Sunday, 26 January 2014

Doctor Who: The Enemy of the World (Revisited)

Many of my lovely readers may be unaware how this blog first started way back in June 2009, a long time ago when I was clean-shaven, single and free of grey hairs. a couple of lovely people on Outpost Gallifrey proposed that, as Doctor Who would be off our screens, barring the odd special, from mid-2008 until Spring 2010, it would be rather a good idea to fill the gap by "marathoning" the whole series from 1963 to 2010. A bunch of us agreed to do it together, writing our reviews of each story, watching them in order, and discussing our impressions. It was a fantastic experience in so many ways, from the new appreciation I gained of the series by watching it chronologically to the fantastic sense of camaraderie with my fellow Marathoneers.

In mid-2009, Outpost Gallifrey closed down, to be replaced by Gallifrey Base. In the event, the Marathon threads were transferred across very smoothly and the forum owner, Steve W. Hill, and his team of moderators were rather lovely about accommodating us. Nevertheless, this period made me worry about preserving my already considerably lengthty writings for posterity. Thus began the blog, in June 2009, firstly to archive all of my Doctor Who reviews going back to November 2008, and then to be updated with my reviews alongside the threads on Gallifrey Base. When the Marathon ended, in June 2010, I carried on with the blog, reviewing anything I fancied, and the blog soon became the beast that it is today.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, a lot of the 1960s Doctor Who stories, sadly, no longer existed in the BBC archive, and so my reviews were based on fan reconstructions which took the original soundtracks (all of which, thankfully, existed), spliced in any existing clips, and reconstructed the rest by means of still photographs, captions to explain what should be happening on screen, and various creative and innovative ways of making the end result more visually arresting. The third, fourth and fifth seasons were comprised mainly of such reconstructed missing stories, and it was hard going at times. The Enemy of the World was one such story.

The Marathon ended. Years passed. And then a man called Philip Morris came along. It seems that, although nothing is likely to happen quickly, it is set to be revealed that he and a few others have discovered many, most or all of these missing episodes by methodically scouring the globe. The only episodes to be announced and released are The Web of Fear (barring episode three, at least for now) and The Enemy of the World. I would suggest, should you wish to look into the background of the missing episodes "omnirumour", the best place to do so is at the Planet Mondas Forum, of which I am, er, a moderator. Small world, eh?

So I have two stories to revisit for now, with a lot more to come. So here is my revisitation of The Enemy of the World for your edification and delight. I have reproduced unedited my original review of the recon from 2008, in italics, and I shall reply after each episode with my 2014 comments on the episodes themselves.

So, without further ado...

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!

Footage. Actual footage. Oh my God. and footage of Troughton, no less, something which is always priceless. It's a joy to see him splashing about in the water with such abandon. Incidentally, Mrs Llamastrangler, for whom this is her first "classic" story, instantly recognised the similarities in terms of performance between Troughton and Matt Smith.

This episode looks expensive, pacey and exciting. Barry Letts directs this far more dynamically than one would expect from such later attempts as The Android Invasion. I was amused, seeing how Astrid's helicopter licence tells us the date (2018, fifty years in the future from their perspective, and the point at which my fixed rate mortgage ends from mine...) at how fandom used to debate when this story is set. One is left to wonder at how many other fan arguments could be solved by the intervention of actual footage. I was also amused at how very reminiscent of the late 1960s is Astrid's interior decor.

The most electrifying thing of all is, of course, our first glimpse of Troughton as Salamander in a physical performance so different to his portrayal of the Doctor.

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!

There's something sweetly naive about predictions made in the 1960s into how we would be living around now. A unified world government, no mobile phones, weather control, travel by rocket between Australia and Hungary within two hours, state control of certain industries... it's as though neo-liberalism never happened. Whom would I rather suffer, I ask myself- Salamander or Thatcher?

 Troughton manages to exude an extraordinary amount of menace towards Fedorin as Salamander, showing without a doubt what a wide-ranging and brilliant actor he was. This is another gripping episode, although I was amused to find that even recovered episodes feature stock footage, in this case of volcanoes erupting.

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.

I suppose, up to a point, that we were right to suspect that this episode, back when it was all that existed, was not exactly the most visually arresting of the six, but watching the episodes in context it's far less noticeable that this episode is the cheap one.

Still, Griff remains one of my favourite character. And the Doctor's uncharacteristic refusal to get involves is no less grating; indeed, it is if anything more obvious that this is down to the limited number of costume changes for Troughton per episode.

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.

Fariah's death is much more effective with actual footage, if I may risk a truism. And it is now entirely clear which "zone" the action is happening in, obviously. But the big difference footage makes to this episode is, of course, the long and dialogue-free stretch in  which Salamander gets into Thunderbird 2 and reveals to us his secret lair, replete with some very 1960s computers.

And then there's the cigar. I didn't expect that.

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!

I don't know if it's because we now have footage or not, but this time round I felt that the scene in which Bruce is persuaded that Salamander may not in fact be a great benefactor after all was entirely convincing. I had absolutely none of the qualms I had when watching the recon. Perhaps this is because I now have the actors' performances to go on. Perhaps it's for no particular reason.

Far more surprising, even shocking, is to read my original review of this episode and realise that I had entirely misunderstood what was happening at the end of the episode; it is obviously Bruce, and not Kent, whom the Doctor is trying to convince. If I can misunderstand something as obvious as this while experiencing a story as a recon then this gives rise to the question of how much else I may have misunderstood while experiencing a story as a recon. Perhaps I had overestimated how possible it is to experience a story without any footage and I haven't "seen" as much of 1960s Doctor Who as I thought I had.

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?

The plot holes are far more obvious this time around with a visual context. Astrid and Swann meeting as they do is an awfully big coincidence; Astrid forgets that a tunnel exists to the underground lair when the plot necessitates it; and there's no way that the Doctor could have got into Salamander's locked room. Still, in spite of all this, the episode is far more coherent and far more satisfactory to view than it was as a recon. Perhaps it's the simple fact that it is much easier to follow and it looks so good. And Troughton's performance is magnetic, as always.

It's a real shock to see the split screen at the end as we see both the Doctor and Salamander. The ending is still abrupt but, without the frustration of not being able to follow the story easily, this doesn't seem to matter as much.

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.

This time around I didn't notice the change of tone at all although, perhaps, the second half of the story is far more visual and thus easy to follow without frustration when one has the luxury of footage, which makes all the difference. Overall, the sets, the direction and the performances elevate the story, with added footage, to a 4/5. The two stand-out performances, without a doubt, come from Patrick Troughton and Patrick Troughton.

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