The Enemy of the World [Classic Doctor Who]

With my 50th birthday recently past, I’ve been investing a little bit of money and a little bit of time on classic Doctor Who‘s, mostly with my nerdier daughters.  For them, this has been seeing things for the first time, while for me it usually amounts to a rewatch.

Doctor Who - The Enemy of the World b

The Enemy of the World

Starring Patrick Troughton as the Second Doctor.
Companions:  Frazer Hines as Jamie McCrimmon and Deborah Watling as Victoria Waterfield
Written by David Whitaker (former Doctor Who script editor).  Directed by Barry Letts (future Doctor Who producer).

Format:  6 episodes, each about 25 minutes long
Originally Aired:  Late 1967 – Early 1968 (Episodes 17-23 of Season 5)

If you’re a fan of classic Doctor Who, you probably know that some time ago the BBC erased a whole bunch of their recorded episodes, never guessing that rabid fans were one day going to want to consume every moment that the show ever produced.  When I first became a fan, there were only like three episodes from the whole of Season 5 that still existed, one of which was Episode 3 of this story.  Since then all the fan-interest led to big searches and a whole bunch more were found–one of the biggest finds involved the rest of this story, and now it’s one of two stories from the season which is complete.

Spoilers Ahead!

The Enemy of the World is an interesting story with some fairly unique qualities.  Most of the tales from that season were intense “base under siege” tales, with one fairly intense monster or another.  The Enemy of the World, on the other hand, has no monster, and sets the story in a variety of setting around what was at the time a near-future earth (2017!).  To be sure, the Doctor Who production budget struggles to keep up with this, but the effort is appreciated.

In the absence of any sort of monster, the villain in this tale is Salamander–not a creature, but a guy from Mexico.  In what was at the time near-future earth, Salamander is a master politician who appears to most people to be a public hero, but for those in the know is actually a power-hungry dictator who is gradually maneuvering his allies into positions of power around the globe. He is played with relish by Patrick Troughton, who is excellent in the double role and shows how good of an actor he is.  Salamander is an extreme personality, just like the James Bond villains he seems to be based on, but Troughton never goes over-the-top with him, keeping the character grounded and believable.

When the Doctor arrives on an Australian beach (something he enjoys with child-like glee), some of Salamander’s enemies mistake the Doctor for the leader and attempt to kill him.  This brings him into contact with Giles Kent, a disgraced former member of Salamander’s administration who became his enemy when he began to oppose his ruthless practices.  He strong-arms the Doctor into taking Salamander’s place, in order to find the evidence to take down “the Enemy of the World.”  This sets up a pretty good twist at the end, when it’s revealed that Kent was actually Salamander’s partner-in-crime, who is not out to save the world but to re-establish his position as top dog.  This turn of events works well–it makes  sense in the story but is never telegraphed.  The scene where the Doctor tricks Kent into revealing himself is an especially good one.

Doctor Who - The Enemy of the World a

This is a Doctor Who story, though, so even without a monster it’s not all espionage and double-crosses.  Salamander has a group of scientists living underground who he has convinced are some of the only survivors of a terrible radioactive war (a war which is complete fiction).  In their efforts to “reclaim the surface” they are operating delicate machinery which Salamander is using to provoke seemingly natural disasters on the surface (earthquakes, volcanos and such) as part of his plan to take control.  Pretty devious (and imaginative) stuff.

One of my favorite guest stars in the story is Colin Douglas, who plays Donald Bruce, the World Security Chief.  Douglas brings a lot of gravity to a character who you assume is going to be villainous at first, but ends up being quite honorable and trustworthy.  Years later, he reappeared in The Horror of Fang Rock, with the Fourth Doctor.  Other guest stars in this story include George Pravda (Denes) and Milton Johns (Benik).  They both went on in later stories to play Castellan’s in Time-Lord society, in The Deadly Assassin (Pravda as Casatellan Spandrell) and in The Invasion of Time (Johns as Castellan Kelner).

The ending of the story has a pretty abrupt cliffhanger, in which the Doctor and Salamander finally come face to face and wrestle in the TARDIS in a very effectively done split screen sequence.  When Salamander tries to take off with the TARDIS doors open, he ends up being sucked out of the ship and into the time vortex.  Apparently, this is all resolved quickly at the start of the next story.  Salamander never again reappeared on TV but he did come back in various extended universe material, most notably in a recent Third Doctor comic book series.  The character is certainly ripe for re-use.

Overall, this story doesn’t have a great reputation, but my family and I quite enjoyed it.  We liked the reveal Salamander’s underground plot, and also Giles Kent’s villainy.  I like the cast dynamic of the Second Doctor, Jamie and Victoria, even though both he and Victoria are pretty sidelined for the second half of the story (and totally absent for Episode 4).  Victoria doesn’t have any of that toughness that a lot of the later female companions were known for but I’ve always enjoyed her presence in the show, and Jamie has got some a couple of cool action scenes.  There are some pretty cool production values on display, with the show making use of a hovercraft and a helicopter, along with a couple of great shots from a helicopter.

Ultimately, it’s a flawed story, like all Doctor Who, but a good one.

 

 

3 thoughts on “The Enemy of the World [Classic Doctor Who]

  1. For a particular departure from most of what Doctor Who was regularly familiar for, it’s a great reminder for how free all fans are to enjoy a Doctor Who story for their own reasons.

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