Winner Takes All. Doctor Who – Enlightenment

enl

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.

There is no return. This is Terminus. Doctor Who – Terminus

tardis crew

Terminus is a story where every main creative element (writing, acting, music, direction, etc) is just slightly off.  None of the elements are particularly bad in themselves, but the cumulative effect produces a curiously static story that fails to impress.

I want to love it, because I love Stephen Gallagher’s previous script, Warriors’ Gate, but Terminus is a very different story.  Whereas Warriors’ Gate was an impressionistic tale with several different levels of meaning, Terminus has a very clear narrative drive.

It could be that Gallagher was attempting to make a satirical point concerning the private company, Terminus Inc., who have a contract to process and cure people with Lazar’s disease.  In the early 1980’s, the debate about private healthcare versus the NHS was rumbling on.  Is Terminus Inc. a sideswipe at private healthcare providers?  It’s possible, although it’s not particularly clear.

What does seem clear is that Terminus is an incredibly inefficiently run company.  If nobody is ever cured, surely people would eventually realise this and not continue to pay them and send their infected relatives?  If they exist to make a profit then surely it would be in their interest to cure as many people as possible, but they don’t seem to have much success with this.

Into this setup, come the Doctor and his companions.  Just as the script is a little off, so none of the regulars is particularly well served by the story.  It does start brightly though, with a well acted scene between Tegan and Turlough,  Tegan is very suspicious about Turlough, rightly so as it turns out.  They remain together for the remainder of the story, but once they’re on Terminus they do little of consequence and their importance to the narrative fades.

tegan turlough
Tegan doesn’t trust him an inch

Terminus is Nyssa’s final story and Sarah Sutton is moved a little more centre stage, but she’s much less effective when not partnered with Davison’s Doctor.  Several stories this year saw Davison and Sutton teamed up, and they worked together very well, but Nyssa fades somewhat when she’s working with the drippy Olvir or the cuddly Garm.

If you mention Olvir (Dominic Guard) then you have to mention fellow pirate Kari (Liza Goddard).  Their appearance in episode one is memorable, but for all the wrong reasons.  They’re supposed to be hardened space pirates, but the capes and boots somewhat negate this.  Olvir’s lashings of mascara don’t help either.  It’s tempting to suppose that they were two of the worst pirates ever, so their boss took the step of marooning them on the first spaceship he saw.

Olvir, most useless space pirate ever (apart from Kari, of course)
Olvir, most useless space pirate ever (apart from Kari, of course)

With Tegan and Turlough crawling around the infrastructure, achieving very little, and Nyssa waiting for a cure, that leaves the Doctor, who also has very little to do in the story.  He spends a large part of it working on the mystery of the creation of the universe – but this is presented so baldly that there’s no particular interest generated.  For example, when Davison announces (at the end of episode three) that the universe is in danger, it’s difficult to really care – it’s just a rather limp cliffhanger.

The Garm looks rather silly.  Gallagher had intended that it should never be seen in full – only its silhouette and his glowing eyes – but he’s here, in all his shaggy-dog glory.

if you tickle him under his chin, then he's very agreeable
if you tickle him under his chin, then he’s very agreeable

And Roger Limb’s music is fairly horrific.  I love the majority of the Radiophonic Workshop’s contributions during S18 – S23, but Terminus is the exception that proves the rule.  Sounding rather like a series of random notes, it doesn’t create atmosphere, it merely irritates.

There were numerous production problems with this story, which are fairly well documented and all these helped to contribute to the end result.  But there are some highlights, like Peter Benson as Bor, who seems to be acting in a different story from everybody else.

Terminus is a story that it’s difficult to imagine anybody ever reaches down from the shelf on impulse to watch.  It’s one of those (like Underworld) that you struggle manfully through whilst engaged on a sequential rewatch and breathe a sigh of relief when it’s over and happier times (Enlightenment) are ahead.

