Friday, 16 October 2009
Doctor Who: Enlightenment
“The rigging’s no place for a coward like me.”
Chess in the TARDIS at the start reminds me of the previous regime but, of course, there’s no K9 and the tone is quite different. It’s hard not to see the black and white pieces as symbolic of the Guardians. It’s also hard to resist reading into the fact that Turlough’s playing white and Tegan’s playing black, although what this might signify I’ve no idea.
The TARDIS’ power is being drained by a rather weak-seeming White Guardian who has been much diminished from the days of The Ribos Operation, to the point that he’s taken to wearing a bird on his head. Beaches and cocktails are a distant memory.
Interesting that the Doctor doesn’t see Turlough as reliable and charges Tegan with communicating with the White Guardian- I tend to see this as judgement of Turlough’s character rather than any specific knowledge of what he’s up to at this point, but rather that the Doctor has understood both Turlough’s shifty nature and that he’s well-meaning underneath it all.
The Doctor and Turlough emerge on to an Edwardian sailing ship and acquaint themselves with its crew, who are oddly unable to remember coming aboard. Meanwhile Tegan is enticed outside by the creepy and mysterious Marriner. But we’re soon introduced to Captain Striker and the TARDISeers are reunited for a meal which supplies what I think is only the second “Brave heart, Tegan” ever.
The cliffhanger, of course, is mind-blowingly brilliant, and this is the perfect opening episode, piling mystery upon mystery.
“You’re a Time Lord. A lord of time. Are there lords in such a small domain?”
The yacht’s crew wouldn’t dream of using their advanced technology to cheat at the race in which they’re competing, as they “observe the spirit as well as the rules of the race”. Aside from the minor fact it’s taking place in space it’s being treated entirely as a race between ships involving marker buoys. Which just so happen to be planets. Striker’s ship is seen rounding Venus, meaning he must be a Bjork fan. I mean, Venus as a Buoy. Boom boom. Oh, and the prize is “enlightenment”.
There’s lots of clever writing here. Our brief sight of the Greek captain alerts us both to the fact that the different ships are from different time zones and also that the Greek captain, in a nice bit of foreshadowing has an anachronistic red jewel on his sword. Meanwhile, we’re interested to the concept of the Eternals and their dependence on “Ephemerals” to be truly alive. They are gods in all but name, capricious and fickle as were the Olympians, treating humans as toys whose lives mean nothing because “Ephemerals have such short lives in any case. But these ideas are developed far more effectively in the relationship between Tegan and Marriner than in any expository dialogue.
Turlough gets some superb material this episode, being condemned to everlasting life on the ship by the Black Guardian for his failure to kill the Doctor and then appalling the Doctor by betraying a confidence about the expected mutiny. He’s being significantly better written here than in either of the previous two stories, with Strickson providing a performance to match, and as a result the cliffhanger has real weight.
“I had no idea ephemerals could be so entertaining.”
Turlough’s picked up by Captain Wrack’s Buccaneer, and he’s now drinking in the Last Chance Saloon in more ways than one. Sadly, in spite of the required personnel being present, we don’t get the appropriate musical accompaniment.
It’s great seeing inside another ship, greater still that it’s a pirate ship, and utterly surreal (in a good way) that the ship is commanded by Nurse Gladys from Open All Hours. Although of course her towering and triumphant vocal performance of a certain ballad is of course the crowning moment of Lynda Barron’s career. Wrack the character is great, and even Leee John’s… unusual performing style is not out of place in these surroundings.
There’s a fascinating moment as mariner says to the Doctor that “Your companion is a very beautiful woman” and the Doctor replies “Is she?”, further ammunition for my theory that the Doctor doesn’t actually like Tegan and only keeps her around because he’s too nice to just turn her off the Ship.
“Your mind is divided, confused, hard to read sometimes. But one thing is clear in it always- greed!”
There’s an interesting conversation early on between Tegan and Marriner in which Tegan misunderstands his fascination as love whereas he only wants “existence”. And we’re still being given a lot of these nice little character moments right through the final episodes even with all the plot threads to resolve. This is a bloody brilliant script.
Turlough seems to betray the Doctor by denouncing him as a spy to Wrack and insists on staying behind on the Buccaneer. Yet the Doctor still has faith in the boy, hoping that he intends to prove himself by doing so.
Tegan and the Doctor realise that the tiara is Wrack’s focus for her weapon, and the Doctor smashes it into tiny bits, which results in nothing aside from Wrack briefly re-enacting the final scene from The War Games.
But shortly after that he saves the ship from destruction, and heads over to the Buccaneer to assist Turlough. We see two figures thrown overboard, who Tegan assumes to be Turlough and the Doctor. It’s clear from Marriner’s reading of her thought that the Doctor’s dislike of her is not reciprocated, although I don’t see anything in this story to indicate she has any sexual feelings for him as has been suggested in the past.
We end with both Guardians and Enlightenment, a prize to be awarded to a bunch of innocent immortals, which apparently consists of knowledge of good and evil. I’m sure there’s some kind of allusion here but I’m not sure what it is. I’m a bit confused by the Guardians’ dialogue though- I thought it was established in The Armageddon Factor that they represented chaos and order rather than good and evil? Perhaps I’m going too far with that- the Black Guardian was certainly described many times as “evil” in The Armageddon Factor- but chaos and order are much more interesting as concepts.
The Doctor and Turlough win, the Doctor declining his prize. Turlough’s share is forfeit to the Black Guardian under some sub-clause of his deal. Turlough ultimately redeems himself by choosing the Doctor’s life instead of Enlightenment, his conscience thus winning out over his greed. The Black Guardian is defeated by this, and Turlough’s contract is terminated. “Enlightenment was not the diamond” says the Doctor. “Enlightenment was the choice.” Utterly superb stuff.
Well, we’ve waited twenty years for a script by a woman and the first one goes straight into my top ten. 5/5. The finest story since Kinda and only the second truly great story of the Davison years.