Sunday, 1 December 2013

Enlightenment written by Barbara Clegg and directed by Fiona Cumming

This story in a nutshell: Set sail and join the sailing race of a lifetime! A race set amongst the stars…

Fair Fellow: It really pleases me to that see Peter Davison being given material of this calibre to play with in his time as the Doctor because up to this point all I feel I have seen him do is propping up lacklustre stories that need all the help they can get. You would think that in a story like Enlightenment which has many virtues that perhaps Davison would disappear into the background but nothing could be further from the truth. I especially liked his disapproval of the Eternals for using human beings as blueprints so they can feel something about the race and gain some level of existence. His eyes blaze with anger during his scenes with Striker and it’s a look that really suits him. After his dull resignation throughout the majority of season 20 it is great to finally see him get passionate about something. He looks horrified that they can read his mind and tries to keep the TARDIS safe from them. Hilariously he doesn’t even notice when Tegan has changed from a spiky haired women’s lib protestor into Edwardian royalty - sex simply wasn't a consideration during this period of the show. The Doctor is remarkable in other ways, apparently. He doesn’t trust Turlough and I like that he doesn’t hide the fact either – this is the abrasive Eric Saward approach to characterisation working at its best. Of all the times the TARDIS has been out of reach from the Doctor I don’t think we have ever had it hidden somewhere as ingenious as in his mind. Pleasingly the Doctor doesn’t think he is ready for Enlightenment, he doesn’t think anybody is. Considering how the Time Lords are revered in the classic series it is fascinating to see how they are considered in the hierarchy of higher beings. The Guardians look down on the the Eternals and they in turn look down on the Time Lords. It is quite a humbling experience for the Doctor.

Mouthy Missus: Colour me impressed but for a few episodes I actually thought they managed to do something with Tegan that was worth watching. It is always so refreshing when a writer decides to do something more worthwhile with the character than having her bleed negativity all over the place and in Barbara Clegg's hands she is a full fleshed out character rather than simply a channel antagonism. Given her propensity for flying off the handle I can see why a being who has never experienced emotion before would find her intriguing and pairing her with an unrequited love interest leads to some interesting scenes. You have to wonder if there is any space left for Tegan in her brain what with the Mara and Mariner rummaging about in there.  The Doctor insists she stays in the TARDIS at the beginning and I have to admit I did whoop for joy...but if she had we would have been denied one of her best stories. It really bugged me that she was shown something as glorious as sailing ships flying in space and still she moans, this time about sea sickness! Get with the programme love, that is one of the most glorious sights you will ever see. Tegan’s bedroom on the ship turns out to be a weird mixture of her room on the TARDIS and her bedroom in Brisbane, it’s a creepy and effective example of what the Eternals can create from your memories. I loved it when she fought back, closed off her mind and killed her thoughts to Mariner. Say what you will about this character (and I sure do) but she certainly is strong willed. Decking Tegan in cut jewels and an exquisite wig softens her considerably. Mariner finds the confusion in her mind exhilarating suggesting there is something much more complex going on there than usually appears on screen. Wrack uses Tegan as an assassin which seems like a perfectly reasonable course of action to me. She really doesn’t know how to deal with Mariner’s advances; he wants her completely, to give him existence. Men probably run in the other direction as quickly as possible usually so this is an entirely unpredictable situation. When she thinks the Doctor is dead the sparkle goes from her mind, that's a very telling moment. It’s a shame that the show at the time was stuck in the mindset that relationships for the regulars was out of the question because it would have been quite interested had Tegan been interested in Mariner and happy to explore a romance. Her cold rejection of him at the story’s close is the grumpy Tegan we know and (cough cough) love.

