Review [DW]: “Enlightenment”

20×5. Enlightenment
Writer: Barbara Clegg
Director: Fiona Cumming
Script Editor: Eric Saward
Producer: John Nathan-Turner

Synopsis: The White Guardian warns the Doctor of a strange race taking place between several groups of “Eternals” seeking a prize known as the Enlightenment, while the Black Guardian continues to pressure Turlough and plot to kill the Doctor.

Review: Most of the Davison era has been either in the average-to-pretty-good range or has fallen under the umbrella of “creative but flawed.” Unfortunately, “Enlightenment” proves to be the latest example of the latter. In theory, the concept of the Eternals has some promise: they are powerful immortal beings who sense something empty about their existence, they seem to welcome danger if only to break up the monotony (since they don’t actually die but are just “transferred”), and they find themselves drawn to mortals (or “Ephemerals,” as they put it) despite being unable to understand us. But only the Edwardian crew come across with the right air of aloofness and the appropriately detached reactions to the TARDIS crew and the humans on board their ship. Their main rival, Captain Wrack, is a Cackling Villain stereotype who really doesn’t belong here.

The first two episodes, before Wrack becomes more central to the proceedings, are strong enough, with what seems like an effective mystery for first-time viewers – at first, the Doctor and his companions seem to be on Earth, with the reason for the human crew’s lapses in memory left unclear, building to the revelation that they are actually in space. Turlough also continues to add an element of unpredictability through a more amoral character than we’re used to seeing from companions. Although the story charts his increasing resistance to the Black Guardian, culminating in his refusal to kill the Doctor at the end, he is in fact willing to betray the human crew by revealing their discontent to the Eternals. It’s less clear whether his attempt to ingratiate himself to Wrack by claiming that he simply wants to be on the winning side is entirely an act or if he is in fact trying to keep his options open, and the script probably should have made this clearer.

As for the Guardians, it’s perhaps for the best that they did not, to the best of my memory, make another appearance in the original series after this. They were acceptable enough as background plot devices for the Key to Time trilogy, and introducing a companion who’s initially been strong-armed into the role of would-be assassin was clever. But they tend to come across as slightly hokey in this installment, and between them and the inconsistent portrayal of the Eternals, this is not a high point for portrayal of alien superbeings on Doctor Who.

Rating: *** (out of four)

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