22 Jan 2004Enlightenment, by Paul Clarke
22 Jan 2004Enlightenment, by Sarah Tarrant
29 Oct 2005Enlightenment, by Ed Martin

The final story in the Black Guardian trilogy, 'Enlightenment' is very good. The concept of a race in space is not that original, but the idea of having the ships involved be replicas of sea ships from different periods of Earth history is inspired and makes for a memorable story. With the unusual nature of the aliens responsible for the race also central to the plot, the overall result is a story that feels like it's trying to be something special, and largely succeeding. 

The concept of the Eternals' need for Ephemeral minds to relieve the boredom of eternity means that writer Barbara Clegg is able to build a story around what is essentially a yacht race in space without it seeming contrived, but it is also an interesting idea in it own right. The Eternals' are memorable not just because they use sailing ships in space, but also because of the way they interact with the regulars. Marriner is the most obvious example; Christopher Brown's performance is initially deeply sinister, his obsession with Tegan seeming utterly predatory. During Episode One, and prior to the revelation of the Eternals' true nature, his intense interest in her seems sexual; his claims that he wants to please her rather than hurt her are not reassuring, they are horribly unsettling. Once the nature of the Eternals becomes clear Marriner's true motivation is revealed, but the disturbing parallels remain; in Episode Two he drugs her and then searches through her mind telepathically - it could easily be argued that this is a form of rape, and Tegan certainly considers it a kind of violation. Interestingly however, as the story progresses, Marriner's relationship with Tegan changes; she remains wary of him throughout, but it becomes clear that he really won't hurt her, and it is particularly interesting that the Doctor trusts him to look after her whilst he goes to rescue Turlough on board the Buccaneer. The effect of all of this isn't that Marriner is especially likeable by the end of 'Enlightenment', but instead that he ceases to be sinister and instead becomes rather pathetic, like a slightly frightening but harmless celebrity stalker who sends endless love letters to his or her idol. 

Christopher Brown's Marriner however is not the only Eternal of note. Keith Barron's performance as Striker is very effective, because he brings an impassive air to the role that makes it easy to believe that Striker is utterly inhuman. Striker acts almost as a spokesman for the Eternals, since he is used to reveal their nature to the Doctor and thus to the audience, and it proves a good choice. Barron's flat, almost disinterested, tone of voice conveys the nature of the Eternals beautifully; they are arrogant, but it is an arrogance born simply out of what they see as their natural superiority; they can control matter and they will endure forever. Their casual acceptance of the deaths of those Ephemerals killed by Wrack's destruction of her competitors is not the lack of concern for others demonstrated by, for example, the Master, but is instead born out of an inability to understand the importance of what to them is such a miniscule span of life. Barron brings this across extremely well, in addition to which he also creates a sense of boredom in Striker that emphasizes the fact that the race is merely a short diversion for him. 

Then there is Captain Wrack, played with considerable gusto by Lynda Baron. Baron's performance is almost over the top, but she gets away with it for the most part because as an Eternal who draws on Ephemeral minds to give herself shape and purpose, the portrayal of Wrack as a clichéd pirate captain is entirely appropriate. The decision to make Wrack female also helps; female villains are rare in Doctor Who, and this means that although Wrack is something of a cackling megalomaniac, she feels sufficiently different from the norm to be interesting. Having said that, the cliffhanger to Episode Three, when Wrack breaks the fourth wall and looks into camera, slightly undermines the proceedings, especially when Wrack rolls her eyes and then cackles; for some reason, by looking into camera Baron makes herself seem too over the top, rather than just enough. Nevertheless, Wrack works well as a one-dimensional villain whose very nature limits the potential for complex motivation. Whilst I'm on the subject of villainous Eternals, I should get mention of Mansell out of the way; possibly the worst actor ever to appear in Doctor Who, third-rate pop singer and recent participant in the vacuous "reality" TV show Reborn in the USA, Leee John is so bad that it is phenomenal. It is almost inconceivable that he ever got cast; his stilted, self-conscious, and just plain bad performance is the only real weakness of 'Enlightenment'. Mansell is not prominent enough to really spoil the story, but even so every other performance is so much better than his that it makes it noticeably cringe worthy. Even the actors playing the sailors in Episode One, who get very few lines, manage to show John up.

