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Case Number 17649

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Doctor Who: The Black Guardian Trilogy

BBC Video // 1982 // 392 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart (Retired) // November 6th, 2009

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All Rise...

Appellate Judge James A. Stewart lost the yacht race for enlightenment. He's only human.

The Charge

"Remember the agreement between us. You will seek out the Doctor and destroy him."—the Black Guardian, to reluctant assassin Turlough

Opening Statement

When he took on the role of the Doctor, a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey who wanders through time and space running into adventure, Peter Davison was replacing Tom Baker, a popular actor who had helmed Doctor Who for seven seasons. Davison was also the youngest Doctor at the time, since he wasn't quite thirty, let alone the hundreds of years the Doctor claims on his birth certificate. Many Doctor Who fans will say it was the beginning of the end for the series (commentary suggests it lost somewhere around 3 million viewers during Davison's run), something to contemplate as the new series replaces David Tennant with Matt Smith, who now becomes the youngest actor to take on the role.

Doctor Who: The Black Guardian Trilogy features three four-part serials with Peter Davison as the Doctor, but the focus isn't on Davison. It's on Turlough (Mark Strickson), an unearthly boarding school student who becomes one of the Doctor's companions. Trouble is, Turlough is under the control of the Black Guardian. The Black Guardian represents chaos in the Doctor Who universe and first went after Tom Baker's Doctor, according to "The Story of the Guardians," a bonus feature on Disc Three. Perhaps it should have been on Disc One of Doctor Who: The Black Guardian Trilogy, to better get viewers caught up on the backstory.

Facts of the Case

Doctor Who: The Black Guardian Trilogy gives each story its own disc, and remixes "Enlightenment" on Disc Four:

• "Mawdryn Undead"
A forced landing reunites the Doctor with the Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney), or it would if the Brigadier remembered the Doctor. The Brigadier does remember meeting Tegan, though. The Doctor keeps overlooking that obvious clue as he and his companions investigate a spaceship. They meet Mawdryn, an immortal who wishes to die—with the reluctant Doctor's help.

• "Terminus"
Turlough's sabotage attempt creates some weird psychedelic effects and forces the TARDIS crew to abandon ship. They end up on a ship carrying sufferers from a leprosy-like disease, meet some space pirates, and figure out that a computer could end up creating another big bang. Since the BBC apparently couldn't afford three companions, Nyssa won't make it back to the ship.

• "Enlightenment"
The White Guardian reroutes the TARDIS to a racing yacht in space, where the Doctor finds Eternals competing for an unusual prize: enlightenment. Someone in the race is playing dirty, and Turlough is forced to make a moral decision or two.

The Evidence

Fans of the original Doctor Who no doubt already have strong opinions about whether they like having Peter Davison, the Fifth Doctor, dramatically exclaiming technobabble. Sometimes when watching Davison's speeches, I expect his companions to just stare at him in puzzlement instead of reacting to the crisis, but his occasional overdramatic touches actually bring the show back to a retro serial or '50s B-movie vibe.

In bringing Turlough aboard the TARDIS, the writers and production team were actually trying something different. Trying it in conjunction with a guest appearance by the Brigadier, the former head of UNIT who worked with the Doctor in fighting alien invasions on Earth, may have added a couple of years to the Doctor's original TV lifespan; a making-of on "Mawdryn Undead" notes that Nicholas Courtney's guest turn gave the series a ratings boost. When audiences first meet Mark Strickson's Turlough, he's causing trouble at the boarding school where he's staying, talking a fellow student into joining him on a joyride in the Brigadier's antique car. That starts the action, since the Black Guardian invades his mind while he's knocked out after an accident. From there, Turlough is shadowed by the Black Guardian, who tempted him with the promise of a return to his home planet. The cowardly Turlough doesn't want to kill the Doctor, but he's afraid of the consequences if he doesn't. Thus, he becomes "a character with his own agenda," in TV cliché parlance, trying to defy both the Doctor and the Black Guardian while appearing to comply with their wishes. In practice, Strickson gets to spend a lot of time just looking frightened, but he adds some hints of menace to the role (one not unlike Dr. Smith's role on Lost in Space).

Since these releases have been jumping around a bit, it's obvious that Janet Fielding's Tegan has evolved since Doctor Who: Black Orchid, the last Davison serial I reviewed. Tegan's still outspoken, but she's more interested in the adventures and becoming attached to the Doctor. Not romantically, mind you; this is still original Doctor Who.

While there's a monster of a sort in "Terminus," these episodes have some interesting guest characters and ideas to play around with: the immortals who wish to die in "Mawdryn Undead"; the reluctant guards of a leper ship in "Terminus"; and the Eternals who need humans for "amusement" in "Enlightenment."

Davison's main contribution to the Doctor Who canon may turn out to be DVD commentaries. As usual, he's a lively commentator, discussing his tenure with self-deprecating humor, and he's joined by lots of people who worked with him. He and Mark Strickson are self-deprecating throughout, with Strickson describing some of the discomfort of special effects. With Nicholas Courtney and script editor Eric Saward, they address a time warp in the series (Jon Pertwee's Doctor was in the near-future, while Davison's Doctor was in the present day) and debate whether old or new Who is better as they watch "Mawdryn Undead." Writer Steven Gallagher and actress Sarah Sutton join Davison and Strickson to discuss "Terminus," touching on the possibility that the sets might have been in Alien and the "crumpet costumes" that Nyssa and Tegan wear in this season. Director Fiona Cumming and writer Barbara Clegg join the "Enlightenment" commentary, where topics include eating on screen, changes to the opening of Episode Three, and the slower pace of TV way back in the Eighties.

