Friday 15 September 2017

Doctor Who - The Enemy Of The World

Two By Two

Doctor Who - The Enemy Of The World
BBC DVD Region 2
Airdate: 23 December 1967 - 27 January 1968

2013 was a relatively good year for Doctor Who fans. After the initial disappointment that an alleged cache of “missing presumed wiped” episodes of the show had possibly been mostly ransacked and sold off to private collectors, the good news was that, as part of that cache, all but one episode of the missing 1967 story The Web of Fear and all of the serial that preceded it, The Enemy Of The World, were now once more amongst us. The BBC more or less rush released the two stories onto DVD with pretty much no extras at all at the end of the year and, from what I can remember, both stories languished at the very top of the DVD charts for a week or two. Not a bad chart performance for a couple of black and white Patrick Troughton stories almost 50 years old.

This marks my first screening of this story, although I had the novelisation of this one, adapted by Fourth Doctor companion Ian Marter. I remember when reading that novel as a kid, wondering how they'd managed to be able to use a word like “bastard” on a family viewing, British TV show in the 1960s and, as the existence of this recording confirms... they didn’t. Marter was adding his own dialogue to the mix and gave it a far more adult tone than it had originally, methinks.

This is a good story to have back with us, though. There are, sadly, very few Second Doctor stories surviving and this one is a particularly interesting one to have because it features my favourite Doctor, Patrick Troughton, in a dual role. Yes, I know it’s the old ‘jump the shark’ doubles plot but, already in the, then, short history of the show, this wasn’t the first time that a doppelganger of The Doctor had cropped up and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. Here it’s done pretty tastefully and, believe it or not, there’s only one scene right near the end of the last episode where the two characters actually come face to face. So you don’t have to sit through too much of that split screen stuff here.

Why this is a good story to have had recovered though, is because of the versatility of Troughton’s standout performance. Yes, we’re all aware he was good as The Doctor and even non-Doctor Who fans will remember him, I’m sure, as being an outstanding character actor in films such as, for example, the original version of The Omen (reviewed by me here), where the priest he is playing gets impaled by a church spire. However, although he is a double for the title character, Salamander (the titular 'Enemy of the world'), he is only his double in appearance. The evil Salamander speaks with a kind of Mexican accent and this gives Troughton a chance to show off how he handles dialects. He also does some much more subtle stuff than this with the dual role, though. For instance, as The Doctor is working on perfecting his impersonation of Salamander so that he can find out if the tyrant of a future time in the Earth’s history, the far off year of 2018, is actually what his enemies are saying he is... he comes over as something like a cross between the two roles. Pulling it off enough to fool Salamander’s chief of security but still being different enough from his performance as Salamander throughout the serial that you can almost see The Doctor going through a learning curve.

The companions in this one are two of my favourite ones, Jamie and Victoria and, of course, age old unrealised sexism raises its head again when, to help The Doctor, Jamie makes it appear that he is saving Salamander’s life so he can get a job as one of his personal bodyguards. He asks Salamander to sort out a job for Victoria and she gets... cook’s assistant. Well, it is ‘of it’s time’ I guess and I’m not too worried about those kinds of gender stereotypes, especially when some of the episodes have smart performances by Mary Peach as a resistance fighter and Carmen Munroe as a food taster, the latter being an extremely strong role with no clear black and white division on the character who finds herself working for Salamander, even though she hates him, before eventually switching sides and... well, I’ll leave you to discover the final fate of her character here.

The music in this one is quite prominent in the mix in some places for a show of this nature in the era it was broadcast and the plot itself, while a little reminiscent of an old Flash Gordon serial in its twisty/turny revisiting of terrain and locations backwards and forwards as the narrative continues, is still quite entertainingly told... even if it doesn’t have an inhuman monster bent on the destruction of The Doctor and his companions, as many of the shows had.

As usual with the Troughton stories, there’s a lot of humour involved and one of the things that got me chuckling was when someone mentioned they should rendezvous at the old, disused jetty. “Disused yeti?” proclaims The Doctor, slyly referencing the robotic creatures from the, now sadly lost, story The Abominable Snowman. The creatures were quite popular and had made their debut only two stories prior to this one. They would make their second appearance, in updated and perhaps a bit less appealing costumes, in the very next Doctor Who adventure, The Web Of Fear (reviewed by me here).

As a lot of the earlier Doctor Who serials did in those days, the end of each story would directly cliffhanger into the next story and this one is no exception. At least, however, we are able to watch the other side of the cliffhanger in this case. At the end of the sixth episode of The Enemy Of The World, the TARDIS is in flight in space and time but the doors are open and The Doctor, Jamie and Victoria are trying to hold on for dear life in case they get sucked out and scattered in time and space (I won’t tell you why... "spoilers sweetie"). Luckily, we now have the majority of the episodes recovered for The Web Of Fear and after the prologue of that adventure, we once more rejoin The Doctor and his companions in this predicament until Jamie can get the TARDIS stabilised once more. So, in that regard at least, it’s nice that running stories were rediscovered and restored.

The Enemy Of The World is quite a nice, pacey Doctor Who adventure and it’s also better for the fact that not everybody is what they seem. The bad guys and good guys aren’t as clear cut until the final episode and doubts about the intentions of certain characters do rear themselves right from the onset. If you’re a fan of Doctor Who and the Second Doctor in particular then The Enemy Of The World should definitely be on your ‘watch list’. If, however, you are new to the programme then I suspect a more ‘monstercentric’ episode might be a better jumping on point than this. Still, hard to go wrong with Troughton in such fine form and, once again, this charming actor doesn’t disappoint. And with Donald Trump voted in as the president of the USA at the moment, the idea of a dodgy dictator such as Salamander ruling the world of 2018 with an iron fist doesn’t seem like a million miles away from the real world, to tell the truth.

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