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Recap / Doctor Who S26 E1 "Battlefield"

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Seventh Doctor Era
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An incredible badass. And her boyfriend.
Written by Ben Aaronovitch
Directed by Michael Kerrigan
Production code: 7N
Air dates: 6 - 27 September 1989
Number of episodes: 4

The Destroyer: Pitiful. Can this world do no better than you as their champion?
Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart: Probably. I just do the best I can.

The last one with the Brig. Well, in the main show, at least.

Two great British institutions meet at last, as Doctor Who delves into Arthurian Legend to begin the final classic season.

The Doctor and Ace follow a signal of some sort to arrive 20 Minutes into the Future (a Shout-Out to the tradition of having UNIT stories set in a non-specific near future). They land near an archaeological dig somewhere in England and try to hitch a ride to the dig — the source of the signal — from a UNIT convoy passing through with a nuke (Not ones to learn from experience, are they?), but are left in the dust.

Fortunately, archaeologist Peter Warmsly, the guy in charge of the dig, is nicer and does give them a lift. Though he's just as baffled as they are about the whole UNIT nuke thing. UNIT, led by new brigadier Winifred Bambera, is equally weirded out by the people claiming to be "the Doctor" and "Liz Shaw" (the only other UNIT pass the Doctor could find in his clothes), and decides to recall Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart out of retirement and into active duty. The Brigadier's wife, Doris, is less than thrilled.

The Doctor, Ace and Warmsly repair to a watering hole/hotel, where Warmsly bitches about the UNIT hardasses and Ace spends £10 on a lemonade. She also befriends a girl named Shou Yuing. Meanwhile, someone is performing a magic ritual of some sort that

  1. causes a sword scabbard to fly across the room and embed itself into the wall mere inches from Warmsly's alarmed face, and
  2. lets evil witch Morgaine (Jean Marsh), Battle Queen of the S'rax and Dominator of the Thirteen Worlds, enter our universe from a parallel dimension where the Arthurian legends turn out to be bit more real than in theirs.

Then Pat the innkeeper hears his microbrewery go boom, and the crew rushes to investigate, where they find... a knight in armour. Who looks up at the Doctor and goes "Merlin!"

As it turns out, the Doctor will become known as Merlin at some point in a future regeneration, and he'll have to pretty much wing this adventure — as he has no clue yet how the first half of it will go. He does find a lot of notes, hints, contraptions and archaeological evidence left for him by his future self. Also, the Brigadier brought Bessie!

The next day, the Doctor and Ace dragoon Warmsly into taking them down to the dig. There, the Doctor quickly translates a mysterious inscription as "Dig hole here"; which, he says, he knows, because it's in his own handwriting. Then he tells Warmsly to stand guard while he and Ace investigate the hole, which leads to a tunnel, which leads to a spaceship under the lake. It houses Excalibur, which Ace promptly decides to guard.

While Bambera and the knight (Ancelyn) get into a fist fight and subsequently get their flirt on, the Doctor sets about convincing Morgaine to stop trying to nuke the planet. Things get a little bit complicated when Morgaine decides to summon an Eldritch Abomination to help her out — but luckily, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart is willing to make a Heroic Sacrifice and shoot it back to Hell. He survives, too, because the writers love him (we do too, so it's okay).

Episode 1 was the lowest-ever rated episode of Doctor Who, with just 3.1 million viewers.


