Winner Takes All. Doctor Who – Enlightenment


One of the notable things about re-watching the original series is that it certainly takes its time.  For those of us brought up on it, it’s very reasonable that the first episode of a story would be concerned with showing us the Doctor and his companions slowly exploring their new surroundings as puzzles and answers are drip-fed, usually leading into a cliff-hanger with a strong hook that’ll bring us back for the second episode.

Enlightenment is a classic case in point.  In the new series, they’d probably compress the whole of the first episode into a couple of minutes, and whilst in story terms not a lot happens we do get to enjoy plenty of time with both the crew and the officers of the mysterious craft.

After the first episode the crew don’t contribute a great deal, which is a shame as the likes of Jackson (Tony Caunter) are quite well-drawn.  But their involvement early on does help to lull the audience into believing that this really is an Edwardian sailing ship, as it’s not until the final moments of the episode that we realise it’s actually quite another ship, a space ship! This is a classic cliff-hanger and one of the best changes in direction of any Doctor Who story.

I'm still not sure about the suitability of pigs as sailors though.
I’m still not sure about the suitability of pigs as sailors though.

By now we’ve also met the ship’s officers, who are all Eternals.  The first mate, Marriner (Christopher Brown) is obsessed with Tegan, although he seems to want her purely for her mind.  The Eternals, whilst they have eternal life and pretty much endless powers, are clearly portrayed as empty vessels without human (or as they call them, “ephemeral”) minds to draw upon.

Keith Barron (Captain Striker) is wonderful as the cold, logical Eternal who is desperate, like all the other captains, to win the prize of Enlightenment.  Had a BBC strike not delayed production, then Peter Sallis would have played Striker.  It’s a shame we missed his take on the part, but Barron is an excellent subsistute.

I have to flag up the music by Malcom Clarke.  Clarke’s first score for the series was the bonkers, but compelling, Sea Devils back in 1972.  His work on Enlightenment is more straightforward, but equally as good.  It would be nice for SilvaScreen to pop this onto a CD, but for now we can either enjoy the iso-track on the DVD or these edited highlights from Doctor Who – The Music 2.

On-board the Buccanner, the villainous Captain Wrack (like Turlough, an agent of the Black Guardian) is going to win the race by any means necessary.  Lynda Baron’s performance as Wrack is best described as “broad” but it’s an enjoyable turn and contrasts well with the icy self-control of Striker.  I can’t quite work out exactly how to classify Leee John’s acting performance as Wrack’s second-in-command, or even if it can be described as acting.  It’s certainly memorable though, ranking alongside Jenny Laird in Planet of the Spiders as a small, but idiosyncratic, Doctor Who appearance.

Turlough isn’t having a good time.  Disowned by the Black Guardian he attempts suicide by jumping overboard (a beautifully shot sequence at Ealing) but is rescued by Wrack.  He eventually comes good though and helps the Doctor to bring the Buccanner home first.  This brings us to the endgame, where the Black and White Guardians meet to hand out the prize.  Although if the White Guardian believes the Eternals shouldn’t have Enlightenment, why is he involved in the contest?

“You will never destroy the light”

Sadly, Cyril Luckham had aged somewhat since his appearance in The Ribos Operation (and his costume here doesn’t really help to instill a sense of dignity).  The meeting between the two Guardians is quite nice though and Turlough finally decides to choose the Doctor’s side, which cancels his contract with the Black Guardian.

It does seem that a third encounter between the Doctor and the Black Guardian was a possibility, but the death of Valentine Dyall in 1985 appeared to have scuppered that.  Although the Black and White Guardians weren’t particularly well served by these three stories, there’s still scope in the concept of two universally powerful figures (with equal and opposite powers, so that neither can make a move without the other countering it) which makes it a little surprising that they haven’t been revisited since.  Although they may appear eventually in NuWho, I’m sure that time will tell.

Enlightenment brings the Black Guardian trilogy to a satisfying conclusion but also works very well as a stand-alone story.  The sets look solid, the lighting is pleasingly low and the acting (apart from the odd exception) is first rate.  Certainly amongst the best of the Davison stories.