Doctor Who V.17-22: The Enemy of the World

ImageIt’s the odd one out in fan folklore, supposedly: the monster season story without a monster. A case can be made, though, for The Enemy of the World being the story which both rebukes the philosophy of Innes Lloyd’s presentation of Doctor Who as a carnival of monsters and points out what sustains it. All the monsters of Doctor Who are projections or reflections of human characteristics one way or another, and The Enemy of the World upholds this from the start, with the Doctor’s line stating that the men who hunt them are doing what human beings enjoy best – killing others. The story goes on to present the viewer with unpalatable truths about human beings, many drawn from the near past, but projected into an imagined near future.

The Enemy of the World had probably the greatest number of settings of a story that season. The use of a painted backcloth to show Nagy Gardens (a politically-charged name) and the townscape beyond in episode two is glaring now on our high-resolution screens, though its limitations must have been obvious to Barry Letts and his crew in 1967; a few years later, in the colour era, Letts would be experimenting with colour separation overlay, models and photographs in an attempt to compensate. It’s also something of a comedown after the beach scenes and the helicopter explosion in episode one. Other throws-forward to the period when Letts will be in charge of the whole series, rather than just one serial, are the exterior shots of an industrial site or power-plant to represent an advanced research centre, and the plotline involving the fake nuclear shelter, which just over six years later will appear in a revised form as the spaceship storyline in Invasion of the Dinosaurs.

When the novelisation was published in 1981, the BBC still prohibited any Doctor other than the current one being portrayed on new novelisation covers. For a generation of Target book readers, The Enemy of the World is represented by a fresh-faced Astrid Ferrier and an intense, suspicious Giles Kent. It’s now possible to see more of the performances behind those images and also understand the costuming a little more, particularly where Astrid is concerned. Her thigh boots are straight out of 1960s fetishised male anxieties about powerful women, but they also function as part of her presentation as a huntswoman. She’s Giles Kent’s ‘assistant’, but in what sense is left for the viewer to infer by the script: her costume suggests she is an elite enforcer and investigator and her early activities are those of a leading intelligence operative with more than a dash of bounty hunter. To some extent the story is Astrid’s moral journey, from placing her faith in a system and leader (Giles Kent as champion of justice and victim of Salamander) to making decisions herself which don’t idealise particular individuals.

The future society of 2018 is conceivably consistent with that of 1986 depicted in The Tenth Planet just over a year before. The United Nations has been superseded by the United Zones, based in the UN building, with Hungary now only being a geographical descriptor in a supposedly post-national world. The images of the Hungarian city’s collapse in the face of volcanic eruptions and earthquakes seem as much to do with war as with natural disasters and the replacement of Denes with Salamander’s puppet Fedorin, with his perhaps more Russian-sounding name, further encourages comparisons with the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956. The depiction of a society whose outwardly ordered and presumably democratic forms are being subverted almost imperceptibly while people go about their daily lives is reminiscent of Nazi rule in Germany. Salamander’s dupes in the underground shelter are perpetuating one kind of Cold War nightmare, borrowed from Mordecai Roshwald’s Level Seven, as adapted the year before by J.B. Priestley and directed by Rudolph Cartier for BBC2’s Out of the Unknown, while borrowing and inverting imagery from The Time Machine, blond Eloi living and working underground.

David Whitaker’s attitude to the regular cast is shaped by his status by this time as the writer with the longest association with the programme. In the first episode Jamie and Victoria are suddenly the quasi-parental figures to the unpredictable childlike Doctor, especially on location. Though they return to more identifiable child-friendly patterns later, Jamie has to undertake a lot of derring-do which is consistent with his underused eighteenth-century Jacobite rebel background, but is much more reminiscent of the more mature Ian Chesterton. Putting Victoria in what starts as a pastiche of Jamie’s usual costume, with self-aware bonnet, and then becomes a clone suggests that when Jamie describes Victoria in conversation as his ‘girlfriend’ he’s not simply acting; their body language mirrors each other’s, let alone how Victoria cosies up on Jamie’s knee in the helicopter, and it’s as if they are for the time being one of those couples who wear the same outfits. Viewed in this context the Doctor’s request for Jamie’s opinion on whether Salamander is handsome or not plays as if he is reminding them this relationship is a threesome.

Patrick Troughton’s dual performance as Salamander and the Doctor will be anticipated by most viewers and they should not be disappointed. Rarely do the two overlap and one is always aware what sort of man Salamander is. Troughton enjoys playing characters who are both actors and Salamander is someone who pushes his ham performance of sincerity beyond his limit, propelled by a mesmerising charm with a brutal and desperate edge, and fuelled by a sadistic enjoyment of power, displayed most in the final episode by his intention to pursue Kent through tunnels, wounding him and enjoying his slow death. Troughton also seems to relish the Doctor having more to do other than shepherd strange creatures about and talk pseudoscience as was too often the case; his flirtation with Astrid as she tries to work out what sort of doctor he is (“Which law? Whose philosophies, eh?”; and for those who see significance in Whitaker or Anthony Coburn giving Ian the surname Chesterton, there might be added meaning in Astrid’s final option, not denied, that the Doctor is a doctor of divinity) reinforces the eroded enigma around the character. Some of Astrid’s enthralment by the Doctor will be borrowed by Steven Moffat for River Song – she hails him as “the most marvellous man who ever dropped out of the sky”.

The Enemy of the World often exceeds its technical limitations – as the Doctor and Salamander draw closer together, I was more and more trying to work out where the recording breaks were and where instead Troughton was moving quickly between sets – and is a more rewarding script than The Ice Warriors, less nonsensical than The Abominable Snowmen, and more ambitious and less narrowly derivative than The Tomb of the Cybermen. It’s kept going by strong performances (Milton Johns, George Pravda, the delicate Margaret Hickey) and a script which is structurally sound, keeps momentum going, and credibly builds Salamander into a villain mad and monstrous enough to finally attempt to take over the TARDIS itself. If anything lets it down, it’s the absence of a specially-composed incidental music score, which could have added extra polish to an already well-hewn production. Its incorporation of contemporary political and science-fictional influences makes it a memorable beacon of reflection in one of the more gung-ho eras of the programme, while retaining enough explosions and percussion weapons to keep action-adventure viewers happy.

Thanks to Jim Smith and Tony Cross.

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Posted on 11 October 2013, in Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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