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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Funny Collection of Stories, 27 Feb. 2014
This review is from: Doctor Who - The Black Guardian Trilogy: Mawdryn Undead / Terminus / Enlightenment [DVD] (DVD)
1983's Black Guardian Trilogy is an odd batch of serials. Some work better than others. Namely Mawdryn Undead and Enlightenment. I don't think it needs stating that this trilogy features as its main villain The Black Guardian, who returns here after his 2 minute spotlight appearance at the end of 1978's Key to Time season. I find it strange that this 12 episode mammoth was given over to one foe that I bet 90% of the viewing audience knew nothing about. Now, a trilogy of Dalek, Cybermen or Master serials might have been more akin to the celebratory seasons trappings, but, I fear that would have been pushing the boat a wee bit too far.

Anywho, we got the Black Guardian, who, whilst not the greatest, is played with great aplomb by stalwart actor Valentine Dyall. This is an old-school actor who has been given 12 ham scripts and told to have a good old go at it. Which he does, with charm. Had he played the Black Guardian totally straight, I think we all would have grown tired of the character by the 2nd episode. So, with a trilogy of stories to play about with, what did the team at BBC TV centre decide to lavish us with;

Mawdryn Undead

The trilogy begins in style with Peter Grimwade's timey-wimey tale of Mawdryn and his undead crew seeking death at the hands of our Time Lord. Obviously, the main thrust of this tale is the return of the Brigadier, who, as played by the truly superb Nic Courtney, is given the lions share of this tale. Thankfully. Its one thing to bring back an established icon like Nic, but really, respect must be given to Grimwade for incorporating the character so well into his story. The Brig doesn't just pop-up and wave and then disappear, no, he is the plot. I love the fact that the Brig is given such emphasis here, as it makes him so much more important as a real person instead of just some old relic from the 70's.

Peter Davison is quite obviously loving the nostalgic feel of this tale as well as looking to the bright future, although season 20 is poor, and it is, and Peter agrees, this tale is pretty solid and ranks as one of his best. Season 21 saw a dramatic shift in quality, but unfortunatly, Peter had decided to hang up the Cricket bat after such atrocities as Arc of Infinity, Terminus and King's Demons. Still, here, he is given plenty of good material to work with an excels as the Doctor. I have always loved Davison's more Human Doctor, blasphemy I know, but after 7 years of an alien Tom, I needed a break!!!

The companions are used well here, Tegan is useful to the plot and doesn't whinge much, which is good. Nyssa enjoys some nice touches, especially with Tegan and the Brig. But the real star here is of course the man {boy} this tale was written to introduce, Mark Strickson's Turlough, by far my favourite 80's male companion, limited choice aside. Here, Turlough is introduced as a most promising talent, and although as ever his talents will be wasted by lesser writers later on, here, Grimwade makes the boy shine. With such a great actor as Valentine to play off of, Mark is on fine form. Never before have we had such a villainous companion on the show, and I applaud producer JNT for the bold decision to throw a new dynamic into the TARDIS. Turlough certainly is watchable, which becomes a God send in the next tale, "Terminus", and finally reaches its satisfying pay-off in the final chapter of the trilogy, "Enlightenment".

Other aspects of this tale are wonderful also, David Collings is fantastic as Mawdryn, the immortal being longing for death, the location shoot is very English and Peter Moffatt's direction perfectly adequate. Set design is good and overall the production sparkles. The incidental music is also fresh and vibrant, and a wee bit dark. Overall, fair play to Grimwade for writing a script that contains oh so many elements that could have caused it to slide down the bottom of fan rankings, but, sits proudly high amongst.

Terminus

Oh, Terminus. What went wrong. Well, not to put too fine a point on it, alot. Few Doctor Who stories depress me like this, in fact, only Love and Monsters comes close. This is really a poor effort from all involved. If only this tale had been scheduled to be made at the end of the recording block, we would have lost this in the strikes and got Eric Saward's The Return instead. Unhappily, that did not occur and so we are stuck with what must stand as 4 episodes of Doctor Who that the junking process should have been reinstated for. Don't blame Steve Gallagher, his script is not too bad, although the idea of The Big Bang being created from one of Terminus's unstable engines does not sit well with me, the rest of the tale stood a chance at being interesting. Unitl, that is, it was given over the the production team. The burden of who is to blame for this tale is hard to determine, could it be script editor Eric Saward? director Mary Ridge or good old producer JNT? Well, having collated all the evidence, I think its fair to say all three. Any one of them could have stepped in and said, what the hell are we doing to this guys script?

Unfortunatly for us and the 7 or so million who tuned in back in '83, they decided to keep shtum and carry on. And so we are left with Terminus. Interminable Terminus. I'm not even going to whittle down what works and doesn't in this tale. Well alright, I suppose Nyssa's departure scene was well done, but that's about it. Take it from me, avoid like the proverbial plague.

Enlightenment

Things thankfully get back on track here. Enlightenment is quite a charming tale, not to heavy to follow I grant you but coming as it does after Terminus, one should be grateful that the BBC is still airing Doctor Who! Tegan's tale, this be. Although Mark Strickson's Turlough is still the centre of attention, Tegan benefits for the first time this year since "Snakedance" from actually being part of the show. Her interactions with Marriner are superb, the two actors really convincing in the scenes they share. In fact, the whole production features some impressive performances. Davison as ever shines as the Doctor, Keith Barron is superb as Striker and although most disagree, I love Lynda Baron as Wrack. Leee John let's the acting side down a bit, but, since this is his first TV, we ought to forgive him, if only a little. Production wise, although this is another tale beset by stikes and the like, it is brilliantly made and very convincing. The model shots of the ships in space were, for the time, remarkable, especially on Who. Inside, the sets do nothing but fail to convince and the lighting is perfect. Costumes are great also, Janet Fielding actually looks passable here, which says alot due to that boob tube she's been forced to wear for the last 3 stories. Enlightenment comes highly recommended.

The whole Black Guardian trilogy is brought to a satisfying close in Enlightenment. Turlough has been tortured by the Black Guardian for 12 episodes now and so, to cease the prospect of it becoming stale, Turlough resolves the situation by ridding himself of the Black Guardian and his evil intentions. It's quite well handled and Mark Strickson impresses with his conviction. Davison stands smugly observing Turlough's immenent choice but I have always idly wondered what the Doctor's face would have looked like had Turlough said yes to the Black Guardian, now that would have been interesting!!!

The BBC DVD Release of this trilogy is very impressive. It features all 12 episodes beautifully restored and remastered and complete with their own 25 minute making-of doco's. Lots of other tit-bits are thrown in for good measure so that any fan's tastes and requirements of this box set are met. "Enlightenment" features a special edition. Now, it's been universally panned by the fans and with good reason I feel, it's totally unnecessary. The original looks great and doesn't drag, so to cut 25 minutes out and replace all the stunningly shot models with 90's cheapo-looking CGI defeats the point of the tale. Remember this when you come to make your choice - Enlightenment was the choice! - {The Original Choice} ;}

Many thanks for your time.

M.B.
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Initial post: 12 Jul 2014 22:47:52 BDT
Last edited by the author on 12 Jul 2014 22:48:02 BDT
Superb informative review my friend, excellent review.
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