Sad really, isn’t it – people spend all their time making nice things and other people come along and break them.
Every so often the Doctor says something that sums up life perfectly, and this is what the Doctor fights against. He’s not just talking about plates and cups here, but the destructive forces he battles, that threaten to destroy the ‘nice things’ that the universe has to offer. In retrospect, it also works as a completely unintentional metaphor for the junking of so many episodes of Doctor Who, and until 2013 that quote hailed from the only episode of The Enemy of the World in existence. And then something amazing happened: The Enemy of the World came back!
And that led to a major re-evaluation of the story among some fans. At the risk of being smug, I first reviewed this story for the original website that inspired the creation of this blog, and heaped praise upon it. But I can completely understand the reputation it had for being a bit of a flawed oddity, because the only episode in existence was the breather episode. It’s actually a brilliant episode (just not quite as extra-brilliant as the rest), despite being the comedy one, because it does the comedy extremely well with Griffin the Chef, brings Salamander’s impact down to a domestic level (although you need to have watched or at least listened to the first two episodes to appreciate that) and also has that moment of bullying from Benik, leading to the quote above from the Doctor. Milton Johns steals every scene he is in, and Benik is one of Doctor Who’s nastiest henchmen. The manner in which he threatens Victoria is designed to make your skin crawl: ‘oh such pretty hair, don’t you think.’ This is one of two instances that hint at physical abuse, the other being the unspoken nature of Fariah’s servitude to Salamander, as his ‘personal servant’. This is one of Doctor Who’s most adult stories.
Of course, the real reason Episode 3 gives a misleading impression of the story is that every episode does that. In perhaps the cleverest ever use of the six-part format, writer David Whitaker keeps approaching the story from different perspectives. Episode 1 is where all the cash is splashed, with our Bond parody: a hovercraft chase and a helicopter explosion. Crucially, the Doctor is a bad fit for all this. He just wants to strip down to his long johns and build sandcastles. Faced with the Bond girl, he just melts, like the average teenage Doctor Who viewer would:
ASTRID: Far from it. To me you’re the most wonderful and marvellous man that’s ever dropped out of the skies. Will you do something for me?
DOCTOR (very breathlessly!): Anything, anything at all.
Then we get Jamie playing the Bond role, with the action on a world stage, followed by our comedy relief episode that brings things down to a domestic level and reveals the impact of Salamander for people like a chef and a servant. Next, we build up to the amazing moment where Salamander’s underground base is revealed, changing the nature of the story again. And finally we get the big confrontations we were expecting, including one or two we weren’t expecting as a bonus, such as Astrid ending up in the underground base, clashing together the two disparate strands of the plot.
The Doctor’s moral stance against violence and guns is often fudged, but David Whitaker gets it just right here. In Episode 5 the Doctor hands a gun over to Bruce as a gesture of trust. This is one of many things that make the Second Doctor era so good – he is almost always consistent in his morality. Another example is his refusal to act against Salamander until he is in possession of all the facts. He will not jump in on the side of the apparent good guys until he is sure that he is helping the right people. Ultimately, Giles Kent proves that he was right to be cautious.
Although we do not see the act of violence itself, the story’s most shocking moment is when Astrid finds Swann, beaten to the point of death by Salamander. This is a very brave thing to put on screen, especially as the perpetrator of the crime wears the Doctor’s face. But this is all about steadily raising the stakes for the final confrontation between the Doctor and Salamander, who wears his face because he is his dark mirror. This is not some ranting megalomaniac like Zaroff, but an incredibly cunning villain who is capable of convincingly manipulating people on a grand scale. He is elevated from the genre he notionally springs from at the start of the story by breaking all the rules of Bond-esque villainy, making him far more of a genuine threat than a Bond villain actually ever is to James Bond. So that astonishing moment in Episode 6 where Salamander cons his way into the TARDIS is earned. There has only been one (fabulously disturbing) precedent for this, and that was more than 130 episodes ago. After all those Eighties stories where every Tom, Dick and Harry are hitching a ride in the TARDIS, along with lots of monsters, it is easy to forget how rare it was at the time for a villain to actually get into the TARDIS, breaching the only safe place that a Doctor Who story normally offers.
