All of a sudden it’s the seventies again, and all is right with the world. We’re pelted straight into a good old-fashioned UNIT story, and it’s so wonderfully familiar, even down to the occasional sword fights. The little continuity nods are much appreciated, although it’s best not to speculate on the off-screen fate that befell Liz Shaw if The Doctor ended up holding on to her pass for so long.
Despite the grey hair and the green jumper being stretched to the limit around the belly, it was like The Brigadier had never been away. He was just as suave and smooth as ever, but now finally at the age where you feel he’s at his most comfortable. Time has not withered his bravery or intuition, and it was a fittingly heroic farewell to one of the all-time greatest Doctor Who characters, perhaps the greatest barring The Doctor himself. I’m glad that he survived the encounter; for starters, I’d have blubbed like a tiny child, but it honestly didn’t need a heroic sacrifice in order to match the hype.
For this was a top-notch story, that easily stands alongside the majority of the original UNIT yarns. It was great to see them back at full strength, with a whole new generation of consciously multi-national recruits. They were of course led by Debs Lister, and it was a good decision to have her play it with the same officer-class mannerisms as “our” Brig. Her little barely-expressed love story with the good knight was quite touching, and it’s a shame she never got the chance to fulfill a similar recurring role to that of either century’s Lethbridge-Stewart.
My one complaint is that the Brig spent an episode hovering around in a helicopter rather than joining the action, but when he finally arrived he was straight into the thick of it. His calming presence allowed the story to explore a darker Doctor than we’ve perhaps ever seen before. There was a moment, however brief, when you thought that yes, he might well be capable of decapitating Mordred. I love the notion that The Doctor is the man behind all these ancient myths; it’s a theme that’s cropped up numerous times throughout the show’s history, but here it’s combined with some Bill & Ted style time-travel trickery that’s right up my street.
Nice to see Jean Marsh too, providing the gravitas needed to create a memorable villain. And of course Bessie’s back too, which an updated number plate but somehow less convincing super-speed effects than they managed in the 70s. One throwback I wasn’t expecting, though, was casual racism. In fact, I assumed I must have misheard Ace’s slur towards Shou Yuing, as I couldn’t believe anyone would use those terms on TV as late as 1989, especially not an otherwise utterly perfect companion. Baffling, and sad.
One more weird thing – I realised towards the end of Part Two that I’d seen this cliffhanger before. It’s one of the standard clips you see on every TV industry health and safety course, alongside a door falling on someone on The Brittas Empire, and Anthea Turner being blown up. I was slightly taken aback to see footage of the glass cracking in the episode itself, as I’d been conditioned to hear McCoy shouting for help immediately afterwards.
But yeah, an absolutely cracking story that left me with a warm, fuzzy feeling. And hey, Big Finish – where’s my spin-off series with the adventures of the Brigadier, Doris, Bambera, Ancelyn and Shou Yuing, driving around in Bessie, getting into gardening-based scrapes and having cosy suppers by the fire?