Season twenty of DOCTOR WHO - Peter Davison's big-haired, strike-affected middle year of his three playing the part. The anniversary season which promised much and yet...
Something from the Doctor's past turned up in every story which meant "ho-hum" returns for Omega, last season's rubber snake, the Brigadier, and the Master, as well as the Black & White Guardians in the stories from this set. Later that year this sense of revisiting the past would reach its peak with THE FIVE DOCTORS, but that's, quite literally, another story.
Whether you feel that the return of a villain who only really featured in one episode five years earlier is THAT significant an event will rather shape your feelings as to whether THE BLACK GUARDIAN TRILOGY is an essential purchase. This set includes all of the three tales he appeared in during Season 20 and finds Valentine Dyall returning to play him as he seeks his revenge against the Doctor whilst wearing a dead bird as a hat. The method his vengeance takes is to corrupt a less-than-contented public schoolboy into doing his murderous act for him, and this is where the story begins.
MAWDRYN UNDEAD features the return of Nicholas Courtney's much loved Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart after a seven year absence, and the introduction of Mark Strickson as Turlough (homicidal schoolboy and companion-to-be) in an intriguing story idea that takes place in two time zones on Earth (1977 & 1983) and aboard an art-deco spaceship. Clever concepts abound including the horrors of immortality (a recurring theme that year) and some interesting consequences of a traumatic event, but it's a bit po-faced and stagey and unfortunately features some quite scary (not in a good way) design work which rather detracts from it. It's diverting enough, though, and the Brigadier's always worth a watch, it's just not as good as it likes to think it is. There's a jolly commentary track with Peter Davison, Script Editor Eric Saward, Mark Strickson and Nicholas Courtney including some critical comments on old-fashioned television production methods and whether modern editing techniques might improve it, a first appearance for the "Car Battery and the Hot Bulb" and "Red hair dye - Children would run away in supermarkets" story whilst Nicholas Courtney frets about his bald spot. Extras include a short "Making of" which repeats much of what's in the commentaries and a rather lame "dramatised documentary" style interview piece with the Brigadier in character, alongside the usual extensive mix of picture galleries, text commentary, PDFs etc.
TERMINUS had a troubled shoot and it shows, although whenever it switches to film it looks a lot better. This story got into some bother over its depiction of a Leprosy-like illness, and is mostly remembered as being the final story of Sarah Sutton as Nyssa and the one in which she strips down to her underwear. This is a tale of spandex-clad Space Pirates (including Liza Goddard!), disease and decay set at the centre of the universe, with ultimately the whole of existence in the balance, but it all falls a little flat. Tegan (Janet Fielding) and Turlough spend an lot of time hiding in tunnels, mostly to prevent Turlough from his murderous aspirations, but maybe constantly having Tegan's bottom in front of his face was distracting enough that he forgot about that for a while. Commentary this time includes Peter "Old-fashioned production techniques..." Davison and Mark "Car Battery/Red Hair" Strickson alongside writer Stephen Gallagher and Sarah Sutton. The usual extras are included but the package seems rather meagre this time around with a relatively short "Making of" a highlight and a rather superfluous "Origins of the Universe" thing with Patrick Moore.
ENLIGHTENMENT is by far the best story of the three. Immediately it looks better lit, the sets are convincing and the relationship between the lead actors has improved. Keith Barron, Lynda Baron, Tony Caunter and a very creepy Christopher Brown alongside a strange guest appearance from "pop artiste" Leee John - appear in a swashbuckling tale about sailing ships to the stars, the horrors eternal life might bring (existentialism was big in 1983) and the parasitic Eternals who use human beings - who are of no importance to them - as mere diversions. In that respect, the Eternals are one of the most horrific concepts ever created for the series. The whole Guardian saga gets a fairly satisfactory conclusion with a final confrontation between them both - Cyril Luckham reappears as the White Guardian which at least adds a certain satisfying continuity. This time Peter "Of its time" Davison and Mark "Car Battery" Strickson are joined on commentary by Scriptwriter Barbara Clegg and Director Fiona Cumming (the only all-female Writer and Director combination in the original series) who are quite thoughtful and informative. The extras include a nice "Making of" piece and a bit of fluff about the Guardians turns out to be a little biographical piece about the actors. There's a 5 minute overview of Barbara Clegg's career and an interesting enough 10 minute piece on what it's actually like acting in the show featuring some of the actors from these episodes. The dual angle storyboard thing is rather "take-it-or-leave-it", but it's okay.
With the ENLIGHTENMENT SPECIAL EDITION, Peter Davison finally (sort of) gets his wish as the original Director has re-edited the original to give us all a spangly new version with all new effects and soundtrack, which gives a leaner, fresher take on the material. This is included as an extra disc alongside the original version and includes its own set of extras including a couple of (rather worthy) short career retrospectives of Sarah Sutton & Mark Strickson, & a quite bizarre panto clip from the Russell Harty Christmas Show and a couple of pieces about the restoration itself which might fascinate or might not.
It's probably the extensive and impressive extras packages across all 4 discs which do, eventually, make this an essential purchase for the avid fan or collector.
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