Motivation, magic and Battlefield (1989)

battlefield

Pop quiz, Who heads: Who is Shou Yuing? Why that’s easy, you say. She’s Ace’s friend du jour in 1989 season opener Battlefield. And she’s a rare example of an Asian character in Doctor Who who isn’t a crude racial stereotype, you might be inclined to add, if you were feeling feisty.

But what I really meant was, who is Shou Yuing? What is she doing in Carbury? What does she do for a living? Where’s her family? Is Yuing her surname or part of her first name? Why would she suddenly give up everything she presumably has planned to hang around with Ace for four episodes? These answers are not so easy.

I suggest you turn to the TARDIS Wikia, a terrific source of info on Doctor Who recorded in obsessive level of detail. But even here you’ll struggle to find anything insightful, although there’s some amusement to be gathered from what information we do have: “Shou Yuing was a young woman living in Carbury, in rural England… She seems to have been a regular at a hotel… Shou owned a car.” Wow, a car! That does set her apart.

To be fair, it does point out that she assisted with the excavation of Carbury’s archeological dig (but is she an archeologist? You’d think she’d mention it if so) and that she likes explosives (why? If the 1980s was teeming with young women who liked making homemade bombs it slipped my attention. And it sounds like something I’d notice). Forgive me for judging by appearances, but she just doesn’t look to me like the sort of person who’s into either of those things. From her dress and her dialogue she seems to be… Well, that’s just it. I have no idea. She’s just there.

Here’s another question for you: What does Morgaine want? Most Doctor Who villains have simple needs. They want power, or revenge, or possession of something or to get off with Peri. Not Morgaine the sun killer, dominator of the thirteen worlds and battle queen of the S’Rax, though. No, she’s after… Well, what exactly?

Let’s retrace her steps. In another dimension, she was at war with Arthur, who was being assisted by Merlin, who in fact is a later incarnation of the Doctor. Arthur is killed in “the final battle”, “over a thousand years ago”, says the Doctor. But his corpse is in a dimension hopping spaceship which travels through to our world. (Was he alive and lived in our world for a time? Or did he cross over dead, as per a viking funeral?)

Morgaine believes him to be alive, so she pursues him across the dimensions. How long does she wait? Arthur is long dead by the time she arrives and the spaceship has been under Vortigern’s Lake for centuries, so did she just kick back for a while? Or did the ship travel backwards through time as well as across dimensions?

Anyway, she eventually travels across to our world, but not before some narrative bending meta commentary in Part One. Then she shoots down a helicopter (why? It’s Arthur she’s after, isn’t it?), has a strop at her son, flirts with the Brigadier and holds a war graves ceremony. Sure, it’s a busy day, but no hint yet of her big plan.

In Part Three, Ace emerges from Lake Vortigern holding Excalibur, legendary sword of Arthur and part of the spaceship’s control  system. Morgaine declares she wants the sword. Ah ha! Now we’re getting somewhere, the audience might reasonably think. Morgaine then tries a number of ways to get the sword; she sends her troops to attack our heroes in their cars, she messes with Ace’s and Shou Yuing’s minds and finally she summons up the Destroyer (a surprisingly articulate blue horned beast) to take the sword by force and blow up a pub.

It’s this last ploy that eventually works. In Part Four she says, “ I have Excalibur. Without it, Arthur sleeps forever.” Hmm. If she wanted Arthur to sleep forever, she could have just stayed at home and left him under the lake.

There’s a bit more toing and froing, but she eventually unleashes the Destroyer and prepares to leave with the sword. “Too late, Merlin!”, she crows at the Doctor. “The gateway is open. I am gone and you have lost.” But she’s then distracted by her no-good son Mordred, the Doctor grabs the sword and she disappears.

Only to reappear a minute later trying to explode the nuclear missile. It’s never explained why she’s doing this. Is it a bluff to regain Excalibur? (That old thing seems long forgotten by now.) Whatever the reason, the Doctor talks her out of it. Then she says, “tell Arthur to face me with honour in single combat.”

So wait a minute, now she wants Arthur awake? Didn’t she want the sword to prevent him from waking? The Doctor then breaks the news to her that Arthur died years ago. Morgaine is surprisingly upset and the death of her arch enemy.

MORGAINE: Where does he lie? I would look at him one final time.
DOCTOR: He’s gone to dust.
MORGAINE: Then I shall not even have that comfort.
DOCTOR: Comfort? A moment ago you wanted to kill him! I know you’re a morally ambiguous character, but jeez, make up your mind! Do you want to fight him or love him? What on earth do you want Morgaine, the sun killer, dominator of the thirteen worlds and battle queen of the S’Rax? TELL ME!

OK, I may have added that last bit. At least the Doctor seems to acknowledge the absurdity of the situation when he advises UNIT to lock this confused lady up. Yup, great idea. That will hold the magical, dimension-hopping witch.

This blog is not meant to be judgmental, and really, honestly, I do love Battlefield, but it hasn’t aged well. Reviewers have often pointed to its tackier than usual effects, its overall plasticy look and Keff McCulloch’s Stock, Aitken and Waterman soundtrack. But this blog is also, at least tangentially, about writing and to me, Battlefield shows how important thorough character development is and how it impacts on story.

But on the other hand… it has one of Doctor Who‘s best scenes in it. Bad egg Mordred has been drinking in that oft-mentioned pub, and terrorising the blind lady publican, Elizabeth. Spunky UNIT Lieutenant Lavel dashes in and Mordred takes and instant shine to her. Morgaine walks in and with the frosty disdain of a potential mother-in-law, says “Who is this?”. “A warrior maid”, replies Mordred.

The lighting is dim. Keff’s music is, for once, subtle. With a dancer’s grace, Morgaine drains Lavel’s brain of knowledge and then casually disintegrates her with a flick of her hand.

Then she notices the empty beer jugs on the bar and insists on paying for Mordred’s boozing. “I must ’get the tab’”, she says, stealing Lavel’s words and she does so by curing Elizabeth’s blindness with a sweep of her hand. The woman cries. “I can see”.

For that scene alone, I can forgive Battlefield a multitude of sins.

LINKS to The Time Warrior: Another easy one! Both have UNIT in ’em.

NEXT TIME: It’s Christmas, you moron! It’s beginning to look a lot like The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe.

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2 thoughts on “Motivation, magic and Battlefield (1989)”

  1. ‘But what I really meant was, who is Shou Yuing? What is she doing in Carbury? What does she do for a living? Where’s her family? Is Yuing her surname or part of her first name?’

    The novelisation does include answers to these questions: She’s a student at Exeter University, her family live in Carbury where her grandparents run a takeaway, and her full name is Li Shou Yuing (so her family name is ‘Li’, and ‘Yuing’ is part of her first name).

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