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Doctor Who: Battlefield – Special Edition (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

Battlefield originally aired in 1989.

Pitiful. Can this world do no better than you as their champion?

Probably. I just do the best I can.

– the Destroyer gets to know the Brigadier

Battlefield gets a bit of a bum rap as the weakest story in the final season of the classic Doctor Who. This isn’t entirely fair. Battlefield is a well-produced and thoughtful piece of Doctor Who, it just happens to be inferior to The Curse of Fenric, Ghost Light and Survival; it’s hardly the most damning indictment possible. After all, Battlefield would arguably be treated as an unsung gem had it aired during Colin Baker’s time on the show.

In keeping with Ben Aaronovitch’s last season opener, Remembrance of the Daleks, Battlefield is preoccupied with the history of the show – of its legacy and the artifacts that it carries with it. Archeology is a key theme here, but juxtaposed against a near future setting and the clever conceit of the Doctor manipulating his own history. There’s a wealth of great material here, even if the production never quite lives up to the potential teased.

A beacon of light...

A beacon of light…

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Doctor Who: The Beast Below (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

The Beast Below originally aired in 2010.

What are you going to do?

What I always do. Stay out of trouble. Badly.

So is this how it works, Doctor? You never interfere in the affairs of other peoples or planets, unless there’s children crying?

Yes.

– Amy and the Doctor reiterate the way things work

Steven Moffat’s first season producing Doctor Who owes a conscious debt to the rigid structure of the seasons produced by Russell T. Davies. There’s an opening episode in contemporary Britain, followed by one episode visiting the past, one visiting the future. There are three two-parters – the season finalé, a “monster”-driven two-parter and a more atmospheric and moody piece. There’s even a brief spell in the middle of the season where Moffat spices up the TARDIS dynamic by adding in a temporary companion.

This approach worked quite well. It’s worth noting that Moffat’s first season was the only point following the departure of Russell T. Davies that Doctor Who was able to deliver thirteen episodes of the show on thirteen consecutive weeks. It struck something of a happy middle between Davies’ more episodic approach to the show that the more arc-driven storytelling favoured by Moffat. Still, there are moments when it seems like this approach isn’t quite the perfect fit, with Moffat’s voice struggling to fit into the structure established by Davies.

Essentially Steven Moffat’s impression of Russell T. Davies’ update of Andrew Cartmel’s social allegory stories, The Beast Below is an interesting – if slightly unsuccessful – experiment. Moffat’s second season would feature much more effective attempts to evoke the Cartmel era of the classic show, without the sense that Moffat was trying a little too hard to emulate his predecessor.

The space in-between...

The space in-between…

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Doctor Who: The Happiness Patrol (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

The Happiness Patrol originally aired in 1988.

Think I’ll hang out here for a while, Doc. See if I can teach this planet the blues again.

Yes, thank you for giving them back to us, Doctor.

– Earl and Susan shouldn’t be so surprised that the Doctor is fond of blue

The Happiness Patrol is an absolutely fascinating piece of Doctor Who. On the surface, it’s another example of the series’ rapidly falling budget and the production values point towards the show’s impending cancellation. While nowhere near as dodgy as Warriors of the Deep, The Happiness Patrol looks like a very cheap piece of television, struggling to realise a futuristic colony on a tiny budget. On a purely superficial level, The Happiness Patrol is really the kind of show that Michael Grade could point to and argue that Doctor Who was a show that desperately needed to be put out of its misery.

However, if the viewer is willing to pull back the layers a bit, and to peer beneath the somewhat rough trappings of The Happiness Patrol, the adventure is really everything that eighties Doctor Who could ever want to be. There is a reason that the serial has, somewhat improbably, endured. In 2010, The Happiness Patrol became headline news in Great Britain, with national newspapers astounded by the audacity of Andrew Cartmel’s vision for the show. The following year, the Archbishop of Canterbury casually name-dropped it in an Easter Sermon.

These references aren’t derogatory. These are proof that The Happiness Patrol, despite its dodgy special effects and the limitations of its production design, is one of the most important Doctor Who adventures of the eighties.

He's perfectly sweet!

He’s perfectly sweet!

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Doctor Who: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

The Greatest Show in the Galaxy originally aired in 1988.

Sometimes I think it’s you that’s crazy, not Deadbeat here.

Anybody remotely interesting is mad in some way or another.

– Ace and the Doctor cut to the heart of Doctor Who

It’s very hard to believe that The Greatest Show in the Galaxy aired as the final story of the twenty-fifth season of Doctor Who. Stories like Remembrance of the Daleks and Silver Nemesis were clearly anniversary fodder, celebrating the progress of the show to this point. The Happiness Patrol was a delightfully surreal oddity that has only really been noticed by the general public in recent years, with news breaking in 2010 that Andrew Cartmel had been using Doctor Who to tell politically subversive stories. Which, I suppose, confirms just how few people were watching The Happiness Patrol in 1988.

The Greatest Show in the Galaxy is as concerned with the legacy of Doctor Who as Remembrance of the Daleks or Silver Nemesis, but it lacks the nostalgic shine. Instead, it’s a stunningly bitter piece of television that offers a pretty damning indictment of what Doctor Who had become by the late eighties, a critique of selling out and chasing ratings and living in constant fear that the gods of entertainment – the middle-class families so desperately courted and so carefully catered to – might tune out and consign the show to oblivion.

The Doctor welcomes you to The Greatest Show in the Galaxy...

The Doctor welcomes you to The Greatest Show in the Galaxy…

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