The regulars are all very well used in 'Enlightenment'. Peter Davison gets one of his finest moments in the role as the Doctor argues passionately with Striker, enraged by the parasitic nature of the Eternals and seeming genuinely angry. Perhaps more interesting however, is his relationship with Turlough; the Doctor is noticeably rather tense around Turlough for the first two episodes, but this changes after his panic-stricken suicide attempt at the end of Episode Two. What is particularly interesting is that it is never explained whether or not the Doctor realises that his new companion has been working for the Black Guardian for some time. There are hints; he doesn't trust Turlough to await further messages from the White Guardian, and he doesn't seem remotely surprised when Turlough's contract with the Guardian is discussed at the end of the story. Indeed all he says about it is that he believes Turlough when he says that he never wanted the agreement in the first place. The finale of the Black Guardian storyline is very well handled and Strickson puts in a fine performance throughout; it is clear now that he will not kill the Doctor, with this ultimately resulting in him throwing himself overboard because he won't obey the Guardian. Even more interesting is the scene in which Turlough is trapped in Wrack's power room with the vacuum shield switched off - he stops asking the Black Guardian for help, and instead screams out for the Doctor. The final scene with the Guardians is very well staged, Turlough staring at the diamond and weighing up power and fortune against the Doctor's life; his final rejection of the Black Guardian completes his slow redemption. It is interesting to watch the Doctor during this scene as he simply stands quietly and waits for Turlough's decision; his calm attitude suggests that he already knows what Turlough's choice will be. 

As I've already noted, Tegan too is used well in 'Enlightenment', as she is forced to deal with Marriner's stifling attention. Janet Fielding alternates between anger and vulnerability very well, and shows Tegan forced to deal with an unusual and frightening situation very well. She also conveys Tegan's gradual realization that Marriner isn't actually going to hurt her rather well, as the script calls for her to start arguing with him about the Eternals' use of Ephemerals for entertainment and about the fact that her thoughts are private. It is this gradual acceptance that Marriner won't harm her that allows Tegan to enjoy getting dressed up for Wrack's reception and after two episodes of being frightened, exploited, or seasick, it's nice to see Tegan smile. Her relationship with Turlough is also complete by the end of 'Enlightenment'; she still seems to consider him unreliable, but they have reached a point where they can travel together in the TARDIS, and the chess scene at the start of the story shows that their cooperation during 'Terminus' has resulted in a tentative friendship. 

The Guardians are well used in 'Enlightenment', nicely rounding off the Black Guardian trilogy. The return of Cyril Luckham to the role of the White Guardian, now complete with dead pigeon, nicely rounds off the trilogy by reintroducing the Black Guardian's opposite number. It is rather fine to see both Luckham and Dyall together in the final scene, as the two Guardians discuss the race; in keeping with the idea that the Guardians maintain the balance of the universe, there is no feeling of actual enmity between them. Instead, the Guardians are portrayed as opponents in a game of universal chess, their argument about light and dark, order and chaos, taking the form of a political discussion between two wily old men. Both Luckham and Dyall bring great dignity to their roles, but at the same time Dyall recaptures the malevolence of his role, whilst Luckham brings an air of calm benevolence to the White Guardian. Turlough's choice, and the fact that flames consume the Black Guardian, brings a satisfying air of closure to the storyline that started in 'Mawdryn Undead'. Despite the White Guardian's warning that the Black Guardian will return, this marks his final appearance in the television series (and he hasn't appeared in any novels or audio adventures set after 'Enlightenment') and it stands as a satisfying end to the battle of wits between the Doctor and one of the series' most unusual villains. 

In addition to all this great acting, plotting and scripting, 'Enlightenment' looks great too. The sets are very well realised and capture the period feel of the appropriate ships very well. The model work generally looks very good, although the rescue of Turlough in a big net looks poor due to the perspective being wrong. Fiona Cumming does a great job of directing, creating striking visual imagery throughout especially during Wrack's attempt to destroy Striker's ship. My only slight criticisms of the production are the silly neon sign proclaiming that the vacuum shield is off, and Malcolm Clarke's intrusive incidental score. Clarke's score is particularly irritating during Wrack's party, at which point it sounds like what it is - a feeble attempt to recreate music from the appropriate period using an electronic synthesizer. But this a minor complaint and overall 'Enlightenment' stands up as a fine Doctor Who story and one of the highlights of Season Twenty.

