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Published on September 7th, 2009 | by James Whittington

The Black Guardian Trilogy: Mawdryn Undead

Story arcs in Doctor Who are curious beasts. The ones contained in the new series have been more successful than not, but Classic Who has a rather debatable past. The E-Space Trilogy was sort of OK but The Key To Time run of stories left me totally cold. The Black Guardian Trilogy was made up of Mawdryn Undead, Terminus and Enlightenment, a curious mix of ideas which displayed early 80’s Doctor Who reliance on using old ideas and bizarre casting. Anyway, on with the trilogy and the first story is the wonderfully titled Mawdryn Undead…

Earth 1983. The mysterious Black Guardian hovers over the shoulder of an English public schoolboy, Turlough, determined to enlist his aid in his deadly scheme – the assassination of the Doctor. Meanwhile the TARDIS is trapped inside a huge space ship in perpetual orbit, a permanent resting place for the miserable Mawdryn and his eight fellow scientists, all condemned to a state of perpetual regeneration. Only the Doctor’s life force can free them, but at a deadly cost – the price of his powers of regeneration. With Nyssa and Tegan stranded in the time zone of 1977, and the Black Guardian closing in, the Doctor faces a terrible dilemma.

Cheap looking and slightly flat, Mawdryn Undead doesn’t really have a lot going for it at the start. Here we are, being introduced to public schoolboys who are written in the style of Just William, yes those kind of brats! You don’t really have any sympathy for them when nasty things start to happen around the place. Add to this a twist on the plot that was used in the classic Jon Pertwee serial Inferno and you have to wonder what they were thinking of. But Nicholas Courtney adds that something the story so needed. Nick has gone record stating that he had little understanding of the story but it doesn’t show as he brings two incarnations of the Brigadier to life with such enthusiasm and wonderful characterisation that you just got to enjoy this, even if his part was originally to be for another old friend, Ian Chesterton.

The Black Guardian Trilogy BoxsetDavison has little to do here except to look constantly worried and not his usual “people’s hero” self. To be truthful there’s just too much going on and some characters seem to be jammed in to make up the numbers with the Doctor sometimes ending up being the secondary character here. The star is Turlough and Mark Strickson does an amiable job playing the shady new companion. The alien mutants who are resigned to a life of perpetual regeneration are a good idea and their leader Mawdryn played is wonderfully by David Collings. You can feel their sense of desperation and hopelessness but would Tegan and Nyssa fail to recognise the Doctor after another regeneration?

Extras:-

Commentary: This wonderful gag track includes the talents of Peter Davison, Mark Strickson, Nicholas Courtney and Eric Saward and adds much to the enjoyment of the serial. All add worthy comment it’s just a shame JNT wasn’t around to add his opinion too. In parts it is very, very funny.

Who Wants To Live Forever?: Floella Benjamin narrates this excellent “making of” which interviews all the main cast and crew and serves as the first part of a series that appears one ach of the disc of this set. The pieces with plastic surgeon (I kid you not) Dr Simon Withey are wonderful. This is your first port of call on the extras front. The ending is open ready to be continued in the next instalment which is on the Terminus disc.

Liberty Hall: A new piece of drama where a journalist named Phillip Clarke (played by Simon Ockenden) a feature writer who goes to Brendon School to interview the good old Brig. This unusual extra might seem a but fatuous and self-indulgent but just to see Nick as the Brig is worthy of its inclusion.

Deleted and Extended Scenes: Exactly what it says on the box, this is a compendium of pieces that didn’t make the final edit. Though none add anything to the story it is always good to see variations on certain scenes. Some of the footage has seen better days but to see it intact is good enough for me.

Film Trims: Similar to the above but showing how scenes and actors are prepared before each shoot. Interesting but not an extra I’d rush to view again.

Out-takes: A collection of gaffs or as Dennis Norden used to say “cock-ups” from the shooting of the serial. Funny in places its nice to see that actors are fallible!

CGI Effects: As the story can be viewed with or without the new CGI effects this is where you get the opportunity to turn them on or off.

Continuity: This regular extra has plenty of continuity announcements from when the story was first shown. God bless the old BBC1 green and blue spinning globe logo!

Photo Gallery: An extensive collection of snaps from behind the scenes of the production of the serial.

Mawdryn Undead stars Peter Davison, Janet Fielding and Mark Strickson as the Doctor, Tegan and TurloughSet Photo Gallery: Same as above but only of the set designs for the story. A great collection and you can see how the designs altered from page to screen.

PDF Materials: By placing the disc into a PC you can access Radio Times listings, CGI Storyboards and Studio Floor Plans.

Isolated Score: Selecting this option you can listen to the musical soundtrack to the story. Not one of the best from Paddy Kingsland and probably only for hardcore fans.

Coming Soon: A rather snappy trailer for The Twin Dilemma that makes it look so much better than it actually is!

Production Notes: Ah, as always my favourite, these running pieces of text provide much education and humour to viewing the story. Always a hard extra to beat.

Easter Egg: Not telling you but there’s more than one!

As this first part of a trilogy Mawdryn Undead is an OK opener. Not exactly edge of the seat stuff, mainly because the Black Guardian is such a pantomime villain. Not his fault though as he is let down by some truly awful lines. It is worth viewing though even if it is just to watch The Brig back in action.

The Black Guardian Trilogy has an RRP of £39.99 but costs just £27.88 from Amazon!

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About the Author

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James has been a Doctor Who fan for as long as he can recall. A child of the 70s and 80s, he weathered all the storms and controversies the show encountered, though he didn’t buy the “Doctor In Distress” single.




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