  • Abhorrent Admirer: Mordred to the ill-fated Flight Lieutenant Lavel.
  • Actor Allusion: Possibly. Morgaine threatens to kill the Brigadier next time she sees him. Waaaaay back in "The Daleks' Master Plan," set in the future, another character played by Jean Marsh did kill another character played by Nicholas Courtney.
  • Affectionate Gesture to the Nose: The Doctor boops Ace on the nose while leaving her in charge of protecting Excalibur, and again later when telling her that he's glad she didn't get killed to keep Morgaine from taking Excalibur.
  • Affirmative-Action Legacy: Brigadier Bambera.
  • Alternate Universe: In which the Arthurian legends actually exist. Quite possibly IN SPACE! too, judging by the dialogue.
  • Amazon Chaser: Ancelyn.
    Bambera: If you don't start running, I'll kill you myself. Now come on!
    Ancelyn: Winifred?
    Bambera: What?
    Ancelyn: Art thou betrothed?
  • Ancient Astronauts: It's implied that a future regeneration of the Doctor was/will be Merlin and thus influence the development of England in the deep past.
  • Author Tract: The Doctor's spiel against nuclear weapons.
  • Batman Grabs a Gun: The Doctor is perfectly willing to empty a clip of silver bullets into the Destroyer. And from his reaction post-sucker punch, this isn't a plot to get Lethbridge-Stewart to take the job instead.
  • Battle Couple: Ancelyn and Brigadier Bambera develop into this pretty quickly.
  • Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: A future incarnation of the Doctor ends up as the Merlin of an alternate universe.
  • Bellum Interruptum: The Doctor halts a battle by simply shouting "STOP!".
  • Big Bad: Morgaine.
  • Black Boss Lady: Bambera.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: Morgaine, who is big on "honor" despite being a villain. Her big Pet the Dog and Kick the Dog moments occur back-to-back without her giving either a second thought. Specifically, she kills a woman by burning out her mind in order to extract all the knowledge she can find about the current situation, and then turns around and cures another woman's blindness in order to cover a bar tab.
  • Borrowed Catchphrase: The Doctor utilises the phrase "When I say 'run,' run... run!" during his confrontation with the spaceship's defence system; this phrase was repeatedly used by his second incarnation as a response to danger.
  • The Bus Came Back: The Brigadier returns for the first time since The Five Doctors six years prior. Thanks to the show being cancelled at the end of this season, this serial would mark his final appearance in the Classic Series (though he did get to show up in the non-canon charity special "Dimensions in Time" and the Direct to Video spinoff film Downtime during The '90s).invoked
  • Casual Kink: Implied with Brigadier Bambera and Sir Ancelyn. Unless you think there's some other interpretation to be put on him asking if she's single the day after their first meeting involved her beating him up and manacling him.
  • Call-Back:
  • Character Filibuster: Averted. The Doctor's anti-nuke speech originally ran for much longer and was wisely cut down.
  • The Chessmaster: Played with. When the Doctor confronts Morgaine, she remarks that she could always beat him at chess when he was Merlin. He replies that he's not playing chess, but poker, and plays his Ace.
  • Continuity Nod: The Doctor gives Ace an ID card. Ace: "Who's Elizabeth Shaw?"
  • Cool Car: Bessie, as always.
  • Crazy-Prepared: UNIT packs all sorts of ammunition due to their encounters with strange things — high explosives for Yetis, armour piercing for robots, even gold-tipped bullets for "you-know-what". When the Doctor asks if they have silver bullets "just in case" (possibly recalling Mags the werewolf), the Brigadier asks his personnel about that, too. They certainly do, and it ends up saving the day.
  • Cutting the Knot: When the Doctor is being menaced by a alien snake hologram thing, the Brigadier just steps on its control unit and destroys it.
  • Demythification: An alternate-universe Camelot appears to run on Magitek, and Merlin was actually the Sufficiently Advanced Alien Doctor. Merlin "living backwards" is revealed to be the Doctor's overuse of Retroactive Preparation, to the point that his final confrontation with Morgaine in this story occurs before he ever travels to Camelot in the first place.
  • Destroyer Deity: Morgaine summons a demon called the Destroyer, which seeks to devour the world.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: The Brigadier kills the Destroyer by shooting it.
  • Doing In the Wizard: The Doctor admits that Morgaine's powers are magic, however, and gives Ace an inverse of Clarke's Law. "Any advanced form of magic is indistinguishable from technology." The in-episode explanation is that Morgaine comes from an alternate universe with different physical laws, and apparently magic — or something that we might as well call magic — actually works there.
