Enlightenment brings the Black Guardian ‘trilogy’ to an imaginative and surprisingly satisfying close. What first appears to be a simple Edwardian sailing ship is actually a space vessel that’s been modelled after one, as part of a space race around the solar system against others ships crewed by people pulled from Earth’s history by a group of bored ‘eternals’.
The Eternals might as well be gods, since they usually exist outside of time and space, can read the minds of mortals and create anything from nothing. What the Doctor quite rightly reveals is that being all-powerful isn’t actually all that, and mocks the Eternals for their reliance on mortals to keep them amused, to give their lives meaning and purpose, even while they consider themselves superior beings. But we are made to feel sympathetic towards them, as the First Officer develops feelings towards Tegan, becoming enthralled by her mind but failing to understand why.
With the Black and White Guardians pulling the strings, we have a rather high concept situation here, not unlike something Douglas Adams might come up with. The gods controlling the mortals, while the gods of gods control them. The Doctor is just a small part of a bigger picture, and yet his involvement is humble and believable. The resolution, although a bit schlocky, is quite sweet, with Turlough earning his ‘enlightenment’ through making the right choice, and seeing the Black Guardian off into a burst of flame.
Speaking of Turlough, he does spend a lot of the story either sucking up to win favour or crying to the Black Guardian for help, but there’s something rather entertaining about how over-the-top he is. He’s far more engaging than Nyssa was, although it remains to be seen if he mellows out now that he’s free of his contract. The Black Guardian continues to be a bad pantomime villain, but somehow this fits in with the godly chess game theme. The Eternals range from emotionless to crazy, with the pirate captain Wrack overacting in all of her scenes. It’s never less than fun, though.