sylvester McCoy’s last series. Written by Ben Aaronovitch and directed by Michael Kerrigan, it had all the makings of being a stunning opening story. The show's four episodes were transmitted between 06 and 27 September 1989. Given that the previous season had opened with the excellent Remembrance of the Daleks, hopes were high for another good story. So how did it rate some of the lowest viewing numbers in Who history?

On the plus side we have the final appearance of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, Jean Marsh makes her third appearance in Who, having already appeared in The Crusades and The Daleks’ Masterplan and a great monster in the form of The Destroyer of Worlds. There was also a good list of character actors to fill in the minor parts. The story has a limited number of locations so that what little money the show had could be spent well and on a script by Aaronovitch.

However, the show turned out to be like one of those cooking disasters, good ingredients but an inedible result. Nicholas Courtney’s Brigadier is poorly used. We see him pottering in the garden talking to his wife Doris, going to buy a new shrub, flying around in a helicopter for an extraordinary length of time - more time than it would have taken a battalion of tanks to get to the scene. When he finally arrives, he does little until his big moment when he really should have gone out in a blaze of glory - but in this universe the world really did end with a whimper rather than a bang. Ultimately, he becomes almost incidental to the story, apart from one act which could have been fulfilled by any of the other characters.

The new Brigadier, played by Angela Bruce, fairs a little better. Her relationship with Ancelyn develops well but not to any great point. Here is another problem with the story, there are just too many characters. This has the narrative jumping all over the place trying to allow each character a bit of space, but it is never enough space for us to get to know them or care what happens to them. Worse served by this is Jean Marsh’s Morgaine, potentially a very complex character who will both kill and cure on a whim. She displays a moral centre and seems genuinely distressed to discover that Arthur had not survived, given that they had been both lovers and adversaries.

The BBC has tried to address some of the pacing problems by issuing the show in both its original format and a new television movie format with a 5.1 audio track. The reedited version is better but you still can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. The special effects are anything but special and the Doctor appears to be being chased by the knights who say "Ni". Very derisible.

Disc one (1 hr, 36 min, 51 sec) holds the show in its originally transmitted 4:3 aspect ratio form, including the over intrusive musical score which turned out to be more of a determent to the show with its bombastic desire to make even the most insignificant event an excuse for another blast of  Keff McCulloch’s electronic caterwauling. The Beeb, even with something as dodgy as Battlefield, have pulled out all the stops to give you an extras filled package. First up we have Storm Over Avallion (22 min, 32 sec) about the making of the show. Is it me or should that be "Avalon", the odd spelling appears both on the disc as well as the PR blurb. Past and Future King (12 min, 03 sec) in which Ben Aaronovitch and Andrew Cartmel explain how a man who wrote the most excellent Remembrance of the Daleks could have turned in Battlefield. Of course there is a bit of closing ranks, with much of the cast supporting the idea, though god love him Ben comes clean and admits to the show's failings - good for you mate, a little honesty goes a long way.

Watertank (6 min, 38 sec) is by far the scariest thing on the disc as it is real. For those which are unaware, when Sophie is trapped in the tank in Arthur’s ship the thing shattered and broke, potentially seriously harming Sophie Aldred and the flood of water electrocuting everyone else, the screams of horror from the crew made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

Want to know just how laborious actually making these programs is? Well you're in luck with Studio Recording (18 min, 58 sec), which shows that acting isn’t always as much fun as you would think. An interesting ‘watch once’ type of extra. From Kingdom to Queen (8 min, 9 sec) is an all too short interview with Jean Marsh, with clips from The Daleks Masterplan and The Crusades. As is normal with a Who release you get the PDF’s the photo gallery and over five minutes of trailers and continuity.

On the audio side you get a choice of the normal audio track, the Isolated music track - I’m sure his mum plays it every Christmas - and a rather fine audio commentary with Sophie Aldred, Nicholas Courtney, Angela Bruce, Ben Aaronovitch and script editor Andrew Cartmel. The lot is wrapped up with subtitles.

Now most people would be happy with that, but not the Beeb who have re-gigged the show into a special edition movie format with a 5.1 soundtrack. The show has been re-edited to follow the three-parter that it was supposed to be, and they have bunged in some unseen footage for your delectation. Oddly enough it ends up a little shorter at 1 hr, 34 min, 59 sec, but then you only have one set of opening and closing sequences. It’s a little better, but that’s a bit like saying having a tooth pulled is better than toothache. There are a couple of trailers, one for season twenty-six, as a whole, and one for the next Baker stories.

In the end this wasn’t just bad Who it was bad television, from a show that was in need of a new direction. What opportunities it did have, the cast and the Destroyer were woefully squandered, leaving the whole thing a little bit of a mess, with too many ideas and characters for the show to sustain.


Charles Packer

Buy this item online

We compare prices online so you get the cheapest deal
Click on the logo of the desired store below to purchase this item.

£12.98 (
£12.99 (
£12.99 (
£16.99 (

All prices correct at time of going to press.