“The Enemy Of The World” (season 5, episodes 18-24. Originally broadcast Dec. 23, 1967-Jan. 27, 1968.)
45 years too late, one of the best early Doctor Who stories is back.
As I’m sure you all know by now, until earlier this year all but one of the six episodes of “The Enemy Of The World” had been missing since their original broadcast, due to the BBC’s former policy of erasing videotape for reuse. After being found in Nigeria by an archivist, the story was digitally remastered and released on iTunes earlier this month along with another rescued story, “The Web Of Fear.” (Which I’ll be writing up next time.) Before this, fans had to make do with listening to the surviving audio, or reading the novelization published in 1981—shadows of the real thing.
So, therefore: Whether or not the story itself is any good, simply being able to watch it at all is an unexpected and welcome pleasure. The fact that “Enemy Of The World” is, in fact, highly entertaining is almost a bonus. It’s certainly not all that representative of what Doctor Who was doing at the time, but it’s a virtue in itself that the show was still willing to take chances on something a bit different.
Most stories of this period, starring Patrick Troughton as the Second Doctor, were about monster attacks and alien invasions—“Enemy Of The World” sits right in the middle of an otherwise unbroken 13-story string of monster-heavy serials. (The story that breaks that string is “The Mind Robber,” an even weirder and equally great exception to the all-monster rule.) That’s not to say that monsters and aliens are exactly infrequent after the Second Doctor either, but still: This is not your typical entry.
What we have here instead is something of a Doctor Who version of a spy thriller. Timely, since in 1967 that genre was cresting a wave of popularity, being the heyday of, just for starters, the James Bond movies, The Avengers, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Get Smart, Mission: Impossible, I Spy, The Saint, The Wild Wild West, and The Prisoner. Like putting the Beatles in “The Chase” in 1965 or namechecking Harry Potter in “The Shakespeare Code” in 2007, this was the year to do a spy story. (It even contains a bit of a real spy thriller, since the shot of the helicopter explosion in the first episode was stock footage originally filmed for the Bond movie From Russia With Love.)
Landing the TARDIS on an Australian beach in the at-the-time amazingly far-off year of 2018, “Enemy Of The World” drops the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria (fresh from "The Ice Warriors") into the middle of a megalomaniac’s scheme to take over the world through subterfuge, blackmail, and lies. (Oh, and also active volcanoes.) It’s full of twists and double crosses, action and fight scenes, an Emma Peel-style ass-kicker in their ally Astrid, and a little bit of the “cool high-tech vehicle” thing with the hovercraft and helicopter in episode one—the first time the series had the budget to use a real helicopter, in fact. And while the Chaplinesque Second Doctor can’t exactly pull off the physicality of Sean Connery, Jamie can, and he’s also Scottish to boot.
Tabling the spy stuff for the moment, though, the story’s biggest selling point is up in the picture at the top of the page: Patrick Troughton as both the hero and the villain. That’s Salamander, a Bond-style would-be world conqueror who, of course, has his own secret base and a powerful secret weapon capable of mass destruction. He’s become one of the world’s most powerful and popular figures by eliminating starvation with satellites that focus solar radiation to increase crop yields, but his real aim is to take over—not by military conquest, but by secretly causing natural disasters so that he can sweep into the affected areas and “save” them, thus becoming their ruler. (Imagine Dick Cheney becoming mayor of New Orleans, I guess.) And of course, apparently by pure coincidence, he looks exactly like the Second Doctor. If you want an explanation for this, you’re out of luck, but it’s easy enough to accept it given how much fun it is to watch Troughton, arguably the best actor out of all 11 Doctors so far, sink his teeth into playing someone so different from the Doctor—ruthless, conniving, murderous, and power-hungry.
And yet he’s not so different either. The story gets its first big hook from the shocker that they look alike, but in several important ways, Salamander also behaves like an evil version of the Doctor. The scriptwriter, David Whitaker, knows the Doctor very well—he was the series’ original script editor and probably did more to shape the character in the early years than anyone other than the actors themselves—and he doesn’t miss the chance to mirror him with Salamander on a deeper level, which is one of the best aspects of the story.