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I suppose ever since it was originally broadcast towards the end of the twentieth anniversary season I’ve been rather taken with the enchanting and imaginative tale of ‘Enlightenment’.

With the establishing TARDIS shots concluded we have the Doctor and Turlough exploring the darkened recesses of what they soon realise is the hold of a sailing ship which does rather echo the opening scenes of ‘Carnival of Monsters’. Thankfully this shipboard mystery steers another path with our duo moving onward and upward to encounter the boisterous, down-to-earth crew. Decked out in appropriate Edwardian sailors outfits their good heated banter is temporarily cut short by the strangers arrival. However following some relatively simple persuasion, the Doctor and Turlough are soon accepted as merely members of the crew, they even consider the Doctor to be the ship’s cook! The ease of their acceptance is in no small part due to a lack of money on the part of all the men the Doctor and Turlough encounter in the cramped living quarters. Whilst Turlough, typically for his character is more content to remain the Doctor is later escorted to meet the Captain by one of his junior officers.

Turlough’s decision is all the more understandable when the Doctor, and later Tegan, meet Captain Striker and his senior officers in the state room for what appears to be a light meal, something that is, apparently appreciated greatly by the Doctor. At first the cold emotionless state of the SS Shadow’s officers could merely be attributed to the responsibilities that their respective positions demand. It is however the interaction between the Doctor and Striker (played with an excellent cool detached demeanour by Keith Barron) as well as the Tegan and Marriner exchanges which helps us gain the clearest insight into these alien beings, now identified as Eternals. In episode two during an impressive emotionally heated exchange the Doctor learns from Striker much including that the Eternals are feeding on the minds of living beings to allow them to exist. Whilst Striker is able to suitably restrain his interest in the minds of the three travellers it is clearly more evident in the scenes with Marriner and Tegan. We, like Tegan, could assume this was merely romantic infatuation on the part of the ship’s First Mate but when confronted Marriner’s reply is that he does not know the emotion of love, he is merely seeking existence from Tegan. I find their relationship similar to a cat playing with a mouse, the cat enjoying its captive prey, the mouse longing to be free from the constant attention. With, as the Doctor discovers, heightened emotional states causing a barrier Marriner further attempts to calm his ‘prey’ by furnishing some quarters with familiar items taken from both Tegan’s room on the TARDIS and home in Brisbane. A cursory glance around the room reveals, we observe, a silver framed picture of her Aunt Vanessa, airline stewardess uniform plus the skirt/costume featured in the ‘Black Orchid’ story. When he escorts her there after she experiences a feeling of sea sickness Marriner tires to ply her with the suspicious ‘tot of rum’ more commonly given to the crew prior to their donning wetsuits and helmets prior to scaling the ship’s rigging.

It is Tegan’s discovery, on her first tentative venture from the TARDIS, of those wetsuits hanging up in a corridor near to stairs ascending to the deck that leads up to the memorable climatic ending of the first episode. With the Doctor, Tegan and Turlough in attendance in the ship’s wheelhouse Striker orders the activation of a viewing port by use of a series of buttons located under a wooden cover. First Tegan’s exclamation of ‘Electronics on an Edwardian sailing yacht’ and then to see that the vessel is actually not navigating a course through an ocean but is infact sailing with other vessels through space! Classic cliffhanger stuff!

Having established the general atmosphere of life on the SS Shadow we then gain another perspective on the race following Turlough’s apparent suicide attempt at the conclusion of the second episode. The space-suited boy is taken aboard the seventeenth century Spanish pirate ship, the Buccaneer where he encounters the scheming Captain Wrack (played with enthusiastic gusto by Lynda Barron). Now it has been said that as an Eternal Wrack shows far too much emotion when compared to the stoic Striker. I take the view that the minds of her crew contain far stronger emotions for her to feed off plus, of course, she is acting on behalf of the Black Guardian which might have affected her. I am also aware that criticism has been levelled towards singer and Imagination (80’s pop group (not really my type of music but I’m sure they had their fans in their day)) frontman Leee John for his portrayal of Wrack’s assistant Mansell. Whilst I’d admit he is not noted for possessing acting skills the part is such that it allows some allowance for his inexperience and his scenes and lines are fairly limited. As a seventeenth century Spanish pirate I personally feel he meets the requirements in a physical if, possibly not verbal sense.

