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Mallory's Battlefield

By Felicity Scoones

In Battlefield the Doctor is widely recognised as Merlin by the visitors from Avallion on an alternative Earth. It is unequivocal that the Doctor in a future incarnation will become Merlin. Stories from the Camelot cycle have been recorded since the twelfth century. English, Welsh and French writers all contributed to the legend. In the fifteenth century Sir Thomas Malory produced Le Morte d'Arthur, a collection of these legends, melded together into a cohesive novel. Most subsequent versions are related to this including the 1981 film Excalibur. By looking at the Arthurian legends it is possible to make some inferences about the Doctor's activities as Merlin. The influences on the characters Brigadier Winifred Bambera and Ancelyn which can be directly derived from the legends provide a further dimension to Battlefield.

Merlin is cited variously as an enchanter, a bard, a necromancer, and adviser to King Arthur. In a medieval world the Doctor's use of science would be classified as magic. A necromancer foretells the future through contact with the dead. Travelling in the TARDIS would give the Doctor access to both the future and the past. The Second Doctor played the recorder, in his guise as a bard the Doctor's musical trait is reasserting itself.

Merlin is pivotal in helping Arthur to assert his right to the throne. Arthur pulls the sword out of the stone then Merlin helps him to wage a successful war against those who will not accept him as king. The mystery of the sword in the stone seems very much in keeping with the Doctor's character. He could have designed the sword handle so that it was receptive only to Arthur's palm print.

Merlin goes on to advise and assist Arthur with his battles in the defence of England. When Arthur meets Guinevere, Merlin warns him not to marry her. We can assume that the Doctor is familiar with the tragic outcome and its devastating effect on Arthur's kingdom; the Time Lord frequently demonstrates that he is well versed in English literature.

In Battlefield Mordred asks the Doctor how he escaped from the ice caves in which Morgaine sealed him 'for all eternity.' Forewarned in this manner, the Doctor should be able to escape, and in fact in some versions of the legend Merlin does. He is said to have then been trapped in a thorn bush by the Lady of the Lake where he still sleeps. Another way of interpreting this conclusion is to assume that Merlin was not seen again but that no corpse was ever found.

The romance between Bambera and Ancelyn has some interesting parallels with that of Guinevere and Lancelot. Ancelyn is related to Lancelot - he tells Bambera he is descended from Sir Galahad, who was Lancelot's son. The names Ancelyn and Ancelot were often confused with the name Lancelot. This fits in with a parallel universe where Avalon has become Avallion, Morgan Morgaine, and Camelot Camlaan. The Doctor says that there are 'a lot of secrets held in a name' and this can apply to Winifred as well as Ancelyn. Winifred is from the Welsh name Gwenfrewi and as such can be related to Guinevere. Ancelyn is a heroic and honourable knight, very much in the style of Lancelot, but Bambera, unlike Guinevere, is able to fight for herself and she is also, as Ancelyn puts it, 'not betrothed.' This is a departure from the original legend. The fact that Guinevere was married to Arthur when she begun her affair with Lancelot is indirectly responsible for the fall of Camelot; Arthur is obliged to seek revenge and the unity of the round table is shattered by war. Unlike their predecessors Ancelyn and Bambera are operating in a state of grace. They are not responsible for the downfall of the round table but instead contribute to the success of the adventure.

This item appeared in TSV 25 (October 1991).

Index nodes: Battlefield
Reprinted in: TSV: The Best of Issues 21-26