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16 September 2014

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 624: Enlightenment, Episode One

Dear diary,

I love it when I get to say this: there’s something so brilliantly and unashamedly Doctor Who about today’s cliffhanger. In hindsight, it seems like such a simple and obvious idea - good old fashioned sailing ships, but sailing through space - but it fits absolutely perfectly into the world of Doctor Who. It’s rather wonderfully executed, too, with the story shifting from ‘strange place’, to ‘sailing ship’, to ‘something not quite right’, and then the big reveal at the end, as we get to look out over the view. I think my only complaint would be how oddly handled that final shot is - I can see what it is because I know what the surprise is (and the Doctor’s just told us that they’re spaceships), but it’s such a brief shot that it’s almost hard to process. I’m assuming that’s the whole point. Reveal the true nature of the ships, and then get out just while the imagination is fired.

Despite all the mystery in this episode, something simply hasn’t grabbed me yet. I think it’s because I know we’re flying through space with Eternals at the helm, so I’m just waiting for those elements of the story to kick in. It’s a pity, because I can imagine this episode being rather intriguing when seen without any prior knowledge. Did any of you at the time guess the reveal ahead of the cliffhanger, or was it a shock to you?

And then we’ve got the return of the White Guardian to the series. The first note I made today was that the TARDIS looked a bit ‘Ribos Operation’, completely forgetting that the Guardian put in an appearance at the very start of the story. The back-lit roundels with the main lights turned down really does look lovely, and I wish they’d light the set a bit more like this all the time. Perhaps not quite to the extreme that we see here, but still. I think my problem with the Guardian in this instance is that he’s sort of been undermined since his last appearance. When we meet him at the start of The Ribos Operation, he’s able to stop the TARDIS in its tracks, open the doors, and summon the Doctor. That he forces the Fourth Doctor - during one of the most arrogant stages of his life - into awe and obedience simply reinforced his position of power, and his threat to the Doctor that should he not take the quest then simply ‘nothing’ will happen to him was really rather wonderful.

Here, he’s reduced to a less imposing old man (the guardian was old in his first appearance, but he carried it with a sense of flair), who’s struggling to break through to give the Doctor a warning. The way that he repeats a few choice words from his message (and not the important ones, necessarily), has the effect of making him simply look a bit… doddery. I’m hoping that there’s a reason given for this before the story is out (in my head I’m sure there is, but it may be something I’ve artificially projected onto the tale after the fact on a previous viewing), because it seems a shame to take a character who is essentially God in this universe and make him so much less impressive.

What I am enjoying here, though, is the companion dynamic. I’ve always thought of Tegan and Turlough as one of the pairings I really like about the programme, even if I can’t remember a great deal about their stories. I’m sure it’ll get watered down as the episodes roll by, but I love here that the Doctor doesn’t trust the boy… and he makes it extremely obvious to him. There’s something about the way he tells Tegan that he needs someone he can trust in the TARDIS which I can only imagine Davison’s Doctor doing out of all the ones we’ve had to this point. He plays it calm and quiet, and it’s almost scary as a result. That he alternates between treating Turlough as a friend and with suspicion is fun, and I’m hoping that it’s a theme we continue to play on through this story.

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