Battlefield (Doctor Who)

Battlefield (Doctor Who)
Doctor Who serial
Battlefield (Doctor Who).jpg
A meeting with an old friend
Writer Ben Aaronovitch
Director Michael Kerrigan
Script editor Andrew Cartmel
Producer John Nathan-Turner
Executive producer(s) None
Production code 7N
Series Season 26
Length 4 episodes, 25 minutes each
Originally broadcast September 6–September 27, 1989
← Preceded by Followed by →
The Greatest Show in the Galaxy Ghost Light

Battlefield is a serial in the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, which was first broadcast in four weekly parts from September 6 to September 27, 1989. It was the last appearance of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart in Doctor Who.



In response to a distress signal, the Seventh Doctor and Ace materialize the TARDIS near Lake Vortigern in England. The sound of explosions leads the TARDIS crew to Brigadier Bambera of UNIT, in charge of a nuclear missile convoy. Following the encounter, the retired Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart (the old Brigadier) 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 mantlepiece 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 recognize 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", who 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, or a parallel version of himself from another universe, where magic is the substitute for technology. Presently, they realize 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 space ship, 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 specialized ammunition, but when the Doctor jokingly inquires 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 too valuable, and knocks him out, retrieving his gun so that he can face the Destroyer in the Doctor's place. The Brigadier marches back in to 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), and the Doctor, Ace and Shou Yuing are invited to the Brigadier's home for supper.


  • As broadcast, this story marks a costume change for the Seventh Doctor. (Initially, The Curse of Fenric was meant as the first story of the season, and an outfit reveal was built in partway through the story.) Most of his clothing is darker, most notably his coat which is now dark brown as opposed to the beige in previous seasons. This was to represent his darker, more manipulative character. This costume would continue until the end of the classic series' run. When the Seventh Doctor next appears in the 1996 TV movie, he is wearing a completely re-designed outfit with only his hat remaining (which was owned by Sylvester McCoy).
  • It is implied that Merlin is, or will be, a future incarnation of the Doctor. It is also possible that Merlin is an alternate Doctor from the same parallel universe that Morgaine and the rest of the knights are from. The "Merlin Doctor" appears in the prologue to Marc Platt's novelisation, described as wearing a floppy hat and an Afghan coat. This character also makes a cameo in Aaronavitch's Virgin New Adventures novel Transit. Interestingly, he is described as having red hair, something which both the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors express a desire to have. Another possible Merlin Doctor is the character Muldwych from Nigel Robinson's novel Birthright, who is strongly implied to be a future incarnation of the Doctor, and in Paul Cornell's Happy Endings is discussing the origins of Excalibur but leaves off as the Doctor passes by. The 'Merlin paradox' is later resolved in One Fateful Knight, a short story in Short Trips: The Quality of Leadership, which reveals that the Eighth Doctor 'shares' the title of Merlin with a renegade Time Lord, the other Merlin giving Arthur and his people advanced technology for his own motives before he is sealed in the ice caves by Morgaine, while the Eighth Doctor leaves the various relevant clues for his past self to find.
  • The Doctor mentions that they are several years in Ace's future. A King sits on the throne of Great Britain, a £5 coin is in common circulation, all roadsigns are in kilometres and the telephone in the hotel is apparently voice operated. The novelisation also mentions that sea levels have risen and places the date sometime after 1995. The Virgin New Adventures novel The Dying Days, set some months after it and featuring Brigadier Bambera, is set in 1997.
  • The Doctor gives Ace a UNIT identity card which once belonged to former companion Liz Shaw. Ace remarks that she does not even look like the ID photo, and asks "Who is Elizabeth Shaw?"
  • While not stated aloud nor seen on-camera, Battlefield marks the Seventh Doctor's use the alias "John Smith", as the Third Doctor had told Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart to use "John Smith" on his UNIT credentials in Spearhead from Space.[clarification needed]
  • The Doctor, talking to the new Brigadier, mentions Yeti (The Web of Fear), Autons (Spearhead from Space and Terror of the Autons), Daleks (Day of the Daleks), Cybermen (The Invasion) and Silurians (Doctor Who and the Silurians).
  • The Brigadier states that UNIT have "gold tipped bullets for you know what" referring to the Cybermen. Their weakness to gold was first referenced during Revenge of the Cybermen.
  • The Doctor suggests UNIT acquire silver bullets because "Well, you never know", a suggestion Lethbridge-Stewart immediately takes. Silver bullets are traditionally associated with defeating werewolves. The Doctor encountered werewolves in The Greatest Show in the Galaxy and "Tooth and Claw".[citation needed]
  • Bessie appears for the first time since The Five Doctors, with the numberplate 'WHO 7', though the actual car used is a different model from that featured earlier; in the Doctor's personal chronology, he was last shown using the vehicle soon after his regeneration into the Fourth Doctor in Robot (in The Five Doctors the vehicle is only used by the Third Doctor).
  • This story marks the last appearance of the TARDIS console room in the classic series. The set itself which had been in use since The Five Doctors had been destroyed in between seasons so a cheap mock-up (with a curtain standing in for the wall) was used here. The lighting in this scene is very low to disguise this- claimed to be the result of the Doctor turning down power to better follow a signal-, although the console itself survived and was used.[citation needed]
  • UNIT itself would not appear again on television until the Ninth Doctor story Aliens of London, after which it would be seen in the Tenth Doctor's initial outing, The Christmas Invasion, and several subsequent stories. The organization was also referred to in the spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures and represented by its medical officer, Martha Jones- the former companion of the Tenth Doctor-, in Torchwood.
  • This story is the last appearance of Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart in the Doctor Who television series, after 21 years in the series since his first appearance in 1968's The Web of Fear, and his last television appearance in the Doctor Who universe (apart from 1993's multi-Doctor mini-episode Dimensions in Time) until The Sarah Jane Adventures episode, "Enemy of the Bane" in 2008. 'The Brig' or 'Sir Alistair' is mentioned as being still affiliated with UNIT in both the 2007 The Sarah Jane Adventures episodes "Revenge of the Slitheen", "The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith, and "Death of the Doctor", and the 2008 Doctor Who episode The Poison Sky. In the nearly twenty-year interim between "Battlefield" and "Enemy of the Bane", the character appeared in several spin-off stories, including short stories, novels and audio dramas. As with Dimensions in Time, the canonicity of these is unclear. He is also heard in many Big Finish audios such as The Spectre of Lanyon Moor, Minuet in Hell and the UNIT series, thus resulting in Nicholas Courtney being the only actor to have appeared with all of the first eight Doctors, appearing with Colin Baker and Paul McGann as the Sixth and Eighth Doctors respectively in the aforementioned audios.


