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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Doctor Who: Enemy of the World

Serial Title: Enemy of the World

Series: 5
Episodes: 6
Doctor: Patrick Troughton
Companions: Jamie McCrimmon (Frazer Hines), Victoria Waterfield (Deborah Watling)

(Please forgive our formatting difficulties this week...) 

Synopsis: Arriving on an unknown beach, the TARDIS crew begins to frolic in the surf- but their revelry is interrupted by gunfire from an incoming hovercraft. This is Earth (Australia, to be precise), in the... Oh, COME ON!!!! the ‘near future,’ and the crew is only rescued from death by a helicopter piloted by Astrid Ferrier, the leader of the men trying to kill the Doctor, who are acting without her orders (Note from Sarah: I was trying to remember what Astrid looked like...all I could remember was an astounding amount of blonde hair...). The out-of-control troops pursue the group to her house, where she is forced to kill them by sabotaging the helicopter and letting them steal it. After her over-eager and under-disciplined men are blown to kingdom come, she takes the group to Giles Kent, her superior- and there, they at last learn the cause of all of this ruckus.

A despotic, ruthless madman hiding behind a benevolent public face while he secretly consolidates his power and takes over more and more of the world (a ‘respectable’ mafia man combined with the ‘deciever’ Antichrist and a standard ‘meglomaniac’ Bond villain) is perhaps the greatest threat the world has ever known- because they know him only as a benevolent philanthropist. Only a small group- led by Kent and Ferrier- has seen through the smiling public face to the evil lurking beneath, and seek to oppose him. This power-mongering despot is named Salamander. And he looks EXACTLY like the Doctor.

The resistance recruits the Doctor to impersonate Salamander, while Jamie ‘foils’ a fake assassination plot and gains Salamander’s trust (having traveled to the Central European Zone where he resides) and Victoria gets a position in the kitchen (NFS: That's nice...glad Victoria gets to do something useful then....). The Doctor’s first impersonation is sufficient to convince Donald Bruce, the bullying, brutish Security Chief employed by Salamander, to leave Kent in peace. He then travels to the research station in Kenowa, source of Salamander’s rising power: a technology he has developed that harnesses and amplifies the sun’s rays to allow crop growth in harsh climates.

Denes and his wary look.
Salamander warns Alexander Denes, one of Kent’s few remaining allies, of an impending volcanic eruption- but Denes disbelieves him. After he leaves, Salamander blackmails Denes’ aide, Fedorin, into betraying him. When the volcano erupts exactly on schedule, Denes accuses Salamander of somehow arranging the disaster, but Salamander responds by declaring him negligent for ignoring the warning, has him arrested, and poisons him before he can get to trial... then secretly takes over Denes’ territory.

Donald Bruce and Theodore Benik (another of Salamander’s lackeys) get suspicious of the Australia encounter with the Doctor impersonating Salamander, and begin to investigate. Jamie and Victoria are arrested, and the existence of an impersonator revealed- Salamander heads to Kanowa to catch his doppelganger.

Once there, Salamander attires himself in a radiation suit and descends in a secret elevator- into a secret bunker beneath the research facility in which a small civilization believes that they are living in an irradiated, post-apocalyptic world (due to a nuclear war five years prior), and Salamander is their brave and noble benefactor- out ‘scouting for food’ in the irradiated wasteland these last few weeks. It is revealed that the machinery to create the natural disasters lies in the caverns, which Salamander’s society uses in the belief that they’ve been reshaping the Earth’s surface for re-colonization when the radiation abates.

This is case you were just dying to know what he looked like.
Bruce finds the Doctor, Astrid, and Kent, but is persuaded that Salamander is a traitor to the world order. He agrees to follow the Doctor to Kanowa, allow the Doctor to impersonate Salamander to gain evidence of Salamander’s treachery- if not, Astrid and Kent, in custody, will be locked away for conspiracy (though they escape soon after the Doctor and Bruce have left.) Arriving at Kenowa, they free Victoria and Jamie, and hide inside the records room, where the secret elevator is located. Kent soon arrives with a key to the secret elevator- he knows more than he’s told.