The special features are quite extensive:

"Mawdryn Undead" includes "Who Wants To Live Forever?," which reveals that Peter Davison actually would; it also discusses the creation of the story, along with some facts about tissue engineering. "Liberty Hall" features a mock newspaper interview with the Brigadier; this sounds like something characters in the new Who might do, but I can't quite accept the old-line Brigadier sitting for a reporter. There are also deleted and extended scenes, film trims, outtakes, continuity announcements, photo galleries (with lots of set shots, and pictures of Tegan and Nyssa in grotesque aging and flesh rotting makeup), and PDF features including a Radio Times article on Nicholas Courtney, original TV listings, studio floor plans (just in case you'd like to turn your rec room into a TARDIS), and CGI effects storyboards.

"Breaking Point," the making-of feature for "Terminus," spends a lot of time discussing the problems, including studio rescheduling and power failures, faced by director Mary Ridge; sadly, she passed away and can't share her anecdotes. "Origins of the Universe" looks at the science of the Big Bang. There are also original storyboards, unused model shots, continuity announcements, and a photo gallery, which includes some shots of the beautiful Janet Fielding lounging on TARDIS sets. PDF features include TV listings and CGI storyboards.

The most unusual special feature comes with "Enlightenment." It's a remix of the serial, with new CGI effects throughout and a faster pace at under 75 minutes. While I enjoyed the effects—space scenes were redone beautifully and an "eye" that focuses evil thoughts took on a new malevolence—the faster pace seemed like a more drastic upgrade; there's much less of the running back and forth in confusion to fill time that viewers will find in the original Doctor Who. "Re-enlightenment" shows the director and effects team discussing what they're going to do, with a few points of comparison. The other two episodes have a CGI insert option, which smooths over a few really weak effects, but the change is modest on those episodes.

Other features with "Enlightenment" include "Winner Takes All," the history of the episode; "Casting Off!," a look at guest actors; "Single White Female," profiling episode writer Barbara Clegg, at the time the only woman to have written a Doctor Who script; storyboards and photos; a comparison of edits in Episode Three; film trims; updates on what Sarah Sutton and Mark Strickson are doing today; a Russell Harty Christmas Party clip that finds Peter Davison in pantomime song (that looks like his ex-wife Sandra Dickinson—Trillian from TV's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy—beside him, but it doesn't say); and continuity announcements, which include plugs for a series music CD and a personal appearance by Davison (now accessible only by TARDIS, of course).

If you've got a DVD-ROM drive, you'll enjoy two special PDF features. The Production Bible for Doctor Who told producers, directors, and writers what they could and could not do. There's a lot about budgeting and the like, but you'll also get descriptions of the principals. Oddly, the TARDIS gets more ink than the Doctor (something tells me that as long as the writers remembered that "The Doctor himself is not infallible," that would have been good enough). Radio Times: Doctor Who 20th Anniversary Special features lots of photos, basic backstory, some Doctor Who poetry, and a short story that changes a piece of the show's history (Can they do that?).

The images and sound are newly remastered, so everything's sharp and clear. With new CGI effects taking the place of some of the cheap and cheesy tricks, you could take this for a recent production.

The package indicates that there are two Easter eggs in this set. I found the Easter egg right off on "Mawdryn Undead"; it's some more trivia, and it's found a left arrow click away from "Deleted and Extended Scenes" in the Special Features menu. I couldn't find the Easter egg with "Terminus," though.

Did I leave anything out? How about a text option with details about the production and isolated scores for each episode?

The Rebuttal Witnesses

With another big Doctor Who set coming out (see DVD Verdict's review of The War Games) before the holiday, not to mention recent releases in both David Tennant's Doctor Who and Torchwood, this set could be low on your shopping list. Still, it's a good arc from the original series. Keep it in mind for later if you don't want to shell out now.

If you do buy, there's a chance you'll simply be overwhelmed by all the little snippets in the extras. I realize the BBC doesn't want to get caught letting any more of the show's history disappear (numerous Doctor Who adventures with William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton are lost or damaged), but some of the outtakes are just plain boring.

Closing Statement

The Black Guardian Trilogy shows that Peter Davison's Doctor Who was better than you might have recalled. The Fifth Doctor's companions get some excellent character moments and even guest actors get moments to shine. The package, with extras covering everything, is obviously geared toward fans of the original series, but the storyline about Turlough's moral conflicts is one that could be a good entry point for fans of the new, character-based Doctor Who.

The Verdict

Not guilty. The only thing that could make it better would be plans for a working TARDIS.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 90
Audio: 90
Extras: 92
Acting: 90
Story: 88
Judgment: 90

Perp Profile

Studio: BBC Video
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• English (SDH)
Running Time: 392 Minutes
Release Year: 1982
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Genres:
• Foreign
• Science Fiction
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• Commentaries
• Effects Option
• Deleted/Extended Scenes
• Featurettes
• Outtakes
• Isolated Scores
• Photo Galleries
• DVD-ROM Content
• Easter Eggs

Accomplices

• IMDb








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Review content copyright © 2009 James A. Stewart; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.