We are in the middle of Troughton’s second season, and at the exact centre-point of his run of stories. What would you expect to see at this point? Probably a story that typifies the era. But instead we had a break from all those brilliant monster stories for six weeks, to do something completely different, a stunning genre clash. The genius of Doctor Who, in a nutshell. RP
The view from across the pond:
A perfect story to review this year is The Enemy of the World, because it took place in 2018. But The Enemy of the World was never one I was that interested in as a kid. I recall reading the book, but it did not make an impact. So in 2013, when they announced the recovery of the lost episodes completing the full story, I was lackluster about the discovery. (By contrast, when they found Tomb of the Cybermen years earlier, I may have done a jig!) They announced this with another find, The Web of Fear, so I was far happier about that story. It just goes to show that sometimes one’s own expectations can have a negative effect on the viewing experience. I was super excited for Web and really felt it was lacking, while Enemy… well, Enemy floored me!
There’s a gorilla in the room that cannot be ignored. Roger’s recent lexicon defined Patrick Troughton as an “absolute legend” and, if for some reason you hadn’t realized it while watching him as the Doctor, watching The Enemy of the World will sell you on that definition. His dual role as the Doctor and Salamander could not be more different. The Doctor is a clown, the infamous cosmic hobo. His every move is laced with fun and silliness; the lines of his face could almost be handcrafted to represent gentleness and his eyes are kind and understanding. Watch the opening, when he runs to the water at the beach, intent on a dip in his … well, I don’t know what he wears under his clothing, but the scene is hilarious. Yet somehow this same man takes on the role of Salamander whose only real physically distinct characteristic that is different from his Time Lord counterpart is that he has a unibrow*, and in that role changes Patrick Troughton to a cruel, confident dictator. Watch his podium speech or his confident cigar smoking as he reads the paper. The transformation is uncanny. The accent helps, but it’s not the accent that makes the man different; his entire bearing changes. With all the “doubles” we’ve seen in Doctor Who, none have been as radically different from the Doctor as Salamander has.
The story of a dictator ruling the world might strike some as very non-Doctor Who, and they’d be right, it’s not something the show has done that often before. Typically, it would be a situation where an historic dictator would be visited, so casting this into a “future historical” was an interesting and unusual choice but it was a nice break from the typical base-under-siege format where monsters terrorized some unsuspecting base week after week. It still gave us an intelligent story without losing the action; in fact in many ways it increased the action bringing us an all-too-believable story about a world gone out of control!** The cast is superb and many of the stars had other roles in later Doctor Who stories. Castellan Spandrell from The Deadly Assassin is Denes, Donald Bruce, the Security Chief of the World Zone Authority, you might recognize as Rubin from Horror of Fang Rock. But beyond seeing faces one might recognize, the cast completely sell the story; many people hate or fear the man in charge and want to see him taken out at any cost. Confusing him with the Doctor adds an interesting twist to things. Eventually Salamander gets the drop on the Doctor’s companions and enters the TARDIS which leads to the two remaining points that have to be discussed.
On the technical side, considering it was 1968, the split screen work for Troughton to face his own alter ego, is impressive. The scene is brightly lit, which may help dull the lines, but it’s nearly impossible to tell that this is a scene of Pat Troughton fighting Pat Troughton. Newer episodes don’t do as great a job as this did. The bigger issue is the ending of the episode. Warning for those who have not seen this: a major spoiler follows! Salamander gets thrown out of the TARDIS and into the vortex, and then the story ends. This leaves a lot of questions unanswered: what happened back on 2018 Earth, who survived and who didn’t, what was resolved and so on, but more importantly, it shows a very weird and uncommon “death” in Doctor Who. The villain is left floating in the vortex and at no point does the Doctor address it again. Does Salamander die there? Can he come back? Can he be found? It would have made for a spectacular scene if, when Tom Baker and Sarah Jane appear in the vortex during Masque of the Mandragora, Salamander could have floated by, but alas too much exposition would have been necessary! And although I read Christmas on a Rational Planet, one of the New Adventure range of Doctor Who books, I cannot remember it at all. I only bring it up because Salamander did return in that book, but considering the questionable canonicity of those stories, I don’t really count it anyway, regardless of my memory.
Doctor Who, yet again, has shown its versatility in storytelling giving us a 2018 radically different from the one we know and a radically different style from the rest of the season. Long may the show continue to try new things and surprise us along the way! And hopefully, more unexpected treasures will turn up again in the future… ML
*Since my word processor doesn’t know “unibrow”, I must assume it’s possible others do not either. This is when ones eyebrows are connected forming one long eyebrow going over both eyes.
** I don’t think I could trump up an allegory here that would really drive that point home fully, so I’ll just recommend listening to the song Mad World to get something of an idea of what we’re talking about here.
Read next in the Junkyard… The Web of Fear