Sunday, July 27, 2014

Enlightenment - "Yes, you're a stowaway and I shall put you in irons."

Enlightenment (Doctor Who) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Season 20, Story 5 (Overall Series Story #128) | Previous - Next | Index

Image via Love and Liberty
In which Tegan charms an Eternal, Five finds a fresh celery, Turlough can't bear to live another minute, and the White Guardian has buyer's remorse about his co-sponsorship of a yacht race for Enlightenment, the Magical Dingus ...

As settings for stories go, the yacht race on the solar winds is one of the better ones we've seen. There are limits to what they can do on a budget, but it's also as well-executed, or better, than could be expected for this era of the show. Turlough and the Doctor attempting to blend in with the crew of the Edwardian-era yacht to which they've been led by the White Guardian is fun to watch. The characters of the crewmembers are fleshed out to be more than just 'the dumb ones and the smart one', so feel like the TARDIS crew have been drawn into story that had depth before they got there. The crew are not entirely sold on their officers, and the officers on this ship are involved in a struggle a bit more complicated than just a simple race with the other ships. The teams of Eternals and their Ephemerals are a colorful lot, particularly the panto-style pirates under the leadership of Captain Wrack and her First Mate, Mansell.

Capt. Wrack, Mansell, and Five.
Image via The TARDIS Tavern
All these wonderful elements, yet the whole ends up a little less than the sum of the parts. The problem is the internal logic of the story wasn't given enough thought. Why is the White Guardian a party to holding this race if he doesn't think it's a good idea in the first place? We can invent reasons to give him credible motives for doing so, like it's a complicated plot to defeat the Black Guardian because he had it in mind the whole time to bring in the Doctor knowing if he were to win, he'd do the right thing -- but we shouldn't have to do the writers' work for them.

What is the prize anyways? "It was the choice," doesn't make sense once you take a moment to think about it. If the prize was too dangerous, then it was awarded ... and not only to the Doctor, but to Turlough. Since neither apparently gained some great Enlightenment, then it really wasn't the choice, it was the Enlightenment Dingus, after all. And if that was so, we're back to wondering why the White Guardian ever had a part in this thing to begin with. And, what exactly -- well, besides the obvious* -- was so special about Tegan that Marriner was so stalkerishly enamored with her?

Image via Not Tonight Dalek
In the end, it's not those bits of incoherence that are the greatest demerit against this story, it's the side it takes in the class struggle. But wait, you might say, you're a notorious Lefty and the Doctor has helped the Ephemerals (the laborers) who were being exploited as playthings of the Eternals (the bourgeois aristocrats). Yes, he took the side of the Ephemerals here (and is one himself) ... but he buys into the universal order where the message was really: "You workers don't want the empty, sad existence of the aristos, it's sooooo boring. You have all the really good ideas, create art, and live meaningful lives. We'll nobly endure the burden of privilege for your own good. Off you go now." It's the underlying assumption that there's a natural division between the privileged and the lower classes, it's better if the two worlds don't mix, and nobody moves between them.

A universe that exists as a plaything of Eternals is a deeply distasteful universe. It's what really holds this story back for me. Happily, we haven't seen them since ...

* On the DVD extras, there's an anecdote Peter Davison and Janet Fielding share about her dress that is similar enough to other anecdotes we've heard about Ms. Fielding's issues with her tube top get up it makes you wonder if she when she finally left the show it wasn't to do with fatigue over trying to keep her girls popping out all over the place.

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