In the subterranean world, a stray newspaper clipping used as packing for the food Salamander has brought reveals a normal, healthy outside world in prosperity, and the angry man who discovered it confronts Salamander- who agrees to take him to the surface (and there kill him). Astrid soon stumbles upon the dying, bludgeoned man in the grounds around the research center, who informs her of the underground society before dying. She sneaks into the elevator and informs the populace below of the truth- that they have been living a life as slaves under a lie from their supposed benefactor for the last five years. When Astrid returns up the elevator (to the records room where the TARDIS crew and Bruce are hiding) with an intrepid young pair of subterranean-dwellers, one identifies the just-arrived Kent as the man responsible for taking them down below. As the Doctor had feared, Kent and Salamander were partners, and the entire resistance was unknowingly being used to topple Salamander in order to take over his sinister schemes, not to thwart them. Kent escapes down the elevator.

The Doctor pursues Kent, who has encountered Salamander- Kent is fatally wounded, but get revenge by tripping a self-destruct mechanism to collapse the cavern system, killing the remainder of the subterranean populace. As Astrid works to excavate any survivors and Bruce takes over and evacuates the research center, Jamie and Victoria return to the TARDIS as ordered. The Doctor soon emerges, alive and unharmed, but exhausted. Resting from his exertion, the Doctor asks Jamie to pilot the TARDIS in his stead while he recovers his energy.

Of course, the real Doctor quickly shows up at the door, disheveled and dusty, announcing that Salamander has decided to turn the tables and impersonate him! Salamander attempts to activate the controls, and the TARDIS takes off with open doors as the two men struggle. Salamander is knocked out into the Vortex as the ship flies out of control, threatening to suck the Doctor, Jamie, and Victoria out after him...(NFS: Yeah...that's as AWESOME as it sounds! A little Doctor on Salamander action. :-D)


Would this face lie? Or kill you?
The ‘Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve’ concept rears its head again, this time to much greater effect, as the bizarre coincidence of a man that looks just like the Doctor in the exact time/place he visits- who also happens to be a villain- is revisited. And boy, I wish I could see it in video!!!

The characters are fun, the story engaging, and the ending is spectacular... or at least sounds to be. The dual-performance is excellent, giving Patrick Troughton a chance to shine. His revelation as the Doctor faking Chameleon at the end (a cringing, frightened sounding “No, Victoria, don’t hit me!” as she gets angry) is funny and endearing... and Troughton also makes Chameleon a memorable villain- cunning, clever (with his ruse at the end), yet able to appear very kind and gentle, caring, to the point that even you almost believe it. This was a fantastic turn for him, and one that will be hard to top. (NFS: Definitely one of my favorite ever serials, and I totally agree; Troughton so got a chance to really show off his acting chops. I really liked the accent he gave Salamander too.)