  • Drowning Pit: Inside the spaceship holding Arthur's body, Ace triggers a defence mechanism. When she enters an alcove, a door closes, and the alcove starts to fill with water.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Morgaine is genuinely guilt-stricken when she discovers her knights have been fighting UNIT next to a war memorial, and calls a truce to pay respect to the dead.
  • Evil Laugh: Mordred.
  • Excalibur in the Stone: When the Doctor and Ace find Excalibur, it's set in a block of stone. Ace jokingly tries to pull it out (thinking that, as in the legend, it'll refuse to move for anyone other than Arthur). Instead, it practically jumps out, sending her tumbling (and setting off an intruder alarm).
  • Failed Future Forecast: The serial is set in the near future (i.e. the early '90s) and offhandedly mentions a king on the throne in Buckingham Palace. While Charles III did indeed ascend to the throne as Elizabeth II's successor, this didn't happen until 2022, 33 years after the serial's airing (well past the near future).
  • Five Rounds Rapid: Averted. UNIT has invested in specialized rounds for different alien threats, which work just fine. The new series adds 'rad-steel' rounds for counteracting anti-bullet fields. It's probably a subversion in the sense that said bullets are only deployed after normal bullets fail. On top of that, guess who gets to put the fatal Five Rounds into the Destroyer?.
  • Flashed-Badge Hijack: The Brig.
  • Flynning: Oh dear god, yes.
  • Foreshadowing: The Doctor notes that the Brigadier was supposed to die in bed, a fate that would eventually transpire in "The Wedding of River Song".
  • Girl of the Week: Shou Yuing for Ace.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: Queen Morgaine, naturally.
  • Gosh Dang It to Heck!: Brigadier Bambera's habit of saying "Oh, sh... ame" could arguably count as this. See also the Casual Kink example above. However, Word of God is that "Oh shame" is a common exclamation among people of Caribbean origin, which didn't work when a black British actress was cast instead.invoked
  • Hate Plague: Morgaine casts a spell on Ace and Shou Yuing to make them argue while they're in the protective circle in hopes that they'll break it. However, Ace realises what's happening when she indulges in racial slurs, something that she would not do due to racism being her Berserk Button, and they both snap out of it and huddle closer instead.
  • Have We Met Yet?: Morgaine has met the Doctor before, but this is the first time the Doctor has met Morgaine. That goes double for Ancelyn.
  • Heroic Self-Deprecation:
    The Destroyer: Can your world do no better than you as its champion?
  • I Have Many Names: From deleted scene:
    Ancelyn: My lord Merlin.
    The Brigadier: Merlin?
    Ancelyn: Oh, he has many names.
  • Immune to Bullets: UNIT has been working on this and has realised that, just because alien menaces are usually immune to our usual bullets, it doesn't mean that they won't succumb to more unusual types.
  • Improbable Weapon User: Twice, the Doctor manages to pin Mordred's arm with the crook of his umbrella. The first time, he even uses it to threaten Mordred with his own sword.
  • Ironic Echo: "The Happiness Patrol" has a famous scene where the Doctor talks a sniper out of shooting him by saying "Look me in the eye. Pull the trigger. End my life." This is repeated almost word for word, only this time it's the Doctor being spoken to.
  • Jedi Mind Trick: Used by the Doctor to get civilians out of the danger area.
    Doctor: You're very angry.
    Pat: Of course we're angry.
    Doctor: And you want to leave.
    Warmsly: No, we do not want to leave!
    Doctor: Of course you want to leave [Gives Pat a Look].
    Pat: Of course we do.
    Doctor: I wouldn't stand for any nonsense, if I were you.
    Warmsly: Look, Doctor, the situation is perfectly simple. We are very angry and we... [The Doctor gives him a Look] ...want to leave.
  • Jumped at the Call: The Brigadier seems to be happily retired... until his wife tells him that the Secretary General "said something about the Doctor being back", and he realises that he's going to be needed and seizes the chance to help.
  • King in the Mountain: Subverted. Arthur is believed by the Arthurian characters to be in suspended animation in the mainstream Whoniverse, but it turns out he's just dead and the claims that he'd return were propaganda.
  • Lame Pun Reaction: Ace is not impressed by the Doctor's joke about having "an Ace up my sleeve".
  • Large Ham:
    • Pretty much everybody from the Arthurian universe, especially Mordred.
