Saturday, 11 May 2013

The Enemy of the World written by David Whitaker and directed by Barry Letts

Oh My Giddy Aunt: David Whitaker can always claim to do something really interesting with all the regulars he is dealing with and with Power & Evil of the Daleks and Enemy of the World he gives us some of the most thoughtful characterisation of the second Doctor. By this point I am used to the subtle intensity and childish glee that he can bring to the part but Whitaker (like with Power of the Daleks where he was looking to contrast Hartnell and Troughton so dramatically) there always seems to be something a little jarring and fascinating about his portrayal. In Evil it was the Doctor at loggerheads with Jamie for real (bizarrely this never happened again in their two seasons together afterwards) and his skill with psychology that stood out, here it is his inactivity (there isn't a single adventure where it takes Troughton this long to get in on the action, not even The Space Pirates) and his caution. It feels as if he is extremely worried that his presence could cause real problems, something he is frightened off enough that he sends Jamie and Victoria in to check out the situation first before daring to take his part in Giles Kent's plan. Usually he jumps right in and bollocks to the consequences so he must really have a bad feeling about this place.  For once the Doctor wants to leave and his companions want to stay. I feel as if I have been more critical of the portrayal and characterisation of the second Doctor and the first so I think I should point out at this stage that I simply adore Patrick Troughton and pretty much anything he is involved in (yes even The Underwater Menace) is automatically elevated because he is involved. A consummate actor, he can play comedy and drama with equal conviction. A superb Doctor. It's just there were a few anomalies in his time that are so fascinating simply because they are different.

He’s like an excited kid screaming ‘We’re by the seaside!’ and he wants to play sand castles! I love the image of his splashing about in his long johns, like some excitable middle aged kid. When Astrid refuses his medical aid he proves to be quite assertive, not taking no for an answer. He’s not a Doctor of any medical significance, perhaps a Doctor of divinity? ‘I’m the nicest possible person!’ He always was interested in phonetics but suggests he needs several weeks to learn Salamander’s accent and mannerisms, not the few minutes he is forced to. Clearly the Doctor doesn’t like being told who the villain is, he likes to make that decision for himself. He will expose Salamander for the fraud that he is but the Doctor will not dish out private justice and murder him. I love his wily cunning, pretending to his friends to be Salamander to see what they really think of the dictator since only their opinions matter to him. He mocks tooting on his recorder to prove he is who he says he is and it was enough to fool me. Secretly I think he rather enjoys playing the villain, it gives the Doctor a chance to ham it up for a change. ‘No friends, no safety, nothing’ – the Doctor is willing to put Salamander outside the TARDIS to face those that want his blood. ‘You’ll run but they’ll catch up with you.’ Nasty. Troughton really seems to appreciate the chance break out of playing the Doctor for the majority of this story and get his teeth into a juicy villainous role but the result of that is that when does play the Doctor he is sweeter and more imminently huggable than ever. The Doctor is smart enough to play Salamander to expose Giles' hand in these events and his true motive and when the time comes he doesn't hold back in darkly condemning the would-be dictator. Whether it is by accident or design, this is a Doctor who can watch a man being sucked out into space, dust his hands down, turn to his friends and say 'where shall we go?' People say only the new series Doctor's have a warped sense of justice.

Sexy Scot: I really like how Whitaker writes for Jamie as an action hero and a ladies man, playing up to Hines' biggest strengths. He leaps straight into action when being hunted on the beach, screaming ‘Craig au Tuire!’ and rushing at an armed man. It is a nice moment of culture shock when Jamie and Victoria cling onto each other in fear as they ascend in a helicopter, the pair of them never seeing such a ‘flying beastie’ before. He’s cleverer than he looks, jumping in to save Salamander’s life and thus gaining his confidence. His cover story is that he is on holiday with his beautiful girlfriend, which is clearly a backstory that Jamie is loving and can completely buy into. He sums up Benik perfectly in one sentence - ‘You must have been a nasty little boy…’. He asks if Redhead is a codeword, clearly having nothing but sex on the brain. Mind you at that age, didn't we all? He really loves Victoria, when Benik starts lusting after her and attempting to menace her he stops fighting with him and agrees to do what he wants.

