Battlefield (Doctor Who)

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Doctor Who serial
Battlefield (Doctor Who).jpg
A meeting with an old friend
Directed byMichael Kerrigan
Written byBen Aaronovitch
Script editorAndrew Cartmel
Produced byJohn Nathan-Turner
Executive producer(s)None
Incidental music composerKeff McCulloch
Production code7N
SeriesSeason 26
Running time4 episodes, 25 minutes each
First broadcast6 September 1989 (1989-09-06)
Last broadcast27 September 1989 (1989-09-27)
← Preceded by
The Greatest Show in the Galaxy
Followed by →
Ghost Light
List of Doctor Who episodes (1963–1989)

Battlefield is the first serial of the 26th season of the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, which was first broadcast in four weekly parts on BBC1 from 6 to 27 September 1989. It was the last to feature Nicholas Courtney as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart in Doctor Who, though he later reprised the role one more time on television in the Sarah Jane Adventures serial Enemy of the Bane.

In the serial, Morgaine (Jean Marsh), a sorceress from another dimension, summons the planet-devouring Destroyer (Marek Anton) in England, where she also seeks to take the sword Excalibur for herself.

The first episode's 3.1 million viewers remain the lowest ratings of any full episode of Doctor Who.[2]


In response to a distress signal, the Seventh Doctor and Ace materialise the TARDIS near Lake Vortigern in England. The sound of explosions leads the Doctor and Ace to Brigadier Bambera of UNIT, in charge of a nuclear missile convoy. Following the encounter, the retired Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart is informed of the Doctor's return, and a helicopter is sent to his country home to collect him.

At the Gore Crow hotel, the Doctor and Ace meet a young woman called Shou Yuing, who shares Ace's love of explosives. Meanwhile, as Bambera stops to examine a certain blue police telephone box at the side of the road, she is caught in the crossfire between two groups of armoured knights, using both swords and futuristic guns.

The Doctor shows interest in a scabbard excavated from the battlefield, which hangs over the mantelpiece in the hotel. The scabbard is hot to the Doctor's touch, and the hotel owner's blind wife, Elizabeth, says she can sense it waiting for something, or someone. Archaeologist Warmsly dates the scabbard to the 8th century, but the Doctor senses that it is far older than that and has been waiting for something.

As Ace and Shou Yuing share a talk about explosives, a knight sails through the roof of the hotel brewery. The Doctor, Ace and Shou Yuing find the knight, Ancelyn, who wakes to recognise the Doctor as "Merlin". While the Doctor mulls the portent of this revelation, the party is surrounded by an ominous group of knights.

Bambera faces down their leader, Mordred, but Mordred is more frightened to see "Merlin", whom he believed was imprisoned by his mother, Morgaine. Following some vague threats from the Doctor (who is by this stage pretending that he knows exactly who Merlin is), Mordred's knights retreat. Later, as Mordred begins an arcane ritual, the scabbard in the hotel flies across the room, stirred by the magic. Morgaine then arrives on the scene through a rift in space and time.

The next day, Warmsly shows the Doctor where he uncovered the scabbard. They find a rune, written in the Doctor's own handwriting, which he translates to "Dig hole here." Using a canister of Nitro-9, Ace blows an opening.

On arrival in Carbury, Lethbridge-Stewart's helicopter is shot down by Morgaine's sorcery. As Morgaine's knights hold a remembrance ceremony for the soldiers of Earth's world wars, Lethbridge-Stewart has a peaceable meeting with Morgaine — though she warns Lethbridge-Stewart that, when they meet again in battle, she will kill him.

Following the tunnel created by the Nitro-9 blast, the Doctor and Ace enter a chamber under the lake, finding a door programmed to open at the Doctor's voice. The Doctor tells Ace that "Merlin" may well be his future self. Presently, they realise that the chamber is part of an organic spaceship and find the body of King Arthur, lying next to a sword, which was apparently the source of the distress signal, and also lured Mordred and Morgaine. When Ace removes the sword from its plinth, she activates a defence mechanism, unleashing a hostile, glowing entity. Attempting to hide, Ace enters an alcove. A door closes, and the alcove starts to fill with water. As Ace yells for help, the entity knocks the Doctor unconscious.

The Doctor recovers just in time to eject Ace from the spaceship, sending her shooting up through the waters of the lake. As Ancelyn and Warmsly stand at the shore, discussing the Lady of the Lake, Ace emerges, still grasping the sword. Ancelyn identifies it as Excalibur. The Brigadier arrives on-scene, in time to destroy the creature below the lake and rescue the Doctor.