    • One of Sylvester McCoy's greatest moments:
  • Like a Duck Takes to Water: Ancelyn manages to hook up with Bambera, and get a job as a gardener for then-retired Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart.
  • Look Behind You: When the Doctor was preparing to face the Destroyer (who would very likely kill him), the Brigadier suddenly shouts, "Good lord, is that a spaceship?" When the Doctor turns to look, the Brigadier punches him out, then says, "Sorry, Doctor, but I'm More Expendable Than You now!"
  • Meaningful Name: "Ancelyn" is the original, Celtic version of "Lancelot". "Winifred" is a Germanified version of "Guinevere".
  • The Missus and the Ex: Neither one is anything close to a love interest, but a couple of deleted scenes from provide an example of the companion not warming up to an older one right away: The Brigadier manages to offend Ace by referring to her as "the latest one," and a line about how looking after the Professor is her job reveals that she may feel a bit threatened by his presence. By the end of the serial the Brig has managed to prove that he can be trusted to take care of the Doctor and the two bond over a nice big explosion. In the Brig's case, at least, it's less "mutual hostility" on his part and more "well-meaning but slightly oblivious, old-fashioned and stuffy social awkwardness":
    (after Ace has stormed off in a huff)
    The Brigadier: Oh dear. Women, not really my field, Doctor.
    The Doctor: Don't worry, Brigadier; people will be shooting at you soon.
  • Mistaken for Quake: Morgaine's arrival in our universe.
  • More Expendable Than You: The Brigadier says this word for word when he takes the Doctor's weapon by force and goes to face the Eldritch Abomination.
  • Names to Run Away From: Morgaine.
  • Next Sunday A.D.: The story takes place some time in Ace's near future, probably the mid to late 90s. Amusingly, the mention of the "King" would be dead wrong, with Elizabeth II remaining on the throne all the way until her death in 2022, 33 years after this serial's airing.
  • Not Herself: Under Morgaine's Hate Plague spell, Ace, who's been previously established to hate racists, actually spews a racial slur. That is how she realizes she and her friend are being played against each other.
  • No Name Given: We never hear Shou Yuing's family name.
  • One-Word Title: "Battlefield".
  • Open Sesame: After encountering a locked door in a spaceship dating from the time of King Arthur, the Doctor tries ordering it to open up, on the off-chance that it will recognise him as Merlin too. It works.
  • Outside-Context Problem: Knights and magic from another universe? Bit outside UNIT's usual purview.
  • Paper-Bag Popping: How the Doctor wakes Ancelyn and Bambera from their Sleep Cute.
  • Percussive Prevention: The Brigadier one-punches the Doctor and faces the Destroyer on his own.
  • Pet the Dog: Morgaine cures Elizabeth's blindness. Admittedly it was because Mordred had all but drunk the bar dry and she felt obligated to pay them somehow, but restoring someone's sight is a lot better than some of the ways you could repay them when you're an evil witch.
    • On the other hand, it comes right after a Kick the Dog moment where Morgaine kills and disintegrates Lt. Lavel (who was already badly hurt in the helicopter crash), just so that she can absorb Lavel's mind and find out more about the situation. Given she later pulls the same mind trick on Bambera and she recovers, it would seem the disintegrating of Lavel was just For the Evulz.
    • The Mood Whiplash is such that we go from Pat expressing horror at Lavel's death to Elizabeth joyfully sobbing "I can see!" within seconds.
  • Pin-Pulling Teeth: One of Morgaine's knights.
  • Public Domain Artefact: Excalibur turns up in a spaceship, under the lake, in a stone.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: "THERE. WILL. BE. NO BATTLE HERE!!!"
  • Re-Cut: The Special Edition adds a lot of unbroadcast scenes.
  • Remember the New Guy?: Zbrigniev, the UNIT soldier who shows up purely to verify the Doctor's identity to Bambera, was a former soldier under Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart.
  • Revolvers are Just Better: Even though he carried a Browning Hi-Power as his sidearm for most of his time as commander of UNIT, when the Brig comes out of retirement to go to the Doctor's aid, he takes a Webly MK IV out of its case and employs it to great effect against Morgaine's forces: finally shooting the Eldritch Abomination while proclaiming "Get off my world!", causing it to explode.
  • Ridiculous Future Inflation: A round consisting of a vodka and coke, a glass of water and a lemonade costs £5.
  • Rummage Fail: The Doctor pulls all kinds of ridiculous things out of his pockets while looking for his old UNIT pass.
