Probic Vent Ood For Thought

7Jan/153

The 50 Best Doctor Who Stories – 10: Enlightenment

"Their minds are empty, used up. They need ideas from us. They're desperate for them."

striker keith barron enlightenment

Doctor Who becomes increasingly adrift in the 80s under Eric Saward; confused as to its identity, schizophrenic in tone. A publicity-chasing producer, a clear lack of strong scripts, engaged directors, appropriate cast - they all conspire to make the show tonally erratic. Over the course of the Fifth Doctor's era Doctor Who takes in slow-burn psychological horror such as Kinda and Snakedance; macho shoot-em-ups such as Earthshock, Resurrection of the Daleks, Warriors of the Deep and Caves of Androzani; quasi historicals such as Black Orchid, The Visitation and The Awakening, and 'hard' sci-fi such as Frontios and Terminus. Although the lack of a touchstone to return to arguably leaves the series rootless, it's nothing if not eclectic.

There's another sub-genre the show returns to from time-to-time, however. There are occasional sidesteps into the esoteric, such as Christopher Bailey's two Mara tales and Christopher H Bidmead's own Castrovalva. And although it shares some similar notes with these stories and can be roughly lumped in with them, there's another story that's unique in the era: frankly it's unique in Doctor Who's 50-year run. It is Enlightenment.

turlough and black guardian

That title alone tells us a lot. In a 50-year history of Horrors and Terrors, not to mention 'Of Deaths' there are very few enigmatic story titles, those that are tend to be fictional names or places, but Enlightenment? It's heavy with suggestion but vague too - it's no real surprise in a way that it ranks so lowly, it's too hard to pigeonhole. Barbara Clegg's sole contribution to the series is very much under the radar, ranking a lowly 75 in Doctor Who Magazine's latest fan survey. You never hear Moffat or RTD discussing Enlightenment in glowing tones, it's never mentioned as someone's favourite story, nor has it ever really been referenced again in the series or (to my knowledge) in spin-off media. It floats around in the Doctor Who canon set slightly apart from everything else.

Enlightenment centres around a novel but slight concept - a race among the stars in ancient sailing vessels. But amid that idea it's story of dualities: black and white; light and dark; Doctor and Turlough; Eternals and Ephemerals; Wrack and Striker; Tegan and Marriner. The story, such as it is, exists largely as a framework on which to hang these concepts and relationships for four episodes until, rather abruptly it all ends. There is very little plot and The Doctor essentially triumphs by being The Doctor - winning over Turlough, who he seems to understand has been tasked with killing him, by doing exactly what he would have been doing in the first place. While it's beautifully written in places, what carries Enlightenment to the heights it reaches is very much in the concept and its realisation: beautiful production values, Fiona Cumming's eye for character, a sensual score by Malcolm Clarke and fine cast.

Keith Barron, largely spotted on television around this time in terrible sitcoms, despite his fine pedigree, is a revelation as the Eternal Captain of one of the race favourites, the Shadow. Having recently seen cuddly Peter Sallis as the unpleasant Bontine in The Pallisers, that also strikes me as a fine piece of casting, however Barron's Striker is the most magnetic presence on the screen in Enlightenment. It's a performance of the calibre and commitment rarely seen in Doctor Who at this time - literally an unblinking and unfliching portrayal of stillness; of a celestial creature taking human form and never quite figuring out how to make it work. Like an Auton facsimile, Striker may resemble a human but he's clearly nothing of the sort.

do not ask i will not tell you

The Doctor initially jousts with Striker as a potential antagonist before becoming openly adversarial and then simply giving up, unable to fathom him. For Striker, even a incredible being such as the Doctor is simply another ephemeral, another pawn in the game to provide a modicum of entertainment. The Doctor simply has nothing to go on and, denied an enemy to play against, is essentially neutered. This reaches amusing proportions when Striker cuts the Doctor off even as he opens his mouth to question the desires that Enlightenment will fulfil.

"Do not ask me what it is," orders Striker, turning away. "I will not tell you."

