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Category:    Home > Reviews > Science Fiction > Action > Adventure > Time Travel > British TV > Doctor Who – The Black Guardian Trilogy (1983/BBC DVD Set)

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 all.

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


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