  • Running Gag: As in "Remembrance of the Daleks," Ace overestimates the fuse time of her nitro-nine.
  • Scenery Porn: With frequent backdrops of woods, moorland and old buildings, the serial is visually sumptuous.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Ancelyn and Brigadier Bambera's relationship.
  • Sleep Cute: The Doctor comes in to find Brigadier Bambera and Sir Ancelyn — last seen having a knock-down drag-out brawl — leaning on each other, fast asleep.
  • Spikes of Villainy: The evil knights have spiky decorations on their armour; the heroic Ancelyn doesn't. (This does help in keeping track of who's who when they're fighting with their visors down.)
  • Sword over Head: The two knights the Doctor interrupts by strolling through the battle stop in this pose.
  • Talking the Monster to Death: The Doctor convinces Morgaine to surrender instead of using the nuclear weapons through a speech about how there's no honor in the horrors of atomic war.
  • Take the Wheel: Bambera is driving, with Ancelyn as her passenger, when they're attacked by Morgaine's forces. Bambera tells Ancelyn to take the steering wheel so that she can return fire.
    Bambera: You're from an alternative dimension?
    Ancelyn: Yes.
    Bambera: Good. Don't have cars there?
    Ancelyn: No.
    Bambera: Good. Hold onto this wheel.
  • Tempting Fate: In the first scene, the retired Brig assures his wife that he doesn't miss his UNIT days at all. "My blood-and-thunder days are long past." Cue plot.
  • Thermal Dissonance: The Doctor touches Excalibur's scabbard twice in quick succession. The first time it's unusually hot; the second time it's cold.
  • This Is No Time to Panic: The Doctor, at the end of Episode 2. A few seconds later, he adds: "Now we panic!"
  • Throwing Off the Disability: Elizabeth is blind until she meets Morgaine.
  • Timey-Wimey Ball: One of the few instances in the classic series where the plot reaches Steven Moffat levels of time travel confusion. A future regeneration of the Doctor has already done the first half of the plot, and Seven has to rely on clues from his future self to complete the second half. Every single character from the other dimension has already met the Doctor, but he's got no idea what he's done (er, going to do) to provoke them.
  • Title Drop: "Then, Merlin...let this be our last battlefield!"
  • A Truce While We Gawk: There's a moment in Mordred and Ancelyn's final duel where they break apart for a moment — and the Doctor walks right between them, casually tipping his hat as he passes, on his way to his own final confrontation with Morgaine. Mordred and Ancelyn stare after him in utter bemusement for a moment, before remembering that they were in the middle of fighting to the death.
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: This story is set at an unspecified point in the near future, when the UK has a King as monarch and the five pound note has been replaced by a coin, the latter of which has not actually happened yet, and the former of which did not happen until 2022 at minimum. note 
  • Uncovering Relationship Status: Ancelyn blurting out "Art thou betrothed?" to Bambera.
  • Vanity Number Plate: Bessie now has WHO 7 numberplates.
  • Villain Respect: Morgaine reacts this way when — her having earlier dismissed them as mere children - Ace and Shou Yuing manage to fight off her attempts to turn them against each other with magic;
    Morgaine: Ah, they breed their children strong on this world.
  • Volleying Insults: Ancelyn and Mordred:
    Ancelyn: Is your army not enough to give you courage?
    Mordred: Courage? To face you, Ancelyn, who fled the field at Camlann? Ancelyn the Craven I call you!
    Ancelyn: What care I for the words of a half-man, who cowers at a woman's wrath?
  • Vulnerable Convoy: UNIT's nuke.
  • War Memorial: Carbury has a memorial to the townspeople killed in the World Wars. When Morgaine and her men encounter it, they stop to pay tribute to the warrior dead, and Morgaine gives Mordred a dressing-down for having assumed their opponents to be savages with no concept of honour.
  • Weird Currency: When the Doctor tips out a handful of change, there's a Zoid in among it note , which he describes as "a very valuable piece of coinage".
  • What a Piece of Junk: Ace and Shou Yuing's initial reaction to Bessie. As per the trope, they change their tune once they see what it can do.
  • Write Back to the Future: The Doctor finds a note in his own handwriting with the body of King Arthur, a message from his future self.
  • World of Ham: Sylvester McCoy and Nicholas Courtney meet an army of medieval knights.
  • You Will Be Beethoven: The Doctor discovers that he will, in his own future, become Merlin.