The Doctor: High drama is very similar to comedy – it’s all a matter of – timing.
Story Code: C26.1.
Production Code: 7N.
Story Number: 152.
Countdown week: 4…
The final season of Doctor Who before the wilderness years begins with this story, and its first Doctor-and-companion scene features the last glimpse of the console room in Classic Doctor Who: a very dark glimpse as the console set of the previous season had been trashed, (even with the low light levels the console wall backdrop is clearly a cloth with roundels.) This unsatisfactory production design is an omen for the rest of story to come.
McCoy’s Doctor is a Doctor who is perhaps best-suited to certain scripts, ones where he has to display mischievous qualities, and in other stories his impish Doctor is a joy to watch – however this script requires him to be constantly displaying anger and to spout awkward exhortations. “There will be no battle here!” he demands, but the battles such as they are are lacklustre.
Nicholas Courtney returns to the screen as the Brig with panache, and the idea of this old warrior and the other warriors of UNIT encountering these futuristic warrior-knights is one with potential. However, the original scripts apparently suggested a more futuristic look for the knights (which would have resembled suits of armour rather than being suits of armour.) The strange mixture of chainmail and plate armour and swords with “futuristic” zapguns at least matches the rest of the depiction of this “other-dimension” in that the world described is confusing and muddled. Supposedly from another dimension, another universe (another Earth?) the means of arrival confuses matters – why do the knights arrive by spaceship, yet Morgaine has to be summoned by a laughing-too-much Mordred and his “similar-to-Excalibur-but-not-Excalibur” sword?
The “actual” Excalibur is in some sort of spaceship at the bottom of the lake – Morgaine and Mordred muse over seemingly advanced-to-them technology such as helicopters but they have zapguns and spaceships, so do those odd musings make sense? DW has always tried to suggest that magic and witchcraft are superstitions with the Doctor’s bigging up of science; the magic of Morgaine is odd too in the context of this tradition.
So the Doctor has left himself instructions to go through this tunnel to the ship in the lake – to retrieve Excalibur – why? The idea of “lady” Ace rising up out of the lake with the sword at the end is a great image though. However, at the end the sword and ship are blown up, after Ace and the Doctor return the sword, with the idea (why?!) that this will somehow “wake” Arthur slumped over the stone. The element of Doctor actually being Merlin is an intriguing one, but, as with any element to do with the “alternative Arthurian universe” it’s indistinct and confusing – is he the Merlin of that universe, of this universe, or both? Was the Arthur and Excalibur on the ship actually the Arthur and Excalibur “of this Earth” and what is it that Morgaine is trying to do: find the sword, Arthur, destroy this Earth? What? None of it makes very much sense, and this lack of coherent content doesn’t even have any style to it. One of the worst stories of Doctor Who.