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Doctor Who: Enlightenment

"Superior beings do not punish inferiors... We use them... kindly."

After two duffers, ‘Enlightenment’ brings the Black Guardian trilogy to a terrific conclusion.

The Doctor, Tegan and Turlough find themselves on what appears to be an Edwardian cruise ship. But further investigation reveals that they are in fact on a space ship taking part in a cosmic boat race organised by the Eternals, a mysterious and powerful race.

‘Enlightenment’ is one of my favourite Fifth Doctor stories. It is a story brimming with big ideas and amazing imagery that, thankfully, the production team is able to realise without embarrassing themselves. The FX may be a little ropey in places, but never so much to take you out of the story. And what a great story it is. It is a shame Barbara Clegg never wrote for the show again, but she really knocked it out of the park with this one.

The Eternals are one of the most interesting celestial beings the series has introduced. Dwelling in the realm of eternity, they possess the power to create anything out of thin air, but lack the imagination needed to make use of such power. They are hollow shells that experience existence via proxy, relying on the minds of what they deem as lesser beings, such as humans. In a nice bit of social commentary, the Eternals on the Shadow take the form of upper class officers, lording it over the lesser, lower class, beings they have plucked from their native time to serve on the ship. Striker and the others see themselves as superior, but they are only where they are by exploiting the ephemerals. Without them, they are nothing.

But it is not just the ephemerals' creativity the Eternals crave. Although they are loath to admit it, they also depend on ephemerals for the entertainment they cannot provide themselves, our chaotic human minds helping to stave off their infinite boredom. In Marriner's case that need for entertainment turns into an addiction. He finds Tegan's thoughts and ideas so intoxicating that he can't get enough of them. He, quite literally, is only interested in her for her mind and the hit of existence it gives him.

Only two things let the side down. The first is Lynda Baron's performance as Captain Wrack. While Keith Barron and Christopher Brown are both excellent as Striker and Marriner, Baron seems to be in a completely different production altogether. She goes way over the top, delivering a pantomime performance that feels out of place in a story like this and completely wrong for an Eternal.

The second is the final confrontation with the Black Guardians. It is a somewhat anticlimactic affair that jettisons the Eternals completely making the last three episodes rather pointless, and then dispatches the Black Guardian with relative ease. Throughout this trilogy the Black Guardian has repeatedly encouraged Turlough to kill the Doctor. He initial refused, then gave in, changed his mind, changed it back again, complained a lot, screamed just as much when all he really had to do was basically tell the Black Guardian to get stuffed. For a supposedly omnipotent being, he is pretty much useless.

Notes and Quotes

--To date this is the only Doctor Who TV story to have been both written and directed by women, Barbara Clegg and Fiona Cumming respectively.

--Clegg based the Eternals on a wealthy group of her relatives who were visiting her and demanded constant entertainment, treating other family members as "lesser beings".

--Why does the White Guardian have a pigeon on his head? What is it with these Guardians and decorative poultry?

Tegan: "But what if the White Guardian tells me something important?"
The Doctor: "...Thank him politely. [The Doctor smiles] Won't be long."

Striker: "You are not an Ephemeral. You are a... a time dweller. You travel in time."
The Doctor: "You're reading my thoughts."
Striker: "You are a Time Lord, a lord of time. Are there lords in such a small domain?"
The Doctor: "And where do you function?"
Striker: "Eternity. The endless wastes of eternity."

White Guardian: "Be vigilant, Doctor. Once you denied him the Key to Time, now you have thwarted him again. He will be waiting for the third encounter, and his power does not diminish.... While I exist, he exists also... until we are no longer needed."

Four out of four ephemeral beings.
Mark Greig is burning an eternal flame. More Mark Greig


  1. I think this was one of the best of the 5th Doctor's stories. Tegan being obsessed by Mariner and Turlough grovelling at Wrack's feet were sublime and ridiculous. I loved the idea of the Eternals too. Beings who though omnipotent were utterly hollow.

  2. Agree fully Mark, this is a great story and one of my favorites from Davison's tenure. It's extremely interesting in how the Eternals need us 'lesser beings' or they'd be hollow shells and lack any form of stimulation. It's another that child me just did not get, but adult me loves.

    Decorative poultry hasn't really caught on outside of the guardians. Is this a good or bad thing?

    I do wish Barbara Clegg would have written more stories as this is a really good one, and we have to deal with Pip and Jane Baker's awful dross later on. Very worthwhile watch here!


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