Sunday, 15 April 2018

The Enemy of the World

Chapter The 83rd, populist would-be dictators squabble for power in a tale set in 2018: surely some mistake...

The Doctor, Jamie and Victoria land on a chilly beach in Littlehampton, Australia, and are attacked by a group of people who mistake the Doctor for someone else. The TARDIS crew then get rescued by Astrid, an Avenger (the Steed and Peel kind rather than the Ant Man kind), and brought to meet a suspicious character called Giles Kent. Kent and Astrid explain that the Doctor is the dead spit of Salamander, who runs a research centre that controls weather to help crops or some such. They think Salamander is positioning himself as world ruler by causing earthquakes and other natural disasters to undermine other powers. They want the Doctor to take Salamander's place, but the Doctor - concerned that he's being manipulated - demands evidence. So, Jamie, Victoria and Astrid infiltrate Salamander's staff during his visit to Europe. They find out he is planning to kill the European leader, but Jamie and Victoria get found out, and the assassination takes place successfully.

The Doctor has no choice but to impersonate Salamander to rescue his friends from the research centre back in Australia where they've been taken. There, it is revealed that Salamander has kept a group of people underground who think a nuclear war is raging above. It is these people who are creating the natural disasters, under Salamander's instruction, to fight back against the supposed warmongers above. Astrid and the Doctor rescue (most of) these underground dwellers, who reveal that Giles Kent was involved with Salamander at the very beginning and helped trick them. Kent is killed, but Salamander very nearly tricks Jamie and Victoria into believing he's the Doctor. Luckily, the real one arrives in time, and the two lookalikes tussle as the TARDIS takes off...

Random selection has been momentarily suspended to take in a new DVD release. The Enemy of the World came out towards the end of March this year in special edition with better restoration and new extras. Myself and the Better Half watched the story, an episode a night over the course of a week, on a laptop in bed just before turning in. This meant that I saw nothing of the improved picture quality, but never mind - I'm sure I'll watch it again on a proper screen soon. When the bare bones release of the DVD came out in November 2013, the Better Half can't have watched beyond the first few episodes, as everything from the reveal of the underground group in their kimono-style PJs was new to her. 

First-time round:
The third episode, the only one known to exist for many years, was first made commercially available on The Hartnell Years, one of the piss-poor VHS compendiums made by John Nathan-Turner in the early 1990s as a showcase for orphaned episodes. In fact, scratch that: for what they intended to do - give John Nathan-Turner a chance to produce something for an appreciative audience again - the Years tapes were perfect, and the audience (including yours truly) did appreciate them. The episodes within, though, being used as fodder for the showbizzy appreciation of an actor rather than for any more story-based purpose, were deprived of context. Not being familiar with the plot of Enemy, I imagined after multiple rewatches of episode 3 that it was about the comic adventures of Jamie and Victoria alongside Griffin the Chef.

I was very surprised when finally experiencing the whole story that Griffin and his cooking and whinging don't appear anywhere else; the third episode as a whole is atypical, padded as it is with this lighter material. This revelation would have come early in the 2000s, when the narrated audio version came out. But more surprises were to come: in Autumn 2013, a rumour murmured around online that a significant number of previously lost Doctor Who episodes had been discovered; things got inflated in the whispered retelling such that some people thought every episode was going to be returned. When it was eventually announced officially, it was nine episodes that had been found: still a monumental haul, but a disappointment after the madness. Some people are still convinced the rest are being held back for slow release bit by bit over the years, but it's been nearly five years now, so they're likely to be wrong about that.

