First broadcast 1-9/3/1983 starring Peter Davison
This four-parter is, for me, one of the best from the Eighties and stands proud in the forty-nine and a bit year history of Doctor Who as a nearly perfect adventure (points deducted for the “subtle” Vacuum Shield Off sign, the Black Guardian’s risible cackling some Leee John-based “acting”). It’s difficult to know
where to start in handing out the plaudits as we are presented with an
abundance of excellence in every department.
The direction, from the magnificent Fiona Cumming is truly
sublime, creating a great deal of atmosphere on a ship sailing through
the universe with a crew culled from Earth and piloted by the mysterious
Eternals (mentioned in Army Of Ghosts, fact fans!). A woman director was unusual enough for Who (still is!) but there’s also the formidable writing talents of the story’s author, Barbara Clegg. She creates a tale full of mystery and romance, but also a very human core. Enlightenment is sheer poetry.
Matching the beauty of the direction and writing are the exquisite production values, top marks to the set designers
and lighting crew. For once, during the Eighties, it is spot on. The film
sequences on the deck of the ship work particularly well, adding to the eeriness of the piece. As Petey D
noted in the accompanying DVD commentary, it’s frustrating that this high
standard couldn’t have been maintained throughout whilst he was The
Impressing greatly too is the cast. Who would’ve thunk
that Keith “Duty Free” Barron could be so cold, lifeless and chilling – a perfect
‘villain’. Of course, whether or not the Eternals are actual
villains is up for debate, though when Lynda “No Relation” Baron comes
along you’ll be slightly clearer about where her morals lie.
character, Captain Wrack, is a tad more camp. And by ‘tad’ I mean a lot.
She doesn’t so much as ‘break’ the fourth wall as she goes to the
toilet all over it, gets planning permission to demolish it and then
film a documentary about said wall’s destruction. But her pantomime
exuberance neatly counterpoints the steely stoicism from her male
counterparts. I guess eternity takes its toll in different ways.
Getting a chance to shine too is the always VFM Janet Fielding who also gets to
parade her beauty in a rather eye-catching outfit. Tegan is afforded the
opportunity to embark on a relationship with Marriner (do you see what
they did there?), another one of the Eternals. He is a fascinatingly
childlike yet omnipotent character – naivety and horror rolled into one.
AND it saw the conclusion of “The Black Guardian” trilogy (which we’ll hear more of later in the 50…) with the return of The White Guardian as the battling Gods used their bird-hats to help Turlough decide what to do (or something like that).
There’s nothing quite like Enlightenment in the Whoeuvre – nothing even remotely similar. It’s a genuinely unique, in the word’s truest sense, story that manages to introduce a new race of beings, above the Time Lords, and concludes the battle between other uber-beings The Black and White Guardians and yet is all about the small human moments. Beautiful Doctor Who.