Wednesday 30 October 2013

Doctor Who - The Enemy of the World

I started this blog for the purpose of writing reviews, and although I initially intended to primarily write reviews of roleplaying game products, I knew right from the start I’d be doing Doctor Who reviews as well. One of my earliest posts was a review of “Let’s Kill Hitler”, which had just aired at the time. Since then, I’ve reviewed new episodes as they’ve come out (well, except “The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe”, which was many months late). I’ve often contemplated writing reviews of earlier stories, both from the new series before I started the blog and from the classic series, but other things have always gotten in the way of that idea and taken priority. However, until very recently, I never dreamt that if I did write a review for an earlier story, it would be “The Enemy of the World”. It was a missing story, and while episode three existed in full and audio of the remaining episodes existed, it just wouldn’t have seemed right to review something that was mostly incomplete.

With the return of the remaining episodes of “The Enemy of the World”, along with most of the remaining episodes of “The Web of Fear”, it was no longer just a case of finding time to write a review of an old story. It was also a case of finding time to watch an old story that I had never seen before (apart from a single episode) and then write a review of it. But it is a joyous problem to have.

The Enemy of the World”, I feel, suffered from being missing more than many other stories. It was rarely on people’s lists of favourite stories or most-wanted missing episodes. It tended to have a bit of a reputation for being dull. This is due pretty much entirely to the fact that the one surviving episode, the third, is without doubt the weakest of the story. It is rather dull, being mostly filler. The plot thread involving Fedorin is really the only important part of the episode, and that takes up only a small part of it. Griffin the chef is hilariously entertaining, but the rest of the episode contains little of relevance or interest to the rest of the story. With audio existing of the other episodes, it was always clear that episode three was the weakest, but there is so much nuance (particularly in the performances) lost in the audio recordings that this fact wasn’t enough to elevate the entire story in people’s minds. I always suspected that if “The Enemy of the World” ever turned up, people would considerably re-evaluate their opinions of the story, and it seems I was right. People everywhere are now praising it, and with good reason. “The Enemy of the World” is brilliant and perhaps one of the best Patrick Troughton stories of them all.

(Although I’m not really sure you can have spoilers for a 45-year-old programme.)

One of the most impressive things about “The Enemy of the World” is how well it stands up today. Tastes and styles change over time, and what was brilliant and exciting television to one generation may not be so brilliant and exciting to the next. “Enemy” is certainly a product of its time, but nonetheless it fits in surprisingly well with the styles of today. It’s not as fast-paced, of course (and as I’ve already mentioned, episode three makes it seriously drag), but there are several intense action moments which are quite fast-paced when compared with other Doctor Who of the time. With some trimming down, I could almost see this story being made and aired today.

Enemy” also stands out from other stories in Patrick Troughton’s time, especially the other stories of season five of which it’s a part. It comes in the heart of the “base under siege” era of the programme, when most stories involved an isolated group of people under attack from the alien monster of the week. It’s a formula that I feel was, unfortunately, overused in Troughton’s time. Many of his stories work fine individually, but as part of a collection of stories, they become repetitive. “The Moonbase”, “The Macra Terror”, “The Tomb of the Cybermen”, “The Abominable Snowmen”, “The Wheel in Space”—all these stories and more follow the base-under-siege format. “The Enemy of the World” stands out by not following this format. Indeed, it is the only story in season five that isn’t a base-under-siege story.

Enemy” is also rare amongst early Doctor Who—indeed, amongst most of the classic series—in that its setting moves around a great deal. Even most stories that weren’t base-under-siege stories tended to remain in relatively small locations (London being about the largest area generally covered). In “Enemy”, the characters move to different areas of the world quite frequently. While this shouldn’t happen all the time (and obviously didn’t), the greater area covered makes the threat larger. Salamander isn’t just threatening a small group of people. He’s threatening the entire world. These days, threatening the entire world or even the entire universe has become rather common in Doctor Who (some might argue too common), but for the time, it’s quite a refreshing change of pace.

I was also quite impressed by its rather accurate portrayal of the future—at least in a technological aspect. There’s no mention in any of the dialogue of the year the story takes place in, and episode three has no visual reference to it. However, now that the other episodes are back, we can see that episode one contains a close-up of the registration license in Astrid’s helicopter. It shows the expiry date as the 31st of December, 2018. (I actually have no idea if a telesnap of this moment already existed, but this is the first I’ve been aware of the date.) This indicates that the current date in the story is somewhere around our own present. It was typical of Doctor Who and other science fiction of the time to project space travel, laser guns, and other “advanced” science fiction concepts on anything set post-2000, so it’s rather surprising to see a much more conservative view of future technology here—indeed, one that could very well be the time we are living in. Much like the real world, the people of this world still use helicopters and projectile guns. They use trailers and kitchens stocked with the same kinds of things we still use now. The story perhaps over-estimates how popular hovercrafts would be in the future (early Doctor Who had a fascination with hovercrafts), but we only actually see one hovercraft, and they do exist in the real world. Of course, it doesn’t predict things like cell phones (nobody predicted that) and we aren’t able to zip to other parts of the planet via rocket, but overall the technology seen in the story is surprisingly accurate. It also predicts a very different political and social structure to what present-day Earth actually has (namely, the idea that we would be anywhere near having any kind of world government), but you can’t get everything right.

