Timestamp #128: Enlightenment

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.

Timestamp #100: The Stones of Blood

Doctor Who: The Stones of Blood
The Key to Time, Part III
(4 episodes, s16e09-e12, 1978)

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It’s a time of milestones: The 100th adventure, the dawn of the franchise’s 15th anniversary, and the 100th (regular) Timestamp.

This adventure begins as the Doctor and Romana assemble the first two pieces of the Key to Time, with Romana one-upping the Doctor repeatedly. The Doctor determines that the next stop is Earth, where a druidic sect is pouring blood on the stones of a cromlech. As he pilots the TARDIS to their destination, they duo receive a warning to beware of the Black Guardian. This prompts the Doctor to finally explain the mission to Romana.

The TARDIS lands and the Time Lords set out, soon coming across the stone circle and an archaeologist named Amelia Rumford. The professor introduces the stone circle as the Nine Travellers, and explains the blood as it relates to deVries and his sect, worshippers of Cailleach. The Doctor heads out to meet deVries while Romana (and her impractical shoes) keeps an eye on Professor Rumford and her assistant, Vivien Fay.

Mr. deVries and his maid, Martha, are in the middle of an incantation when the Doctor arrives, and deVries entertains the Doctor as he stalls for time. During the tour, the Doctor notes that the portraits of the previous owners have been taken down. That may be important later. Meanwhile, the survey team wrap up their work and retire to their cottage for tea. Crows have been circling the site all afternoon, but as the team leaves, the birds depart. DeVries explains to the Doctor that the crows and ravens are the eyes of the Cailleach, and as a figure appears in a rather ridiculous bird costume to draw the Doctor’s attention, deVries knocks him out. Back at the stone circle, Romana hears the Doctor’s voice calling, and she investigates in her bare feet. She approaches a cliff and is startled by something unseen, toppling backward off the edge toward the ocean below.

The Doctor awakens on a sacrificial altar inside the Nine Travellers, but as the professor approaches on a bicycle, the druids scatter. Rumford had returned to offer Romana a flask of tea, and together (with the help of K9’s nose) they save Romana from her state as a literal cliffhanger. Romana claims that the Doctor pushed her over the edge, but after K9 verifies the Doctor’s identity, Romana determines that it must be the third Segment’s power at play. After a brief respite in the TARDIS, they return to the cromlech and continue tracking the Segment. Between the camera angles and the acting, it’s no longer a mystery that Vivien has something to do with the use of the Segment’s power.

As Romana accompanies the women to the cottage, the Doctor and K9 visit deVries. Just before they arrive, deVries and Martha are crushed by giant sentient stones. The stone returns to attack the Doctor and is repelled by K9, however the pup is critically damaged. At the cottage, Romana reviews the professor’s notes, noting that the owners of Boscombe Hall, the headquarters of the druids and the site of the Convent of the Little Sisters of Saint Gudula, have all been women. Romana and Rumford head to the Hall to investigate further where they find the Doctor working on K9. Romana takes K9 back to the TARDIS to rebuild him while the Doctor pursues the lead that the stone creature feeds on blood.

The next few minutes are a rapid series of back and forths. At the stone circle, a woman in the crow costume summons another stone creature with a bowl of blood. At the Hall, the Doctor puts his investigative skills to use and discovers a priest hole. Inside, he discovers the portraits of the Hall’s previous owners: They all share the likeness of Vivien Fay. At the TARDIS, Romana starts the process of restoring K9, but as she leaves she notes a raven and a crow watching her. Vivien intercepts her at the stone circle and operates a scepter, causing Romana to disappear.

The Doctor and Rumford are chased out of the Hall by one of the stone creatures. They lead it to Romana’s cliff and the Doctor plays matador, tricking the beast into a late night swim where it sinks to its death. The pair meet up with Vivien at the stone circle where she offers Romana’s safety if he leaves her alone. She then vanishes in the same manner as Romana, telling the Doctor to count the stones. He notes the missing stones and links their sentience to the Ogri, a race from Ogros in the Tau Ceti system.

The Doctor (and a fully recovered K9) determine that Romana and Vivien are hiding in hyperspace, so the Time Lord builds a device to jump into hyperspace. While he is away, Rumford and K9 defend the device against two attacking Ogri. The Doctor materializes on a spaceship, a prison vessel of some sort, and frees Romana. The ship is physically hovering just over the Nine Travellers, but cannot be seen because it is in an additional dimension to our own. The Time Lords search the ship and discover two sparkling globes called the Megara. They are justice machines who act as judge, jury, and executioner when the law is violated. The Doctor and Romana sneak away as the Megara deliberate.