As if the persuasive powers of Marriner were not enough Tegan is soon hypnotised by Wrack during their invited visit to the Buccaneer. Once again I recognised a similarity between this and the apparent ease with which the Master had hypnotised Jo Grant (‘Terror of the Autons’). It is understandable that Tegan would be the most susceptible of the three TARDIS crew as I believe she represents the audiences closest link to humanity. Whilst both Striker and Wrack are able to reach both the Doctor and Turlough’s minds their wills are not so susceptible to the Eternals control as the Australian stewardess.

I think it’s worth glossing over the Doctor’s desperate attempt to smash Tegan’s tiara containing the focusing jewel that Wrack had placed in it during her hypnotised state. Although it is inexcusable that he did not pick up the entire sheepskin rug rather than vainly claw at the pieces with Marriner and Tegan. I also feel its better to also forget the scenes in the grid room’s ion chamber and Turlough vainly attempting to pull away from the centre of the grid.

I do, however, appreciate the period detail in the ships and costumes, most notably those for Lynda Barron and the flowing feminine gown for Janet Fielding. The incidental music particularly in Wrack’s state room when officers, the Doctor, Tegan and Marriner were enjoying Wrack’s hospitality, was very pleasant adding to the stories appeal. Also I find it rather amusing that when the main cast members don the shiny black wetsuits and blobby red helmets of the second/third episode cross over they rather closely resemble, possibly unintentionally, some form of ant.

During this review I most managed to avoid commenting on the Guardian trilogy to which this is the concluding part. My reason for this is that I find it rather secondary to the main dynamic of the story although I do recognise its importance especially for Mark Strickson’s character. Although changing allegiances during ‘the race’ from Striker to Wrack he ultimately realises that this Captain is merely an instrument of the Black Guardian and she does not offer a way to break the contract he has with him. The contract, (of killing the Doctor in exchange for his freedom from Earth exile) was rather forced on him and it was a welcome character development that through his relationship with the Doctor, this was finally dissolved at the conclusion of the story. Whilst I grudgingly accept the enjoyment on offer in Mawdryn Undead, I do find very little to enjoy in the subsequent middle story of the trilogy. Apart from the guest cast the story of Terminus I fins is extremely slow and uninvolving. If it were not for the appearances of Andrew Burt (a regular cast member of the 70’s BBC naval drama series ‘Warship’ (the jovial Navigating Officer Paul Peak) and Lisa Goddard (her four appearances as small time criminal Phillipa Vale in the sleepy but surprisingly still popular ‘Bergerac’ series were the only must see episodes IMO) I’d probably wouldn’t bother with this story.

I find that the main plot of the race rather overshadows the return appearances of both Valentine Dyall and Cyril Luckham reprising their roles as the ‘all powerful’ Black and White Guardians. Having said that Valentine certainly gives a convincing portrayal of a cackling evil entity during his scenes persecuting Mark Strickson’s Turlough. Strickson himself rises to the challenge his character initially provides admirably, Turlough is clearly a tortured sole throughout all stories in the trilogy.

Maybe this is merely my opinion but I thought I’d just throw in that you could almost call this a story for the ladies (writer, director, leading cast member and now reviewer) but don’t let that prejudice your opinion of this story. Apart from that personal observation I would say that ‘Enlightenment’ is worthy of re-examination and maybe more people will realise what a neglected jewel it is nestled in the later stages of the twentieth season.

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I can’t help but feel a sense of achievement when I watch Enlightenment; by the time I decided to go out and buy the video it had already been pulled out of circulation, and I spent at least six years trying to track it down (at a price I could afford) before finally having the initiative to look on Amazon Marketplace, their second-hand section; in the time between 1998 and 2004 it built up almost mythic status in my mind, a bit like a missing episode. A peculiar by-product of this is that I cannot now hear the name Clegg without associating it with pirates, which makes watching Last Of The Summer Wine very difficult. I dread to think what will happen if I ever meet anyone with that name. Anyway, back to the point – did it meet my expectations of it? Fortunately it came at a period where I was trying to ignore overly inflated reputations, but on the whole, yes it did. This is one of a tiny handful of episodes to be written by a woman and, like Rona Munro did in Survival, Barbara Clegg gives us an astonishingly original story that’s quite unlike any other episode. 