Anyway, five of the returned episodes were the missing ones from Enemy, completing the story; the others were four of the five missing episodes of the following story The Web of Fear, and both stories were released on itunes at midnight of a day early in November 2013. I stayed up, even though I had work the next day as I remember, and was faced with all the quandaries that wouldn't occur to normal people: do I watch Web first, even though that's out of order, because it's the better serial? And if I do, do I skip episode 1, as it had existed in the archives for ages and I'd seen it loads of times? If I do watch Enemy first, do I skip episode 3, depriving myself of the whole experience, but skipping the most boring episode, which had also existed in the archives for ages and which I'd seen loads of times? I finally decided on the sort of compromise that would please nobody and will make anyone reading this think I'm crazy: I watched episode 1 and 2 of Enemy, then episode 2 of Web, then went to bed, and watched everything again from the start the following day.

I can't help but think that at some point during rehearsals for this story, the recently and sadly departed Debbie Watling turned to Frazer Hines and whispered to him of Patrick Troughton's Mexican accent for Salamander "He's not doing that voice in the real thing, is he?!". In fact, I'm convinced it must have happened to the extent that I'm wondering if it's a real interview with her that I'm half-remembering (a quick Google has not found anything). If it didn't happen, it should have. Troughton was one of the best character actors on TV at the time, but he's manifestly hamming it up as his naughty alter-ego. An outrageously accented take of "But we wouldn't wanna put it to the test, eh?" has become a catchphrase for both me and the Better Half, trying to make the other laugh, since watching the DVD. The Trout clearly wasn't in any hurry to seriously show off his range, but he must have been desperate to have some fun. And, to be fair, it's pretty fun for those of us watching too.

The loss of the story's episodes for so many years has had the opposite effect that it did to a story like Tomb of the Cybermen. That story, wholly missing until 1992, was lauded during its absence as a masterpiece; once recovered, it couldn't ever quite live up to is reputation. Enemy, on the other hand, was perhaps unjustly dismissed while it was mostly gone, based on the remaining episode being largely padding, and based on the story being an oddity from its inception - a sci-fi spy story in a year of monster mashes. Such low expectations meant it couldn't do anything but impress once brought back into the light, and dodgy accents could happily be overlooked. It doesn't ever reach soaring heights, but it's solid: every episode - even the third when seen in context - is a ripping good yarn, furthering the overall story with some nice moments and characters.

Some commentators have called it pseudo science fiction - i.e. a sci-fi veneer on top of the court intrigue, food taster and all, of a historical Doctor Who plot (a type of story that writer David Whitaker had experience with, but which had fallen out of favour by this period of Doctor Who's production). But this is a misunderstanding of how both Doctor Who and stories work. Historical or present day or alien planet, these are locales rather than genres. Even science fiction is a supra-genre, and doesn't dictate any story structure for the tales told within it. The Enemy of the World, with lip service paid to the sort of weather control technology that fixated the writers throughout the latter years of the 1960s, is arguably more science fiction than quite a few of the other tales from this season, whose baddies may as well be supernatural for all the difference it makes to the adventure runarounds of which they were part. This pseudo science fiction theory is just more baggage from the period when Enemy was lost and unloved.

With gunfights, hovercrafts and exploding helicopters within the first few minutes, it out-Pertwees a lot of Jon Pertwee stories; the link is of course Barry Letts, producer for most of Pertwee's era, and directing his first ever Doctor Who story here. He was pushing the envelope with what could be done in the studio: the scene with back projection to grant verisimilitude to an interior version of a park, for example, foreshadows his intensive use of green-screen backdrops in the colour era. Letts has expressed frustration with the Enemy scripts over the years since this Who debut, but I think that mostly stemmed from their being very late coming in, which necessitated a lot of on-the-fly work to keep the production in shape.

The content itself is politically and emotionally literate, with opportunities for all the cast to shine, particularly the major female guest characters, Astrid and Fariah. This came a little at the expense of the companion regulars, particularly in the later episodes. Mary Peach, a very big name at the time, was cast as Astrid before the final episodes - which initially omitted her character - were written. When she was reinstated, she presumably took action that Jamie and Victoria would have had; this, plus their absence on holiday for episode 4, means all they get to do of note is joke about in a kitchen. They do better, though, than poor Colin and Mary, the weak links of the guest cast. There's some problems with their scripting, but it's mainly down to the performances, which are one-note and flat. It is isn't therefore much of a problem to the audience that their fate is so abrupt and unclear: there's a brief, inconclusive insert of them in the blow-up at the end, but thereafter no other shots, and nobody mentions them again either to celebrate or to grieve. 

