Sunday, 23 August 2009

The Enemy of the World

Previous viewings - one (missing episodes), few (Episode 3)

Doctor Who vists the "lead actor in dual role" well again, giving Patrick Troughton a chance to flex his acting muscles beyond playing the Doctor. I doubt anyone would argue that this is one of the least talked about Troughton stories and I'll guess a few reasons why - as an action-lite take on James Bond, it doesn't really have a "hook" beyond Troughton playing two characters, which can't compete with the appeal of a popular monster which every story from Season 5 has except this and Fury from the Deep. The surviving episode, while key to the plot, is a talky studio-bound episode. And lastly the title is as generic as City of Death. So what's to like about it?

Loads, as it happens. It's a welcome breather after a swathe of base-under-siege tales (with more to come) and immediately commands attention by being so different. The Enemy of the World is a tale of a politician's quest for world domination, and its political bent (far-fetched nature aside) and lack of alien threat almost allows the story to slip into the pure historical role.

Year unknown, but it's in the timeframe of quite a few stories of the era - 21st/22nd century. The TARDIS lands on a beach in Australia, and the Doctor decides to have a paddle. Instead he finds himself shot at only to be rescued by Astrid Ferrier in a helicopter. Plenty of action to start the story, although I would have preferred it there had been some story beforehand to put the action in context. The setting is worth mentioning - Doctor Who's only visit to Australia, right? It's not the UK and it's weird to see our little island completely ignored in a story with quite a bit of location hopping and strangely makes the serial feel more disconnected from the rest of the series, even from stories not set on Earth.

By the time this story is set, the political landscape is somewhat different to now, divided into Zones, so the world is run by a few people. One of them is Salamander, a shady man with a thick accent, played by Patrick Troughton. The Doctor is taken to Giles Kent, who tells him he is identical to Salamandar, and that despite his reputation as a public benefactor, Salamander is evil and craves world domination. It should be obvious where this is going now, as the story switches from action to exposition overload - Kent wants the Doctor to impersonate Salamander and find proof that he's been up to no good. The first episode is capped off by a really good cliffhanger - security chief Bruce shows up and questions Kent, forcing the Doctor to pretend to be Salamander to get rid of him. It's an unusual crisis for the Second Doctor to face and all the more striking for it, and one of the few times I've felt his anxiety as his abilities are being stretched.

The second episode introduces us properly to Salamander. The situation isn't like Hartnell playing the Abbot of Amboise, for one thing we knows from the off that Salamander isn't the Doctor, and both characters have lots of screentime. I definitely prefer Troughton's performance as the Doctor but I like the way he keeps us guessing how Salamander's mind works by altering his performance depending on who he is interacting with. In Episodes 2 and 3, Salamander commits mass murder by somehow organising a volcanic eruption so that his political opponent Alexander Denes will be removed from office for negligence. As we see him manipulating people and showing no remorse for the consequences of his actions, he quickly becomes a thoroughly dislikeable character. He's too visibly Patrick Troughton for me to completely disassociate him with the Doctor but at the same time I distinguish between them enough that Troughton's performance as Salamander never seems like he's the Doctor in disguise (if anything he was too good - when the Doctor was impersonating Salamander later on I didn't see the Doctor in his performance).

Parallel to the Salamander's schemes plotline, the Doctor conducts his own investigation of Salamander - wanting to know whether he is evil or not before he goes along with Giles Kent and Astrid - by sending Jamie and Victoria to infiltrate his staff. It makes sense given what we know about the Doctor but ultimately this is a bit of plot procrastination to allow the Doctor to fade into the background for a couple of episodes, preventing Patrick Troughton from tiring from exhaustion. It isn't until Episode 4 that the Doctor gets more involved. However it's not like nothing happens while we wait - the story takes the time to establish Salamander and Jamie and Victoria get a good 007ish subplot, with Victoria working in Salamander's kitchen while Jamie pretends to save his life and gets a job on his security force. It's great enough that Victoria doesn't scream, but Jamie was uncharacteristically intelligent, which combined with the uniform could have made him seem not much like Jamie at all if it wasn't for Frazer Hines knowing the character well enough to cope with the different role. In the Hartnell era the companions, especially Ian, showed a variety of skills as they took on various jobs as required in the stories, not so much in the Troughton era. Of course in Episode 4 both of them disappear and in Episode 5 they're back to normal.

The comments people have made about the James Bond allusions are fair for the most part but this story lacks an extra ingredient essential to the Bond formula: action. Aside from the first few minutes and the climax, it's low budget all the way, which isn't Bond at all. I like watching the plot unfold but there is a definite feeling the story is missing something, and this is it. It's especially apparent in the surviving episode, which is therefore an awful episode to watch in isolation on the Lost in Time DVD box set. At least we get to see the characters - usually I'm fine with audio but I like to at least be able to visualise the characters in a story to get a better picture in my head.

The twist in Episode 4 is that the natural disasters plaguing the world are being caused by people underground who have been told by Salamander that a nuclear war is being waged on the surface. This is where we really enter Bond territory as Salamander takes on the supervillain role, all he's missing is his hordes of unquestionably loyal henchmen, rather as the story unfolds he finds himself facing up to his problems alone. The Doctor quickly notices the discrepency involving the large demand for food supplies to the records room while working with Bruce, who turns out to be quite reasonable after all. The Doctor's actual impersonation of Salamander - what the story has been leading up to from Episode 1 - comes to nothing as he drops his cover in front of Jamie and Victoria.

Now we head into the climax, with a few more minor plot twists along the way. Credibility is stretched as Astrid discovers the people beneath the surface and Kent blows up the tunnels. Not only is the survival of the people beneath the surface treated as a minor issue (though it's not clear how many of them there are), but Salamander manages to escape the tunnels alive and instantly find the TARDIS. It's action-packed though so I'm forgiving of these trivial criticisms. The final few scenes finally sees the Doctor confront Salamander in the TARDIS, unmasking him as an impersonator (not that it was hard) and struggling with him at the console. It's a scene I would like to see for obvious reasons - two Patrick Troughtons! Plus Salamander getting blown out of the TARDIS as it takes flight with the doors open, leading us nicely into The Web of Fear. I'm not sure about ending the story on a cliffhanger which doesn't make it obvious that this story is over - the Doctor doesn't confirm that Salamander is dead until the start of the next story.

It's not a typical Troughton story and the budget problems cast serious aversions on it, but I like The Enemy of the World a lot. David Whitaker is up to his usual standard in the amazing characters he creates, the best of this story being obviously Salamander himself, the feisty Astrid Ferrier, the surprisingly honourable Bruce, Griffin the chef and Fariah, who has to work alongside Salamander despite hating him.

A forgotten story? Nah. If the other episodes were found I'm confident this story would become much more popular than it is now.

Horror quotient - This story is a break from the horror season.
Comedy quotient - I've noted that comedy isn't one of David Whitaker's primary interests (that's drama) but I thought the kitchen scenes were quite funny.
Drama quotient - Finally, a six-part story that fully merits the six episodes. It admittedly strings out the plot but in a different way than the two previous stories do, it saves each plot twist for a new episode and builds up the characters in the intervening screentime.

A little more action in the middle and this would get full marks. A shame this story ended up being the money-saver of the season - and makes no secret of that fact on-screen.


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