For example: They’re both manipulative and deceptive to people who should be able to trust them. Salamander uses lies and blackmail repeatedly to get people to do what he wants them to. The Doctor, on the other hand, pretends to be Salamander to rescue Jamie and Victoria, then stays in character even after he finds them in order to deliberately frighten them into giving him information. It’s shockingly cruel thing, but it has a purpose—he’s trying to convince Salamander’s security chief Bruce, who he’s realized is a man of conscience and not a mindless thug, to switch sides. Where the Doctor looks for the good in people, and finds it in Bruce, Salamander seeks out weakness and uses it to corrupt and control.
They’re both also, for lack of a better phrase, science wizards—which you’d expect in a story by Whitaker, who loved to play around with the fantastical aspects of Doctor Who. Like the Doctor, Salamander uses science and high technology in ways that are, when you get down to it, basically magical. What else do you call a box that’s bigger on the inside, and can vanish into thin air? Salamander can conjure food for starving millions, kill thousands by causing long-dead volcanoes to erupt, and—in the fourth episode’s brilliantly unexpected, weird swerve—bedazzle two dozen scientists for five years into thinking they’re the last survivors of a nuclear war so that they can build and deploy his volcano weapon against what they think are evil mutant surface-dwellers. It’s not a coincidence that one of his victims, Fariah, explicitly calls him a brujo—Spanish for “sorceror.” Like the Doctor, he’s fundamentally a force of chaos, with his real power resting on his ability to outthink his opponents. He tells Jamie that “ingenuity requires a constant stream of new ideas,” an idea the Doctor would agree with. When the bunker’s leader, Swann, figures out his flabbergastingly huge lie, you can see on his face that he’s spinning a new set of lies to cover it in that moment, off the top of his head.
Out of all the Classic-era Doctor Who writers, Whitaker’s is equalled only by Robert Holmes in terms of shaping the show, and like Holmes, he also excelled at producing polished, entertaining stories that were always more than just simple genre exercises. “Enemy Of The World” moves beyond being merely a James Bond pastiche almost immediately, subverting the genre’s expectations and focusing on things that call it into question. Here’s the thing about the first episode’s über-Bondian action sequence in which the Doctor and his companions are chased by three gun-wielding thugs in a hovercraft: It turns out that the thugs are working for Giles Kent, Salamander’s chief opponent and by ordinary story logic, therefore, one of the good guys. Supposing that the Doctor had never landed the TARDIS in Australia and never become part of this story, Salamander’s main enemy would be Kent—making him, since this is a James Bond pastiche, the story’s Bond. And we’re further led to trust him because of his agent Astrid, who quickly earns the Doctor’s (and the audience’s) trust by saving his life.
So it’s a little surprising that for much of the story, the Doctor is surprisingly reluctant to aid Kent by acting against Salamander, insisting on finding definitive proof of Salamander’s guilt. On the one hand, it’s a convenient way for Whitaker to slow the story down enough to stretch over six episodes. But it also serves other, better purposes. For one thing, it gives the Doctor something in common with Bruce, the imposing chief of security who at first appears to be nothing more than a hulking menace, but reveals over the course of the story that he isn’t anything close to an unthinking henchman of Salamander—he has a conscience, he’s horrified by the deaths caused by the volcanic eruptions, and inside his fascist appearance there’s a man who believes in law and justice ready to emerge.
But also, the Doctor’s hesitation to act is because he’s sensed something fishy about Kent all along. Which we should have maybe figured out as well, because although he seems like he’s fighting to stop a tyrant, he also employed those three trained killers in the hovercraft. So the reveal that he’s actually been in league with Salamander, and hopes to kill him not for justice but to become him, is essentially like Bond deciding to kill Blofeld and take over SPECTRE. While the story has its out-and-out villains in Salamander and the creepy Benik, Whitaker goes to a lot of effort with Bruce and Kent to show that simple categories like “villain” and “hero” aren’t enough to cover real human behavior.
But he goes even further than that, focusing to an unusual degree on characters who would ordinarily be invisible, which gives “Enemy Of The World” a surprising depth. Most obviously, there’s Fariah, Salamander’s food taster, who is introduced as a minor underling but blossoms quickly into a strong, complicated woman who helps get across just how evil Salamander is, but also refuses to be just a victim. There’s also Griffin, the charmingly grumpy chef in episode three who serves absolutely no purpose to the plot itself (except maybe to give the otherwise underutilized Victoria someone to talk to), but who helps make the world of the story seem real by showing us someone who doesn’t care about Salamander’s schemes, but just wants to get on with his job.
