The Enemy of the World

Written by:
David Whitaker
Directed by: Barry Letts
Starring: Patrick Troughton
Year: 1967/68
Video Availability (Episode Three Only): Try Amazon

On an earlier version of this site I once featured fourteen "Hidden Gems" - pages on those underrated, overlooked stories in Who. Naturally, there were plenty of Hartnells, such as The Savages and The Smugglers, as well as the odd Pertwee, like The Mutants. The Enemy of the World made the grade, by all accounts a likeable, pleasant enough story just overshadowed by that which surrounds it. Maybe it's just disliked because it makes all that "monster season" talk look so silly.

One of the points I raised in said Hidden Gem was that while The Mighty Trout doing "Mexican" might be ropy, which other lead actor could have done it as well? Tom would ham it up, Colin would go into orbit, and I can't imagine Pertwee being up to the task either. Since then Christopher Eccleston has been announced as the new Doctor, and while I feel he could do such a thing justice, I still hold out that TMT is the man for accent fakery. As a story to be inspired by The Prisoner of Zenda, this isn't as funny as The Androids of Tara, but still manages to engage in its own action-orientated way. This first episode in particular is very pacy and striking, helped by the somewhat OTT incidental music.

Okay, I can't go a review without slagging off Victoria. She really is a crap, simpering mess, a pathetic arse who stands around whimpering. What positive traits does she possess? She just hangs around the Doctor's neck like a lead dildo, dragging him down and slowing the action. I suppose what really annoys me about the character and Watling's stagy portrayal is that it comes in the midst of such a good era. In effect, she's even worse than Bonnie Langford was on TV, because Bonnie was only making crap even worse. Watling actually snivels and am-drams her way through six very good stories and a classic, drenching their credibility in theatrical tears.

There is some forced exposition here, and, particularly in a political climate where reasons were engineered to invade a country by painting someone as a tyrant then the subtext of this one does seem reactionary. Salamander is the post-colonial "Other", and though the Doctor gives him the benefit of the doubt, he does turn out to be as bad as he's painted. However, the other story element of famine does credit the story with being considered and applied. Even when not at the height of his powers, David Whitaker was still capable of turning out a more than decent script.
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Troughton's accent gets criticised, but it seems to me that it becomes shaky not when he's playing Salamander, but when he's playing Doctor-pretending-to-be-Salamander. Mind you, even taking into account the central conceit of the plot, isn't it lucky they had the same pitch?

The black and white ideals of the second Doctor are put into focus when he queries "Which side is good? Which side is bad?" But for a low-key story that owes more to a stage play than a television production, then this is well composed and controlled, keeping the pace of the narrative going without allowing it to sag like most six parters. The "disused Yeti" line is also nicely silly and appealing.
* * * ½

The sole existing episode, and one that does cast doubts upon the merits of the story. It looks cheaper than you might have imagined, though not that cheap, with George Pravda being held in a corridor and plenty of boom mike shadows making cameos. Also a downfall is the introduction of that shaky thing in Doctor Who: the comedy character. It's risky, because sometimes it comes off marvellously, but it just as often falls flat. Here Reg Lye does both at the same time. Troughton, meanwhile, gets some great lines in both his guises. As the Doctor we get the lovely "Sad, really, isn't it? People spend all their time making nice things and other people come along and break them." While Salamander has the inspired "Pretending to save my life was ingenuous. But ingenuity requires a constant stream of new ideas." You don't get lines like that from Terry Nation.
* * * ½

"Proof! Proof! Proof!" An unusually serious-manic performance from Troughton in this Hines-and-Watling-on-holiday instalment. While I like the period, it can be a little sparse in terms of narrative complexity, as the previous story's "blow the ship up after six episodes" musings go to attest. Thankfully, The Enemy of the World has sufficient moral complexity to reward repeated viewings - this is the third time I've sat through the Joint Venture Reconstruction and I'm enjoying it more than ever. Carmen Munro's casting does raise questions about tokenism as her ethnicity only seems there to add weight to the slavery theme. But the Persil Policy of regular Who is not the fault of this Whitaker script, and within the confines of itself as an entity, having a black actress yearning for emancipation is a genius touch.

As is necessary with the format, the six-parter is given another narrative strand to pace it out, this time in the form of inspired black humour. Forget the wisecracking chef, here Salamander tells a group of civilians in a shelter that the surface of Earth is polluted with nuclear radiation just to fool them in remaining locked up. Okay, Troughton can't seem to master saying the words "Colin" or "Mary" in a Mexican accent, but thank God for Whitaker's creative instinct.
* * * *

There's a nice scene, if a little overstated, at the start of this one where the Doctor hands Bruce his gun. Eleven stories in and Troughton finally gets to play the Doctor in the mooted "black face", while Salamander smoking and reading while pretending to undergo radiation tests probably looked hilarious. This secondary plot pans out to reveal that Salamander is using these underground civilians to fabricate natural disasters for him - floods, earthquakes - with the pretence of first removing radiation, then removing mutations from the face of the planet. It would be far-fetched were it not so genuinely inspired, and it makes The Enemy of the World a more than worthy entry into the Who pantheon of small budget, but big ideas.

Half way into the episode and Jamie and Victoria reappear, making me realise just how little I missed them. While they're nowhere near as bad as Davison's terrible trio (Tegan/Nyssa/Adric), The Mighty Trout possesses far more depth without them hanging around. Milton Johns's subtly perverted (for a family audience) sadistic Benik is a worthwhile secondary character, much more realistically coded than his overplayed obsequious underling in The Invasion of Time. I admit that Troughton's Mexican accent wavers all over the shop in this particular episode, but ignore it and enjoy a story that's still rattling along even five weeks in…
* * * *

You can read too much into Who stories, but Salamander's device of deceiving the underground workforce is a nice take on dictators suppressing the information of their populace. Not a popular story, many fans trot out the same "it's like a James Bond" story bollocks, largely due to the fact that the second most common photograph from it features a helicopter. It's a thoughtless, disingenuous downplaying of a considered story, especially in a season of such basic tales like The Ice Warriors and The Tomb of the Cybermen.

The Kent twist is a nice touch, overcoming the natural anti-climatic feeling when Salamander is just sucked out of the Tardis in a somewhat forced ending. However, it would give me pleasure if this episode was found, if only so I could see the trick photography where Salamander and the Doctor share screen space.
* * * *

In this age of toppled dictators and contested immigration policies, The Enemy of the World raises more interesting subtexts and ethical dilemmas than arguably any other season five story. It's not perfect by any means, and it could be said to be inconsequential, but it's also cruelly underrated, and personally gets better every time I see it. A real hidden gem.
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