Splendid fellow, both of him. Doctor Who – Mawdryn Undead

brig doctor

There’s several notable things about Mawdryn Undead (such as the return of the Black Guardian and the introduction of Turlough) but let’s be honest – for most of us it’s all about The Brig.

Nicholas Courtney holds a unique place in Doctor Who history.  No other actor played the same character opposite six of the first seven television Doctors and there would be several post-Battlefield appearances as well.  Such as Dimensions in Time (oh dear), Downtime (quite good really) and a last hurrah opposite Elisabeth Sladen in The Sarah Jane Adventures.

Before we move on to look at Mawdryn Undead, I would heartily recommend the audiobook of his memoirs, A Soldier In Time, produced by Big Finish. There’s plenty of time spent discussing Doctor Who of course, but by far the most interesting section is devoted to his childhood and his early years as a struggling actor.  Courtney’s familiar Doctor Who stories (“five rounds rapid”, “they were all wearing eyepatches”) are part of Doctor Who folklore, but where A Soldier In Time really excels is in showing us something of the real man.  Let’s take a quick look at Babelcolour’s lovely tribute (which I can never watch without getting a little misty-eyed) then we’ll turn our attention to Peter Grimwade’s second script for the series.

It seems that Mawdryn Undead was originally planned with Ian Chesterton in mind, which makes sense, as it’s possible to imagine Chesterton in later years teaching at a boys school.  But for whatever reason it was redrafted for Lethbridge-Stewart.  It had been eight years since the Brigadier had appeared in Doctor Who, with only one of his stories repeated during this time (The Three Doctors in 1981) and for many, including myself, this would only be our second opportunity to see him in action.  But we all knew how important he was to the series (both through DWM and also by reading about his earlier stories in Target Books’ series of novelisations).

Initially, we’re presented with a somewhat broken-down and dispirited Brigadier which is a far cry from the resolute, man of action of the Pertwee era.  Like much of the story, there’s something of a NuWho feel about this, as it’s impossible to imagine any regular character during the 1960’s or 1970’s being put under the microscope in such a way, whereas it’s much more likely to happen today.

Lethbridge-Stewart seems to be suffering from some deep-rooted trauma, as he doesn’t remember either the Doctor or the TARDIS.  Eventually the Doctor manages to break through, which leads us into a gloriously nostalgic clip-fest.  This was a regular feature of the early JNT years (there were similar examples in Logopolis and Earthshock).  You had to be there, but at the time this was so incredibly exciting.  The notion of being able to even see, let alone own, every Doctor Who story in existence was almost beyond imagining so these brief clips were tantalising glimpses into an unknowable, magical past.

Courtney’s wonderful in these scenes, they give him so much more to work with than he’s ever had before.  And just as we’ve grown used to this Brigadier, we’re introduced to another (from six years earlier).  This is a pre-breakdown Brig, much closer to the character we saw in, say, Terror of the Zygons.  The two Brigs (one from 1977 and the other from 1983) become central to the story, and the consequences of time travel is another element of the story which is NuWho flavoured.

The original series rarely used time travel as part of the story.  The TARDIS mainly existed to drop the Doctor and his friends off somewhere and would take them away at the end of the story, although there were exceptions of course.  In The Time Meddler, Steven and Vikki discuss what would happen if the Monk succeeded in changing history – would their memories of events just change and would they even realise that they had?  In The Ark we see the results of the Doctor’s actions, when the TARDIS returns to the Ark several hundred years after his last visit.  Dodo’s cold triggered a chain of events that led to the Monoids taking control and subjugating the humans.

Perhaps the story with the closest link to Mawdryn Undead is Day of the Daleks.  In Day, two separate times become connected, which means that the events of the present are inexorably linked with the future.  Something similar happens here, with the crux of the story resting on the connection of the two Brigadiers.

