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Classic Who: Battlefield, Ghost Light

Seventh Doctor: Battlefield
This is basically a good, fun story, although a little patchy and haphazard compared to some of Who's very best. I appreciated the reimagining of UNIT as a more multi-national operation, and loved Brigadier Winifred Bambera; but while it was great fun to have Nicholas Courtney around in his old role as the Brig too, I did think it undermined Bambera's authority a little. I suppose that as a 'bridging' story which brought the old idea of UNIT to an end while introducing a new one, it would have worked well enough - it is just a pity that the new UNIT was never any further developed.

Some individual scenes are a little clunky - like the introduction of the Brigadier and his wife in the garden centre at the start of the story. The pacing also seemed to go off the boil in the third episode, and I wasn't convinced by the attempts to give the plot epic resonances by suggesting that Morgaine is not just another villain-of-the-week, but a long-term enemy whom the Doctor will face again in his future. I suppose this is slightly less annoying than fake-continuity references to unscreened events in the Doctor's past which had become real bug-bear of mine by the time I reached the end of the Sixth Doctor era. But here it came across primarily as a cheap attempt to 'big up' the nature of the threat our heroes were facing, rather than an intriguing glimpse of the Doctor's true nature.

On the other hand, there were some great moments. Real continuity gets a decent look-in, usually with a smile and a wink - like when the Doctor presents Ace with Liz Shaw's UNIT ID, or Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart reveals that he is at last equipped with a range of proper bullets for facing alien threats. The warm friendship between Seven and Ace continues to convince, and New Who Watch smiled when she was trapped in a water-filled chamber in King Arthur's ship and his reaction was to yell out "Ace! I'm sorry!" I was also very impressed by the final confrontation between the Doctor and Morgaine over the nuclear bomb, which felt like some really masterful acting from both of them.

Seventh Doctor: Ghost Light
This is a beautifully-structured story. The Victorian setting, with its drawers full of insects and its characters discussing the evolutionary adaptations of moths, works beautifully as context for a story about a being attempting to catalogue all life on Earth. The Reverend Matthews, with his own commitment to the idea that life should be static and unchanging, is a great human counterpart for the more alien obsessions of Light. And it seems very appropriate that it is here in a story about colonialist explorers and Victorian 'values' that we learn about Ace's childhood friend, who suffered a racist arson attack in the very same area when they were kids.

The plot is supposed to be famously difficult to understand, but it's not really - Light explains everything pretty clearly in the final episode. All the same, I thought this story would have benefited from being 4 episodes long rather than 3; while Battlefield by contrast could probably have stood to have lost one. I did also miss quite a lot of the dialogue along the way too, thanks to the very badly balanced soundtrack which meant that it was obscured by the incidental music. For once, I know that this wasn't just the result of my somewhat sub-standard hearing - even the guy who did the music for the story, Mark Ayres, was to be found regretting it on one of the DVD extras. It's a pity, because the dialogue I could hear was very clever, with lots of nice allusions and references - including a Hitch-Hikers one when the Doctor asks, "Who was it said Earthmen never invite their ancestors round to dinner?"

Ace and Gwendoline both look hot in tail-coats; indeed, Ace's habit of developing friendships with female guest characters means regular passes for the Bechdel test in this era. Meanwhile, the Gothic setting is nicely worked out, and I very much see how the claustrophic interior-only setting relates to what later became Lungbarrow. I'll definitely come back to this on in the future, if only in an attempt to catch some more of the dialogue.

That now brings me up to date, and means that I am allowed to start watching more Classic Who again, after a hiatus of some two months. Woot! Since I have now watched everything from the Third, Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Doctor eras that is available on DVD (except Survival), I'm next going to concentrate on continuing my sequential viewing of the very first season. I last left that at The Aztecs, so that means we have The Sensorites coming up next.

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( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 19th, 2009 10:29 pm (UTC)
I really like both of these stories, especially Battlefield. Considering the budget and time constraints on the show at the time, the Destroyer is quite an excellent looking baddie (even though he doesn't really do much), and I agree that the scene between the Doctor and Morgaine in the control room is excellent - probably the acting highlight of Sylvester's tenure, truth be told. And it had some great lines.
"They don't have cars where you come from?"
"Good. Take the wheel."
Jul. 21st, 2009 12:32 pm (UTC)
One of the catchphrases my chum Pablo and I like to say to each other is "Cholesterol city!" "No, Perivale Village!"

(I think that was Ghostlight. Otherwise this comment will make no sense whatsoever.)
Jul. 21st, 2009 01:02 pm (UTC)
It sounds plausible. I don't specifically remember it, but that could easily be because it was lost to me under the incidental music.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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