DVD Extras (on 2 discs no less) include:
Guardian Control of the GameStory structure is ideal for introducing main characters and settings, starting out with just our three regulars in their home environment, and only splitting off to meet new people as those three encounter them. Thus we get some of the best editing that appears during the 1980's, resulting in a story that is relatively easy to follow. Establishing shots are held back with good reason, waiting until our regulars would see something before showing it to the audience. The one casualty with this approach may have been the TARDIS. It seems to have been assumed that the audience should already understand the main character's vehicle for the series. Anyone who starts off with "Mawdryn Undead" (story no. 126) in the DVD trilogy box set should have no trouble with this though.
Peter Davison's era is the one to turn to for viewing the deeper portions of the TARDIS interior, and we get another nice little bit here in this story. Darker lighting provides a spookier-than-normal look, indicating that something's not quite right today. It certainly isn't a template for day-to-day TARDIS operation, and everyone seems relieved when the lights finally return to normal.
The stakes become significantly raised for this final story of the recent trilogy by the appearance of the White Guardian, who not only ensures that the Doctor is aware of the importance of what is to come, but also seems to make the Black Guardian insecure enough to tip his hand to the Doctor as well. Turlough too has a nice little underplayed moment where the discovery of the existence of a White Guardian intrigues him. Now both the Doctor and Turlough have been talking with their separate Guardians and neither is sharing all their information with the other. How much does each suspect? How will their slight but not-so-hidden distrust of each other affect the way they deal with the adventure ahead?
Early sections sustain themselves with the exploration and discovery of the environment and situation the TARDIS has landed in. While this does actually work well, I won't pretend it's the greatest example of exploration in Doctor Who. One particular stretch gives little indication of where the story is heading, and isn't able to boast much in terms of visuals either. This sequence represents a bit of a lull in the narrative for me, but only a minor one. A lot of nice character moments come through though; the better part of this sequence I think.
A far more intriguing focus for the TARDIS crew's investigations quickly develops, but really, it's only after one of the story's most astounding revelations that the real story can finally get underway.
Unique Playing FieldsSo many Doctor Who tales base their story on invasions and/or armies of nasty aliens up to no good, that it becomes REALLY refreshing to see a story so successfully based on a racing competition instead. This allows for pleasantries and good dialogue scenes as well as dangerous rivalries, uncertain outcomes, and exciting visuals.
Efforts to make aliens truly otherworldly in science fiction movies and television often focus on external appearances more than anything else, while little is done to give them a different mindset, let alone one more advanced than that of brutal conquerors. This is another area where "Enlightenment" excels, chiefly by creating in the Eternals an alien culture that operates on an entirely different plane, and one that might be said to be much more advanced than typical sci-fi aliens. Their chief motivation sees them operating in ways and posing challenges to our protagonists that are very different from the usual. Many of the usual sci-fi story beats won't work, but because it has been well thought-out, a logically different playing-field takes over and proves both unique and equally interesting, if not more interesting.
The good cultural exploration works both ways in this tale, with the Eternals equally interested in exploring what they call "Ephemerals".... "Enlightenment" enjoys a fairly rich cultural palette to wade through. Kudos.
Brilliantly, much of the focus goes into the acting, where the inhumanness of the chief Eternal characters remains unmistakeable. Keith Barron, Christopher Brown, and James McClure all give excellent held-back performances making the exploration of the Eternals work tremendously well, while Lynda Baron gives an appropriately louder performance as the passionate Captain Wrack.
The audio/visual excellence of this story is one of its major strengths. Beyond some great set design and costumes, we get a generous helping of fun model work and music that successfully combines the nostalgically nautical with the ethereal qualities of the stars, an absolutely sublime mixture.
Winning StrategiesThe plot continues to move well in later stages of the story thanks to a clever mystery slowly seeping up to the surface throughout the middle episodes. Perhaps because four half-hour episodes give the plot time to breathe, it is quite successful here. "Enlightenment" holds back its biggest secrets and best visuals for the final episode, as it should be. Part Four is also the busiest episode for the Doctor, as one would want, giving him plenty of challenges to apply his skills to. The story's concluding beats offer us an unparalleled moment in Doctor Who's long history. Of course, I'll save discussion of the details for the in-depth analysis version of this review, for those who've seen the story already.
