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DVD Review

DVD cover

Doctor Who
Black Guardian Trilogy


Starring: Peter Davison
RRP: £39.14
Certificate: PG
Available 10 August 2009

At various points in its existence Doctor Who has produced story arcs which have spanned more than a single story. In season twenty, following The Key to Time, which had covered six stories of season sixteen, the Black Guardian returns, looking for revenge against the Doctor. His weapon of choice is Vislor Turlough, an alien stranded on Earth who would eventually join the Doctor and Tegan in the TARDIS...

The Black Guardian Trilogy consists of three stories, Mawdryn Undead, Terminus and Enlightenment. The stories would see the introduction of a new companion and the departure of Nyssa (Sarah Sutton). The set is actually presented over four discs. The reason for this is that as a massive extra disc four contains a reedited version of Enlightenment. Throughout the three stories the late Valentine Dyall appears as the Black Guardian and Cyril Luckham appears as the white Guardian, though in truth neither man appears much in the stories. The weakest element of all the shows is the idea that Turlough has been placed aboard the TARDIS to kill the Doctor, which given that he was the central character was never going to happen.

Disc one: Mawdryn Undead is a four part story which was originally transmitted between 1 February 1983 and 9 February 1983. The show was written by Peter Grimwade and directed by Peter Moffatt. As well as introducing a new character in Turlough the story also brought back a fan favourite, the Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney). Mawdryn is one of Who’s most adventurous stories as the narrative is split between two time frames - 1977, 1983 - with the past creating the present. Given that the Doctor has a time machine you would have thought that there would be more stories of this type when in fact they are rare.

The story opens up in contemporary England where the Brigadier is teaching maths at a school. Some years earlier he had retired from Unit and suffered a nervous breakdown, so his memories of the recent past are sketchy. The Doctor is separated from Nyssa and Tegan, who in the past are confronted by Mawdryn, who passes himself off as a regenerated doctor. In an effort to get help Tegan heads for the nearby school and meets the younger brigadier.

As the Doctor, Turlogh and the future Brigadier head off to Mawdryn's ship, Mawdryn heads there with Tegan, Nyssa and the younger Brigadier. The story sounds a lot more complicated that it actually is, Grimwade keeps the action on track, without overcomplicating the narrative.

David Collings puts in a good performance as Mawdryn, a man, who along with his companions is condemned for all eternity to regenerate but never die, I guess that’s what you get for mucking around with Time Lord technology.

The program is presented in its original aspect ratio with a clear 2.0 audio track. To update the show a little there is the option to watch the story either with the original special effects or some newly created CGI sequences. As with the previous discs you have the option to listen to the isolated music score.

The Beeb hasn’t skimped on the extras, providing another rich set. First up is a full length commentary with contributions from Peter Davison, Mark Strickson, Nicholas Courtney and script editor Eric Saward. One of the things that I enjoy about the Who commentaries is their combination of love for their time on the show and an honesty which is often missing. In Who Wants To Live Forever (24 min, 32 sec) is a feature narrated by Floella Benjamin, which looks back at the making of the show with contributions from Peter Davison, Nicholas Courtney, Mark Strickson, David Collings, Lucy Benjamin, director Peter Moffatt, script editor Eric Saward and plastic surgeon Dr. Simon Withey.

Liberty Hall (7 min, 21 sec) which is a fake documentary with Philip Clarke (Simon Ockenden) playing a journalist who travels to Brenden School to interview Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart (Nicholas Courtney), which is pretty interesting as it concentrated on the Brigadier and fleshed out his own story, rather than rehash his time with the Doctor.

Next up is a set of Deleted and Extended Scenes (5 min, 16 sec), some Film Trims (3 min, 34 sec) and Out-takes (5 min, 37 sec) which have been doing the rounds for a few years now. The quality of the pieces is variable at times, with print damage, but overall the quality is clear enough. The extras are wrapped up with the Continuity Announcements (57 sec), a Photo Gallery (7 min, 30 sec) and a shorter Set Photo Gallery (1 min, 27 sec). All three stories come with the usual Radio Times Listing PDF’s, a coming soon trailer - for The Twin Dilemma - and subtitles.

Disc two: Terminus is a four part story which was originally transmitted between 14 February 1983 and 23 February 1983. The show was written by Steve Gallagher and directed by Mary Ridge. Once again there is the option to watch the show either with the original special effects or some newly created CGI. The show is presented in its original aspect ratio, with a clear 2.0 audio track and the option to listen the isolated musical score.

With Turlough now travelling with the Doctor, the Black Guardian continues to pressure him to kill the Time Lord. The TARDIS finds itself attached to Terminus, a large medical facility which promises a cure for Lazers disease. The facility is overseen by the Vanir, a group of armoured humans, but the cure is administered by a large canine Garm. Turlough and Tegan get separated from the Doctor and Nyssa, spending much of the story stuck in Terminus’s superstructure. The Doctor and Nyssa have run into some space pirates who are under the mistaken belief that there is something worth stealing on the station, what they actually find is that the station is breaking down and heading towards a terminal explosion, an explosion which will destroy the universe.

