After my last review, I had a couple of comments from people asking when I might next enjoy a Dr Who story.
It’s a fair question to ask. Since the JNT era started it’s been very hit and miss, with only a small handful of stories getting proper praise.
That’s not to say that the show has become bad, but let’s be honest, at this point, Dr Who is on a poor run of form. Time Flight, Arc of Infinity and Terminus have all been Bottom 10 stuff, while Mawdryn Undead and Snakedance haven’t been up to much either.
So what of Enlightenment, the story that brings to a close perhaps the most limp “trilogy” in the history of fiction?
Doctor Who – Enlightenment Review: What’s This One About?
A boat race…in space!!!
Thoughts – The Limpest Trilogy In The History Of Fiction
Before I tackle Enlightenment itself, I want to reflect upon The Black Guardian Trilogy on the whole.
The idea behind it is that the Black Guardian wants the Doctor dead and has enlisted the help of Turlough, an impressionable young man who wants to get away from Earth. In return for killing the Doctor, Turlough gets what he wants.
It’s an interesting idea that sounds good in theory.
But in execution – as is so often the case with Doctor Who by this point – it’s pitiful.
To sum it up, the whole “Turlough tries to kill the Doctor” storyline amounts to him nearly battering him over the head with a rock at the end of part one of Mawdryn Undead and…er…that’s about it.
It’s not picked up again at all in that story, there’s a bit at the start of Terminus where he messes around with some controls (which presumably would have killed everyone including him if the plan had gone through), the rest of that story involves no mention of his mission or the Black Guardian, and now in Enlightenment he just says “No, I don’t want to”.
So what was the point?
Fittingly, the conclusion to that particular storyline is just as weak as everything that came before it. The reveal that he’s been under contract to the Black Guardian is sold with such nonchalance by the Doctor that you could be forgiven for thinking it wasn’t even resolved at all.
Basically, it feels like Eric Saward has taken three completely unrelated stories and added a story arc so weak that you’d struggle to notice it at all. Even Wikipedia describes it as a trilogy of “loosely related stories”.
Modern TV does this sort of thing much better.
But what of Enlightenment as a story in its own right? Is it any good?
Well I’m happy to report that I consider it a vast improvement on Terminus, and would probably consider it the best story in Season 20, although that wouldn’t be particularly difficult.
Where Enlightenment works is that – and sometimes I feel like a broken record when I make this point – it has well designed, relatable sets and costumes, and a strong guest cast.
Ultimately that will always be key to helping a Doctor Who story seem good. There are precious few stories that are good in spite of having crummy sets and a shite cast, are there? And the same is probably true in reverse.
This is decent.
To an extent it’s similar to the Carnival of Monsters in that the crew arrive on a ship that isn’t quite what it seems. And although I don’t particularly like Carnival of Monsters, the bits on the ship were by far and away the strongest parts.
Here, the idea that it’s a boat race in space between Eternals – beings that exist in Eternity and are simply looking for a means to pass the time – is strong.
Where it suffers is that the story has to take a sudden diversion after Episode Two.
The opening episodes are all about creating a sense of mystery and setting the scene for where they are and what they are doing there, but these episodes lack any sort of threat or urgency.
The result is that once everything has been established, certain characters – namely Tony Caunter and his fellow crew members – become completely redundant to the plot. So they get cast aside and the focus of the story shifts to the dastardly Captain Wrack of the Buccaneer.
While that’s not necessarily a terrible thing to happen, it’s certainly worth marking it down for and is the difference between the story being decent and good.
The Relationship Between Tegan & Marriner
Probably the best part of the story as far as I’m concerned is the relationship between Tegan & Marriner.
The idea that he’s obsessed with her is quite an interesting topic for Doctor Who at the time to handle. It’s more the sort of thing I’d expect from it nowadays.
Marriner needs Tegan to survive, and his attitude that he wants to be “inside her mind” and wants her thoughts to be his is quite strong and suggestive stuff, if you want to think of it in a certain way.
Unfortunately, I felt they ruined it by having Tegan ask if he was in love, and him reply “What is love. I want to survive”, or words to that effect.
To me, that took an interesting storyline and battered it down with the subtlety of a sledgehammer.
Despite that though, it was still a strong aspect of the story, and it was helped by the strange innocence of Christopher Brown as Marriner and the perhaps accidental level of apathy displayed by Janet Fielding.