The Doctor closes his mouth and look away, exasperated. None of the Eternals show any self-awareness when discussing their true feelings; they're all id, as embarrassed at discussing their emotions with Ephemerals as toddlers voicing to whatever occurs to them. Yet Striker clearly does not want to reveal what urges him on to win the race – what could it possibly be to this creature of limitless existence? The indulgence of the senses and emotions, like Marriner? Or the ultimate extensions of it – true life, or true death? That we cannot ever know makes the Eternals all the more intriguing. There can never be any exposition at the end of the story - even the Doctor, essentially even the author, is baffled by the Eternals.

striker and marriner

Marriner is equally well drawn, played with a kind of blank ingenuousness by Christopher Brown. His desire to be near Tegan – to savour her emotions and experience them vicariously as he attempts to understand and gain existence – is one of the most unsettling storylines in Doctor Who's history. Exactly what is the endpoint of this unusual courtship – and how to view Marriner's clear relish at his violation of Tegan's mind? The Eternal finds her finite existence darkly fascinating in ways that aren't quite explained, but certainly alluded to. "They need ideas from us; they're desperate for them."

Tegan is clearly disturbed by the implications, but with the Doctor almost powerless to protect her falls into an uneasy codependency with Marriner – perhaps the only other being in the story who truly has her safety at heart, regardless of the motives why. Janet Fielding is superb in showing what's really underneath Tegan's brittle exterior. It's no coincidence that this is the first story for a long time – excepting Christopher Bailey's scripts – that treats the companions as functioning human beings, rather than catalysts for events. It's perhaps not surprising that both writer and director are women; Enlightenment is far more interested in character, emotions and agency than most stories of the era. The fact that the Eternal crew of the Shadow are united in their unblinking performances - rarely deigning to face whomever they are addressing - cannot be a coincidence; it's a good sign that writer and director have put some serious thought into their work.

marriner and tegan

Both Tegan and Turlough are thoroughly disturbed by what they experience on board the Shadow and both voice their desire to leave, despite a lack of obvious and imminent danger. Turlough is so terrified at the prospect of remaining on board that the Black Guardian threatens to strand him on the ship, rather than simply kill him. The schoolboy is even discomfited by the crew's roughnecking in the fo'c'sle, despite the lack of any threat from them - he's simply socially uncomfortable, which is thrown into sharp relief when he shows genuine amusement at the Doctor's expense as the crew mistake the Time Lord for the ship's cook.

What's so good about this is that both companions are afforded their own agency. They have believable drives, fears and instincts beyond simply adventuring in time and space; the narrative imperative of the show and, for many companions, seemingly the only motivation required. In those scenes where we see the companions acting naturally – showing concern for one another, discussing their mutual discomfort and reacting with revulsion at the behaviour of the Eternals – and actively wanting to leave, we can believe in them as real people. This is, frankly, extremely rare in Doctor Who.

teagan and turlough

It's become common for people to state that Wrack – played voluptuously by Lynda Baron - is the best thing in Enlightenment. In fact, Baron constitutes a rather jarring change to proceedings. From a sensuous psychological meditation, Enlightenment is pulled rather violently back into a world where Beryl Reed is a starship captain and The Master sends Concorde back to the Cretaceous simply because John Nathan-Turner thinks a photo of Peter Davison in front of a supersonic jet will guarantee a photo on page 18 of the Daily Mirror.

However, the scenes on board the piratical Buccaneer are interesting for the ongoing fascination the Eternals have for Tegan, now significantly clad in a revealing and ornate gown, to her obvious pleasure: Wrack's ploy to remove Tegan to a secluded room to 'show her something', having already plied her with booze, is barely suggestive – it's pretty much an overt date rape. It's interesting that Turlough manages to just about hold his own, though the Eternals quickly tire of him too, another momentary distraction.

From the banquet scene - which includes one of the finest pieces of incidental music in Doctor Who - things move quickly towards a rather slight resolution and the swift, if appropriately lyrical, conclusion of the Guardians Trilogy. Increasingly I find these three stories fascinating and their appeal grows every time I watch them. Turlough is, perhaps, the last interesting companion of the classic series, while Fielding and Strickson are among the best actors to play companions in the series' run.

In all three stories, albeit to different degrees, we can see the Doctor effectively emasculated as a narrative force and a character. It's not that he's ineffectual as such, but much less the prime mover in events: in Enlightenment his net contribution is to save The Shadow from Wrack's smuggled-aboard explosive, yet it's only endangered because he and his companions make the journey to the Buccaneer in the first place. All of which makes the Fifth Doctor the more intriguing and perhaps more winning. He is the first time the Doctor has really been a relatable character; above all a reasonable, charming and vaguely blank man.

fifth doctor concerned

But it's more than that. When he meets his other selves he seems embarrassed by them. He shows little overt sense of adventure - when he arrives amid a chain of events set in motion, his first instinct is frequently to leave. He is, fundamentally, a reluctant Doctor often finding himself in adventures because of others - the Master, Black Guardian, Time Lords or Daleks. In Enlightenment the Doctor defeats the Black Guardian by winning over Turlough; by essentially being nice.

