iTunes review: Doctor Who – The Enemy Of The World
Simon Kinnear | On 19, Oct 2013
Missing for decades and mostly unseen in the UK since its original transmission in 1967-68, this six-part serial starring Patrick Troughton has been returned to the BBC and is now available to download from iTunes.
So, here it is: the first time since the early 1990s that an entire story of Doctor Who – which had been (mostly) destroyed and presumed lost forever – has been rediscovered. In such circumstances, there’s a weird double-life to something that is both old and new. On the one hand, this is vintage television, whose essentials are familiar to most fans from series guidebooks, the audio recording of the story and the lone Episode 3 that survived the BBC’s purge of its archives. On the other hand, the other five episodes haven’t been seen in 45 years, and despite photographic evidence and production logs, nobody bar the original audience knew quite how it turned out. Until now.
In this case, the results are revelatory: The Enemy Of The World takes its place as an unsung classic. Hitherto, it was remembered only as the story where Troughton played both hero and villain, but otherwise undervalued for having no monsters in an era famous for them. Now, it can be re-evaluated as a superbly crafted, ambitious political epic, and probably the nearest Doctor Who ever came to making a James Bond movie.
Don’t believe us? The story begins with an extended action set-piece involving a hovercraft and a helicopter, several gunfights and one big explosion (which, aptly, was actually stock footage borrowed from From Russia With Love). The globe-trotting narrative switches between Australia and Hungary. Just when you think it can’t get any more obvious, the villainous Salamander turns out to have a secret underground base.
Obviously, this is Bond on a budget – Australia is a beach in South-East England, Hungary is entirely studio-bound – but what’s startling is how dynamic it looks, directed by future Who producer Barry Letts with pace and efficiency. The cheapest-looking instalment is, ironically, Episode 3, the one that fans have already seen, in which a character is guarded in a corridor because… well, because that’s what Doctor Who did when the Beeb’s wallet wouldn’t stretch to a prison cell set.
This is a lesson in never jumping to conclusions for, seen as a whole, the story’s ambition is remarkable, and it’s one of the few Who stories to warrant its six-part, two-and-a-half-hour length. Asked to impersonate Salamander, the Doctor demands evidence of the man’s wrongdoing and so sends companions Jamie and Victoria into the lion’s den on a dangerous fact-finding mission. Their presence destabilises the villain’s infrastructure, creating enough intrigue, reversals and betrayals to ensure that few characters survive without their allegiances shifting, assuming they survive at all. There’s enough plot to ensure that it isn’t until Episode 4 that we find out what’s really going on, and it’s so bonkers it sends the story into directions unguessable at the beginning.
The foundation is a taut script by veteran Who screenwriter David Whitaker that gives everyone a reason – or several – for behaving as they do. At this stage in Doctor Who, the series was undergoing a transformation to excise the purely historical adventures it had specialised in at the beginning in favour of pure, monster-driven science-fiction. Yet The Enemy Of The World is written like a historical story that just happens to be set in the future. There is nothing in the dialogue to pinpoint the exact timeframe for the story, but the visuals add tantalising evidence that events take place in 2018 – in other words, in a few years this will be genuinely ‘historical’, transformed during its exile from the archives from 1960s futurism to near-retro museum piece.
Crucially, Whitaker populates this made-up society with believable, three-dimensional characters. Ambiguity is rife, echoing the Doctor’s insistence on being sure. Isn’t the Doctor’s ally Bill Kerr is a little too eager to indulge in bloodshed? Why is security chief Bruce seemingly the most reasonable and intelligent person around? Whitaker extends these shades of grey to bit-part characters, such as Salamander’s chef, Griffin, a gloriously caustic, cynical Aussie who moans so much you can believe that Salamander must resort to employing a food taster. Even the guards have personality, answering back when given insane orders or (memorably) trying to chat up the women.
This isn’t padding – well, not entirely. It’s a way of creating a worldview. The Enemy Of The World is unusually focussed on the doubt that must go hand in hand with morality. The Doctor so often stumbles across a clear-cut case of good vs evil and the rest of the plot is just a matter of how he stops the threat. Here’s a story concerned with why: told that Salamander is evil, the Doctor refuses to take things at face value, knowing that it is only through close observation that true character emerges.
What motors this complexity – and makes the story unusually profound – is that the themes become manifest in Troughton’s extraordinary performance. Just as the Doctor has to watch carefully to figure out Salamander’s motivations, so Troughton encourages the audience to spot all of the differences between his portrayal of the Doctor and his portrayal of Salamander… not to mention the myriad variations in between, as the Doctor learns how to convincingly impersonate his Doppelganger.
On audio, we only had the evidence of the broad-brush gap between the Doctor’s Received Pronunciation and Salamander’s theeck Mexican accent. On screen, the depths of the actor’s performance(s) are spellbinding. Troughton’s Doctor is informality itself, slouched in posture and with a mercurial range of facial expressions; he is forever windmilling his arms, his mind in flux as he thinks, deduces, changes his mind. Salamander, in contrast, is ramrod stiff; like so many dictators, he’s a man of cruel, unwavering certainty, and Troughton allows his elastic features to harden into a fixed expression. Best of all are the moments where the Doctor has to hurriedly improvise an impersonation of Salamander, only for tiny, telltale bits of ‘Doctor’ to break out from the façade.
As such, it’s a story that helps to crystallise exactly what the Doctor stands for, and a roadmap for how to play the role. As if to compensate for Salamander, Troughton gives arguably his most indelibly Doctor-ish performance, nowhere more so than in the opening moments where he strips off his coat and trousers to reveal a pair of long johns. He scampers, gives a little skip of delight and dives into the ocean waves – a grace note nobody expected, but which instantly becomes one of the character’s defining moments. It also sets the mood wonderfully, for, after all, why shouldn’t the Doctor give a little jump for joy when that’s exactly what the rest of us are doing on being given the chance to see The Enemy Of The World in all of its glory?
The Enemy Of The World and The Web Of Fear are available to download on iTunes for £9.99 each. They will be released on DVD in November 2013 and early 2013 respectively.