This is the weakest of the stories, with much of the time taken up with reaction shots and lots of walking around. Preferably one of the episodes should have been cut to create some missing pace to the story. This is also the story where Nyssa leaves the Doctor, deciding to stay on the station to help create a workable cure for Lazars. In a move that pleased many young male fans Sarah Sutton spends the latter half of the story running around in her underwear.

Once more we get an insightful full length commentary with contributions from Peter Davison, Mark Strickson, Sarah Sutton and writer Stephen Gallagher. The largest extra is Breaking Point (22 min, 53 sec), once again narrated by Floella Benjamin with contributions from Peter Davison, Mark Strickson, Sarah Sutton, Martin Potter, director Fiona Cumming, writer Stephen Gallagher, designer Dick Coles, camera supervisor Alec Wheal and sound supervisor Scott Talbott. Once again there are differing opinions from the cast and crew as to the quality of the show, but one thing comes through; Terminus was a difficult story to shoot, with lost shooting days for reasons which were beyond the director’s control.

Next up is one of the odd factual pieces, Origins of the Universe (6 min, 30 sec) with Sir Patrick Moore and Dr John Mason discussing the theoretical reality behind the big bang, a nice little educational piece. The disc wraps up with a number of smaller pieces, including Original Storyboards (1 min, 19 sec), Unused Model Shots (3 min, 30 sec), the usual Continuity Announcements (1 min, 52 sec) and another photo gallery (8 min, 17 sec)

 Disc three: Enlightenment is a four part story originally broadcast between 1 March 1983 and 9 of March 1983. The story was written by Barbara Clegg and directed by Fiona Cumming. The story has a full length commentary with Peter Davison, Mark Strickson, writer Barbara Clegg and director Fiona Cumming. The show is presented in its original aspect ratio with an option to listen to the isolated musical score and new optional CGI.

The White Guardian appears on the TARDIS warning of imminent danger. He directs the ship to what, at first, appears to be a clipper ship. The Doctor quickly discovers that the ships are in fact spaceships, manned by captured humans and led by Eternals, who are engaged in a race whose prize is enlightenment. It quickly transpires that one of the contestants is not playing by the rules as ships begin to explode.

With so many time periods to steal from this is one of the most sumptuous stories to view. From the formal dress of the nineteenth century clipper to the fantasy dress of the pirate ship the costume designer, Dinah Collin added a level of rich texture not normally seen on the show. Even Tegan finally gets to wear a feminine formal gown.

The extras on the disc are somewhat meatier than the first two discs and kicks off with Winner Takes All (23 min, 49 sec), narrated by Floella Benjamin and once again with contributions from Peter Davison, Mark Strickson, Janet Fielding, Keith Barron, Christopher Brown, Lee John, director Fiona Cumming, writer Barbara Clegg, costume designer Dinah Collin and camera supervisor Alec Wheal. Generally the feeling from all is that Enlightenment was the best story of the three.

Casting Off (10 min, 36 sec) which looks at the guest artist from the perspective of the regular cast with contributions from Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, Mark Strickson, Keith Barron, Christopher Brown, Lee John, wand story director Fiona Cumming. Next up is Single Write Female (5 min, 15 sec) with Barbara Clegg reflecting on her career as a writer, with reference to Enlightenment.

The disc finishes with The Story of The Guardians (11 min, 56 sec) which gives some background to these powerful beings, which first appeared during Tom Baker's tenure, with contributions from Robert Luckham (son of the late White Guardian, Cyril Luckham), Sarah Leppard (daughter of the late Black Guardian, Valentine Dyall), Doctor Who Magazine editor Tom Spilsbury and Doctor Who Adventures editor Moray Laing. The last two notable extras is a short, Storyboards (5 min, 59 sec) which can be viewed as either the original storyboards, with a comparison to the finished shots or as the full framed model sequences, the piece is narrated by Mike Kelt, the visual effects director and a photo gallery (6 min, 5 sec).

Disc four: Enlightenment - Special Edition (1 hr, 14 min, 10 sec) is the same show but with a new edit by director Fiona Cumming. The show has an improved 16:9 aspect ratio with a remixed 5.1 audio track. Fiona even does a little introduction (1 min, 30 sec). The newly edited show makes what was already a good story even better; it would be nice if we could see a few more of these in the future.

If this wasn’t good enough for an extra, here even the extra has more extras. Re-Enlightenment (14 min, 22 sec) looks at how the team went about creating the new version. Original Edit Comparison (2 min, 37 sec) is a small comparison between the original opening of episode three and the new version. There are some Film Trims (5 min, 34 sec) still left to be viewed and there is a nice, if short, interview in Finding Mark Strickson (8 min, 31 sec).

As a companion piece to Strickson’s look at his acting career, Finding Sarah Sutton (7 min, 48 sec) has her also looking back on her career. I have no idea how they got permission from Peter Davison to include Russell Harty Christmas Party (3 min, 33 sec) which has Peter and his then wife Sandra Dickinson doing a very embarrassing song and dance number. The disc wraps up with the Continuity Announcements (2 min, 12 sec).

This is a pretty comprehensive package with little in the way of padding and well worth adding to your collection. The inclusion of a re-edited 16:9, 5.1 version of Enlightenment tips the set from highly desirable to a must have purchase.


Charles Packer

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