Ben Aaronovitch (writer)


We talk to writer Ben Aaronovitch about the timey-wimey magic of Battlefield...

[Published in Doctor Who DVD Files #59 (GE Fabbri, in 2010), pp. 17-20. Posted here by kind permission of the team at Eaglemoss.]

Battlefield was your second Doctor Who story, after Remembrance of the Daleks.
But I pitched Battlefield first. I talked to script editor Andrew Cartmel about writing for Doctor Who when they were filming Dragonfire. They did two three-part stories each year, one all done in the studio, the other all done on location. So I was thinking of a story you could make in a field.

That's why it was a story about archaeology?
I wanted to do something like Nigel Kneale. He wrote classic, scary stuff like Quatermass and the Pit in the 1950s – that's about archaeology as well. I thought Arthurian legend was good to have bubbling up under the surface like that.

Quatermass and the Pit also has things to say about the times in which it was made.
Yeah, I was trying to do the same. Nuclear bombs and cruise missiles were in the news at the time.

But then you were asked to write a Dalek story.
Yeah, I wrote the first episode of Battlefield – or "Storm Over Avallion" as it was called then – and it's basically the same as it came out. But then they offered me Daleks, so we did that first.

You say "basically the same." What changed?
When it became a four-parter I needed more things to put into it. So it stopped being set in the present day and was set in the future. It was meant to be set 10 years in the future – what would be about 10 years ago now. That was a mistake! Never do near-future stories!

Why not?
It's asking for trouble! You make these guesses and you can't get it right. I didn't think of mobile phones, just phones in people's cars. I was wrong about five-pound pieces. And Czechoslovakia split up into different countries – I think just to annoy me!

You had UNIT soldiers from Czechoslovakia.
Yeah. That's another thing that changed. In the original version it was the United States Air Force but as soon as it became a go-project I wanted to bring back UNIT. In the old days UNIT was just the British army in a slightly different uniform. I thought it would be interesting to do UNIT as a United Nations task force, with blue berets and drawing on contingency troops from all over the world. You get a bit of that in the scripts of various old UNIT stories – most of them written by Malcolm Hulke.

You also brought back the Doctor's old friend, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. Weren't you going to kill him off?
Yes. When he's lying there and they all go, "Oh! He's dead!", he was supposed to be dead.

But you chickened out?
He wouldn't die! Any author will tell you that sometimes your characters won't do what you tell them to. It's very annoying!

There's also a bit of friction between the Brigadier and the Doctor's companion, Ace.
Again, that's their characters. Ace was a rebel, she blew up her art room with nitroglycerine, so she's not going to get on with a brigadier in the British army. He's so establishment, like a stick of rock with a union flag running all the way through him! There's no way she would get on with him. But they become friends by the end because they have the same basic approach to problems. It's all very well for the Doctor to talk his way out of these things but its much more satisfying to blow them up!

Remembrance of the Daleks is set in the past and is about racism. Battlefield is set in the future and is about sexism. Was that intentional?
The conscious mirroring was that Remembrance is about things the Doctor has done in his past catching up with him and Battlefield is about things he doesn't even know he's done yet.

The story suggests that the Doctor has magic powers...
No, he's bluffing. They call him Merlin so he thinks quickly and goes along with it so they won't shoot him. He's a man who will bluff with no cards. He walks into a situation with nothing in his favour and convinces people that they should surrender. He's still doing that now.

What do you make of the new series?
I love Matt Smith, I can't fault his performance. He is this 900 year-old person in the body of a 25 year-old. He's now my favourite Doctor. David Tennant was my favourite Doctor, too. The next one might be my favourite as well.

Has the Eleventh Doctor been Merlin yet, or is that still to come?
Perhaps it happened off-screen, or perhaps it's still coming. I leave that to the producers of it now. Or perhaps things have changed now and it never happens. As a time traveller, that probably happens all the time!

Temporarily Significant: Ben Aaronovitch's website