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Step by Step, he’s taking control of the planet.

Television

Doctor Who
The Enemy of the World

 

It might have the whiff of sacrilege, particularly since it’s the one complete offering to result from all that frothing anticipation over untold legions of potentially returned missing episodes, but I almost think The Enemy of the World works better on audio. Of course, being a Bazza Letts’ directorial effort, that shouldn’t have been altogether surprising. And, it might just be that the more you entertain the story, what was initially surprising, different and engaging by comparison with its peer (or season) group becomes less so. Namely, its monster-free, relatively character-led script, courtesy of the show’s first story editor (and generally all-round justly-esteemed writer) David Whitaker. Especially since, on the debit side, there is frequently cursory regard to little things like robust motivation and plot, and a mid-story twist that, while kind-of brilliant, has to be balanced against not being really that satisfying in execution.

There’s a tendency to see the Troughton era as the most kiddified of Doctor Who, with the least depth and most literal approach to its battles between good and evil. It’s a tack I tend to resist, at least in terms of sweeping generalities (you can pick out The Moonbase, but it’s hardly representative, fortunately), but I have to admit it does loom large at times, and it’s particularly glaring in a story like this one, where the more mature ideas butt heads with the more infantile elements. Invasion of the Dinosaurs, with which this is understandably compared for its fake-out paradigm, may feature the Number One lure to the younger set (dinosaurs!), while here there’s nary a monster in sight (meaning that historically, received wisdom discourteously dismissed Enemy as the boring story of the season), but it’s by far the more consistent and congruent in structure and characterisation.

But, when I first listened to Enemy, I was very much taken with it (I’d read the Target, of course, but it wasn’t one that stuck in my mind, other than for the curiously guest-cast-based cover and DWM reporting on Ian Marter’s scandalous use of “bastard”, so ordaining the descent of the range into a minefield of exploding guts and cussing that would have made Eric Saward proud). The reveal of the underground group, deceived into believing the world above is a radioactive disaster, really does come out of leftfield (such that the Doctor’s later deduction that something is going on, on account of there being supplies for more people than Salamander’s base needs, seems entirely unmotivated; what if the staff are particularly fat – like one of his guard captains – or they’re in the habit of having a lot of guests over?)

JamieWell, I’ll say this, your security programme is rubbish.

That lustre wears off a little in the cold harsh light of the less-than-adorned recovered episodes. Three (the previous existing one) was always seen as a bit of a dud between all the surrounding action, what with it involving George Pravda (Denes) sitting in a corridor awaiting sentence while a chef (Reg Lye as Griffin) complains about the state of things and a henchman engages in ultra-violence by smashing a few plates. It sort-of confirmed all one’s worst expectations of Barry Letts directorial acumen (this being his debut). In context, it might be the weakest episode, but Griff is a superb creation, more than justifying the lack of action. This domestic diversion does, however, rather compound the sense that super-villain Salamander doesn’t have the most impressive of set ups, what with his aforementioned impressively portly guard captain (Gordon Faith) and falling for the old “pretend to save the bad guy in order to get into his good books routine”.

Sure, it worked for Tom Hiddleston in The Night Manager, but Jamie McCrimmon and Victoria Waterfield oughtn’t be fooling anyone (Victoria, possibly the most annoying of all companions, certainly outside of the ’80s, is actually tolerable –  at points –  in this story, once you get past the first episode, and her recipe for Kaiser pudding, and rapport with Griff, is very amusing). Jamie in particular is given a role for which he should be woefully inept, as if it had been written with Ben in mind, and suddenly becomes quite clever (recognising Salamander’s motivation in removing honest man Denes and putting weak stooge Fedoris in his place.

Credit where it’s due; Letts, immersed in hardware (helicopters, hovercraft) and locations, makes a good fist of the first episode. It’s fast-paced, sets the scene and is easily the best of the six. Troughton going for a swim is just the sort of daffy thing only his Doctor would get up to (well, I say that; Matt Smith probably would too), and his response to Astrid’s “To me, you’re the most marvellous and wonderful man who’s ever dropped out of the sky” is hilarious.

The supporting cast, from Mary Peach’s Honor Blackman-esque Astrid, to Colin Douglas’ manipulative Bruce and Bill Kerr’s apparently combustible Giles Kent, are all strong, and the twist with Kent in the final episode is another example of Whitaker using the potential of a six-parter shrewdly, servicing the plot with twists and turns, even if, as executed, it doesn’t quite pack the punch it should. Carmen Munroe is also effective as food taster Fariah, nursing an unspoken backstory in her hatred of Salamander the like of which one would generally expect from later, more “adult” eras.

BenikOf course, it doesn’t make sense if you haven’t got any sense. Just stand guard and try and keep your wits about you.

