Good old James Bond. When you think about it, 007 has a lot in common with The Doctor. Both men change their face with unnerving regularity. Both men are placed in perilous situations in order to save the world. And both men are not averse to having a leggy sidekick around to get the dads in a cross-eyed drool.
In a series populated by monsters, monsters and more monsters, The Enemy Of The World is only concerned with the evil that men do - in particular, one man called Salamander, who - get this - is a dead ringer for the Second Doctor. Purely by chance, The Doctor, Victoria and Jamie touch down on a sandy Australian beach, only to have their holiday hijacked - just because The Doctor resembles Salamander. What are the odds?
And so begins a rather neat homage to James Bond with nasty villains, double-dealing turncoats, glamorous women and helicopter chases. Once upon a time, the story was singled out as the runt of Season Five’s litter, with the one-time lone surviving episode being more of a slow-moving, static affair with rather clumsy editing. Apparently, it’s possible to keep a man prisoner in a corridor - any jails should take note that this is a foolproof way of keeping prisoners protected. Oh what’s that? They didn’t have enough budget for a cell set? That would account for it, then…
But then a miracle happened.
In 2013, all of the remaining episodes were found and released on DVD/download format. Instant reappraisal ensued as a result of many elements. The outstanding direction from Barry Letts, for example, using a paltry budget to create something approaching feature film status. The first episode alone features some stunning visuals, including a lovely helicopter take-off shot that zooms further and further away from the beach. In later episodes, the visuals are equally impressive, including the unusual but effective fast transporter shot of Salamander's travel capsule, and of course the ahead-of-their-time split screen effect of the Doctor meeting his vicious double. I'm astounded that Barry Letts wasn't that impressed with his direction in a featurette on the Planet Of The Spiders DVD. Most directors would weep with jealousy at the awesome results of The Enemy Of The World.
The returned episodes also allow us to see the wonderful facial expressions of Patrick Troughton's Doctor. Whether flirting with Astrid, pondering on how to get Salamander's accent right or chomping laconically on a cigar, there's plenty to enjoy in this tour-de-force from Troughton. Wonderful stuff.
The Enemy Of The World is far better than its one-time so-so reputation suggests. David Whitaker is back behind the typewriter, and his gift for producing three-dimensional characters is truly in evidence. Salamander is the key player here, and Patrick Troughton rises to the challenge excellently. While he’s reduced to stomping around in a tacky Matador outfit and more Ronseal than David Dickinson, the contrast between the amiable Second Doctor and the evil tyrant is marvellously conveyed by Troughton. Salamander is your archetypal power-mad fanatic, but he’s both deviously clever and superficially charming (in order to get what he wants).
The power of his persuasion has convinced a group of unquestioning followers to remain in an underground bunker and cause a series of natural disasters which will apparently win them the war with an unseen enemy. Salamander has managed to end starvation for the population with his ability to manage solar energy - hence, he’s regarded by most as a hero, when in fact he’s been the puppet master for the whole situation.
Salamander isn’t averse to pulling strings in order to maintain his power. Anyone that stands in his way is mercilessly disposed of: Swann, the leader of the underground dwellers discovers the truth and is bashed on the head. Denes is the target for assassination. Poor old Fedorin is killed by the same poison that he failed to put in Denes’ food.
Ah, Fedorin. One example of Salamander’s poor choice of staff. Presumably, Salamander’s methods of recruiting staff amounted to an ad in the local paper and a quick 5-minute talk on the phone. Fedorin is a spineless boiled egg of a man and looks like Dr Ferreiro from Pan’s Labyrinth (you know, the guy that inexplicably takes the time to long-windedly remove his glasses after he’s been brutally shot). Fedorin is a born worrier, and worse still, unlike Salamander, has a conscience - a trait that proves to be his own downfall.
Still, if it’s cold-blooded sadism that you want, then Benik’s the man. Milton Johns threatens to steal the show with his portrayal of this loathsome toad, right down to his odd haircut which looks like it was hacked about with a blunt penknife. The restored episodes allow Johns' performance to shine through, as he imbues Benik with a mightily sadistic streak. Surprisingly grown-up stuff here, as he even threatens to shoot Victoria in the leg and pump another bullet into the already mortally wounded Fariah. Talking of which, Johns' unique reading of “Faaarrrr-eeee-aaahhh!” has to be seen to be believed, along with his equally amusing utterance of “Fedorin's file!”
Bill Kerr also does a good job as Giles Kent. Despite his initial ’goodie’ status, you always suspect that he’s not quite as squeaky clean as he proclaims to be. In the end, though, Kent is just as much a pawn in Salamander’s game as all the others.
In fact, practically all of the characters are well defined by Whitaker. The coward. The do-nothing lackey. The turncoat. Even the lesser characters are fleshed out through convincing dialogue. Denes, for example, is shown to be a decent man, fully aware of his fate, but still finding the time to crack jokes about cutting up steak with a spoon. Griffin the Chef is another short-lived character, but through his many pessimistic lines, gives Victor Meldrew a run for his money in the Grumpy Old Sod stakes. I guess that Griffin would give as good as he gets if Gordon Ramsay stomped into his kitchen and started drowning the place in outraged phlegm at the ropey conditions. A first-rate cast bring these personages to life, with plaudits going to Mary Peach as Astrid and Colin Douglas as Bruce.
About the only character that fails is bug-eyed moaner, Colin. Resembling a depressed Kris Marshall, Colin is forever whining about how Salamander will never take him to the surface of the supposedly war-stricken world. While he's meant to be suffering from claustrophobia, instead, Colin's relentless “Why not me???” self-pity comes across more as a jealous lover who's lost out to Swann in Salamander's affections.
The regulars get much to do. It’s nice to see Victoria be a bit more assertive for once, probably the only time that she’d behave in a vaguely adult manner (there's also the implication that Victoria and Jamie are boyfriend and girlfiend). Jamie also gets to use his brain a lot more than usual, reacting to Salamander’s plans with shrewd intelligence. The Doctor, too, despite being in the background a lot more, plays an important part in the story. His Salamander disguise is excellent, as is his reaction to the broken crockery. “People spend all their time making nice things and then other people come along and break them.”
An intelligent, well scripted diversion, The Enemy Of The World may have no monsters strutting up and down and going “Grrrrr” but it’s a brave, interesting experiment that showcases the considerable talents of Patrick Troughton. It's well made and acted, and stands up very well indeed 50 years later. I can't believe my luck that I got to see it, and it's already become a favourite of the classic Troughton era.
* More Barry Letts discussion in each of my 3 ebook guides to the 3rd & 4th Doctors!
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