The Fifth Doctor Timeline
Once again we have a story that can’t last more than a couple of days…if that.
I have to ask though – if all these stories are supposed to run successively, with no gaps in between, the entire TARDIS crew must be stinking. The Doctor hasn’t changed his clothes since Castrovalva, and that’s despite being in plenty of stressful and exerting situations.
Tegan has been wearing the same inappropriate-for-the-lifestyle-she-leads outfit since Arc of Infinity, and Turlough has been in a school uniform since before he joined up with the crew.
Why don’t the production team think of stuff like that?
Or does it simply not matter?
- I mentioned earlier that it has a strong cast, and mostly it does. I love Keith Barron’s blank expression throughout; it really sells the character. Tony Caunter is also as good as you’d expect from an actor of his competence.
- Lynda Baron is also a strong actress to play the part of Wrack, although her constant laughing was annoying. Really, she comes across as the sort of intimidating woman who would be infamous for hosting mucky suburban gangbangs.
- But there always has to be a bad apple in the stock and in this case it’s Leee John (no, that’s a typo, he does twattishly spell his name like that). My god, what a terrible actor. He certainly runs the rest of the rogues gallery of bad Doctor Who actors hard for “Worst Actor Ever To Appear In The Show”.
- One plot issue I take exception to; if Wrack can win the race on her own merits because she has the best ship, why not just do that? Deliberately hanging back so she can blow up ships – even though her rivals won’t actually die – seems redundant. It’s a bit like Dick Dastardly in Wacky Races, who is clearly the strongest driver in the pack and would be better served just winning the race fairly.
- Even though he looks and sounds the part as a villain, Valentine Dyall is totally unable to pull off a convincing evil laugh. He sounded like he had indigestion.
- It’s interesting to note that they were clearly trying to set up a third meeting with the Black Guardian at the end of the story. I’m not too unhappy that it didn’t happen. As a character, the Guardian is either hamstrung because he can’t
interfere directly, or is too powerful for the Doctor to handle.
- Why are the lights off at the start of the story in the TARDIS?
- What exactly happened to Wrack and Leee John when the Doctor went back aboard the Buccaneer? Saying that they fell overboard off screen is fairly poor.
- I mentioned Janet Fielding’s rather lethargic performance, and apart from her relationship with Marriner, her lack of interest in Turlough’s plight when he fell overboard was quite interesting. Either she couldn’t be bothered or – and I hope this is the case – it was just written that she couldn’t care because she didn’t like him.
- The stuff with Tony Caunter’s character and his signing the pledge not to drink the rum wasn’t explained to a satisfying degree, and as I said, it just petered out.
- I really don’t like the end of Episode 3. The direction of Lynda Baron talking directly into the camera just seems weird. It’s a kind of psuedo-fourth wall break.
- Though I can understand Turlough being unhappy with the Black Guardian’s threat that he’ll stay on board the ship forever, why not just talk to the Doctor about it, rather than throw himself overboard?
- Peter Sallis was supposed to play the part of Striker. I think I’d have preferred that.
- I’ve noticed that you can identify who is providing the incidental music for each story without even having to check up on it. Terminus for example had pretty much the same incidental music as Time Flight and the Arc of Infinity. Here, because of the sharp use of sounds, it was clear that the composer was the same as on Earthshock. You have to wonder if they hired these guys based on what they thought a story should sound like. So they may have thought “If the story is rubbish, we should bring in Roger Limb to play insipid dross”.
- What’s up with Tegan donning a wig?
- And what’s up with that bit at the end where the Doctor goes out on deck, can’t breath and then suddenly forgets about it because Marriner said something he didn’t like?
- While 2Entertainment don’t want to pay out much for animating missing episodes (although that seems to be encouragingly changing), they are fine releasing a ‘Special Edition’ of Enlightenment that is only about an hour long and has added special effects. What’s the point? Mind you, I imagine Enlightenment would probably work far better in a shortened form
- DWM Mighty 200 Ranking: #72, which is fair enough.
Doctor Who – Enlightenment Review: Final Thoughts
So I can’t say I love Enlightenment; it’s by no means a Doctor Who classic, but on the strength of what we’ve seen since JNT took over, this is one of better stories of the era.
It looks good, it’s mostly well acted and the story is decent enough.
But the trilogy it’s part of is rubbish – a real damp squib.