‘Sideways in time, across the boundaries that divide one universe from another.’ Some of the details in this are brilliant: the Brigadier ending up with Doris; a genuinely internationally-flavoured UNIT and some effort put into getting a more diverse cast; futuristic hints like ‘the King’ and carphones, the little robot coin that could just have been a lump of colourful plastic, but suggests a level of attentiveness and care behind the scenes. Nicholas Courtney’s performance is superb: the moment he tells Doris kindly but firmly, ‘I’m not playing’ at soldiers is very moving. He’s not just “the Brigadier” showing up to tick a continuity box, we get a sense of a man with a life that we haven’t really had since the end of Season Eight.
Which makes some of the slapdash aspects of the script and direction incredibly irritating. Opening the series in a garden centre feels like a misstep, especially after Ben Aaronovitch’s great cold open the previous season. The music is overpowering, especially during the knights’ battle outside the TARDIS. The staging of the ‘boom!’ scene – especially the awful shot of Ancelyn being thrown through the air – is shocking. And why would the archaeologist Peter Warmsly, whose greatest discovery is the scabbard hanging on the wall of the implausibly-named Gore Crow Hotel, respond to enquiries about its history with, ‘Does it matter?’
Regardless, there’s loads here to like. The idea of knights flying across the dimensions and landing like meteors is quite fun. Bambera is instantly memorable: sardonic and brusque, with her own expletive-deleted catchphrase, and I admire the decision to cast a black woman as Courtney’s replacement. The story of forces from another time converging on Earth to await the return of King Arthur, and associating the Doctor with Merlin lend it some gravitas. I’m a bit less keen on the Doctor’s new jacket, which I don’t think suits McCoy quite so well as the lighter version and feels a bit of a heavy-handed way to signify a “darker” take that’s conspicuously absent from his performance. That said, I do enjoy when Doctors have a secondary brand palette (see also Pertwee, Tennant, Smith and Capaldi).
Next episode: Battlefield – Part Two