There’s also Milton Johns’ wonderfully sadistic turn as Benik (“You must have been a nasty little boy” accuses Jamie; “Oh, I was, but I had a very enjoyable childhood” he replies); he even pulls Victoria’s hair at one point. There’s also an amusing eye roll from a guard after Benik has chewed him out, the kind of small touch that helps grounds the proceedings.

Balanced against that are some less-convincing performances; Fedorin (David Nettheim), Denes’ deputy, is an unlikely baldy-beardy bloke in a gimp suit who sits around getting pissed and manipulated by Salamander. In the underground, Adam Verney’s overwrought Colin was annoying enough on audio, but here the combination of wild eyes and over-emphasis is especially laughable, not helped any by the sometimes-florid dialogue. Verney performs Colin as if he’s permanently about to explode, or like Michael Palin going off on one in a Python sketch (“I want to see the sun again, walk on top of the earth. Not like this, a rat underground”, and “like worms under the earth, sightless worms, wriggling around without hope, without purpose”, and his reaction to Christopher Burgess’ Swann being invited top side; “Why not me WHY? WHY NOT ME?”).

While The Enemy of the World has been referred to as Who doing Bond, and it’s superficially easy enough to see why it has been said, and also why it’s cited as a template for Pertwee Who, it doesn’t really translate that way for the most part. There are some notable compare-and-contrasts, though. For a villain, Salamander’s scheme is actually quite low key. I mean, apart from the triggering natural disasters part. He’s invested in being seen as a generous benefactor, for whatever reason, rather than as a power-mad dictator (or he could surely use the Sun Catcher to obliterate entire countries, and hold the world to ransom).

But whatever the nitty-gritty of his motivation (“Step by step, he’s taking control of the planet”), it’s left unrevealed to us, as he’s a paper-thin character who seems to be bad because he’s bad, and possibly because he’s Mexican (Donald Trump wouldn’t get on with him). Did Salamander create the Sun Catcher, or merely acquire it? And likewise, his underground technology? He doesn’t seem like a scientific genius, or much like any kind of genius, really.

He’s not much good at improv either (trying to think on his feet when confronted by Swann, he does a terrible job, suggesting the survivors must be wiped out, and are evil and corrupt because they are physically mutated; although, he smokes a good cigar). Trout’s performance, boot polished and absurd in accent (“Suicide of course. Such a piddy”) was clearly instructive to Al Pacino when researching Tony Montana.

Salamander, “the shopkeeper of the world” ought to be a devious and intriguing mastermind, but he’s actually just Troughton doing a turn, and doing it well enough, but his plan for world domination is never more than a lot of elaborate key notes that make little sense when you break them down. There subtext to the underground community’s paradigm is quite neat, though; the leader tells the populace the reality they need/want to believe, and everyone buys into it (ironically, it’s the mainstream media that unwittingly blow his gaffe in this case, rather than toeing the official line, when Swann gets hold of a newspaper clipping). As such, there’s also a virtual compendium of conspiratorial devices here if one wants to get into it; the “benign” leader who says all the right things is actually a Machiavellian force enslaving and lying to the blissfully ignorant population whilst using advanced and unknown technology (manipulating world events and cause disasters) to solidify his grip on power.

Enemy’s is also a progressively Star Trek globe, with its United Zones as an effectively one-world government, so making it rather difficult to manufacture convincing conflict. There are robot harvesters, and two-hour rocket trips, so there’s a lot to look forward to come next year.

Troughton is on good form as the Doctor, with some strong dialogue (“Which law? Whose philosophy?” In response to Astrid asking if he’s a doctor of such things), although his biding his time, wanting proof before getting involved, doesn’t really add up (continuing past the halfway mark), and feels like an attempt to peg the plot at a certain pace. As Doctor doppelgangers go, Salamander’s someway below the Abbot of Amboise, and closer to Meglos. Trout makes him both utterly ridiculous and impressively sinister. Most of all, as alluded above, his mangled verbiage is a constant source of entertainment (“Ees nor so good boys. Ees nor so good. Wars all this abow, huh?”; “An you take your littew puppy dog wi you” “Ees veree pridy”).

The finale is rather rushed, although Salamander getting sucked out of the TARDIS into space is effectively offbeat (strange for the best cliffhanger ending to be one leading into the next story; the others are pretty nondescript), and as noted Letts’ direction is reliably variable. But what really prevents Enemy from pushing towards classic status is the conflict between the intelligent story it wants to be and the less refined, more slipshod elements. Certainly, no one was dumbing down the previous two stories (another reason I resist the kiddie-centric view of his era). If The Enemy of the World has diminished slightly, now the jubilation over its recovery has died down, it nevertheless represents a commendably different Troughton story, even as part of an era awash with 21st century futures and weather control technology.

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