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08 November 2015 @ 09:23 pm
The Randomiser: Enlightenment  
Somewhat to our surprise the DVD for Enlightenment came with a 75 minute "special" version with updated special effects. After a little debate we opted to watch this version, because why not?

Enlightenment is an odd story. It should be one of Doctor Who's strange jaunts into the surreal. It is, after all, the tale of eternal creatures who live outside time itself, having a race around the solar system in space ships that are made up to appear as Earth sailing ships from miscellaneous points in history. The Doctor, Tegan and Turlough find themselves aboard the Edwardian vessel where the first mate Marriner takes an unsettling interest in Tegan. Meanwhile the Black Guardian continues to manipulate matters behind the scenes. Yet somehow, in spite of all the visual strangeness, the juxtapositions of space suits and climbing the rigging, Enlightenment feels much more like business as normal than one would expect. That may be the passage of time and the onset of familiarity of course. I vaguely recall being a little non-plussed by it at the time, but I think the acting helps. We are not encouraged to view this as a whimsical piece, but as something which is, in fact, deadly serious.

The acting is, in fact, one of the strengths of Enlightenment. The guest cast are consistently excellent from Marriner's creepy stalkerishness, to Captain Wrack's pirate bluster which remains just on the right side of being over-the-top. Even Janet Fielding, who has been one of the disappointments of the Randomiser rewatch, is on good form here. The sets are also excellent though the story undoubtedly benefits from the fact that the BBC is, in general, better at reproducing the historical than imagining the futuristic.

A fair bit must have been cut from the original in order to get it down to 75 minutes. I was interested that I couldn't actually spot anything missing, and the story progressed at a good pace. I was less convinced by the updated special effects. The original shots of the sailing ships in space were all done with models, and had a certain charm that I'm not convinced was achieved by the somewhat blocky CGI replacements. In general, I think this kind of updating is probably unwise. Special effects nearly always date rapidly and at least leaving the originals in place keeps the period feel (as in TV period) while more modern, but still dated, additions merely look clumsy.

Enlightenment is a surprisingly successful story, given its somewhat way out premise. I would suggest its one of the occasions where Doctor Who has attempted something ambitious and successfully pulled it off, managing to make the concept of sailing ships racing through space seem entirely reasonable. The generally high production quality and good acting, from a period when both could be distinctly variable, definitely helps. One of Davison's better stories.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/177182.html.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on November 8th, 2015 10:02 pm (UTC)
I've never seen the special edition, mostly because it seemed a bit pointless. The effects in the original weren't that bad and it's not a story I consider overlong.

I like Enlightenment and indeed most of season twenty (which I know is not a common opinion). As you say, it's less surreal than the premise indicates, but well acted and never falls into self-parody as it might have done. Lots of nice little moments too: "Are there lords in such a small domain?" The Marriner-Tegan relationship is handled well and disproves the idea that Doctor Who didn't do emotion before Russell T. Davies arrived. Turlough's dilemma is one of the better story arcs in the original run, although it probably helps to watch Mawdryn Undead and Terminus first.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on November 9th, 2015 07:20 pm (UTC)
Season 20 suffered a little, I suspect, from being talked up in pre-publicity as having a returning element in every story - I think people were disappointed when two of the returning elements were very recent (the Mara and the Master) and another three were the Black Guardian trilogy. Even something crowd-pleasing like the Brigadier was presented in a way that highlighted more what was lost than celebrated what had been.
Greg McElhattongregmce on November 9th, 2015 03:20 pm (UTC)
Watching the special edition a couple of years ago, my biggest takeaway is that it was really just an excuse to trim as much of Leee John's "acting" as possible.
louisedennislouisedennis on November 9th, 2015 07:20 pm (UTC)
You could be write. When I wrote that bit about the acting I had a "but what about Lee John?" moment but then thought he hadn't actually been that noticeable. I hadn't occurred to me that maybe he wasn't that noticeable because he'd been cut.