The opening story of the classic era’s final series – Ben Aaronovitch’s ‘Battlefield’ – saw the return of an old friend, a message about nuclear weapons that would give Peter “Zygon Inversion” Harness a run for his money. The ever-stalwart Mark Platt was given a quest to transform the story into the novel published by Target Books in 1991.
In honour of the Target Book Artwork Exhibition at the Cartoon Museum in London, seven of Target’s TV story novelisations – one for each classic incarnation – was treated to a re-release, complete with a resplendent new cover illustration accompanying each one. As a story, ‘Battlefield’ lends itself very well to Chris Achilleos’ unique art style, evoking the style of a pulp fantasy novel with its off-white background, haphazard character placement and superb rendering of The Destroyer.
So what’s the point of a novelisation? Originally they were a way to relive a story in the days before iPlayer. Of course, they could always just publish the script but that’s pretty dry reading. Better to wrap it up in a proper narrative with more exposition, character development, and all the background gubbins that it’s TV progenitor didn’t have the time or budget to realise.
Which brings us to ‘Battlefield’, an episode that became divisive among viewers for the number of supporting characters it sets up in the first half only to usher them offstage for the finale. The novelisation is the perfect opportunity to flesh out the background players, an opportunity Platt grasps with aplomb. He seems to have had particular fun inventing scenes to fill out the villain backstory, juxtaposing the Arthurian get up with advanced weaponry and even giving us a glimpse of the future and/or alternate version of the Doctor, who Ancelyn knows as Merlin.
If you’ve encountered Platt’s work before (like the sublime Big Finish audio ‘Spare Parts’) then you’ll find his signature finesse for character in full charge. The packed cast that ‘Battlefield’ dumps on him are all given their fair share of development and moments of focus. Platt excels at writing the “ordinary” people, so it’s not surprising that the only character somewhat short-changed by the promise of a novelisation is Brigadier Bambera. She has her moments, certainly, but having to adhere to the televised story left very little wiggle room to prise her out of the two-dimensional character she started out with.
On television, and with so many other characters to juggle, this was a case of priorities: she was touted as the “New Brig” and future appearances seemed inevitable, so her character growth could come later. In the novel, Platt struggles to give us extra insight into Bambera that would fit into the story, inheriting a dangling character thread from the TV script that he tries to tie off as best he can in an already busy plot.
Novelising ‘Battlefield’ was a formidable task that demanded the right talent. Mark Platt was the perfect choice to take on this story, herding an uneven plot into an exciting, perfectly-paced narrative. Its re-release with new cover art continues that theme and makes this book an essential for all Whovian bibliophiles.