The story’s greatest strength, however, is in its storytelling and the performances, particularly Patrick Troughton’s. There is such subtlety in his performances as both the Doctor and Salamander that are completely unapparent in the audio. Troughton was a very physical actor, incorporating a lot of movement and gestures into his performances, and that physicality brings the story to life in ways that its absence could never achieve. He manages to create two very different characters, both utterly believable and captivating. One could certainly criticize his accent as Salamander (it is rather stereotypical) and the choice to have a British actor playing a Mexican. However, Troughton and the strong script raise Salamander above a caricature Mexican and make him a compelling and utterly terrifying villain in his own right. Compare Salamander to the Mexican resistance leader in “The War Games” (who really is just a caricature) and one can see how much more of a real person Salamander is.

But Troughton has to do more than just play the Doctor and Salamander. He also has to play the Doctor playing Salamander, and briefly, Salamander playing the Doctor. He does this, too, with panache. When playing the Doctor disguised as Salamander, he doesn’t just switch to his Salamander performance and make the Doctor’s performance perfect. He includes just enough of the Doctor in there to show that this isn’t really Salamander. This is especially true the very first time the Doctor pretends to be Salamander, when he has very little idea how Salamander sounds and behaves, but it is also true—if more nuanced—as the Doctor becomes more comfortable in the role. Similarly, at the end, when Salamander briefly tries to pretend to be the Doctor, the moment is handled brilliantly. Unlike the Doctor’s knowledge of Salamander, Salamander knows virtually nothing about the Doctor. I presume Salamander’s use of gestures rather than speech to indicate everything was scripted rather than Troughton’s personal choice, but nonetheless, Troughton aptly performs a man who has no acting skill trying to act like someone else. The final confrontation between Salamander and the Doctor is also extremely well-realized.

The Enemy of the World” has a great cast of characters all round, with some very strong performances too. Jamie and Victoria, the Doctor’s companions, are perhaps the least well-served by the story. Victoria, in particular, has very little of any consequence to do (although she does have some good scenes with Griffin the chef in episode three). However, the guest cast are very strong. In particular, and somewhat unusually for the time, there are some very good female roles in the story—and not entirely stereotyped roles either. In addition to Victoria, there are three other named female characters in the story. Mary is, unfortunately, a fairly typical female role with little agency of her own. She is entirely dependent on Colin and has no purpose or being outside of him (she never appears in a scene without him). To make matters worse, Colin is the least interesting and most annoying character in the entire story. He, too, serves little purpose other than to whine. However, the other two female roles—Astrid and Fariah—are well-developed characters, with personalities and minds of their own. Importantly, these two characters’ gender never becomes an issue or has any effect on what they can do.

Fariah, in particular, also stands out by being a woman of colour. People of colour showed up very rarely in Doctor Who of the time. When they did show up, sometimes they were very progressive roles (the black astronaut in “The Tenth Planet”), but just as often they were stereotypes (Toberman in “The Tomb of the Cybermen”). Women of colour showed up even less frequently. At the moment, I can’t think of any other black woman in any 60’s Who. But the fact that she’s a black woman aside, Fariah is an utterly compelling character, and easily my favourite in the whole story. My only disappointment is that we never learn how Salamander is blackmailing her. She makes a big deal over how it’s not important, which ironically makes it important that the audience learn her secret. Yet she dies without it ever being revealed, nor is it revealed afterwards. I do like, though, that she is not simply forgotten after her death, which is a fate a lot of characters on Doctor Who can unfortunately suffer. She has an influence even beyond death.

On the whole, I have to say that seeing “The Enemy of the World” was a pure delight, and not just because it was, until very recently, a missing story I thought I might never have the opportunity to see. It’s a compelling drama with very human characters (another way it stands out from other stories is its complete lack of any alien monsters). Colin and Mary are rather grating—particularly Colin—but the remaining characters are superb. The story has its slow moments, such as most of episode three, but it also has some intense and exciting action sequences. I always knew I’d like “Enemy”, but I didn’t expect to consider it one of the best Patrick Troughton stories of them all. On a final note, one of my favourite moments is seeing Patrick Troughton giddily strip down to his longjohns to go swimming in the ocean. What a wonderful moment of playfulness from the Doctor!

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