Mordred and Morgaine go to the hotel to retrieve Excalibur. Lavel, Lethbridge-Stewart's co-officer, shoots, but Morgaine simply catches her bullet with sorcery. Morgaine then takes knowledge from Lavel's mind, which kills her, and turns her body to dust. As Morgaine leaves, she pays for the drinking tab of her unruly son by restoring Elizabeth's sight. Meanwhile, UNIT troops are staging an evacuation. The Brigadier shows off some of UNIT's specialised ammunition, but when the Doctor jokingly enquires about silver bullets, the Brigadier rushes to get some.

The Doctor instructs Ace to draw a chalk circle around herself to protect against Morgaine's sorcery. He then drives off in his old car, Bessie, hoping to halt a battle between Morgaine's knights and the UNIT soldiers. A storm breaks outside the hotel, so Ace and Shou Yuing draw the circle around themselves and Excalibur (which is the real source of their protection). Ace and Shou Yuing start to bicker, and Ace nearly leaves the circle before realising that Morgaine is toying with their minds.

Just as Mordred and Ancelyn are about to fight, the Doctor intervenes. Mordred reveals that the battle was a ruse to lure the Doctor, and that Morgaine has summoned the Destroyer of Worlds, whom she has bound with silver chains. Morgaine appears before Ace and Shou Yuing and tries to entice them to hand over Excalibur. When they refuse, she unleashes the power of the Destroyer.

The Doctor and the Brigadier capture Mordred and set off for the hotel. On return, the Doctor finds the hotel in ruins, but Ace and Shou Yuing safe. He is pleased to hear that Ace gave Excalibur to Morgaine, as doing so protected her. In the debris, the Doctor finds a portal to Morgaine's castle, and he, the Brigadier, and Ace bravely enter. On arrival, the Brigadier shoots the Destroyer, to no effect. The Destroyer's return volley sends the Brigadier flying through the window. Ace bursts through the portal, ramming into Morgaine, and knocking Excalibur from her grasp.

Morgaine releases the Destroyer's bonds. In the confusion, she scoops up Excalibur, and heads back through the portal, along with Mordred.

Outside, Ace tells the Doctor that Morgaine bound the Destroyer with silver chains, so he loads the Brigadier's revolver with the silver bullets. Although the Doctor wants to face the Destroyer himself, the Brigadier says that he is more expendable than the Doctor, and knocks the Doctor out, retrieving his gun so that he can face the Destroyer in the Doctor's place. The Brigadier marches back into the castle, tells the Destroyer, "Get off my world!", and then empties the revolver into the monster's chest. The Destroyer explodes, and the Doctor wakes to find the castle engulfed in flames. He spots the Brigadier's prostrate form and begins to mourn his fallen friend — at which point the Brigadier opens his eyes and rises, unharmed.

Back at the convoy, Morgaine and Mordred attempt to detonate the nuclear missile. The Doctor confronts Morgaine, insisting that there is no honour to nuclear warfare. Morgaine realises that he is right and asks to fight Arthur in single combat. The Doctor then tells her of Arthur's death, much to her sadness. Mordred and Morgaine are then imprisoned by Bambera (who has developed a relationship with Ancelyn).

The Brigadier, the Doctor and Ancelyn are left to do the chores at the Brigadier's home while his wife, Ace, Shou Yuing and Bambera take off in Bessie to do some shopping. Chuckling, the Doctor says he'll cook supper.


EpisodeTitleRun timeOriginal air dateUK viewers
(millions) [3]
1"Part One"24:066 September 1989 (1989-09-06)3.1
2"Part Two"24:0713 September 1989 (1989-09-13)3.9
3"Part Three"24:1320 September 1989 (1989-09-20)3.6
4"Part Four"24:1427 September 1989 (1989-09-27)4.0

The story was repeated on BBC2 over four consecutive Fridays from 23 April – 14 May 1993, achieving viewing figures of 1.6, 1.2, 1.3 and 1.2 million respectively.[4]


Working titles for this story included Storm Over Avallion. The early story outlines included the death of Lethbridge-Stewart.[5]

In a deleted scene (included on the DVD release) the Doctor refers to one of Clarke's three laws — telling Ace that sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic — to explain the various forms of magical attack used against them by the sorceress Morgaine, and also that Arthur's trans-dimensional spaceship was grown, not built. He adds that the reverse of Clarke's Law is also true.