Both The Enemy of the World and Rose feature a secret underground base and a sympathetic character with a secret file who gets killed partway through (Fariah, Clive). At a push, they also both include a doppelgänger character, though one is made of plastic rather than made of massive coincidence.

Deeper Thoughts:
Collector Mania. I was a bit surprised to see a special edition version of the Enemy of the World DVD come out at all. When this blog started in Spring 2015, the classic Who DVD range seemed near death, with only one extant episode remaining in the archives unreleased on shiny disc; the team that had restored the episodes and created extras for the discs (including the story with that final ep, The Underwater Menace) had disbanded and moved on to other things. When the Underwater Menace DVD was finally for sale, I assumed  - and went on at length bemoaning the fact - that this was the end of my 30 years collecting Doctor Who in audiovisual form. I think I did protest too much. In the end, the two animation-assisted classic Who stories, Power of the Daleks and Shada, which came out once a year after that point, reignited the range. Not only is there this special edition of Enemy, including new extras worked on by that restored old team that they didn't have time for when it was first released, they're also upscaling a whole season (Tom Baker's first) for release later in the year as a box-set on Blu-Ray.

There's only Doctor Who story broadcast before 2009 that can be released at true Blu-Ray quality, and that's Spearhead from Space (as it was recorded wholly on 16mm film, which contains enough picture information for high definition). I bought that one. Everything else, though it will look a bit better than DVD, hasn't seemed worth my buying again thus far. I have resisted purchasing the Paul McGann TV movie, and any of the four early post-2005 series when re-released on Blu. But, am I kidding myself that these decisions are being made in any rational way? I was similarly dismissive of the Tom Baker box-set until I saw that it included the full version of the Tom Baker Years tape from the early 1990s - you know, his entry in the range which I described as "piss-poor" above - then I had to have it and promptly pre-ordered. Old episodes without much quality improvement is one thing, but if they're accompanied by naff but nostalgic extras, I'm onboard. It's not exactly a rational internal bargaining process I'm undergoing, but it's not 100% obsessive compulsive either.

Do I sometimes have pangs of angst that I don't own that Paul McGann TV movie Blu-Ray? Of course. Does my heart sink a little at having to wade through a season of Doctor Who in yet another medium plus all those extras, and pay for the privilege? Yes. Will I still go ahead and buy it? I'd be lying if I said not. There's new Target books coming out now as well: am I expected (expected only by myself, or course) to buy and read all those too? This is the curse of the collector - you want to collect everything, but you don't want to have collected everything. The Doctor Who fan also has to contend with the sheer volume of product. Even the most ardent completist wouldn't have time to read / watch / listen to it all. There aren't enough days in the year. So, even if everything was bought, it would just fill a house and then sit gathering dust and regret. Reading between the lines of my blog post from 2015, there's a lot of sadness at the possibility that the 30-year journey was over, but more than a little relief also.

I don't want to be an armchair therapist, even of myself, but it's clear there's symptoms of various spectrum disorders being demonstrated here. Whether that's accurate or not, there's something; but, I couldn't honestly say it was something that has had a wholly or even mostly negative impact on my life. For all the pangs of angst, there's been many more doses of endorphins and dopamine. And there's surely many worse things one could do with one's money or time. To quote a few of my favourite lines from Doctor Who non-fiction writing - from Chris Howarth and Steve Lyons' The Completely Useless Encyclopedia - “Doctor Who was created to entertain, coins to formalise a system of barter, trains as a method of transport, and stamps as a means of funding the postal service. People find entertainment in all four. Which is most understandable?”

In Summary:
Solid, occasionally stolid, but much better than episode 3 in isolation led us to believe.

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