As K9’s power packs expire, his force field fails, but the Ogri retreat to recharge. They quickly come across two unfortunate campers who are consumed tout de suite. Professor Rumford reactivates the machine on schedule, but the gateway summons a silver-colored Vivien instead of the Time Lords. She destroys the machine, then returns to the ship with the two Ogri to break the news to the Doctor and Romana. Vivien sics the Ogri on the Time Lords, but the Megara interrupt to dispense justice. Since they have deliberated in his absence, he petitions for an appeal and is granted a two hour reprieve to state his case. He calls Romana and Vivien to the witness stand, constructing his defense that they only released the Megara in concern for their welfare.

Romana continues to search the ship while Vivien is testifying – the Megara kill one of the Ogri after Vivien tries to summon them to her defense, and the Doctor petitions for her to be attached to the truth assessor, a Megara lie detector – and both she and the remaining Ogri are teleported back to the stone circle thanks to Rumford’s repair of the hyperspace device. They escape, and eventually discover a potential weakness in Vivien. They run from the Ogri, and Romana and the Ogri return to the ship.

As the Doctor continues his trial, he uncovers that Vivien is the Cessair of Diplos, a criminal wanted by the Megara for murder and misappropriation of the Great Seal of Diplos. The Megara are not convinced and pass sentence on the Doctor, however when they attempt to execute him, he pulls Vivien into the beam with him. The beam is short-circuited, and the Megara are convinced to scan Vivien to learn the truth. When all is said and done, the Ogri is returned home, Vivien is imprisoned in a stone at the cromlech for fifteen hundred years, and the Great Seal of Diplos – the third Segment to the Key of Time – is taken by the Time Lords. As the Megara turn their attention to the Doctor’s sentence, he uses the Seal to send them back to hyperspace.

With their epic quest halfway completed, the Doctor and Romana leave in the TARDIS and continue to their next stop.

This story was a fun one overall with some incredible chemistry between Tom Baker’s Doctor and Beatrix Lehmann’s Amelia Rumford. It also showcased a costuming choice for Vivien’s Cessair of Diplos role that would have been right at home on Star Trek. Her somewhat risqué (for this franchise so far, at any rate) low-cut silver-gray gown called back to William Ware Theiss and his famous theory of titillation.

This serial wasn’t perfect by any stretch: The “Time Lord on trial” angle of the story was a bit rough, and while it worked out in the end, it felt kind of wedged in between the more supernatural elements of the plot. The start of the second episode was also a bit jarring since it was the only one not to contain the standard “last week on Doctor Who” cliffhanger-refresher segment.

One final note is another Star Trek link: Tau Ceti appears to be a galactic crossroads in both franchises. In Doctor Who, it is home to Diplos, Ogros, and Zygor. On a larger scale, Star Trek references the star system on the order of ten times in over fifty years, including as the home of the Traveler and the Kobayashi Maru. These franchises aren’t unique in this regard, since Tau Ceti is a staple of modern science fiction.

It only makes sense, almost as a rite of passage, that this franchise would take advantage of the second closest main sequence star to our own.

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Androids of Tara

 

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.

 

 

 

Timestamp #98: The Ribos Operation

Doctor Who: The Ribos Operation
The Key to Time, Part I
(4 episodes, s16e01-e04, 1978)

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Our Odd Couple meets an intergalactic Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Sorta kinda.

The Doctor is training K9 to respond to a dog whistle, and then promises him a holiday. It is not meant to be as the TARDIS loses power and materializes in a bright white light. The doors open and the Doctor is summoned by the White Guardian, a being that the Doctor appears to deeply respect. The White Guardian tasks the Time Lord with locating and assembling the Key to Time, a powerful cube that controls the equilibrium of time. A Black Guardian, the counter to the White Guardian, is also seeking the Key. The Doctor is given a locator to find the pieces, as well as an assistant in the Time Lady Romanadvoratrelundar. For simplicity, let’s call her Romana. Or Fred. Nah, Romana is better.

Romana, a new graduate the Time Lord Academy, gives the Doctor the core to the Key. The core acts as a homing beacon for the pieces of the Key, and it takes them Cyrrenhis Minima, and then immediately to Ribos. Coincidentally, on Ribos, two men are sneaking onto a castle’s parapet. In the room below, the guards extinguish the lights and secure the treasure room. One of the shady figures, Unstoffe, slips the guard dragon a Mickey, drop into the room, and set to work. Instead of stealing anything, he leaves a large blue stone in the display case. Meanwhile, Garron, the other rogue, meets up with the Graff Vynda-K, and exiled tyrant.

