The classic Doctor Who story “Battlefield” revealed the Doctor is actually Merlin – and a new book from the BBC explains how that works!
Doctor Who has finally explained the true origin of Merlin – an alternate reality version of the Doctor himself, which ties back to the era of Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor. The longest-running TV series in the world, the secret of Doctor Who‘s success is the time travel concept that means it can reinvent itself in practically anyway. In the case of the Seventh Doctor story “Battlefield,” which released in 1989, it actually dove into sword-and-sorcery.
“Battlefield” was inspired by the legends of Camelot and King Arthur, and it revealed the Doctor was actually Merlin. “Oh, he has many faces, but in my reckoning, he is Merlin,” one Arthurian warrior Ancelyn observed. “Do you not ride the ship of time? Does it not deceive the senses being larger within than without?” Matters were pretty much settled when the Doctor visited an archaeological dig associated with King Arthur, and was able to read the inscriptions. “It’s my handwriting,” he explained simply. Ever since then, viewers have speculated about how the Merlin Doctor can possibly fit into the timeline. Now, the matter has finally been settled.
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The BBC has recently published a new fact-book called The Monster Vault, containing information on both new and classic Doctor Who monsters. One such deals with a demon briefly unleashed in “Battlefield,” the Destroyer, and it reveals the truth behind the Merlin Doctor at last.
“In another universe, psychic energy prevailed and the laws of magic prevailed [over the laws of science]. Some legends said that there were still Lords on Gallifrey, but they were Lords not of Time but of Magic. There was also a Doctor who was exiled to Earth. He served at the court of King Arthur as his Magical Adviser and was given the name ‘Merlin.’… In this universe, Merlin had a great enemy, the equivalent of the Master: Morgaine.”
It’s a fascinating way to explain the Doctor Merlin, and the parallels between this reality and the normal Doctor Who universe are particularly entertaining. The Merlin Doctor is clearly the equivalent of Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor, who was also exiled to Earth; in that case, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart of UNIT becomes our reality’s Arthur. Appropriately enough, Lethbridge-Stewart was the first to meet Morgaine after her arrival on Earth, and he immediately earned her respect as a warrior. What’s more, in Arthurian folklore the King of Camelot is destined to return in Britain’s hour of greatest need; Lethbridge-Stewart’s body was resurrected after a fashion by Cyber-technology in the Peter Capaldi story “Death in Heaven,” and he proved of material assistance to the Doctor. “Of course,” the Doctor observed after figuring out who this lone Cyberman really was. “The Earth’s darkest hour and mine. Where else would you be?“
The barriers between the different dimensions became almost impenetrable as a consequence of the Time War, meaning this reality is unlikely to ever intersect with our own again. Now this has been clarified, hopefully Doctor Who tie-ins will decide to explore the Merlin Doctor, revealing just what this mysterious dimension is really like.
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