Screaming Violet: Victoria was never a favourite of mine, she’s cute in a pathetic sort of way but like Susan before her there was just too much snivelling and whimpering for any real effective character to emerge. Look at her in episode one ('I can't! I can't!') …I would never try and stimulate violence towards women but she was getting so hysterical she was clearly in need of a good slap. it isn't Watling's fault, she is only bringing to like the character as written and when she finally gets something to run with beyond hysterics like her comedy of manners with Griffin in the kitchen she relaxes into it and has fun. She makes a typically Victorian menu of soup, fish, meat and pudding and talks about her family’s whoosh up Kaiser Pudding. It's hardly amazing development but I appreciated the tiny insight into her life back home that she will never return to. Griff sums her up beautifully: ‘You’re a bit too smart for me!’ When she introduces Jamie Griff asks ‘He not cook like you I hope?’ suggesting she wouldn’t have made the best of domestic wives.

Dictator: Like the inestimable Professor Zaroff, Salamander is one nasty who embodies the role of villain so profusely that he deserved a character section all of his own. Troughton blacked up slightly with a faux Mexican accent gives him a whole new edge and proves remarkably different from the Doctor. We're so used to him playing the same role (even with different shades on display he still feels like the same man essentially) that it comes as a shock (although it shouldn't) that he can so convincingly embody a completely different character. He plans to end world's famine and is considered a public benefactor, the Shopkeeper of the World. He prizes loyalty very highly and pays handsomely for it. He bends Fedorin to his will with blackmail and fake lies that would ruin him unless he runs his zone as Salamander’s demands. When he watches mass murder in Hungary as the volcano erupts he smiles knowingly but publicly shows great remorse. He tries to manipulate Fedorin into poisoning Denes and when he fails he sprinkles the poison in Fedorin’s wine glass. 'One chance, my friend.' In a brilliantly madcap twist that seems to come out of nowhere but is actually embedded deeply in the narrative it turns out he has been pretending to a small group of people underground that the Earth is a nuclear wasteland and has been using them to create natural disasters to wipe out their enemies. These explosive 'natural' disasters have been his leverage, giving him an ability to step in, offer aid and take control. or simply wipe out those who oppose him. He plays the irradiated, pathetic, tired benefactor too well, like the Doctor he clearly enjoys the chance to play against type. As they prepare to create another disaster and ruin another continent he lights a cigar satisfactorily…what a bastard! When his cover is almost blown he proves a master at spinning a further web of lies, saying that the people on the surface have survived but are deformed in mind and body and enjoy a kind of society.   How could he possibly expose his friends to that sort of thing? Whilst it is marvellous to see villains in control and basking in their insane plans, they are much more interesting when they are desperate and improvising and the cold hand of justice is closing in. Salamander happily murders Giles Kent and heads to the TARDIS to pretend to be the Doctor and escape. So like him to kill his opponent before leaving rather than giving him the chance to sweet talk his way out of the hole he has dug and potentially regain control. When he is in the console room, bruised, bloodied and terrified he looks frighteningly feral. His fate, being sucked into the time vortex is all too fitting for such an awesome villain.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Yes I’ve got a job for you alright…peel those spuds, yeah now!’
‘People spend all this time making nice things and other people come along and break them.’
‘The history of Hungary is about to be rewritten!’
‘You try, you fail. So what, huh? The moon doesn’t fall out of the sky!’
‘I can only die once and someone’s beaten you to it.’