I was impressed immediately with the opening TARDIS scene, always a sore point in Davison stories where three or four regulars struggle to act naturally while they wait for the plot to begin. Here however something is happening: the power is disappearing (those dimmed lights look very nice, by the way), and a mysterious voice is echoing through the air. Actually that voice is a bit of a problem as it’s just someone repeating a word three times, making him sound like a backing singer; the Guardian is enigmatic when he appears though, even if the effects are slightly dodgy. In any other story I’d be napalming the continuity around now but it’s really not a problem because new viewers would be as familiar as they’d need to be with the Black Guardian from the previous two stories, so a White Guardian is simply a logical extension of that. Remember too that when he first appears in The Ribos Operation the Doctor knows of him already there too.

The sets of the ship are really very good, with a pleasant yet slightly claustrophobic design and subdued lighting. The score is luscious (from Malcolm Clarke no less, who made a complete mess of The Twin Dilemma and Attack Of The Cybermen) but too intrusive and there’s always the problem of trying to match an electronic score with a period setting, which of all the original Doctor Who composers only Mark Ayres has ever been able to do convincingly; remember that this story is effectively a pseudo-historical up until the first cliffhanger. Marriner’s appearance on the TARDIS scanner is actually quite spooky in a slightly funny way, but I don’t see any reason for him falling down unless it was to tempt Tegan outside: as we later learn, Eternals don’t think like that. Anyway, she does leave the TARDIS eventually and talk to him…and Christopher Brown is an actor I really can’t make my mind up about: his slightly strange accent is all very well but his flat, stilted movements would be being ripped apart ordinarily. They are so totally appropriate to the character though that I can’t decide if he’s a brilliant actor who is pitching his performance absolutely perfectly, or a terrible actor who just got really lucky in the casting. Then again we get to see some pretty terrible actors later on so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

I get my mystery fix from the human crew who have been below decks for two days and can’t remember coming aboard. This scene also sketches in some good period detail and, although I’m a bit of a snob about diction really, it is refreshing to hear working-class dialects in Doctor Who that don’t sound completely fake and patronising to the people being caricatured. And all this four years before Sophie “who are you calling young lady, bog brain?” Aldred.

The officer’s dining room is a wonderful set although the intricacy of the table only highlights that they’re in a studio (not that anything moves when the “boat” does lurch anyway). Tegan asks how the Doctor knows they’re on a sailing ship, which sounds ironic in that context. Out the door however, Tegan sees some anachronistic wet suits…I do love a mysterious first episode, I have to say.

If we’re talking about mystery, then how about that cliffhanger? The idea of sailing ships flying through space, when not given any explanation (that comes in the next episode), has to be up there with regeneration as one of the most mind-boggling concepts the programme ever did. It’s let down a bit by the conventional electronics on display (some weird and random objects, preferably glowing, would be better) and the Doctor’s frankly stupid line of “this isn’t a boat, it’s a ship”. One benefit of the reprise though is that we get to see those gorgeous special effects an extra time; I was absolutely dreading what those ships would look like before I saw the story, and I was blown away by those beautiful film-recorded models. I can feel in my bones however that when this comes out on DVD there are going to be new CGI affairs – not because this story needs them particularly, but simply because those boats floating sedately through the void are the kind of things that lend themselves to CGI effects.

There’s still more mystery yet to come with the Greek Captain’s jewel and Tegan’s room: so far this story can best be described as largely an embarrassment of riches. The Eternals, sad pathetic creatures who have to feed off the minds of “Ephemerals” just in order to stay sane, are very well thought out: cruel, callous, but not intrinsically evil.