But the one that most surprised me was the guard captain who berates his underling for needlessly killing Fariah with the contemptuous line “Do you always obey orders?” Usually in a story like this, you don’t even assume the guards have any independent thoughts of their own at all. They’re just there to be the Generic Bad Guys the story requires. Imagine if in Star Wars, one of the stormtroopers asks why they don’t just try to arrest Han Solo instead of shooting at him. That’d seem weird, right? They’re not supposed to be anything but faceless evil drones. So not only is “Enemy Of The World” absent of alien monsters, it goes out of its way to avoid depicting humans as monsters too.
• Troughton’s so good at disappearing into character that a couple of times while watching Salamander I forgot he was also the Doctor—that never happened with Tom Baker and his double in “Meglos.”
• One thing that bothered me, though I tried to ignore it as an artifact of an earlier age, is the uncomfortable fact that Troughton’s skin is slightly darkened by makeup when he’s playing Salamander, who’s Mexican. (Or at least he’s supposed to be: Troughton gives him an accent that’s also half-Slavic, like Peter Lorre combined with Eli Wallach as Tuco in The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly.) On the other hand, the story deserves credit for Carmen Munroe, the first black actress to appear on the show, playing the admirably well-rounded Fariah.
• The death of Salamander, cast out of the TARDIS and sent off spinning helplessly into the time vortex, is uncannily similar to what the Time Lords do to Troughton’s Doctor at the end of “The War Games.” I’m tempted to say it must be a deliberate reference.
• Although I think you ultimately have to just accept that Salamander's appearance is merely a coincidence, it's tempting to spin theories about Salamander-the-Doctor-double that fit into Doctor Who's later-established continuity. If he's human, was he perhaps created the way the second Tenth Doctor was in "Journey's End," out of some half-finished regeneration? (And if so, why doesn't the real Doctor remember it?) Does he carry around a mysterious pocket watch, which he always keeps safe but for some reason never opens? And there's that oddly resonant line of his when he gleefully watches his volcano erupt: “It’s very pretty! The history of Hungary is about to be rewritten.” Hmmm: A double of the Doctor claims he can rewrite history? That's interesting.
• Casting notes: Two actors show up here who later play the Castellan of the Time Lords in later Doctor Whos: Milton Johns, the sadistic Benik, is in “The Invasion Of Time,” and George Pravda, here playing Denes, helps the Doctor in “The Deadly Assassin.” David Troughton, Patrick’s son who later played King Peladon in “The Curse Of Peladon,” is an extra here. And Colin Douglas, who plays Bruce, is also the crusty old lighthouse-keeper Reuben in “Horror of Fang Rock.”
• Behind the scenes, there were some very significant arrivals and departures: It’s the first directorial job for Barry Letts, later the producer for the Jon Pertwee era, and the exits of creator and original producer Sydney Newman and the then-current producer, Innes Lloyd.
• The Doctor explains away the TARDIS crew’s lack of knowledge of current events by suggesting they’ve been away—“on ice, shall we say.” Which is literally true, since they just arrived from a future Ice Age.
• For another take on “Enemy Of The World,” you might want to check out Phil Sandifer’s blog entry at TARDIS Eruditorum. I don’t always agree with him, but in this case I think he pretty much nails it.
• Upcoming schedule (biweekly on Saturdays at 2 p.m. Central):
• Nov. 9: “The Web Of Fear.” The next lost story, and in fact literally the story right after “Enemy Of the World.” I usually mix things up a bit more chronologically, but I think this one’s been waiting long enough. An army of robotic yeti, people!
• Nov. 23: For obvious reasons: The 20th-anniversary special “The Five Doctors.” And, quite probably, whatever opinion I might have about the 50th-anniversary special “The Day Of The Doctor.”
• Dec. 7: The Fourth Doctor goes to Scotland’s Loch Ness in “Terror Of The Zygons.”
• Dec. 21: A look at a Doctor Who that might have been, with the animated 2003 tale “Scream Of The Shalka,” starring Richard E. Grant as a decidedly different Ninth Doctor than the one we know now.
• Future reviews: Something from each of the three seasons I haven’t yet written about, season four (probably “The Tenth Planet”), season 15 (“The Horror Of Fang Rock”?), and season 23 (“The Mysterious Planet.”)