The Fifth Doctor is the ultimate straight bat - in his own way he's as nonplussed as the Eternals: disinterested, uninterested, diffident. All Doctors display a certain swagger, self-assuredness, self-possession, but with the Fifth Doctor it is simply not there. Whereas his predecessors and successors openly revel in being The Doctor - "it's like a promise you make" - that never rings true of the Fifth. Perhaps he never really wanted to the Doctor at all. It's instructive that most of Peter Davison's roles beyond Doctor Who have him as rather hapless, pathetic and emasculated - to cast him as The Doctor was, perhaps, John Nathan-Turner's one stroke of genius.

peter davison

Enlightenment throws the Fifth Doctor into sharp relief. Halfway through the story he essentially gives up and he often seems curiously indifferent to what's going on around him. He allows Tegan to be spirited away by Wrack, whom he knows to be dangerous, he listens without a flicker of interest to Marriner's desire for her and barely acknowledges Turlough's terror, having saved him from being sucked into space. Any plans he has are derailed by the Eternals and the resolution to the race - indeed the whole trilogy - appears to be down to luck more than judgement.

In Marriner's sinister pursuit of Tegan, Turlough's desperation to escape his deal with the devil, Striker's dubious desires and the sybaritic pleasure of Eternals feasting on the emotions of humans, Enlightenment has perhaps the most adult of the series' concepts. And yet, against these darkly febrile subtexts and subplots, The Doctor seems largely impassive, unaffected. It's another rejection of a lot of assumptions about the show and its lead: there's a note of mystery about the character again - perhaps even a suggestion of a Doctor who has tired of the role the universe has fashioned for him - and comparing the Time Lord to the humans on both ships, and then to the Eternals, is irresistible and vaguely troubling.

Enlightenment is an aberration is the Fifth Doctor's era – in Doctor Who as a whole. Never before and never again is the programme as ethereal, in touch with emotions, nor as deliberately enigmatic. With it, the Fifth Doctor's era shakes off its empty machismo and becomes something surreal and sensual.

27Dec/140

The 50 Best Doctor Who Stories: 49 – Logopolis

"A chain of circumstances that fragments the law that holds the universe together."

tom and adric logopolis

The Twelfth Doctor, we're told, is moody, rude, aggressive, offhand - cruel even. Think so? Consider Logopolis. The Fourth Doctor is moping around, getting obsessed with things that aren't obviously important. He's like a Dad in a loft, shed or cellar in search of something to do; fighting middle-age with all the enthusiasm of a sloth. He shouts at his companions, he makes a joke to Tegan about her dead Aunt and then consoles here with an absent-minded pat on the back. The Season 18 Doctor might just be a genuine madman in a box; he's dangerous but there's no sense of fun or the faux-childish sulking his other incarnations indulge in. He broods and glums around the place, his only humour is cruel. Put simply, Peter Capaldi has nothing on Series 18 Tom Baker.

Of course, by this point the end of Tom and start of the Doctor is increasingly blurred. And Tom is no longer infectious, fun – a mad, impossible uncle with a smile on his face, sweets in his pocket, secrets. He's the scary relative who smells of stale fags, glowers in sullen silence and might suddenly bark at you to shut up if you bother him.

And just as The Doctor perceives the end approaching, so does Tom. We know that many Doctors found the end of their tenure wounding – Tom's dismay is there on screen for all to see. It's the most remarkable coming together of art and real life: both of our heroes sadly playing out their last moves and contemplating the end of life as they've known it.

Tom Baker Logopolis

Tom looks ancient in Logopolis, illness and years of hard living finally catching up with him. His cheeks are sunken, he stoops and his hair has lost it curl: it's Samsonian, the most incredible metaphor for a man whose incredible powers seem to have deserted him. He is shrouded, wreathed, swaddled in that enormous burgundy coat that speaks not of a buccaneer, eccentric or bohemian but an elderly wizard. It serves to accentuate how thin he is, rather than adding to his imposing stature. He's like Casanova living out the last of his years in a freezing, lonely exile in Bohemia – banished from Venice and salad days. When Tom takes over from Pertwee he's a young man; by the end he's lying underneath the Pharos telescope he looks tired, defeated.

