Well, they’re back! After three months of swirling rumors, the BBC finally confirmed that two long-lost Patrick Troughton-era Doctor Who serials have been uncovered in their entirety (almost)! So, on the night that I was supposed to begin Episode 1 of The Daleks’ Masterplan, I set my rewatch project by the boards, and decided to binge-watch The Enemy of the World in one go.
What follows is not a “proper” review of the serial. That will come in its turn. However, about four years ago, I did watch Enemy via the reconstruction format. The amazing folks at Loose Cannon had put out a version of this serial back in 2001 – although I am sure that they, too, are much happier to have the originals back.
Instead, I’ve dug up my review of the reconstruction from the Doctor Who Ratings Guide, and have added running commentary (the original review is quoted in italics) based on my preliminary thoughts from having watched all 6 episodes in one sitting. Enjoy!
Earlier reviewers on the Ratings Guide have debated whether or not The Enemy of the World is intended to be a James Bond clone. The novelization of the story seems to answer that question, with one character’s telephone extension said to be “007″. In the actual episode, the extension is given as “001″, but given that many novelizations are based on original scripts (versus what finally made it to air), it’s an open question as to whether the explicit Bond reference was either a David Whitaker wink-and-nod that got bounced by the script editor, or Ian Marter taking his side of the debate.
…and it’s pretty obvious from the first half of Episode 1 alone that this is definitely Doctor Who does James Bond. There’s an extensive film sequence involving a helicopter and hovercraft, and director Barry Letts brought out an actual helicopter and hovercraft for the actors to use (the reconstruction used stock helicopter footage fromThe Daemons, which itself borrowed footage via From Russia With Love). This chase sequence here is not dissimilar to what Letts gave us in Episode 2 of Planet of the Spiders, Jon Pertwee’s swan song. It’s big and broad in scope, and is intercut with Astrid Ferrier standing in a huge communications chamber, looking at maps on big screens, and talking to Giles Kent via internal monitors.
While much of Season 5 of Doctor Who is remembered for cramped sets, base-under-siege stories, and small casts, The Enemy of the World begins with the equivalent of a huge Bond-style pre-credits stunt sequence. And, of course, Patrick Troughton running in his underwear and, later, villainously smoking a cigar.
The Enemy of the World still feels like no other Doctor Who adventure before or since. The story is a political thriller set in a non-demoninational future, pegged by the novelization’s back-cover blurb writer as taking place in 2030 (or, 50 years after the book was written).
We now know that the TV story was set in 2018, or 50 years after the final episode was broadcast. Astrid’s helicopter in Episode 1 bears a large placard stating that its registration expires in December 2018. In Episode 5, we’re shown “last year’s” newspaper bearing an April 2017 byline.
This future world is nearly entirely under the auspices of the World Zone Organization (WZO), which appears to be a thinly veiled extension of the United Nations; the Loose Cannon reconstruction of Episode 1 shows a picture of the UN headquarters at Manhattan’s Turtle Bay as a stand-in for the WZO building.
And Letts uses footage of the same headquarters. That makes The Enemy of the World New York City’s first appearance in Doctor Who since 1965′s The Chase … and also its last appearance until 2007.
Director Barry Letts evidently worked hard at casting to augment the international feel of the story. Two actual Australian actors grace the cast: Bill Kerr plays an Australian politico and comes across as authentic, as does Reg Lye in a funny bit part as a disgruntled chef. A third Australian actor also “graces” the cast: David Nettheim portrays a hapless Soviet-accented apparatchik in the Hungary sequences. Czech-born George Pravda plays a slightly more believable Central European power broker. Also, most interestingly, Carmen Munroe plays one of the show’s first fully formed black characters; Munroe was quite young at the time and in the intervening years has given herself a pretty impressive resume.
We now know that, in the second half of the story, as it becomes more apparent that Giles Kent is actually a bad guy, Bill Kerr ramp’s up his crazy-man facial expressions.
Nettheim, as Nicholas Fedorin, is equally as nervous and bumbling in Episode 2 as he was in Episode 3, which we already had. Munroe, however, has her best scenes restored via Episodes 2 and 4. She’s terrific here, fiery and spiteful, and has a great encounter with the Doctor in Episode 4. Her death scene – while much more violently portrayed in Ian Marter’s novelization of the story – is still very affecting, and casts a shadow over the rest of the story.