The Good Stuff: Barry Letts was right to push the boat out (hoho) in episode one because it is genuinely exciting stuff featuring some wind swept location work with Camber Sands doubling as Australia, our heroes hiding amongst the grassy sand dunes, a hovercraft dominating the action and a helicopter swooping in to save everybody. It's James Bond on a budget but the telesnaps and soundtrack make it look and sound genuinely dynamic. Have they suddenly had a huge injection of budget? The stock music for this story is perfect, hugely dramatic and giving the story a real sense of pace and excitement. This is a great idea for a doppelganger story, completely different to when Hartnell played a villain in The Massacre because there is no doubt that the Doctor and Salamander are different people, but just as effective. The lack of monsters is really refreshing, it means human drama is pushed to the fore and the first cliffhanger is great, far more tense than the usual monster reveal. I really love the scale of the story, Australia, Europe, Konawa, Hungary. Troughton tales are so often squeezed into one location so to have a story that is sprawled out all over the world feels like the show is having a nice, luxurious stretch geographically. There is a gorgeous set with a balcony dripping with plant life over looks a volcano in the distance. The script might demand the impossible but that isn't going to stop the designers of Doctor Who. Jamie and Victoria get to play real spies in the park, eyes darting about furtively, playing at being boyfriend and girlfriend. It's so outside of what Doctor Who is normally doing it proves very refreshing  Fariah gets to have some fun with Fedorin pretending that she has given him a poison drink, ironic that it is what his fate should be when he crosses Salamander. Griff the chef is such a wonderful character it is a shame he is confined to episode three but it’s marvellous that that episode exists just so we get the chance to see him. It is true that Griffin, Fariah and Victoria should team up in sitcom land - ‘My mother was right! She wanted me to be a dustman!’ Whitaker reminds me of Russell T Davies at times, not always strong on plots but a master at providing excellent characters as a way in to the story. Fariah’s outburst to Jamie is excellent since it proves that even those you think are protected by Salamander are slaves as well. Her death is one of most uncomfortable in the series because as she slips away it is a moment of triumph, its both a horribly painful way to go (she slips away with cold eyes and blood leaking from her mouth) and a blessed release (she is no longer a slave). Creepy music accompanies Salamander’s trip down to visit his underground slaves, indicating that something important is happening. When Swan confronts Salamander about the newspaper article he has signed his own death warrant, the story has built up its villain so effectively at this point that you know Swan wont be around much longer. Astrid discovering the underground base is much like a similar plot device in Invasion of the Dinosaurs but it is dealt with far more dramatically here. I love the scene where the Doctor pretends to be Salamander to uncover Giles Kent’s true intentions, it is utterly delicious how he coxes out his plan to murder his old partner and take over as dictator. The Doctor/Salamander confrontation is every bit a tense as you would imagine and the split screen work looks highly convincing.

The Bad Stuff: There are some really dodgy accents in the first episode. Even though it is well played and scripted it is such a shame that we can only see the cheapest episode. The story stutters at this point and is padded out with (hilarious) material in Griff's kitchen but it gives completely the wrong impression about this epic, expensive looking, (generally) fast paced story.

The Shallow Bit: Wow, this might be my longest ever shallow section! Jamie looks thirst quenchingly hot in his tank top and is matched by Victoria who is adorable in her kilt. Troughton looks years younger when dressed in a roll neck with combed back hair. Astrid wears kinky leather boots and very tight trousers. Jamie is dressed head to toe in leather…what are they trying to do to me? Fariah is a rarity in Doctor Who at this point, a confident and intelligent and utterly gorgeous black girl! Benik’s campness is pretty menacing, he manages to make every threat sound like a menacing come on. Astrid flirts outrageously with cute guard Yanos.

Result: A dramatically played story, which is attention grabbing from the very first scene. The Enemy of the World is another story that has had its reputation poisoned by the Howe/Stammers/Walker guide books, long considered the odd man out story of season five for adverse reasons (it is amazing how a few guide books could have embedded into fan consciousness) and it pleases me greatly that so many people have rediscovered this little classic and realised it is quite the contrary. David Whitaker has written an exquisite script with lots of ambrosial touches and a dedicated cast bring the story to life and create some captivating drama. It plays out very much like one of the old Hartnell historicals, with characters coming to the fore and their dynamics proving the linchpins in the plot. Doctor Who doesn't have to be about monsters week in, week out to remain interesting and this is a very bold and successful attempt at detailed world building and captivating spy drama. Troughton aces his role as Salamander and creates one of the series’ most venomous nasties and as a result of this his Doctor seems cuddlier than ever. Barry Letts comes down quite hard on his directional debut but this might just be his finest work on the series, displaying none of the technical difficulties of his later tales and coaxing some lovely performances from his cast. For a six parter it is pacy and always throwing new things at you and there are some tasty twists in the last episode and a cliffhanging final scene. It makes me wonder what I think of the era as a whole because Enemy of the World is proof that the Troughton anomalies are my favourites (Power of the Daleks, The Mind Robber, The War Games are my other treasures). Always a joy to a listen to and now thanks to the recent discovery...a joy to watch!: 9/10

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Watched this for the first time and in order. Wow, I was hooked. The twist with Kent at the end for me, I love how Troughton does that little camp thing with his fingers to reveal himself. This is a season 7 story make no mistake. How good were Colin Douglas and a 30 year old Milton Johns, his best performance in DW. Astrid had a great tushy. The cliff hangers were all good and Doctor Who is no longer cosy with some horrible deaths. Love the end, shocking and ties up the beginning of Web of Fear for me perfectly. Love this story, what a gem.