Peter Davison's Doctor also ends up demonstrating some excellent qualities, things that have played alongside the darker aspects of Patrick Troughton's and Sylvester McCoy's Doctors, but which instead bring out the more positive, spiritual side of Davison's fifth Doctor. No doubt there will be viewer interpretations from horror / action fans who don't get this layer at all. Pity. This tale contains more of the reasons why Peter Davison remains my favourite Doctor after all these years....
Special Edition"Enlightenment" on DVD now comes with a new 2009 CGI-enhanced alternate edit of the story that offers some additional improvements and enticements. As I always believed since I first saw it, it is better to see the TARDIS materialize at the beginning of the story. YES! Nice one! Just what I would have done. The White Guardian's first disembodied voice-overs now also receive the audio treatment they always deserved, aiding the initial performances of the three regulars and helping draw one into the story a little better. And of course the opportunities to do more with CGI shots of the ships during the race are so enticing, that pretty much becomes the raison-d'être of the whole exercise. The bulk of the work is particularly excellent here (apart from one particular shot where an all-too-obvious split-screen square can't hold a candle to the original shot, which was particularly majestic, well-realised for the time, and beautifully ethereal). And because the original effects shots are sometimes as short as they are due to limitations of what could be achieved then, the CGI team gains a lot of freedom to cut loose knowing that a whole new edit means that longer shots and more shots can now be stuck in. Awesome. Fiona Cumming has made sure that most of the new material does aid the telling of the story, and so there are a lot of enhanced story points being made, and it becomes even more of a visual treat.
The CGI team is perhaps going a bit too far looking for new post-production effects to super-impose on the picture. Without there really being any substandard lasers anywhere in the Black Guardian trilogy (the obvious required upgrade on stories like "The Pirate Planet" [story no. 99] and "Resurrection of the Daleks" [story no. 134] ), they often turn to Turlough's crystal to plaster an obviously fake effect over the original glow - which does nothing to help tell the story, or excite the viewer. A lot of the trick-dissolves of Guardians or transmat devices have also been unnecessarily complicated with additional effects. Ho hum. By the time we get to the end of new "Enlightenment", these effects are seriously making the Black Guardian less black, taking away from his ability to melt in and out of the shadows, and really sapping his power.
I don't think I'll be watching the Enlightenment special edition as often as the original version though, chiefly because of what has been lost. Twenty-three minutes of previously used footage has hit the cutting room floor, and I miss it. While I confess I had grown quite attached to the original rhythms of the audio and visuals as presented then, I think there's more to it than that. I've read much about the links between charisma and having the courage to enjoy a slow, deliberate pace instead of a quick, frenetic, NERVOUS one, and this seems to be a distinction somewhat lost on many of the makers of today's television and film.
A slow pace, and indeed one that allows the space of a week between each episode of a story, also gives the audience the space to hear their own thoughts on the narrative so far, before all the mysteries and questions are answered for them. Director Nicholas Meyer, famous for the more popular Star Trek films, emphasizes the importance of the audience being able to bring their own interpretation to the experience in all forms of art, otherwise it isn't art, and in his opinion film & television have the most difficult time of all to try to curb their tendencies to do everything for the audience instead.
Particularly when an original is such a highly regarded classic, taking 1/4 of it out can only lead to trouble, and the story-telling edge I mentioned it had above begins to get slightly eroded in the new version of the story. Had the new version better recognized the values of the length, pacing, aspect-ratio, and audio/visual successes of the original, the good new stuff may have been better integrated into an improvement on the original. Generally speaking, I'd have been much more receptive to a longer edit rather than a shorter one. However, those accustomed to the pace of Christopher Eccleston's or David Tennant's eras of Doctor Who may find the new "Enlightenment" easier to get into and on par with, if not above, what they're used to.
This story is available on DVD as the final adventure of the Black Guardian Trilogy.
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