Tom, The Doctor, has seemed out of sorts all season, shedding the two companions that continued to root the show in silliness and whimsy and gaining an annoying manchild, who he appears to detest. Gone are the welcoming honks and flourishes of Dudley Simpson; instead the cold, metallic bleeps and stings of the Radiophonic Workshop. In Logopolis the incidental music feels funereal, downbeat – speaking only of doom. It's overcast all the time, as if even the elements are coming out in sympathy; most of the outdoor scenes are clearly lit artificially as the crew are losing the light. More metaphors; more context. Whatever John Nathan-Turner's faults, he ensures everything is pointing in the same direction in Season 18: the season of entropy, decay and death.

the watcher logopolis

There's something else though. The Fourth Doctor is withdrawn, sullen and paranoid – suddenly detouring into odd flights of fancy. He wants to measure the TARDIS all of a sudden, something that has never bothered him before. And to do this he has to stop off at the Watford Gap and measure an actual police box? What? For all of Bidmead's high concepts and supposed grounding in science, much of Logopolis is simply gibberish.

His plan to 'flush out' The Master by materialising the TARDIS underwater is the worst plan since wheeling the big wooden horse into Troy and going for an early night. Let's just parse what would happen, had the Doctor's plan of landing at the bottom of the Thames and opening the doors not been foiled by landing on a barge: the force of the water would immediately have crushed he and Adric to death.

If they survived the torrent of millions of gallons of water then they would undoubtedly have drowned or died from hypothermia. This also assumes that the Master couldn't simply have closed a bulkhead or got into his own TARDIS. It also assumes that opening a trans-dimensional craft underwater wouldn't have simply drained the Thames.

It suggests nothing less than the Doctor actually losing his mind in Logopolis; driven to his wits' end by foreknowledge of his impending death. He sees - and recognises - The Watcher early on and carries the knowledge that death is literally stalking him throughout the rest of the story. Not only that, it's suggested that the Watcher tells the Doctor to go to Logopolis, knowing he has the Master aboard the TARDIS. Does the Doctor simply accept that this is how it is? The Doctor's fall from the Pharos project telescope very much begs the question as whether the Doctor falls or chooses to let go. Does the Fourth Doctor choose to die?

The Watcher is a curio. As a youngster I was scared beyond all reckoning by mysterious, silent and notionally evil beings in everyday situations. The Tall Thin Man from The Boy In Space and The Watcher haunted my dreams as a child - in Logopolis we're given every reason to believe he's either The Master. In many ways he's more frightening - death in physical form. Where the Tenth Doctor moans about another man with a different face walking away afterwards, the Fourth has to spend Logopolis coming face-to-face with that man; the man who will take away everything that he has become, erase him, replace him.

While The Doctor is coming to the end of his life, The Master is reborn. Logopolis is our first meaningful introduction to The Master, inhabiting his new body. And while Anthony Ainley is dressed to resemble Roger Delgado, this is a very different sort of Master.

Whereas the Timelord we know from the Pertwee era gives the impression that he enjoys mischief, or besting the Doctor, the Ainley incarnation revels in evil. His gentle laugh, ringing throughout the Cloister Room, is a thing of wonder and his make-up hints that there's something physically wrong with him. "You look so cold," says Nyssa, mistaking him for her father and noting his alabaster skin.

the master ainley

Already there's a sense that there's something unstable - both physically and mentally - about this new Master. And that makes him all the more disturbing. It's not long before the Doctor realises that, far from the gentleman criminal or co-dependent emo he will be another incarnations, this Master is completely insane - and he's genuinely horrified; his sometime friend and nemesis has actually lost his mind.

Not to be reasoned with or indulged; no deals to be done - it doesn't matter that this incarnation is just as inept, he'll pursue his unhinged plans regardless. In Logopolis - and for much of the next ten years - the Master is a genuine psychopath that is actually intent on killing the Doctor, rather than defeating him intellectually. If the Doctor is depressed in Logopolis, the Master is maniacal - as if both are experiencing the outliers of a clinical depression.

In Logopolis the Master attempts to hold the universe to ransom by threatening it with total destruction and allows a few galaxies to collapse just to get the universe's attention. The end of the universe; the saving of the universe - you have to hand it to Bidmead. His vision of a Doctor Who where mathematician monks hold the universe together by incanting code is as high-concept as television science-fiction gets and actually a rather beautiful notion. As entropy increases in the universe - a closed system - the Logopolitans open up conduits to other universes. And in the meantime they chant; a life-support system for the universe. It's extraordinary, elegiac metaphysical nonsense.

logopolitans tiny tardis

The problem is, it's not especially interesting beyond the concept - and Logopolis struggles to show us why we should care, offering up only a tantalising shot of a city that looks like a brain, and some matte shots of many Logopolitans at their workstations, providing Tegan with her only notable line of the entire story.