The rounding of Venus is actually very dramatic as long as you don’t stop to think about how absurd it all is, and the exploding ship is another great effect. The death of the human crew, although none of them are characters in the story, is poignant due to the Eternals’ utter indifference. When the Black Guardian finally appears it comes as a bit of a surprise if I’m honest, as there doesn’t seem to be a place for him in the narrative (yet) – it makes you wonder where he’s going to come into play. Valentine Dyall is the ideal choice for the role, but his fake laugh is abominable. 

The film set of the deck is absolutely wonderful, and the sight of the other ships is breathtaking even with the wobble that comes of splicing two shots together. I must admit to getting a puerile snigger from Turlough’s line of “Are you sure? We will get off?”, and the cliffhanger is another good one that could be better (I always hate it when an episode closes on a melodramatic “Nooooo!”) – the slightly altered reprise next episode would have been more effective. Turlough floating in space, again, looks great but him being rescued by a lot of CSO is the real weak link in this story’s special effects. The first half of the story deals with this mystery and the amazing concept of the boats in space – a clear 5/5 job so far. All good things must come to an end, however, even though the second half is by its own standards extremely enjoyable.

There are more great sets on board the Buccaneer, but here’s where the deficiencies in the guest cast really begin to bite. Lynda Baron is too hammy for words, making Anthony Ainley look like the lord of understatement: going over the top can work, but these are the pantomime-derived, self-consciously camp screechings of a woman who blatantly doesn’t care about what she’s doing. Then, of course, there’s Leee John, the failed pop star (evidently his training in music was no better than his training in acting) destined only to be remembered by Doctor Who fans as “that bloke who was really naff in Enlightenment”. It is without doubt the strangest performance I’ve ever seen: not only is he a bad actor but he’s a bad actor with the ego of a pop-wannabe and the mannerisms of a Labrador puppy with ADHD which alter him from being merely terrible to being truly surreal. The dialogue is good, but is utterly mauled by them.

The asteroids look good even when they are being CSO’d onto the screen, and with more of the plot explained now things are starting to become more macabre than simply amazing. The futuristic ion chamber is a strange juxtaposition with the rest of the episode, but good and the subsequent revelation of Wrack’s power is great. 

The cliffhanger to part three though is truly dreadful. First things first: why does Wrack root through her crystals to find a specific one when they all do exactly the same thing? Secondly, and this is the bit that I was really referring to when I called the cliffhanger dreadful, is Wrack’s to-camera speech. Breaking the fourth wall very rarely works and here, with all brakes off, it sends the story so far into ridiculousness that when she says (addressing the Doctor, even though he isn’t there and she’s looking at the viewer) “you have lost” I half expect to hear a canned audience track yell out “oh no he isn’t!”.

“What is love? I want existence” gets the fourth part back on the right track though with a line that firstly shows up the Eternals for what they are and secondly puts an innovative twist on the old cliché. Also, and although I’m not the one who first noticed it, if Baron had been looking at John when she said “it’s the plank” I’d give this story maximum rating for that alone.

The Enlightenment…whatever it is floating in space looks great. I’m tired of doing nothing but praise the special effects, but they really are wonderful. The splitting of the crystal is a double edged sword really as it does lead to yet another great effect of Wrack’s face dividing up but it also brings the stupid and undignified scene of watching everyone scrabble about to pick all the shards up. The defeat of the villains – the Doctor and Turlough physically overpower two super beings and eject them into space – is so implausible (not to say out of character) that the only way to do it is not to let us see it, which is lame enough just on its own.

Then of course there’s the finale to the trilogy as well as just to the story. Striker and Marriner are banished back to Eternity – technically the story has a 0% mortality rate as the only people who die are only spoken of and are not actual characters, but in narrative terms banishment is the same thing but with a different name and looked at like that it rises to a still-small (for a Saward-era story) 44.4%. Pick whichever one you like. The whole “Enlightenment was the choice” business is downright cryptic, and although after wracking (no pun intended) my brains it just about works it doesn’t really make for a satisfying conclusion. Nevertheless, it remains a strong episode.

Despite slipping up quite severely in places in its second half Enlightenment is a strong story and easily gets an above-average rating through the strong writing, dazzling visuals and absolutely stunning special effects. It is the best story of its season after Snakedance and is easily in the top five Davison stories in general – it isn’t one of the Big Six (my half-dozen best stories of the 1980s), but it’s not a million miles away.

And I never even mentioned those dead birds.

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