Doctor Who: Revisiting ENLIGHTENMENT - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Doctor Who: Revisiting ENLIGHTENMENT

Moo gets the prize.
For a show as old and long-running as Doctor Who, it’s remarkable how often the same formulas will crop up. You know the drill by now. TARDIS lands somewhere, the Doctor (with one or more companions in tow) looks around, finds monster, defeats monster, rinse and repeat next week. That’s no bad thing, it’s nice to have some comforting familiarity and a good writer will take those building blocks and do something different with them every time.

On the other hand, Enlightenment is one of those Doctor Who stories that feels truly unique. There’s no parallel here. We don’t have a monster of the week or even a planet to visit. The supporting cast are all eternal beings who can never die. Even the motivations of the cast – to get to a destination before the others and cheat if they have to – stands out as different.

And that’s a good thing, because the result is a contender for one of the show’s all time strongest offerings.
Enlightenment is officially the third in the Black Guardian trilogy in which said villain manipulates the Doctor in an effort to have him killed by new companion Turlough, but really that arc is more of a background event in the first two. It’s an excuse for the stories to happen. Here it’s crucial to the plot finally, as Turlough’s sabotage sends the TARDIS into the midst of the story.

The first episode is then spent below deck in a ship where something seems off. The Doctor can’t quite figure it out, until the excellent first cliffhanger as we realise these boats are floating through space. The model work done for the visuals of the ships in space holds up incredibly well – I won’t be drawn into the discussion of CGI and model work, but this is a strong argument in favour of the latter option. Combine this with excellent costume and set design and you get one gorgeous-looking story.

These boats are in a race held by Eternals. It's an event held simply to pass the time and provide amusement as time continues to move along second by second. It’s a tremendous idea and fits perfectly as the setting for the big come-back of the two guardians. As with last time we saw him in The Armageddon Factor, the Black Guardian had recruited another agent to do his bidding along the way: Captain Wrack, played to perfection by Lynda Baron who strikes just the right amount of over the top to deliver a thoroughly entertaining performance.

Against her, the Doctor allies himself with Captain Striker, played by Keith Barron who goes for a more understated approach which works equally well. These two combined with the three regulars make for one of the most well-cast Doctor Who stories of its era.
Enlightenment's ending sees the Doctor and Turlough finally confront the Black Guardian together. He commands Turlough to stop delaying and kill the Doctor already, he refuses, and that somehow defeats the Guardian. If I have to criticise this story, it would be for how this arc just kind of stops. There’s a possible reading of it where it’s about Turlough asserting his agency and how this is what saves the day, but you’d be stretching a bit to find it here. When the Eternals did come back to the show in 2020’s Can You Hear Me that theme was present but here it’s only vaguely hinted to.

There’s also a sense of them setting up a third Black Guardian encounter, and at time of writing that’s not happened yet. Maybe we’ll get that one day, but Enlightenment is such a strong story that if this is the last time we see the character then he’s gone out on a high.

If Chris Chibnall does decide to bring them back he’d better keep the birds on their heads, or there will be hell to pay.
So take the time out to revisit Enlightenment today. It’s a show on a creative high, in an era when that rarely was the case, which shows just how good an experimental Doctor Who story can be.

Even though the arc it’s a part of goes nowhere.

“Moo” is the pseudonym used by this Doctor Who fan. He can usually be found procrastinating by thinking about Doctor Who. Follow him on Twitter @z_p_moo for more of his unusual takes, but do so at your own risk.

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