As originally conceived, Doctor Who was as much about the past as it was about the future, but in this year of celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of first broadcast the focus has very much been on the modern era and the future, with the preparation for a new Doctor and a new direction for the show and only token acknowledgement given to the classic adventures of the wandering Time Lord.
While cable channels have carried serials from the twenty six seasons of the original run, the BBC itself apparently continues to look on those years as an embarrassing anachronism, an attitude which previously led to the policy of junking irreplaceable early recordings through the mid-seventies which resulted in major gaps in the archives.
With fourteen of his twenty one stories incomplete and four totally lost including his debut The Power of the Daleks, Patrick Troughton’s three year tenure was the worst affected, so it was a cause for celebration in itself when it was announced this October that the five missing episodes of his 1967 story The Enemy of the World had been recovered alongside four of the missing five episodes of the immediately following story, The Web of Fear.
As story editor since the creation of the show and a creator in his own right of three scripts during the Hartnell era (The Edge of Destruction, The Rescue and The Crusade) and two Dalek stories for Troughton (the aforementioned Power of… alongside The Evil of…), David Whitaker was familiar with the show and the characters and the strength of his lead actors, particularly Troughton, whose Doctor takes a back seat for much of The Enemy of the World while his companions venture into danger without him.
Frazer Hines’ Jamie McCrimmon had travelled alongside Troughton’s Doctor since his second adventure and was an assured actor who was comfortable in his role and enjoyed a good relationship with his leading man.
Deborah Watling’s Victoria Waterfield had only joined the cast in the final story of the previous season, and in many ways was the last of the female travellers in the TARDIS whose primary role was to scream and be rescued, her successors Zoe Heriot and Liz Shaw both being highly qualified scientists, while Jo Grant may have acted scatty but was nobody’s fool.
The Doctor may play an unusually passive role in the story, but that is because the title role of Salamander, The Enemy of the World himself, is also played by Troughton, the dual characters allowing him to demonstrate his range as an accomplished and experienced character actor, stretching beyond the usual boundaries of the show and clearly delighting in the opportunity to play the villain of the piece.
Landing on an Australian beach in the once distant future of 2018, the Doctor is eager for a dip in the water, but his plans change quickly when he is chased from the water by a hovercraft crewed by armed men; rescued by a helicopter piloted by a woman named Astrid, she takes the trio to her home and explains the reason the Doctor was attacked is his resemblance to the rising political figure Salamander.
Nicknamed “the shopkeeper of the world,” his orbiting suncatchers allowing three or four harvests in a season, but Astrid and her colleague Giles Kent, a former associate of Salamander’s who has been discredited, are convinced that there is a more sinister agenda at work, with Salamander’s ambition stretching far beyond his current power.
While he is usually more proactive and intuitive, for once the Doctor behaves like a Time Lord and prevaricates rather than engaging Salamander – “Which side is good, which side is bad? Why should I interfere?” – before sending Jamie and Victoria to investigate and inevitably into danger while he does nothing.
This serves the dual purpose of extending the story to the required six episodes and also ensures that the Doctor and Salamander are never required to meet until the final episode, when body doubles are used for all but one split screen shot.
It should be no surprise that the fears Astrid and Giles are well founded, and from his power base in a country house where folk come and go as they please, with no walls or electric fences and the armed guards the merest shuffle away from useless, Salamander has found a means to predict stock footage of volcanoes and is using the turmoil in the wake of these natural disasters to effect political change, seizing territories where he has previously installed pawns in positions of power whom he can manipulate.
Worse, it transpires that the disasters are not in fact natural at all but are being created by an ongoing underground pyjama party which Salamander has been deceiving for years, telling them the surface is uninhabitable due to nuclear war.