The Doctor and Romana arrive on Ribos, and as he is warning her to expect the unexpected, he gets trapped in an unexpected snare.

The Graff is astounded by the supply of jethrik, a very valuable mineral, on the planet. Garron eavesdrops on the conversation, but is interrupted by the Time Lords. Garron escapes, and the duo continue on to the treasure room. They trace Key fragment to the Crown Jewels, but Unstoffe drugs the guard and sounds the alarm, causing the rest of the guards to converge and lower the door to the waking dragon as part of their morning ritual. The Time Lords hide as the guards enter and open the room. Garron follows, petitioning the guards to store a large sum of money for him in the vault. The Doctor presumes that the rogue is also after the Key segment.

The money is intended as a deposit by the Graff for the purchase of the planet, which Vynda-K intends to use as a base for an army and navy. Together, Garron and Unstoffe weave a con about a lost mine of jethrik, which intrigues the Graff. The Doctor and Romana investigate the jethrik that Unstoffe smuggled into the vault, and they deduce that it is the Key fragment. Meanwhile, the Graff finds a bug in his chambers and determines that Garron is trying to swindle him. If true, the Graff intends to kill the conman.

The Doctor unravels the con and sneaks into the vault from below as Unstoffe sneaks in from above, both targeting the jethrik. Unstoffe is one step ahead, however, and gives the Time Lord the slip. The Doctor escapes through the dragon’s den and attempts to run with Romana and Garron, but is intercepted by the Graff. He takes them into custody as he attempts to recover his money and discovers that the story of the lost mine was part of the con. From the cell, the Doctor signals K9 with the dog whistle.

The Ribos guards use the Seeker, a local religious shaman who uncovers Unstoffe’s hideout. The guards prepare a raid, but the Graff plots to kill the guards and take the stone for himself. Unstoffe takes refuge with an outcast named Binro, a heretic who eschews the mythology of two battling titans for a more scientific explanation of the seasons, which the rogue validates.

The captives use the listening device in Graff’s quarters to warn Unstoffe of the pending raid, and Binro offers refuge in the city’s catacombs. Meanwhile, K9 frees the captives, and they follow the Key’s core to the catacombs and the jethrik. The trifecta is completed when the Seeker sends the guards to the labyrinths (home of the ice gods) in pursuit of Unstoffe.

Convenient plot point: The catacombs also house wild shrivenzales, just like the one that guards the vault. As the Graff and the guards search for everyone, the Doctor inadvertently gives away their position by knocking loose a skull. The creatures come to the rescue, scattering the guards, and the Graff resolves to use the Seeker’s talents to find the fugitives.

Outside the catacombs, the Graff waits impatiently for the Seeker, killing a guard to prove his might. The Seeker reveals that if the Graff’s platoon enters the catacombs, all but one of them will die. They proceed regardless.

Binro offers to help find Garron for Unstoffe, but the rogue finds Unstoffe on his own with help from the recently stolen Key core.  Binro, on the other hand, is apprehended by the Graff. The Seeker leads the Graff to the rouges, but Binro sacrifices himself for them. Unstoffe is wounded as he charges the Graff, and Garron tries to bluff his way out. As the Doctor, disguised as a guard, signals for K9, a shrivenzale attacks. Romana and K9 follow the sounds of combat, and the guards outside the catacombs seal the labyrinth with cannon fire. In the resulting cave-in, Sholak is crushed and the Graff vows revenge.

Romana and K9 free Garron and Unstoffe. Elsewhere, the Graff kills the Seeker before turning on the disguised Doctor, determined to be the last one standing as the Seeker’s prophecy comes to pass. He hands the Doctor a timed explosive and leaves, but not before the Doctor exchanges it for the jethrik. The Graff is killed in the explosion.

The Doctor and Romana head for the TARDIS, avoiding an attempt by the rogues to pick the Doctor’s pocket, and leaving them to commandeer the former Graff’s ship. The Time Lords depart with only five segments remaining in their quest.

I really liked the dynamic between the two pairs. Garron and Unstoffe are evidently very close friends and colleagues, and the contrast between them and the Time Lord team helped drive the character drama. Placing the Doctor and Romana into an Odd Couple dynamic – newcomer Romana takes the role of Felix while the Doctor and his increasingly ratty scarf is our Oscar – added some humor to this already madcap con artist story. Even more interesting is how the reluctant mentor is evoking some of the grumpiness from regenerations past.

I settled at a 3.5, and I round up.
Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Pirate Planet

 

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.