Poor old Battlefield. Or The Brig And The Big Blue Demon to give it its proper title. Yes, it reunites Nick Courtney and Jean Marsh from The Dalek Masterplan, but that’s about the only notable thing this story does, so overblown and tortuous is it in its treatment of both Arthurian Legend and the general Sword`n`Sorcery genre.
Apart from the aforesaid Big Blue Demon, which is one of only a handful of Shockeroonie Moments the show has managed since JNT took over, it’s a complete clunker that could have been good with, as author Ben Aaronovitch now notes, some more work. For Whoflix’s part, all we can do is work what Fan Edit magic we can and try and improve it as much as possible.
This edit was taken from the Movie version on the DVD and not the episodic version so I had as much material as possible to play with. In that edit, we’re fourteen minutes in before the Brig gets the call that the Doctor is back. Here it happens a full ten minutes earlier. I would have dropped that awful initial scene at the garden centre with all it’s fanwanky info-dumping dialogue but doing so would have given the Brig an even weaker reveal than he gets.
His opening scene should really have started on a shot of him – unseen at first – leafing through his scrapbook, looking at photos showing him back in the day with Pat and Jon and Tom, when Doris gets the call. Then we could have revealed Old Nick in a nice big close up – like they did in Mawdryn Undead – so the audience can both cheer and gasp that “yay! the Brig’s back!” and we can show the difference between the Brig then and the Brig now instead of doing what Aaronovitch does in the garden centre scene and telling us. Instead we get a scene that does nothing to let the audience know that the return of the Brig is an event, but then maybe to the production team it wasn’t. It certainly should have been as the reveal of the Brig is appallingly badly handled. Shame.
The hardest part of the edit was re-arranging the material in the early stages so that we had scenes we could cut to that could alternate with the Brig & Doris. This was complicated by the fact that we couldn’t have anything prior to Seven and Ace meeting Briggy Bambera, or Bambi as I used to call her. Yes, the scene with her and Zibregniev is nice but she overplays her reactions, meaning its loss wasn’t that big a deal. The whole approach to this one was to edit it as a “Doctor-lite” story, with the focus very much on the Brig in the early stages, keeping the Doctor out of the action as much as possible until Sylv and Old Nick finally come face to face.
To be perfectly honest, the fact that this was a Masterplan Reunion for Courtney & Marsh didn’t register that much with me at the time. What did was the sombre music as the Brig took off in that helicopter in part one, making me wonder if he really would make it back to Doris. The sheer fact that I did wonder if he was flying off to his doom is testament to the power of incidental music to add to a scene and enhance it. Sadly the rest of the score has that bloody drum machine all over it but then you can’t have everything!
So yes, dramatically the story does succeed somewhere, in playing the game of making you think that they might bump the Brig off. Structurally, however, the story makes the mistake of wasting the best part of two eps getting the Brig to where the action is. Quite why is a mystery to me.
To my mind, if you’re going to bring back the Brig then max his screen time, show us how he copes with a new Doc, let’s see him having difficulty adjusting to Bambi’s new UNIT set up and realising that the world has moved on and left him behind. Instead they stick him in that ruddy helicopter for far too long, so you won’t be surprised to learn that in this version he gets to Carbury a damn sight quicker than he did on telly. Morgaine downs the helicopter about ten minutes in and Sylv and the Brig meet up ten minutes after that!
The edit also dispenses with the false ending involving the missile as it’s a lot less dramatic than the Brig facing off against the Destroyer. In storytelling terms it makes no sense to have a second climax that’s less engaging than your first one, so when Mordred and his mother vanish they don’t return from wherever it is they go to. As for UNIT locking the two of them up in the original, that’s just nuts. Why didn’t Seven just send them back from whence they came? Bleh.
The idea that the Doctor is Merlin is all a bit bollocks, a clumsy attempt to add to the Doctor’s mystery that doesn’t really work. Doctor Merlin is either a future Doctor who travelled to a Parallel Universe where magic works, at least according to Clarke’s Law, which Ace is conveniently familiar with, or he’s a Parallel Universe Doctor who calls himself Merlin instead of the Doctor. My money’s on the latter, unless it’s Twelvy who’s the former. It would have been much better to have Doctor Merlin turn up along with Morgaine but no. Once again we’re into dodgy Valeyard territory, and we all know what a success that was. Sadly, all this trying to make the Doctor out to be more than he is never really works, mainly because, at its heart, all this Cartmelian retconning of the central character is simply them trying to make him into something he’s not.