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17 December 2014

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 716: Battlefield, Episode Three

Dear diary,

I really do love it when a story comes along that I’m not really expecting a great deal from, and then I end up absolutely loving it. Battlefield is one of those stories. As the closing credits kicked in on today’s episode, I declared to the empty room that this is brilliant, and that I’m really - really - liking it. Oh, I’ve still not really forgiven that nonsense in the first episode about no one having the faintest clue about the Doctor, and opening the season with a shot of a garden centre is unforgivable (even if that wasn’t the original plan), but there’s an awful lot to enjoy about this one.

And I keep coming back to the fact that I know I’d have loved this as a kid. The more the story goes on, the more I’m watching it with the mind of an excited child as opposed to a ‘grown up’ fan. During the first episode, I thought that Bambera was rubbish - with far too much comedy for the character she’s supposed to be. Now, though, I’m actively embracing the comedy, and it’s a shame that we only ever get to see her this once! I’ve often mourned the lack of a consistent ‘UNIT family’ outside of the Pertwee years (which is why occasional returns for characters such as Magambo between Turn Left and Planet of the Dead, or the team headed up by Kate Stewart in the more recent episodes really appeal to me), and I’d quite like to see how one would have been handled in the early 1990s, with Bambera as the head of the organisation, and our faithful Lethbridge-Stewart cropping up from time-to-time to lend a hand.

Oh, and I have to mention him here, don’t I? There’s something quite bold about not having the Doctor and the Brigadier meet until this third episode, but the actual greeting is rather well handled when it does arrive; ‘who else would it be’ is absolutely perfect for the Brig we know and love. He settles in with the Seventh Doctor pretty much instantly, and they continued to amuse me as a pairing throughout the rest of the episode. I commented the other day about the programme bringing back as many of its icons as possible before the end, but I’m terribly glad that they got the Brig back for this one - his final appearance in Doctor Who proper (he’ll be cropping up for Dimensions in Time in a couple of weeks, and then for a Sarah Jane Adventures story later on, which I’ll certainly be watching, even if I don’t write about it in the Diary).

While we’re on the subject of bringing back old companions, I’d better make mention of Jean Marsh, too. In the special features on this DVD, Jean goes into quite a lot of depth about the way that she saw her character, and how she chose to play it based on the material she was given… you sort of get the impression that she’s giving it quite a lot more thought than perhaps anyone else. That said, I’m glad I listened to her opinions on the part last night, because it means I’ve been watching her performance in today’s episode with a slightly different view. She really is giving all she can to the character, and it’s coming off the better for it. Marsh talks at some length about the way that she thinks nothing of killing someone, but then restores the sight of a blind woman, and it’s really beautifully done in this episode; I’d sort of forgotten just how close together the two acts are, as part of the same scene.

Not all the credit can be given over to Ms Marsh, though, because a lot needs to be laid at the door of Ben Aaronovitch, who’s back on writing duties this time around. I was very impressed with his script for Remembrance of the Daleks last season, and he’s managed to bring the same skill in to this story. He’s managed to balance the comedy and the drama particularly well, and once again slipped in several continuity references to the past without them feeling overbearing or shoehorned in. It’s a pity that this is the last script we’ll be seeing from him in the programme - I’d have loved to see what he’d do in the early days of the 21st century series.

One final thing to bring up - Sylvester McCoy. During The Happiness Patrol last week, I seemed almost surprised by the fact that he was rather good in the part - having been so unsure about him during those first few stories. The one thing that’s always troubled me about McCoy’s performance, though, is when he’s asked to do something big, and angry. There’s a few sequences that stand out in my mind (notably from Survival), which I recall as not being very good, because he simply couldn’t handle such ‘big’ moments. But then you’ve got this episode, in which he runs in to the middle of a battlefield and bellows at the combatants… and it’s wonderful. It’s one of his greatest moments as the Doctor, and it’s really won me round on his ‘angry’ acting. I’m just hoping now that I’m mis-remembering the scenes from Survival, and they they won’t be tainting this one in the near future… 

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