Serial details by episode
Episode Broadcast date Run time Viewership
(in millions)
"Part One" 6 September 1989 (1989-09-06) 24:06 3.1
"Part Two" 13 September 1989 (1989-09-13) 24:07 3.9
"Part Three" 20 September 1989 (1989-09-20) 24:13 3.6
"Part Four" 27 September 1989 (1989-09-27) 24:14 4.0


Working titles for this story included Nightfall and Storm Over Avallion. An early version of the script was to have included the death of Lethbridge-Stewart.[5]

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 'black magic' attack used against them by the Sorceress Morgaine, and also that Arthur's trans-dimensional spaceship was grown, not built, and 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 Television drama series Boon, and unavailable to return to Doctor Who.[6] He would, however, later return to direct episodes of the revived version of the show from 2006 onwards.

During recording of the sequence where Ace is trapped in the water tank, the tank cracked, causing Sophie Aldred to sustain minor cuts to her hands and creating a major 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.

Cast notes

See also Celebrity appearances in Doctor Who.

In print

A novelisation of this serial, written by Marc Platt, was published by Target Books in July 1991.[7] 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 Morgraine'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 Eight 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 would be published in paperback editions with greater page counts and a different format.

Doctor Who book
Book cover
Series Target novelisations
Release number 152
Writer Marc Platt
Publisher Target Books
Cover artist Alister Pearson
ISBN 0-426-20350-X
Release date 15 November 1990
Preceded by '
Followed by '

VHS and DVD Release

  • This story 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 December 26, 2008 as a Special Edition featuring the original televised story plus a movie length version featuring extended scenes and new special effects.


  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. ^ Shaun Lyon et al. (2007-03-31). "Battlefield". Outpost Gallifrey. Archived from the original on 2008-05-11. Retrieved 2008-08-30. 
  3. ^ "Battlefield". Doctor Who Reference Guide. Retrieved 2008-08-30. 
  4. ^ Sullivan, Shannon (2007-08-07). "Battlefield". A Brief History of Time Travel. Retrieved 2008-08-30. 
  5. ^ Battlefield at Doctor Who: A Brief History Of Time (Travel)
  6. ^ Rigelsford, Adrian (1996). Classic Who – The Harper Classics. London: Boxtree. ISBN 0-7522-0188-3. 
  7. ^ Platt, Marc (1991). Battlefield. ISBN 0-426-20350-X. 

External links


Target novelisation

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