Long after the viewer has forgotten the details of a television story, the very best will leave a powerful image in the mind. It is always something unique and special, something that a child will recall as an adult. Many of Doctor Who’s greatest successes are defined by such moments: a Dalek rising from the waters of the Thames, the Cybermen descending from their tombs, shop dummies coming to life, Morbius’s brain falling to the floor, and a fleet of sailing ships floating in space.
There is more to Enlightenment then one great effects shot, however, and the whole idea behind the story is fascinating. The Eternals’ reliance on what they refer to as ‘ephemerals’ allows them to fulfil the role of the villain of the piece, while gaining our sympathy for their rather pitiful existence. Crucially for an alien race, they come across as individuals, with some more redeemable than others. Wrack is the nearest thing to a pantomime villain. Keith Barron, on the other hand, gives a more thoughtful performance as Striker, while Christopher Brown’s Marriner is the most sympathetic character. He is also the creepiest, and shares some wonderful scenes with Janet Fielding. There are some very adult undercurrents to Enlightenment. Marriner wants to be inside Tegan, but needs her to give herself willingly, as she is strong-willed enough to be able to shut him out.
I am empty. You give me being. I look into your mind and see life, energy, excitement. I want them. I want you. Your thoughts should be my thoughts. Your feelings, my feelings.
Wrack has similar thoughts and obsessions about Turlough, with more violent overtones:
TURLOUGH: Why ask? I thought you could all read minds.
WRACK: But yours is such a devious one. It’s fascinating. I should like to peel it away, layer by layer.
In modern terms, the Eternals come across almost like gamers, taking on roles. Their names here are clearly adopted character names, and they wish to possess and understand ephemerals like living avatars. This is an attempt to entertain themselves in their boredom of what is thematically an afterlife.
STRIKER: You are a Time Lord. A lord of time. Are there lords in such a small domain?
DOCTOR: And where do you function?
Eternity is defined as a state of timelessness, but in the context of the story that makes little sense. You cannot have a “race” without “time”. So the definition of “eternity” that really works here is “endless life after death”. Enlightenment gives us four layers of being. Ephemerals, our Time Lord Doctor, the Eternals and the Guardians. Each exists on a higher realm than the previous.
But there is a more prosaic parallel to be drawn with the Eternals as well, and that’s a class parallel. Barbara Clegg looked for inspiration for her characterisation of the Eternals, and found it from the wealthy: some rich relatives. So the boredom of the Eternals is the boredom of having everything, and having always had everything, with a life devoid of striving for betterment or achievement. It is a life of assuaging boredom, and looking down with curiosity on the working classes. The attraction Marriner feels towards Tegan is the curious obsession of a wealthy landowner with a scullery maid.
Added to that we have the other very adult theme of the story: the journey Turlough goes on here. It is incredibly strong stuff. Unless I am very much mistaken, Turlough is the only Doctor Who companion ever to attempt suicide. This is not a heroic self-sacrifice or anything like that. His life simply becomes so unbearable that he tries to take the only way out. This is perhaps the reason why he makes the decision he ultimately does when it comes to Enlightenment. He has been playing for the wrong team for a while now, and has experienced the depths of despair that leads to. Then again, maybe he has worked out that the Doctor is always on the winning side, and he is cunning enough to know which way to jump. It’s not quite clear, and it makes him the most interesting companion to ever travel with the Doctor. He has made the right choice, but he remains a deeply untrustworthy character. RP
The view from across the pond:
Previously on The View from the Junkyard…
I was pondering, not so weak or weary, over Mawdryn Undead (which I loved) followed by Terminus (which I didn’t). I mentioned how these were my first 2 stories with a Doctor other than Tom Baker and how Mawdryn struck me as it might be uniquely amazing based on what followed. Well, the Guardian trilogy had one more card to play.
And now… Enlightenment.
There’s something about seeing majestic ships sailing by that just sends a thrill of delight through us. That sense of old world exploration captivates us, makes us wonder. Seeing those same ships sailing in the dark of night just adds to the mystery and allure of those saintly days of yore. But when we see those ships sailing through the darkness of space… it’s breathtaking! Why? Because it’s both strange and unexpected while still retaining that majesty. The same magnificence that we saw on the water is replicated but in a place we don’t expect to see these things. Sort of like the uncanny valley, but for items displaced from their native habitat. (Probably the real reason alligators in sewers are worrisome, or snakes in the toilet, or sharks in a tornado… ok, maybe not that last one!) But if Doctor Who knows how to do anything, it’s fill us with wonder and this story delivers.
This trilogy is referred to as the Guardian trilogy, but it’s very companion-centric too. The first of the trilogy focuses on Turlough pretty heavily; it is his introductory story after all. The next is Nyssa’s, she leaves and undresses. So Tegan has to have her day in the sun… or starlight at any case. She’s the object of an Eternal’s love; he sees her as that rare and radiant maiden whom the angels named “Tegan”. The Doctor too gets some attention from a Pirate captain, and a new stick of celery, come to think of it. And there’s a big decision to be made for Turlough that could change the way we look at the universe.
This story is shot in such way that it has an allure that, not unlike Mawdryn Undead, captivated me as a child and still holds some sway as an adult; perhaps something in the lamp-light that took hold of my imagination and kept that fire burning all my life. It may not have been to the level of its predecessor, but Enlightenment made a very positive impression on me. The simple setting on an old sailing ship (even if it were in space) and the darkness that surrounded it gave it a coziness… no, it wasn’t coziness, it was a life preserver in the darkness of space. That feeling of being on the ship was safer than being out in the vast darkness. Knowing that captain Wrack could summon a being of darkness added the fear that literally came from the depths of the ship, and the depths of the universe. That scene of two people cast out reminded me of that shocking moment in 2001: A Space Odyssey when Frank Poole has his oxygen line cut and drifts off silently into the blackness of space. The same sense of dread is a shadow cast over this entire plot.
And then there are the Guardians… Valentine Dyall is back as the Black Guardian and as this is still officially the guardian trilogy, we have to talk about him. His wrinkles are more worrisome than ever. He comes upon this midnight dreary with that ungainly fowl perched upon that pallid bust of “Guardian” to destroy the Doctor once and for all. He offers Turlough a choice, but luckily Turlough’s short time with the Doctor has him caught from some unhappy master and Turlough makes the right decision. He learns that enlightenment is not an object, but a choice and like the companion that represents us, he proves to be more than he was before meeting the Doctor. His tempter-sent diamond is cast out with bird or devil upon the night’s plutonian shore and the Guardian goes up in flames. Turlough is officially free to be the Doctor’s companion.
Is it a perfect story? No, but it has a feel to it that is unique, or at least very unusual. It gave me the sense that we’d get more quality stories for this Doctor, and I was not going to be let down. And it resolved “the Guardian trilogy”. The White Guardian says that the Black Guardian will be back one day and he’ll be more dangerous than ever. Sadly, Dyall died in 1985. If the Guardian returns one day, he’ll have to wear a different face. But that raven won’t be the same without Dyall’s distinctive sneering, wrinkled face. Of that Guardian we shall see, ah… nevermore. ML
Read next in the Junkyard… The King’s Demons