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"A Lord of Time? Are there Lords in such a small domain?",
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This review is from: Doctor Who - The Black Guardian Trilogy: Mawdryn Undead / Terminus / Enlightenment [DVD] (DVD)
Common knowledge and perceived wisdom has it that the Peter Davison era was when things started to go wrong for Doctor Who, but while he never made as much of an impression in the role as his predecessor Tom Baker and was saddled for most of his tenure with the deeply obnoxious `mouth on legs' Tegan, many of his stories were no worse - and some were considerably better - than the latter season Baker efforts. Mawdryn Undead is an example of the latter, an ambitious plot-led story that sees the Doctor and his companions separated in two time zones - 1977 and 1983 - with two Brigadier Lethbridge Stewarts and a new addition to the TARDIS' company in the form of Turlough, who's being bribed by one of the Doctor's many old enemies, The Black Guardian (previously seen in The Key to Time sequence that made up the show's 16th season), to nobble the Time Lord once and for all. With one of the Brigadiers unable to remember the Doctor, a group of aliens who've stolen Time Lord technology in a botched attempt at immortality and a threat to our hero's ability to regenerate (and therefore his existence as a Time Lord), it's a surprisingly clever little number that manages to fill in most of the potential plot holes without insulting your intelligence too much (even if it does take one Deus ex Machina to do it) and looks rather stylish doing it. Even Tegan manages not to be annoying for a change.
Thanks to a bit of TARDIS-sabotage from Turlough, Terminus sees the Doctor and his companions stranded on a leper ship run by alien slaves based on Norse gods, albeit drug-dependent ones. To make matters worse, the ship may have caused the Big Bang that created the universe and is gearing up for a repeat performance that might destroy it... Written by Stephen Gallagher, who also wrote the strikingly ambitious Warrior's Gate, the production was plagued by technical problems, there's a nice balance of ideas and character, with Turlough's discussion of the relative merits of charm versus brutal honesty with Tegan showing that at least someone on the show was aware of her limitations as a character. But it remains perhaps more interesting than successful, though it does include a nice and touchingly compassionate send-off for one of the companions who finds a much better reason than mere homesickness to take their leave of the Doctor, and the audio commentary - particularly when Nyssa sheds her skirt - is enjoyable.
Enlightenment is one of those rare cases of a silly idea that's done rather well, in this case a race between various sailing ships from periods throughout human history, from Greek galleys and pirate ships of the Spanish Main to an Edwardian schooner, that takes place not in the sea but around the Solar system, with Enlightenment the ultimate prize and the Doctor despatched by the White Guardian to make sure the wrong group of `Eternals' doesn't win it. Not that he knows which group that is... It shouldn't work: Disney's Treasure Planet wasn't able to pull the idea of tall ships sailing the solar winds off with a budget a thousand times higher, but the quality of the writing - by Barbara Clegg, the first solo female writer in the series' history - carries it. The Eternals are a particularly interestingly uninteresting bunch, used up by time and relying on the imagination of `ephemerals' for diversion, not simply existing between dimensions but beyond morality. Neither good nor evil, merely bored, they just are, and there's a dark ambiguity that hangs not just over them but over the look and feel of the whole story as it unfolds to the creaking of the ship's hull. The Black Guardian/Turlough plot is also finally played out, though by this time it feels almost like a distracting side issue so it's no wonder that the promised third encounter with him has yet to materialise. It's not a great story, tending to lose traction at times, but it is a good one. Unfortunately, the re-edited and much shorter director's cut also included with the original TV version doesn't improve the faults so much as magnify them, and isn't helped by cropping the original fullframe image to widescreen.
As usual, there's a good range of extras on this three-disc set from audio commentaries, documentaries and featurettes to outtakes. The Black Guardian may not be the most interesting foe the Doctor encountered - and in Valentine Dyall's melodramatic incarnation he's like a hammy music hall pastiche of The Master for much of the time - but it's a decent collection of stories.