Doctor Who – The Black Guardian
Trilogy (1983/BBC DVD Set)
Picture: C+ Sound: C+ Extras:
Mawdryn Undead: B-/Terminus: C-/Enlightenment: A-
Trilogy Segments: Mawdryn
Undead: B-/Terminus: C+/Enlightenment: B+
The latest DVD box set in Doctor Who
series is The Black Guardian Trilogy,
comprised of 3 four episode adventures, numbers 126 through 128. Set
during the reign of the 5th Doctor (Peter Davison), this loose set of 3
episodes has quite a few high points for the casual as well as rabid Who fan.
The Black Guardian is a loose
framing story for the adventures, the thread being the Black Guardian's attempt
to exact deadly revenge against the Doctor for preventing him from acquiring
the Key to Time. A new companion, Turlough (Mark Strickson), is the instrument
via which he attempts to achieve his goal. Turlough, who joins the Doctor
in the first episode, Mawdryn Undead,
has been exiled to Earth from his home planet of Trion after a civil war; he
accepts the offer of the Black Guardian to give him his freedom if he kills the
Doctor. This rough framing scenario plays out across all 3 episodes, with
Turlough largely ineffectual and eventually even unwilling to fulfill his end
of the bargain, resulting in the Black Guardian’s seemingly endless snit.
In Mawdryn Undead, Turlough is
transported by the Black Guardian on to an interstellar liner, where the Tardis
has inadvertently landed, with instructions to kill the Doctor.
Mawdryn Undead is a well-done
episode, typical of the era, with some interesting highlights. After the
Tardis goes off course in some sort of time warp, ending up on the interstellar
liner, the Doctor transmats from the liner to Earth in 1983, accompanied by
Turlough. When his companions Nyssa and Tegan head to Earth in the
Tardis, they end up in 1977 at the Brendon
School where the Doctor
is, only 6 years earlier: they are contiguous in space but not in time.
Both encounter old friend Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, now in his capacity as
teacher at the school after his retirement from Unit. The presence of the
Brigadier in both times ends up being the solution to their dilemma.
All this and we haven't gotten to the main plot point: the space liner that the
Doctor and all have landed on is locked in a particular space/time orbit.
The occupants of the ship, Mawdryn and his fellow aliens have achieved a state
of perpetual regeneration by using a device stolen from the Time Lords on
Gallifrey. Now they need the energy from all the Doctor's incarnations to
accomplish their one wish: to die. If they succeed, the Doctor will
cease to be a Time Lord. As the Doctor
is about to comply, the two Brigadiers meet and touch, setting off a jolt of
temporal energy that achieves the same result, saving the Doctor and rescuing
Episode 2 of The Black Guardian Trilogy is Terminus
and is the weakest of the three. As outlined in "Breaking Point: The Making of Terminus," an extra in the box,
a BBC electricians strike wreaked havoc on production, which was directed by
first timer Mary Ridge. The plot centers around a
space station called Terminus, where sufferers of Lazar's Disease are exiled
and treated via the radioactive energy from the stations engine, with often
fatal results. The Doctor and companions, which now include Turlough, end
up attaching themselves to a space liner after Turlough damages the Tardis's
controls while doing the Black Guardian's bidding. In its turn, the liner
has attached itself to Terminus, which oddly enough is at the exact center of
the universe. It seems, incredulously enough, that one of the two
original giant engines on Terminus exploded and caused the Big Bang. The Doctor needs to discover a way to stave
off the imminent explosion of the 2nd engine, which could cause the
destruction of the universe Terminus inadvertently created. Inexplicably, plausibility alarms do not
sound off throughout the ship.
There is much to do about the running of Terminus by the Vanir as well
as the Garm, a large Wookie-like creature. The whole business seems a bit
of a patchwork; plausibility is, indeed, stretched as thin as it gets in the
Who Universe. Because of the proliferation of companions, one had to go
and it was Nyssa, much to Peter Davidson's disappointment, as outlined in the
making of Terminus extra. In
context, Nyssa, the only one to contract Lazar’s disease, of which she is
ultimately cured, opts to stay on Terminus to help with the care of
survivors. Her exit is one of the few genuine moments in the episode.
Episode Three, Enlightenment, is the winner in this box set. Fuller
attention is finally turned to the Black Guardian, whose been treated in a
rather cursory manner up to this point. After being warned by the White Guardian and
threatened by the Black Guardian, the Doctor lands the Tardis in what appears
to be the hold of an Edwardian sailing ship: sailing space ship, that is.
The ship is part of an interstellar race, the prize of which is the
mysteriously named Enlightenment. The vessels are being piloted by a race
known as the Eternals, who utilize Ephemerals (aka humans and other
non-Eternals) to perform everyday tasks. Captain Wrack, magnificently
"overplayed" by Lynda Baron, of the pirate ship "Buccaneer"
is nefariously doing away with her racing opponents. As a result, Turlough is finally
placed in a position where he has to choose between the Doctor and the Black
Guardian. The Doctor turns the tables on Wrack after she wins the
race and the Doctor is awarded Enlightenment. He declines, however,
saying he's not ready; the White Guardian tells Turlough he is entitled to some
of the prize. Given the choice between
the Doctor and the Black Guardian, Turlough finally selects the Doctor and, in
his own way, achieves enlightenment by passing a test of character.
The extras run the full gamut of mediocre (aka for Who fanboys only), such as Film Trims, Deleted and Extended Scenes,
and Outtakes, to superior as in the case of Breaking
Point: The Making of Terminus, a real case of making lemonade from a lemon,
and the excellent Winner Takes All: The
Making of Enlightenment.
The best bonus is the new feature length edit of Enlightenment, with new CGI special effects replacing the original
typical low-budget effects of the original and with 5.1 Surround Sound.
Of course, true fans are of two minds about this; the original cheesy effects are Doctor Who and so when tampering
here you are on sacred ground. Have no fear, however; though much of the
upgrade is better, some are state of the art cheesy CGI effects, so the spirit
is not totally lost. Winner Takes
All covers the updating, which was supervised by the original director
Fiona Cumming, and it makes just as good a viewing as the episode itself.
For Who fans, The Black Guardian Trilogy is an essential purchase. The set
of three stories is entertaining, too, for the casual fan, especially those who
enjoy the 5th Doctor's incarnation. There are enough threads throughout to
Doctor Who history to keep true fans engaged long after viewing.
- Don Wentworth