The first director approached to handle Battlefield was Graeme Harper, who had previously directed The Caves of Androzani and Revelation of the Daleks for the programme in 1984 and 1985 respectively. However, Harper was committed to episodes of the Central Independent Television drama series Boon, and unavailable to return to Doctor Who.[6]

During recording of the sequence where Ace is trapped in the glass water tank, the glass cracked, causing Sophie Aldred to sustain minor cuts to her hands and creating a major safety hazard as water flooded out onto the studio floor, across which live wires were running. The moment when the tank first cracked can be seen in Part Three as the Doctor struggles with the controls and Ace is lifted clear of the water.[7] Sylvester McCoy shouted out to the stage hands above her to pull her quickly out before the tank exploded.

Cast notes[edit]

Nicholas Courtney returned explicitly as the Brigadier for the first time since The Five Doctors in 1983, Courtney's small cameo role in 1988's Silver Nemesis having been unidentified.[8] Other guest stars making return appearances in Battlefield include Jean Marsh, who over twenty years earlier had played Princess Joanna in The Crusade and later, companion Sara Kingdom in The Daleks' Master Plan, which had been, coincidentally, Nicholas Courtney's first Doctor Who story;[9] and June Bland, who appeared in the Fifth Doctor story Earthshock.

Angela Bruce later reprised the role of Brigadier Winifred Bambera in the audio play Animal.

Commercial releases[edit]

In print[edit]

Doctor Who Battlefield.jpg
AuthorMarc Platt
Cover artistAlister Pearson
SeriesDoctor Who book:
Target novelisations
Release number
PublisherTarget Books
Publication date
18 July 1991

A novelisation of this serial, written by Marc Platt, was published by Target Books in July 1991.[10] The novel features a prologue in which the future Merlin Doctor takes the wounded King Arthur aboard the spaceship beneath the lake following the last battle as well as additional information about the current version of U.N.I.T. and Morgaine's dimension. The final scene also implies that the Brigadier is planning to go with Ancelyn back to the other dimension to help restore order, a similar plot point to the ending of the Eighth Doctor Adventures novel The Shadows of Avalon. It was the last novelisation of a televised Doctor Who serial to be published in the traditional "short paperback" format Target had been using since 1973. After one more novelisation based upon the audio story The Pescatons, all remaining novelisations were published in paperback editions with greater page counts and a different format.

Home media[edit]

Battlefield was released on VHS in March 1998 with two minutes of additional footage not shown in the 1989 broadcast. It was released on Region 2 DVD on 26 December 2008 as a Special Edition featuring the original televised story plus a movie-length version featuring extended scenes and new special effects, with its scenes reedited into script order to clarify the story's themes and sequence of events. This serial was also released as part of the Doctor Who DVD Files in issue 59 on 6 April 2011.


  1. ^ From the Doctor Who Magazine series overview, in issue 407 (pp26-29). The Discontinuity Guide, which counts the four segments of The Trial of a Time Lord as four separate stories and also counts the unbroadcast serial Shada, lists this story as number 156. Region 1 DVD releases follow The Discontinuity Guide numbering system.
  2. ^ Anderson, Kyle. "Doctor Who: A Companion's Companion, Season 26". Nerdist. Archived from the original on 24 June 2015. Retrieved 24 June 2015.
  3. ^ "Ratings Guide". Doctor Who News. Retrieved 28 May 2017.
  4. ^ "Doctor Who Guide: broadcasting for Battlefield". Doctor Who Guide. Retrieved 19 December 2015.
  5. ^ Purser-Hallard, Philip (2019). The Black Archive #34: Battlefield. Obverse Books. pp. 19, 21, 23.
  6. ^ Rigelsford, Adrian (1996). Classic Who – The Harper Classics. London: Boxtree. ISBN 0-7522-0188-3.
  7. ^ "BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - Battlefield - Details". Retrieved 19 December 2015.
  8. ^ Courtney took part in that serial playing a tourist standing on a tour of Windsor Castle, and exchanging only a single line with another character. It was never indicated whether the man was the retired brigadier or an unrelated character.
  9. ^ Courtney portrayed Kingdom's fellow Space Security Agent, Bret Vyon in The Daleks' Master Plan
  10. ^ Platt, Marc (1991). Battlefield. ISBN 0-426-20350-X.

External links[edit]

Target novelisation[edit]