In retrospect, it’s not difficult to understand why time travel didn’t feature in more stories during the original series.  Once you’ve uncorked that particular genie, it’s impossible to get it back into the bottle.  For example, at the start of Time-Flight, Tegan asked the Doctor why they couldn’t land the TARDIS on the freighter and rescue Adric before it crashed into the Earth.  The real reason was that Matthew Waterhouse’s contract was up and it wasn’t renewed – but the moment you introduce the idea that all the Doctor has to do to solve matters is to nip back in the TARDIS, you’re on very shaky ground.

The Paul McGann TV Movie (or as I prefer to call it, Grace 1999) has a particularly bad example of this, when Grace is brought back to life.  When life and death are not absolute (and the new series has often been guilty of this – how many times have the dead been resurrected?) the narrative has to suffer.

As I said earlier, there are a few other notable things about Mawdryn Undead.  Firstly, Mark Strickson is introduced as Turlough.  It’s interesting that JNT decided to introduce another male companion so soon after Adric.  The heyday of the male companion was in the 1960’s where they generally performed the strong-arm stuff that the Doctor was either unable (Hartnell) or unwilling (Troughton) to do.  Later on, as Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker were able to handle their own action, the likes of Harry ended up as something of a third wheel.

The Brig's a little out of his depth (again)
The Brig’s a little out of his depth (again)

During his first three stories, Turlough has an interesting story arc – he’s an agent of the Black Guardian and has been ordered to kill the Doctor.  Even before he’s recruited we can clearly see he’s a bit of a wrong ‘un, so his presence in the TARDIS will certainly shake things up.  Strickson’s very good here as he would be during his brief run on the programme.  After the Black Guardian trilogy he’s very often sidelined, but whenever he’s given something to do (Frontios, for example) he delivers the goods.

The next item of interest is the return the Black Guardian.  I love Valentine Dyall and could listen to his voice forever – but the Black Guardian is a really rubbish villain.  Although the threat of the Black Guardian had hung over The Key To Time season, he only appeared in one short scene.  And a problem with the Black Guardian trilogy is that after we’ve seen him pop up once and threaten Turlough with dire consequences if he doesn’t kill the Doctor, then we’ve seen everything he can do.

The Black Guardian makes Turlough an offer he can't refuse
The Black Guardian makes Turlough an offer he can’t refuse

You’ve also got to wonder why the Black Guardian, charged with creating universal chaos, should be concerned with destroying the Doctor.  And why he couldn’t recruit somebody better than Turlough.  Surely there must be more efficient killers out there?

Whilst the Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan are busily interacting with the Brigadier and Turlough the main plot is taking shape.  Unusually, there’s a very low level of threat for the Doctor and his friends.  Mawdryn and his friends are criminals (they stole regenerative equipment from Gallifrey, although how they got past the Transduction Barriers is anyone’s guess) but they don’t actively wish anybody any harm – they just want to die.  The debate about assisted suicide carries on today and it’s surprising to see it addressed some thirty years ago in Doctor Who.

The Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan explore the strange ship
Nyssa, Tegan and the Doctor explore the strange ship

The Doctor could help (but this would mean surrendering his remaining regenerations).  He declines, although changes his mind later on when he discovers Nyssa and Tegan have been infected.  Luckily for everyone, the two Brigadiers chance to meet at just the right moment with the result that Mawdryn and his friends are able to die, Nyssa and Tegan are cured and the Doctor remains a Time Lord.

A quick mention for David Collings as Mawdryn.  He’s sometimes hampered by the make-up and costume but he’s very compelling as the weary, resigned scientist locked into an eternal life of torment.  It’s easy to see why so many people would have liked to see him play the Doctor (check out his appearances in Sapphire and Steel, where he plays Silver in a very Doctorish way).

Mawdryn (undead)
Mawdryn (undead)

Season 20 could have just loaded each story with classic monsters and it probably would have worked quite well.  But I’m glad that they didn’t and instead there’s a wider range of stories and themes of which Mawdryn Undead is a fine example.