Speaking of accents,
the chief villain in this story is of course played by Patrick Troughton himself, with a Mexican accent strongly inspired, it seems, by Alfonso Bedoya. Salamander, a larger-than-life Bond-type villain, is a genius scientist who uses his powers to flummox the WZO into handing him larger and larger influence. His end goals are never stated, but it doesn’t really matter. He exhibits villainy both large and small: he not only causes natural disasters (thus allowing him to then “rescue” the victims, making Salamander one of the first purveyors of “hurt/comfort” fan-fic) but also blackmails Nettheim’s apparatchik by tying him to an imaginary series of petty swindles and, when that doesn’t work, poisons the poor guy with Alaskan wine. How suitably chilly.
Patrick Troughton just lights up the screen here, both as the Doctor and as Salamander. Troughton’s physical comedy bits in Episode 1 (clicking his heels and jumping into the surf) are a revelation. Later in Episode 1, the Doctor is shown watching projected footage of Salamander at the UN, and you’d almost swear you were watching two different actors. Letts cleverly opens Episode 4 by dissolving from a film close-up of Salamander (via the Episode 3 cliffhanger) into the Doctor’s visage. Never minding the now politically-incorrect feigning an approximation of a Mexican accent, Troughton is quite credible as a human villain. Even the final confrontation between Salamander and the Doctor, in the TARDIS in Episode 6, is visually stunning, as Letts gets both faces on screen in profile at the same time (one menacingly leaning into the other) without any obvious split-screen effect showing.
So not only is the plot more politically minded and globetrotting than your standard Season 5 base-under-siege Troughton runaround (and of course crammed into a studio way too small for such aspirations), but as a result the cliffhangers are more, shall we say, subtle, than is normal. The big shock to end Episode 1 is the Doctor breaking out his Mexican accent, which today would only done for laughs at the end of a David Tennant pre-credits teaser (“Allons-y, Monsieur Salamander!”). The TARDIS crew doesn’t even feature in three of the other four cliffhangers. In fact, the only time that the lives of the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria are directly threatened in the entire story comes in the last five seconds of the final episode; a set-up that leads into the next story, The Web of Fear (where it’s resolved in about 17 more seconds).
I can now report that the Episode 4 cliffhanger works much better live than it does as a recon (Thank you, Captain Obvious – Ed.). The Doctor, impersonating Salamander, is walked in on by an unseen figure, and looks toward the camera in surprise; this has more tension than I would have previously suspected. Also, the Episode 2 cliffhanger, which involves Salamander discrediting George Pravda’s character, features an interesting pan from one character’s face to another, ending on David Nettheim looking very, very unhappy.
All this understandably makes for edge-of-your-seat viewing. I love it when Doctor Who tries just a little too hard. This story is not a good match for the series’ monster-heavy format at the time; its visual goals couldn’t possibly have been accomplished on a 1968 budget; and the whole idea of the Doctor’s doppelganger being evil because he has a Mexican accent is, to quote John Turturro’s Cuban-American pederast bowler in The Big Lebowski: “Laughable, mang.” But I still found myself hoping to rush through this story faster than the one-episode-a-day ration I set for myself; I’d drag myself through work ready to rush home and see more of Salamander’s harrassing petty bureaucrats.
Well, I didn’t get that one right. The serial’s visual goals really were achieved in 1968. There are several large sets, lots of characters talking to each other over TV monitors, and the aforementioned chase sequence. Letts interrupts one action sequence in Episode 4 so that a woman can slowly push a pram across the street, which is an interesting visual gag. When Salamander descends to his secret lair in Episode 4, I think most of us assumed that he was just taking an elevator, but in fact he reveals a full-sized two-story rocket-shaped prop that unfolds to the ground. While we’re still not quite watching something as visually sumptuous as a late-’60s Bond film, The Enemy of the World is much more impressive than I would have thought possible given a Doctor Who budget.
The rest of Season 5 was more hit than miss. The surviving audio and censored clips from Fury From the Deep remain scary even today; the leftover episodes of The Ice Warriors and The Abominable Snowmen still convey something of the power that those episodes had over the young fans-turned-authors who eventually lionized them. The Enemy of the World, however, is like Salamander’s Alaskan wine: it takes forever to forment, 40-odd years later the bottle looks warped and dusty, and you’d never think to sample it over something from Bordeaux… but, boy, does it still pack a killer punch.
Agreed. Having this story back justifies all the old rumors about how Season 5 was 1960s’ Doctor Who at its best.