Where Bidmead get it so very right, however, is in the demonstration of recursion, as the Doctor and Adric enter one TARDIS after another - Grimwade showing darker, more threatening iteration of the capsule after another with some wonderful lighting and shooting angles. Suddenly the TARDIS is alien and frightening - a great way of undermining something familiar and turning it against our heroes.

It's this section that caught my imagination as a youngster and, unlike Block Transfer Computation it does not disappoint on screen - we may not even understand why but we can tell that something has gone very wrong. What's more, the miniaturisation of the TARDIS due to some faulty code nicely prefaces the Master's plan - all it would take is a humble assistant to wipe a few star systems out of the sky.

Despite Season 18's reputation, Logopolis is not totally without humour: The sideways glance between Adric and The Doctor as Tegan dashes into the console room and some of the banter between the Timelord and his Alzarian companion, not to mention his rejoinder to the air hostess' query as to whether he's met Auntie Vanessa: "Well, a little of her...".

In retrospect we can look at Logopolis - and much of Season 18 - and view it simply as very odd, inept in various ways and depressingly po-faced. We can mourn for the fun and gentle whimsy - or the grand guignol horror - of past seasons; Tom in his heyday. But in the context of 1981, Logopolis must have been fairly extraordinary. The tonal shift, some of the directorial flourishes of Peter Grimwade, muted acting and haunting electronic music make it an incredibly different proposition to what had gone a mere eight months before - simply compare it to City of Death, barely a year earlier. Come to that, has there ever been anything like it on television since, especially at 5.30pm on a Saturday night?

janet fielding tegan logopolis

It also makes no sense whatsoever, however, as if the Logopolitans' incantations are holding the story together by a thread. I've probably watched Tom's swansong 20 times and I couldn't explain why there's a perfect recreation of the Pharos Project on Logopolis, why the Doctor needs to measure a police box, how CVEs work - or why it's so important for Tegan to get to Heathrow.

Ah, Tegan. Barely a word that comes out of the Aussie air hostess' lips is not directly connected to air travel. When she arrives on the TARDIS she is scarcely surprised and tried to broadcast a message to the pilot, somehow rationalising that she's on a flipping aeroplane. Janet Fielding is pretty heroic spouting some of the worst dialogue you'll hear in Doctor Who, but Tegan is a wholly unlovable and pointless character, created solely to wheedle co-production cash out of Aussie networks.

Nyssa, meanwhile, is a companion created - wholly illogically - to smooth the transition from one Doctor to the next. On that basis we might as well have had Consul Katura. There is virtually nothing to say about Nyssa, other than to ponder whether Sarah Sutton is the worst actor to grace the series. The effect on Tom seems deleterious and the promo shot of his standing with Sutton and Fielding, both wearing huge smiles while he looks bewildered and disheveled, a man out of time, is sad to see.

tom and companions

At the end of it we've got a chaotic jumble of recurring characters, the end of the universe, an iconic villain in a new body; a big swerve as the identity of a mysterious character; a bypass on an A-road, sums, the Thames; a shrunken Doctor, an old Doctor, a new Doctor. It's an incoherent season - and incarnation's - finale that's baffling and illogical: in lots of ways, Logopolis has a huge amount in common with the end-of-season spectaculars of later years.

The strong after-image, though, is of Tom Baker and the Fourth Doctor. Arguably the series never quite recovered from the defenestration of its most successful leading man - and it seemed to finish Tom as an actor, remaining perpetually mournful, downbeat and solemn in virtually any television role over the next 20 years. Both parties were diminished in the aftermath but Doctor Who went on to Longleat, the Death Zone, Radio Times front pages and plenty of column inches.

logopolis its the end

Following Logopolis Tom withdrew from the series, and seemingly from public life, eschewing the opportunity of reprising the role for almost 30 years, barring a 60-second interlude for charitable purposes. He dispensed, forever, with the hair that was his trademark; the look that ensured he was beloved of children and parents, gone with the role that opened doors both professionally and personally. Logopolis is the end of all of it for him - and he looks shattered by the experience.

Again, the similarity between the situation both man and character find themselves in is impossible to ignore. Perhaps more than any other incarnation – or any other actor – this is a Doctor that truly didn't want to go.

   

Hush child stop addlepating me!

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