Thursday 19 September 2019

Who Novelisation Quest 7: "Battlefield" by Marc Platt

After a bit of a breather, we're finally back in time far enough to reach the original Target novelisations (kind of spurred back onto it by DWM's excellent Target Books special, which is out now).

Battlefield was the first story of the final season of Doctor Who in its original run. The choices this time were going to be between this and the previous season's opener, Remembrance of the Daleks, both of which are fascinating steps towards the New Adventures line that would continue the Doctor's adventures in print once the novelisations dried up. (The Curse of Fenric, the series' penultimate story, is also a good choice in this regard.) This was a time when televised Doctor Who was trying new things, sketching in a new mythology for the Doctor and his universe, hinting at unrevealed adventures in both his past and future. The novelisations, often by the same writers as the TV series, took the opportunity to explore these ideas further. While Ben Aaronovitch novelised his own script for Remembrance and hinted further at the Doctor's origins on ancient Gallifrey, Marc Platt took on the novelisation of Aaronovitch's other script and looked in the other direction.

The TV serial Battlefield was an unusual adventure, where the seventh Doctor was manipulated by his own future self. He discovered that, one day, he was destined to become known as Merlin in a sideways dimension of high-tech knights and alien sorceresses, and the adventure he was now experiencing had been stage managed by Merlin to ensure the right outcome. The novelisation took this a step further, opening with a prologue featuring the Merlin incarnation of the Doctor. This red-headed, hippy-ish regeneration was a rare glimpse to a future for the Doctor at a time when it looked like Doctor Who might not even have a future. It's a little extra something to the story that marks it out as being something a bit special.

Battlefield is a lovely example of one of my favourite sci-fi tropes: a lost future. The serial, broadcast in 1989 but set around ten years later, had lots of cute little futuristic dressing, such as car phones and five pound coins, which would be superseded or fail to materialise before the real nineties were out. The novelisation is full of such things too, my favourite being the futuristic crisp flavours such as cauliflower cheese, exactly the sort of ridiculous flavour you get these days. (I'd definitely give them a try.) There's a clear impression that Platt is having a lot of fun playing in Arronovitch's toybox. The book includes a number of scenes that were cut from the broadcast version, and not seen until the much later video release reinserted them. This includes the Clarke's Law scene: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." "The reverse is also true." It's an essential moment for the themes of the story.

Other reintroduced elements were never filmed, most notably the original concept of the Destroyer, beginning as an ordinary-looking man anachronistically dressed in a business suit before gradually transforming into the big, blue demon we saw on screen. The book goes further than the broadcast serial in setting up the new UNIT team run by Bambera, while Lethbridge-Stewart receives a job offer and sets to leave for places, and dimensions, unspecified. Battlefield was the last of the traditional format Target novelisations, with the last few being longer, more detailed novels that would evolve into the New and Missing Adventures. Surprisingly, less was made of the new UNIT set-up in the subsequent New Adventures than would be expected. Even Merlin makes more cameo appearances than Bambera does. Battelfield is an important stepping stone to the next stage of Doctor Who's literary incarnation, but not as influential as might have been expected.

First published by W. H. Allen (Target imprint) in 1991
Based on Battlefield, first broadcast in 1989
Audiobook: unreleased at time of writing

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