Ooh! Pick me! Pick me!
The underground-survivors-who-think-the-world-has-ended-but-it’s-fine-now-and-they-don’t-know-it storyline was first postulated by early theologian Athanasius of Alexandria in 327 A.D. during a meditation on the book of Revelation, and re-discovered some years later by a medieval historian working for Ganos Lal in the archives of Myrddin beneath Glastonbury Tor, where it was then reintroduced into society. (And if you got that reference...) So yes, while it is far more obscure than the average cliche employed by Who, it is still older than dirt... and also a very 60s product (The Time Machine with George Pal, anyone?).(NFS: Have we EVER seen an underground populace or a populace that's been told there's no life somewhere and it's been true!? I think what we can take from this is...if someone puts you in a hole and tells you everyone is dead...they are probably not to be trusted.) It’s been explored in most modern sci-fis, from Star Trek to Stargate... but strangely, unlike the usual Doctor-Who-puts-a-new-spin-on-it or Doctor-Who-uses-the-cliche-as-a-backdrop-to-tell-a-story-against, not only was this story element a straight-up story element cliche, it also felt very tacked on and irrelevant- like it was a second story whose funding got cut, and was added to the Chameleon intrigue storyline (which was doing quite well on it’s own, thankyouverymuch!) to extend it out a few more episodes. A disappointing break from the usual creativity... a cliche that remained a cliche and didn't rise above it- though hardly enough to tarnish the masterpiece! (Note from Andrew of the Future: Looking back on this synopsis from a year later, I feel that it is actually a fairly unique story element in terms of a source for Salamander's power, and a clever notion with the 'they think they're reshaping the world'- but I trust my younger self that, tonally, it still didn't fit organically into the storyline. And it also gave us one of Who's darkest endings- all those poor people are more than likely killed at the end, innocents enslaved and then brutally slaughtered- yikes! No happy ending here!)

The chases at the beginning- and the battle in the house- were exciting, fun, and even a little tense at times- a great introduction to the story once you got past the hovercraft yawner. The Doctor’s helicopter experience prefigures his chance to try it for himself in Fury of the Deep.

The ongoing intrigue throughout the serial, with Jamie and Victoria insinuating themselves into Chameleon’s operations, was interesting and exciting, even if the handling of the prisoner-to-be-assassinated bits seemed a little unusual and nonsensical (why was he being imprisoned in a hallway...?). Still, the majority of the plot, though it feels like I have so little to say about it, is well-executed, consistently entertaining and engaging, and filled with great performances- none more so (beyond the obvious Troughton roles) than the kitchen chef, a very unique and engaging character- well-written, fun, a great source of humor- I wanted to see more of that guy.

Victoria and Jamie both have decent roles- taking center stage for most of it, and yet ending up far less memorable than Troughton despite less screentime for him (at least, as the Doctor).

Her hair comes into the room before she does.
The reconstruction was average to the point of forgetability. I just wish there’d been less of it, and more of the video for this fantastic serial. However, this serial also marks the beginning of ‘The Hump’- a stretch of mostly-reconstructed serials of worse and worse loss-quality that lasts through to the end of the series, and then mercifully breaks into a stretch of pure video (with one exception) for the series remainder (NFS: I am questioning your use of that title especially with the quote marks around it and it being capitalized...). Save for that one isolated reconstruction- hopefully more manageable for being buffered with video- this represents the last hurdle, the home stretch, the final endurance test... and it’s an uphill-in-Death-Valley kind of run (NFS: Or you could just run up Astrid's would take as long and you wouldn't have to go to a desert.). Four 6-episode serials in a row that are almost entirely reconstructions until the last one? After just having suffered through the video-but-absurdly-dull torment of the Ice Warriors? This is a trial like no other, testing the limits of a Who fan like little else can. Stay tuned as we brave its horrors, trying to survive long enough to make a triumphant emergence into glorious video yet again... (This took us about 3 months to finally brave, and far longer to finish.) Fasten your seat belts...

Great moments:

Holy cow! That ending confrontation! I mean, that ending confrontation... the big reveal, the battle, Salamander being sucked into the vortex... HOLY COW!!!! That was AWESOME!!!! One of the best things I’ve seen on Classic Who, EVER- right up there with the screaming vine attack from Keys of Marinus! Also, “No, Victoria, don’t hit me!”

4 out of 5 Electrified Cybermats for the Enemy of the World, a fantastic Troughton showcase and espionage/intrigue thriller that is tarnished only by the out-of-place and clich├ęd underground shelter elements tacked on to the second half. And even those are only enough to take one sizzled little cyberslug from this gem’s overall rating!

The reconstruction rates a 2.5 out of 5 by virtue of being completely, 100% forgettable- I can’t remember a thing about it, suggesting it was neither bad enough to be noticeable, nor possessing any notable touches to make it memorable.

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