Sunday, 7 June 2009

Doctor Who: The Enemy of the World

Part One

"They're human beings, if that's what you mean. Indulging in their favourite pastime- trying to destroy each other!"

David Whitaker's back. Yay! And this one's directed by some bloke called Barry Letts. I wonder whether we'll ever hear from him again?

In contrast to the previous story we immediately start with the TARDISeers. And for the first time since, I believe, The Keys of Marinus, the TARDIS materialises silently. This is a very unusual setting for Doctor Who- for all that this is supposedly set in the future we're not exactly being bombarded with futuristic things. In fact, hovercrafts and helicopters give us a very contemporary feel, and signify that we're going to see six episodes of Doctor Who's take on the '60s spy craze.

There's a most enjoyable exchange between the Doctor and Astrid after he insists he's a Doctor "not of medical significance". On being asked whether he's a Doctor of law or philosophy he replies "Which law? Whose philosophy?". There's also a running gag becoming established in which the Doctor, asked to explain where he came from, makes an oblique reference to the previous story for the second time in a row. Witty dialogue is pretty much a hallmark of this story's first three parts and, although a very unusual type of story indeed, it's been great fun so far. Better still, we get Bill Kerr of off of of Hancock, and an unusually intriguing cliffhanger.

There's been an awful lot of weather control in Doctor Who lately, mind!

Part Two

"Which side is good? Which side is bad? And why should I interfere?"

More amusing references to recent escapades as the Doctor thinks he's being told about a "disused Yeti". But the plot thickens a lot during this episode. There's a lot of plotting and counter-plotting going on but it doesn't seem over-complicated, a testament to the excellence of Whitaker's script. Fariah's instantly an intriguing character who has an interesting job. But as she's characterised too well to be a simple food taster we begin to suspect there are things she's not telling us. And finally we get to see the real Salamander- a superb performance from Troughton. Although the accent... er, yes.

Jamie is once again magnificent, carrying out the dangerous plan to get into Salamander's confidence. Once again he's shown to be far from the simpleton of myth- particularly, it must be said, in David Whitaker stories!

Part Three

"People spend all their time making nice things and then other people come along and break them."

An episode with actual footage and, sadly we can now see that this story just isn't very visually arresting, great though the script may be. We get a confession early on that this story is the season cheapie: "Why is Mr Denes being kept in the corridor here?" "It's easier to guard him here."

Still, the dialogue continues to sparkle. Griff, the chef, gets most of the best lines, of course (I'm going out for a walk. It'll probably rain.") but the standard of wit is good all round.

All the same, whilst all this exciting stuff is going on, and Jamie is showing an impressive understanding of the low arts of political skulduggery, the Doctor, almost Hartnell-like, is doing sod all except watching everything on a television much like the viewers were watching back home. In the first clear bit of foot dragging, this normally uber-interventionist Doctor is refusing to do anything at all before he has absolute proof.

The poisoning of Fedorin is great ("Suicide, of course..."). Oh, and Fariah clearly does have a secret...

This still feels very strange for Doctor Who, but it's actually quite refreshing to have a bit of a breather from the standard formula the show seems to have adopted of late. And this is damn good stuff so far, however visually dull it may occasionally be.

Part Four

"Proof, proof, proof!"

Fariah seems to get from Hungary to Australia awfully quickly! And from this point on we get quite a lot of this. It's often hard to guess which "zone" a scene is supposed to be happening in, especially as the rooms and corridors (or, to be fair, the photographs of them) tend to look rather similar.

Benik's line "These people are terrorists!" has a rather arrestingly contemporary ring, one of the things which tend to mark the fact that in this episode the mood changes sharply and everything becomes very serious. This is nowhere more apparent than with Fariah's tragic yet noble death, but rather unsatisfyingly we are told nothing of her story beyond the vague fact she was being blackmailed.

The seriousness fades briefly as Salamander makes his very Thunderbirds exit to his secret underground base. This scene is most peculiar with sound only, with the sound effects making me imagine the most bizarre Gerry Anderson style contraption imaginable! There's a big new revelation; Salamander is persuading loads of people to live underground in the belief a radioactive war rages overhead so that they'll help him cause natural disasters. And nobody questions any of this except one bloke called Colin. Er, right. This is, to put it mildly, less than entirely convincing and the story never quite recovers from it.

Oh, and it's just occurred to me that the Doctor's relative inactivity is obviously because Troughton's playing two characters and can't have too big a workload. Duh! And Jamie and Victoria weren't in this episode at all, were they? This is the first blatant cast holiday of the Troughton era, more than a year in.

Part Five

"You must be either a complete fool or very clever."

Just a couple of minutes in it's quite clear Bruce is wavering in his support for Salamander, otherwise why is this scene happening at all? This scene doesn't quite work for me, although the part where the Doctor hands over his gun is great. Since last episode the story's tone has become very grim, which sits oddly with the intrinsic jolly japery of the central storyline and plot structure. A bit more lightness of touch, as with the first three episodes, and I'd happily accept scenes like this. But as things are it doesn't quite ring true. The confrontation scene between Swann and Salamander doesn't quite work either.

The scene where the Doctor pretends to be Salamander in front of Jamie and Victoria is very well done but also odd- why does he need to pretend? It's not for Kent's sake- he's (still) trying to convince the Doctor, not the other way around!

Part Six

"And so you're going to kill me. How petty."

I admit this story has been dragging for me over the last couple of episodes, but I'm genuinely flabbergasted that Kent turns out to have been a baddie all along. just goes to prove the most effective whodunnits are the ones where you don't realise it's a whodunnit in the first place. And the scene where Salamander shoots him is actually quite violent in a very realistic way- I'm a lot more uncomfortable about the idea of kids watching it than I would be about something much more violent but with more of the fantasy element to it.

This feels a bit uneven- extraordinarily, the Doctor sends Jamie and Victoria off to the TARDIS early on, which highlights just how little they've been in the second half of this story. And the final scene with the Doctor and Salamander in the TARDIS is fundamentally a good idea but it all seems to be over very quickly. And surely Salamander should register at least some surprise that the TARDIS is bigger on the inside?

Overall, a story of two halves- the first three episodes seem to be a fun and witty spoof on the action-packed spy genre that was all over 60s film and television from James Bond to The Avengers. But halfway through the witty dialogue disappears and the tone becomes very serious, which just feels wrong in a story which still seems plotted like a spoof. 3/5.

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