Doctor Who - Enemy of the World

Back after being missing for decades, can `Enemy of the World` live up to the hype surrounding it’s return?

None of the plot twists in `Enemy of the World` can match the subterfuge with which the previously lost story found its way into public view. Months of claim and counter claim, rumour and denials from all key players ended with the announcement that 9 more episodes were no longer missing. While `Web of Fear` has always been cited as a classic, nobody quite knew what to make of David Whitaker’s six parter. The one episode we had seen was, as it turns out, dull because it was out of context. Now it plays as probably the second best of the story, full of important developments and making the best of its interesting cast. However it is now the time to separate the circumstances under which the story has re-emerged – however much cause for excitement they may be- with the production as it is.

"Give-a me ze missing episodes or I will-a turn you into pasta."

As a whole the story is atypical of the series at this time; there’s no monsters and no base under siege. Instead the plot is comparatively knotty as it portrays a future world increasingly dominated by Salamander, a dictator who has a secret agenda. Surrounding and opposing him we meet a selection of individuals each with their own often hidden motivations. On paper- and certainly as a book- it makes for a tight story packed with incident. Unlike some 1960s Doctor Who the television version is not spoiled so much by the production values which are strong but by some odd decisions regarding the overall story and some of the characters. In that sense it is very much a broth that would have moaning Aussie chef Griffin complaining of far too much salt and not enough flavour.

The world Whitaker attempts to portray while being futuristic is also one that 1960s viewers might identify with. There are a multitude of situations around which he weaves a thriller not unlike the espionage movies that were popular at the time, His characters’ allegiances are fluid allowing for double crosses and traitors yet perhaps lack conviction. For all the mistrust that passes between them it is often difficult to work out why they behave as they do.  Security chief Donald Bruce is probably the most rounded of the bunch in that you can see his allegiance to Salamander being chipped away as the story progresses. Other’s motivations are muddier, some forced to support Salamander because he has something on them but again this is a bit woolly. There’s plenty of dialogue but a lot of it simply circles the issue and doesn’t progress the story; perhaps four episodes would have been enough to tell this tale.

For this kind of script the viewer needs to have some overview otherwise all the surprise revelations just leave us puzzled. Salamander’s dominance seems flimsily explained and his whole plan more than a little unlikely. On the one hand he has authority and orders acts of brutality yet he’s not so ubiquitous that people always know where he is. It is thus difficult to get a handle on why he has become so powerful. At the same time he is also carting packages of food and drink to his subterranean bunker seemingly on his own, messing about in a fake decontamination room and causing earthquakes to maintain his grip on power. Individually there is merit in these ideas but Whitaker doesn’t spend enough time explaining them particularly how Salamander managed to con a troupe of intelligent scientists to fall for his ruse. And for that matter how he persuaded them to wear such garish jumpsuits!

"I think I love you..."

It doesn’t help that despite supposedly being Mexican Salamander talks with a cod Italian accent, gesticulating and enunciating like a Mafia don in a particularly clichéd crime drama. Patrick Troughton can certainly look menacing and gets some chilling moments but the accent does to some extent sabotage the impression he is giving. He constantly seems seconds away from producing an ice cream and talking about “family, eh”. Still these look like subtle acting choices whenever Giles Kent is on screen. As written Kent is devious to the last convincingly against Salamander yet with his own agenda. Yet Bill Kerr seems determined to overcook each key moment so that by the time Salamander shoots him it’s a relief to us all!

Much better are the supporting characters whose presence makes the story seem far better than it is. Mary Peach’s action girl Astrid is a blast as she throws herself into the story as a kind of Jane Bond. Reg Lye’s laconic cook Griffin adds some much needed levity in his altogether too brief appearance while Milton Johns is perfect casting as the today but vicious Benik. Carmen Munroe as Salamander’s disenchanted food taster Fariah and George Pravda as Denes also sprinkle some magic during their sojourns in some episodes. However just as we get to know them Whitaker has them killed so by the time we get to part 6 most of the interesting characters are gone.

Jamie and Victoria’s early proactive involvement soon fades and they seem superfluous during the last two episodes. I feel that Ben and Polly would have been a better foil for the second Doctor. Considering how both Jamie and Victoria are historical characters they seem to breeze through much of this adventure without the slightest worry. It’s noticeable that Jamie’s intuition oscillates from one scene to another as if nobody is quite sure how intelligent he is supposed to be.

What the discovery of these episodes has done is unveil an excellent performance from Patrick Troughton as the Doctor. His giddy excitement at the prospect of a paddle in part 1 contrasts with his increasingly desperate search for facts –“we must have proof” he keeps emphasising- as matters progress. When he is impersonating Salamander subtle differences mean it’s actually a much more interesting approach than the full on dictator turns out to be.

Visually the story scores highly with a range of contrasting sets from modern living quarters to poky caravans, from the interesting old fashioned house in which we initially meet Salamander to the metallic underground base introduced later on. Most surprising is the breezy beach based location work in part one (the series doesn’t often venture beside the sea) and Salamander’s personal subterranean pod. The latter is excellently done with convincing model shots of it travelling. Director Barry Letts makes matters seem more dynamic than they actually are and doesn’t shirk from some of the more brutal acts that are carried out.

`Enemy of the World` is in some ways far better than expected yet remains frustratingly short of greatness. Despite some sparkling character moments and a visually impressive look its new found acclaim seems likely to recede. Don’t think so? Then ask yourself whether you think you’ll watch it again?  It is great to find any lost episodes but a couple of years from now this story will surely return to its middling status as a competent enough but rather dry story.

More on the rumours and stories that preceded the 9 episode haul announcement on This way up 2 www.thiswayup2zine.blogspot.co.uk

No comments:

Post a comment