Troughton is a more energetic Doctor than Hartnell ever was, and with hovercraft, jumpsuits and goatee beards and hideous interior décor, 2018 is apparently the hipster future as envisaged in 1967, with even Jamie’s kilt appearing more like a miniskirt in some scenes, though when he and Victoria infiltrate Salamander’s minimum security headquarters and Jamie is installed as a guard shows a different side in a fetching ribbed leather outfit.
As Astrid, Mary Peach looks and dresses in the mould of an Avengers girl, capable, independent and driven, she is often ahead of the male characters though unfortunately stereotypes reassert themselves and despite her ability to fly a helicopter, she actually hides behind the sofa at one point, and her single fight scene, against a thug played by master swordsman Bob Anderson, later to perform Darth Vader’s lightsaber duels in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, is woeful.
Not all is successful; the cliffhangers are more like scene breaks, the death scene of the character Fedorin is as unconvincing as his weak and whiny life, and Benik, Milton John’s curious right hand man to Salamander, gaunt with an unflattering haircut and equally untrusted and untrustworthy on all sides, has his henchmen intimidate dissidents by smashing up their crockery, a scene that perhaps played better on paper.
Very poorly served throughout is Victoria, apparently unaccustomed to thinking on the spot; assigned to Salamander’s kitchen, she can’t even come up with a recipe, and the impression is that the Doctor would never have taken her on board the TARDIS if he hadn’t felt sorry for her, and certainly she would not pass muster as a companion in the modern era of the show.
Conversely, most underused of the guest cast is the brilliant, bold and beautiful Carmen Munroe as Fariah, Salamander’s food taster and a rebel waiting for her opportunity to strike; that her part is confined to the first half of the story is a great loss for the show, as she shows more fire and gumption in one scene than Victoria does in the whole story.
In the seventies and eighties, black women were only occasionally featured in British science fiction – Elizabeth M’Bondo on The Tomorrow People, Dayna Mellanby on Blake’s 7 – and had Fariah joined the Doctor, the show could have led by example instead of finally casting Freema Agyeman as Martha Jones four decades after Nyota Uhura first opened hailing frequencies on the bridge of the USS Enterprise.
While a missed opportunity for the show, it is likely Munroe has no regrets, an acclaimed stage performer and co-founder of Talawa, the UK’s leading black theatre company which recently celebrated twenty five years of operation.
While it doesn’t stand up against milestones from the same era such as the Quatermass influenced The Invasion from the following season six, the series is lifted from the pedestrian by several factors, first among them the performance of Patrick Troughton, with Salamander allowing him to give a bold and direct performance rather than the abstract mystery of the Doctor. That Salamander serves a specific dramatic purpose means he is actually better written, with all the fireworks expended over the course of the story rather than spinning him out indefinitely.
The series also marked the debut of a former actor who had entered the BBC’s director course and had previously worked on episodes of Z-Cars and the London set soap opera The Newcomers whose cast included early roles for Jenny Agutter, Jeremy Bulloch and was produced by Verity Lambert immediately after her departure from Doctor Who.
This was the first time Barry Letts had worked on Doctor Who, and within a year he would be appointed as producer, a role he would serve in from Jon Pertwee’s second story The Silurians to the first story with the actor he cast to replace Pertweee, Tom Baker’s Robot in 1974.
During that period Letts would also direct and write several stories (sometimes uncredited) and would later return as a director for Tom Baker for a single story and as the executive producer for Baker’s final season, and he would also write two radio plays and two original novels featuring the Doctor.
His contribution to shaping the new direction of the show in the seventies is incalculable, and here Letts crafts an exciting and dynamic tale with exploding helicopters and gunfights, all set against a dramatic soundtrack of strings and percussion.
Though admittedly the latter was not specially commissioned and was in fact the work of the long dead Hungarian composer Béla Bartók, it does speak of Letts’ sensibilities. The restoration work on these prints is superlative, and the crisp black and white looks fresher than many of the recoloured episodes from five years later, showcasing a herald of what was to come.
Doctor Who – The Enemy of the World is now available on DVD