Doctor Who: Enlightenment
The Black Guardian Trilogy, Part III
(4 episodes, s20e17-e20, 1983)
Mawdryn high and Terminus low, finish strong by Enlightenment‘s glow?
In true K9 style, Turlough is playing chess with Tegan while she helps the Doctor diagnose the TARDIS. For whatever reason, the time capsule is losing power, bathing the console room in spoo-OO-ooky orange emergency lighting… which I actually kind of liked. Through a series of echoing voices, the Doctor decides to ramp up the power and invite an old friend onboard. The White Guardian appears and transmits a broken message of danger before the Black Guardian disrupts the channel. Turlough reduced the power to prevent the TARDIS from exploding, which prompts a sharp rebuke from the Doctor before he follows a set of coordinates and lands in a darkened ship’s hold.
The Doctor and Turlough explore the hold, leaving Tegan behind just in case the White Guardian can break through. Sure enough, the White Guardian returns and delivers a message, but the power requirements blow the console. There is also a strange face on the scanner screen, prompting Tegan to leave the TARDIS and look for the owner. It turns out that the man is creepy. Quite creepy. Tegan is soon apprehended as a stowaway, but the strange creepy officer takes her to her friends. Did I mention that he’s creepy?
The Doctor and Turlough find the ship’s crew in the bunkroom and the travelers decide to try blending in. Based on the newspaper, they appear to be on Earth onboard an Edwardian-era ship, and the crew mistakes the Doctor for the new ship’s cook. They also don’t remember coming aboard, but they do reveal that the ship is entered in some kind of race. The jovial discussion is interrupted by another officer who takes the Doctor away but leaves Turlough with the crew.
The Doctor and Tegan converge on the captain’s mess where Tegan briefs the exasperated Time Lord on the message. The ship’s commander, Captain Striker, arrives soon afterward and offers them dinner. He also introduces Tegan’s (creepy) escort as Marriner, the ship’s (creepy) first mate. The wind picks up, the ship rocks, and dinner is concluded as the crew (and Turlough) race topside for the grog ration. The Doctor intercepts Turlough and they meet up with Tegan and the officers in the ship’s wheelhouse.
Tegan spots what she thinks are wetsuits and the Doctor consults the nautical charts. They soon discover that the Edwardian yacht is really a spaceship and that they are one of a small fleet of sailing ships from various times. Tegan gets ill and is escorted to temporary quarters that are a mixture of her room on the TARDIS and her rooms in Brisbane, leading her to believe that the crew can read her mind. Marriner offers her a drink to mitigate her queasiness, and she falls asleep until Turlough joins her soon after. Wait… did Creepy McCreeperton just drug her?
The chart is one of the Sol system and each planet is a marker buoy on the race course. The captain explains that his people are Eternals, as compared to Ephemerals like the Doctor and his companions, and that they live in the trackless wastes of eternity. The ship rounds Venus, cutting their course tightly around the gravity well, but a trireme captained by an ancient Greek named Critas tries to follow and explodes.
The Doctor investigates what he think is sabotage, but Striker explains that each Eternal selects their ship, sources living beings from a suitable time period, and uses their minds for thoughts and ideas since the Eternals are unable to think on their own anymore. The process gives them existence and entertainment, and the prize at the end of the race is absolute enlightenment. (Ding – there’s the title!)
The travelers decide to rendezvous at Tegan’s quarters, though Turlough is waylaid by a bad experience with the Black Guardian. The Doctor and Tegan have a discussion that inadvertently tips the Eternals off about the TARDIS. As the duo sees to Turlough, the Eternals make the TARDIS disappear, trapping our heroes (and Turlough) on the ship. They eventually suit up and head topside, where Turlough is plagued by the taunting voice of the Black Guardian which prompts him to jump overboard.
As the second episode drew to a close, I wondered if the Doctor could let Turlough go. Probably not. Captain Striker refuses to change course, but the Buccaneer rescues Turlough. The captain is a pirate named Wrack, and she toys with the boy while offering a gift of a sword for competitor Captain Davey. Captain Wrack also invites the collective captains to dinner. Turlough convinces Wrack that he wants to be on the winning side, and he knows that she is the superior captain.
Tegan dresses for the party (looking positively smashing) but the delegation’s departure is delayed due to an asteroid storm. Meanwhile, Wrack does something odd in a vacuum-sealed room and Davey’s ship mysteriously explodes. It does not bode well to challenge the Buccaneer. The Doctor, Tegan, and Marriner head over to the party, and the Time Lord takes the opportunity to survey the attending guests and exchange his celery stalk. As the crowd mingles, Turlough investigates the vacuum chamber and discovers an eye-shaped grid that leads into the deep dark of space. One of the crew locks him in and releases the vacuum shield, but the Doctor saves him just in time. The Doctor examines the eye and decides that it probably focuses Wrack’s power through the red jewel above the grid, just like the red-jeweled ring that Captain Critas was wearing before his demise. The two travelers are soon apprehended by Wrack’s crew.
While they try to avoid the sharp edge of steel, Captain Wrack takes Tegan to her cabin and freezes the human in time. She then modifies Tegan’s tiara with a bright red jewel. It seems that the Edwardian ship is next on her hit list.
Tegan is released and subjected to the awkwardness of Marriner while Wrack interrogates the Doctor. The Doctor, Tegan, and Marriner are sent back to their ship as Wrack tests Turlough’s loyalty. She nearly sentences him to a long walk off a short plank, but he saves himself through a simple statement: “I serve him as I wish to serve you.” They are united through their relationship to the Black Guardian.
The Buccaneer draws even with the Edwardian ship and Wrack moves in for the kill, channeling the power of the Black Guardian. The Doctor and Tegan discover the jewel in the tiara and smash it, but the fragments only multiply the power. The Doctor throws the fragments overboard and they explode. The ship is saved, much to Marriner’s amazement, but the victory is short-lived as the winds die down and the Wrack pulls ahead. The Doctor demands that the TARDIS is returned, and he uses it to board the Buccaneer and confront Wrack.
Tegan witnesses two bodies fall overboard from the Buccaneer, and as the ship crosses the finish line near a large crystalline structure, the crew disappears and Striker and Marriner go across to pay their respects to the victor. The Enlighteners, the inhabitants of the crystal structure, are actually the White and Black Guardians, and they present the prize to the victors: The Doctor and Turlough. The bodies that fell overboard were Wrack and her first mate.
The Doctor refuses enlightenment, demanding instead that the Eternals be returned home to their endless void. The White Guardian offers a slice of enlightenment to Turlough. The Black Guardian reminds the boy of his contract, and Turlough refuses the crystal to save the Doctor, an act that disperses the Black Guardian in a ball of fire. Tegan doesn’t believe in Turlough’s change of heart, but the Doctor sees the lesson clearly: Enlightenment wasn’t the crystal, but rather the choice.
The White Guardian warns the Doctor that the Black Guardian has been crossed (Key to Time) twice now, and the powers of darkness do not dissipate with time. A third encounter will come, and it will not be easy. With the crisis averted, Turlough asks the Doctor to take him home – his real home – and the Doctor agrees.
Okay, so this helps to redeem Turlough a little bit, but I still don’t like him. It’s not his role as a wolf in sheep’s wool, but rather his character overall. He’s just so bland. Otherwise, it was nice to see a story in the Black Guardian trilogy that actually uses the Black Guardian to further his goals. It wasn’t a spectacular story, but it was better than Terminus.
Rating: 3/5 – “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.”
UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The King’s Demons
The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.