What’s It About?
The Doctor, Tegan, and Turlough are contacted by the White Guardian, but his message is unable to come through clearly. Soon after they materialize on an Earth sailing ship crewed by Eternals and kidnapped humans. Bored by their existence, the Eternals are having a race. The winner receives enlightenment.
Superior beings do not punish inferiors.
Themes of mortality and death in The Black Guardian Trilogy continue with the introduction of the Eternals, a race of beings who are immortal. They have strong psychic powers. And they are bored. Immortality is dull and dreary. What does one do with an eternal existence? Well, the current answer is to race sailing ships across a galaxy. This leads to some striking images throughout the story, both on the screen and conceptually. This is just a fun story to look at.
But what strikes me the most about this story, what captures my attention, is Turlough. We have seen a definite character arc for him, which is striking because the past few character departures (Nyssa and Adric) seemed so meaningless since the characters were not interesting. They did not live up to the potential that was introduced when they joined the TARDIS crew. Turlough, however, has been nothing but conflict. He is self-serving. He is a coward. He is deceitful. The only particular criticism I have with his introduction in “Mawdryn Undead” is that I wanted a better indication why he was this way other than being trapped on Earth, which was not his native planet.
Turlough has been a servant of the Black Guardian, who offered Turlough passage off Earth if Turlough would kill the Doctor. While Turlough is no longer bound to Earth, he has yet to kill the Doctor (obviously) and has waffled endlessly about the situation. From a religious standpoint, Turlough made a deal with the devil, and now he can’t find a way out of the deal. But part of his dilemma lies not in his goodness, his desire to not kill the Doctor, but in his ability to commit to a side. Turlough wants to do his own thing, follow his own impulses and desires. But many of those desires up to this point have been self-destructive or harmful toward others. Turlough, then, becomes indecisive, not willing to do what needs to be done for the Black Guardian, but not willing to give up his own selfishness to fully reveal his predicament to the Doctor (who could save him, this story makes clear). “Enlightenment” pivots when Turlough is faced with death on Wrack’s ship. He cries out to the Black Guardian for help, but he is denied. Finally, for the first time Turlough calls out to the Doctor, who arrives just in time to save him. As such, “Enlightenment” can be read as a story about salvation and redemption. In the end, the decision is up to Turlough. He can use his reward from the race to kill the Doctor or break his contract. As the Doctor says, “Enlightenment [the prize for the race] was the choice.” The only way to throw off the contract was to choose something else, to embody a new story. To become the companion, not be the villain.
There are many ways someone could read “Enlightenment” in the context of The Black Guardian Trilogy. The themes in this story lend themselves to multiple interpretations, which is probably why this story is the most popular of the three. It resonates on many levels. It speaks to our humanity.