Over the Shoulder: It's great to see Turlough getting so much to do because for his next four stories you be hard pressed to think that he is a companion at all and not just some educated ginger that hangs about in the background looking shifty and as Enlightenment proves Mark Strickson has quite a lot to give. After Adric’s embarrassing bravado it is nice to have a male companion who is clearly a wimp out for himself, oddly it makes him far more likable character because of it. For such a shifty guy, he hits it off with the sailors and seems to fit right in. The turning point for his character comes when he tosses himself overboard, preferring to commit suicide rather than serve the Black Guardian any longer. Turlough is ultimately a good person but will consider all the other options before getting there. Curiosity almost killed Turlough…he is almost sucked into the vacuum of space when he goes poking around Wrack’s ship (in a scene that proves that male companions can scream just as shrill as the female ones). He’s such a turncoat, when it looks like he is going to die he begs his former employer to help him and when he is rejected when that doesn’t work he balls out the Doctor's name instead. I simply can't help but like this guy, for all the wrong reasons. Who else but Turlough would worm his way in with Wrack and her pirates? I love the frightened look he gives her when she shows him the plank in action. He has to choose between Enlightenment and the Doctor and it feels very real that he would actually ponder on that for a moment. It is such an important moment for the character that the climax of the story is given over to him entirely. He wants to go home but we still don't know anything about Trion yet. 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You are a Time Lord. A Lord of Time. Are there dwellers in such a small domain?’
‘Living minds are contaminated with crude emotions! Organic, irrational, creative, entertaining!’
‘Love? What is love? I want existence.’

The Good Stuff: This is the second time this season somebody has turned the lights down in the TARDIS and turned the roundels a burnt peach – it is so much more atmospheric than the usual over lit artificiality you have to wonder why they didn’t keep it this way. The White Guardian invades the TARDIS just like old times. It’s marvellous to see the TARDIS materialise in the creaking, heaving hold of a sailing ship. In a season that is starting to feel a little too outer space, it is an atmospheric reminder of the diverse locations where the ship can land. It is very clever how the story completely convinces as a period piece on the high seas cumulating in one of the best surprise cliffhangers the original series ever presented. The hands on the scanner is another unusual moment to delight. The visual of sailing ships flying through the stars highlighted by the corona of the sun really captures your senses. Planets are marker buoys. Fire rages around the ship as they plunge through the atmosphere of Venus – the newly designed CGI effects really work a treat. The Eternals are a fantastic creation, bored immortal entities feeding on human imagination like parasites. Never mind Peter Sallis (who would have been excellent admittedly), Keith Baron gives Striker real gravitas; you really get the sense that he is a fatigued omnipresent being. Mariner is sweet and sexy and just a little bit creepy, it’s a fascinating mix. The scenes on deck touched with starlight and an enchanting view of the stars are pure magic, it’s the sort of atmosphere 80’s Who strived for quite often but rarely achieved. The camera craning up the side of the ship is another winding new effect and to top it off Malcolm Clarke has ditched his experimental style of music and is really plugging for atmosphere and chills. The Bucaneer is beautifully designed; candle lit and decked out in pirate booty and Wrack’s clash of cultures party really allows the designers to go to town and give these episodes a rich, eclectic look. I love Lynda Baron’s flirty, violent and buxom pirate captain; she cackles like a lunatic and positively glows on screen. Enlightenment brings you whatever you desire and you might imagine that the realisation would be stunning but whichever version you watch it manages to live up to expectations. The whole set piece of Tegan’s explosive tiara is edited together furiously in the special edition and with a dynamic new score it feels fresh and exciting. And it was pretty damn exciting in the first place. I really enjoyed the final conceit that Enlightenment wasn’t the diamond but the choice. The White Guardian admits that whilst he exists so will the Black Guardian and he will be looking for a third encounter. Until the universe no longer needs them. Come on Moffatt, get on that.

The Bad Stuff: The only thing I don’t like about this story is the daft birds atop the Guardians heads. I can see what the idea is but it doesn't come off.

Result: Imaginative, enchanting, dramatic and exciting, Enlightenment is one of the best classic Doctor Who serials. The first solo script written by a woman is a belter full of clever ideas and unforgettable imagery. Fiona Cumming is one of my favourite Doctor Who directors and she really has an affinity with this material, bringing it to life with a rare touch of magic and emotion that is unusual in this era series. What’s more there is a great role for the Doctor, Tegan and Turlough (a miracle, I tell you) and all of the guest cast are worth their weight in gold. I really cannot fault this story, the dialogue is like a rich wine, the story continually finds inventive things to show us and the conclusion wraps up everything very satisfactorily. I find it very pleasing that a story this good should not only be nestled firmly during the much maligned eighties Who but also that it adds a touch of alchemy to one of my least favourite seasons. Give the special edition a chance, it takes a great story and cuts out the flab and adds some superb special effects: 10/10

1 comment:

David Pirtle said...

Watching this on Britbox I didn't have the option of seeing the 'special edition,' but the original version is itself a triumph. Maybe my favorite 5th Doctor story, full stop. At the very least it gives Caves a run for its money.