Friday, November 1, 2013

7N4 - Battlefield 4

It really is wonderful to see the Brigadier back and in charge in this story. He has superb lines and excellent hero moments, particularly in Part Four, that match anything that happened to the Brigadier throughout the character's original run in the Jon Pertwee era. Nicholas Courtney also slips effortlessly back into his role, but with the added dimension of increased awareness as opposed to sitting in the background asking The Doctor what to do next, which happened with increasing frequency as the UNIT years were coming to a close in the mid-1970s. Battlefield might even be the best Brigadier story ever.

It is, however, unfortunate that as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart takes charge in this story, Brigadier Winifred Bambera, who was in charge of the entire situation before Lethbridge-Stewart came out of retirement, is basically demoted to a mere soldier without even a handover ceremony. Both Bambera and Lethbridge-Stewart  are the same rank, yet it is just accepted that Lethbridge-Stewart is taking over.

That Bambera is a woman, and also black, is what makes this transition even more troubling. It's as if a young, female, visible minority who rose through the ranks to be Brigadier is immediately untrustworthy and undeserving of her position once the established old guard (that of an old white male) arrives on the scene. Bambera's character also suffers immeasurably once Lethbridge-Stewart shows up. She's left to clean up messes made by others, and then she's cast off as a mere love interest for Ancelyn. Lethbridge-Stewart, who assumed his successor with UNIT was going to be a male, even scoffs at her name, Winifred, when he's driving away in a shiny Land Rover, while Bambera and Ancelyn are forced to commandeer a dilapidated Citreon to cart themselves around. It's as if Bambera isn't only demoted in rank, she's kicked out of UNIT all together. She has no authority, no command, and when she finally does assume control towards the end of Part Four, she's immediately taken prisoner by Mordred without a fight.

The return of the Brigadier is one last tremendous kiss to the past in this, the final year of the show in the classic series. That it came at the expense of a current commanding officer is bad enough (although I admittedly would have liked to have seen the stuffy Colonel Crichton have to endure his fair share of flat tires). But Bambera had the beginnings of a truly visionary character for this period in Doctor Who history. That she is then treated so shabbily is a sign that Doctor Who perhaps needed a long rest after all.