“People spend all their time making nice things and then other people come along and break them!”
I’ve been rather quiet on the blogging front of late – it’s been a lovely summer, and I’ve enjoyed being out in it rather than spending evenings tapping away on a keyboard. But if there’s one thing guaranteed to make me put fingers to keys once again, it’s a new episode of Doctor Who.
Or in this case, not entirely “new”. I started this blog way back in the dim and distant 2007 primarily to review Doctor Who, but I never thought I’d be in the position of reviewing episodes from 1967/68 that I – and everyone else born since then – had never been able to see before. Yet thanks to the sterling efforts of one Philip Morris (not the one who makes cigarettes), we can all now enjoy two stories long held to be classics – The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear.
Unlike some of fandom’s nuttier elements, I’m glad to have anything back, and am over the moon at being able to see more of the mighty Patrick Troughton as the Second Doctor. But there’s always that pervading worry – what if, now we can actually see these ‘classic’ episodes, they turn out to be… well, rubbish?
To find out, young Barry and I sat down last night to watch all twelve episodes of the stories from beginning to end. They’re not all new to us, of course – part 3 of Enemy and part 1 of Web have been available for a while. But isolated and out of context, they don’t give much more than a flavour of what the whole story is like. Especially part 3 of Enemy, which is obviously the sort of padding you tend to get around the middle of a six part story.
So, armed with a bottle of wine also named after a classic TV show, we downloaded the stories from iTunes and plunged into the task of watching them. It was no chore, though – these were every bit as enjoyable as the Target novelisations and the audio releases had made them seem.
It’s long been held that Web of Fear is a classic, but that’s less frequently been said of Enemy of the World. Nevertheless, that’s the earlier of the two (Web followed immediately after on original transmission), so it was Enemy we started with.
In the unlikely event that this blog’s readers are unfamiliar with the story, this is the one set in the near future in which the Doctor discovers that he is physically identical to a seemingly benevolent but actually corrupt politician bent on seizing control of the entire planet from the futuristic “World Zones Authority” (read “UN”). For 60s Who, it’s a strangely atypical story; there are no monsters or aliens, and even the near future setting is almost incidental, demonstrated primarily by characters using video phones. What it basically is, is Doctor Who doing James Bond – on the tiniest fraction of the budget that Sean Connery was used to at the time.
And yet for all that, it’s actually pretty thrilling. Certainly part 1 starts the story with a bang, as the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe, frolicking on an Australian beach, are pursued by a hovercraft full of mysterious gun-toting assassins before being rescued by an equally mysterious young woman flying a helicopter. After a brief respite for some exposition, the assassins turn up again, a gun battle ensues, they steal the helicopter and it explodes. And that’s just the first ten minutes or so.
Obviously the story can’t keep up that kind of momentum – it would be too expensive for a start. Indeed, it looks very like director Barry Letts (later to become producer Barry Letts) spent the lion’s share of the budget on that first part. And yet, the more studio-bound intrigue of the remainder continues to thrill, with a globe-trotting, twisty-turny story of political intrigue, corruption and power. Just when it’s threatening to sag a little, David Whitaker’s script throws in yet another curveball when we find that would-be dictator Salamander has been keeping a group of exceptionally gullible idiots in a nuclear shelter under the pretext that the world is being ravaged by war, and using them to cause ‘natural’ disasters for him.
Yes, that’s the kind of bonkers plan a James Bond villain would come up with. And Salamander is very much a Bond villain in style. Originating from Mexico (evidently the balance of global power must have shifted somewhat in the near future), he’s a colourful baddie who appears to be dressed as a matador throughout, and speaks with a stereotypical Latino accent.
He’s also, like all Bond villains, incredibly charismatic. This works primarily because he’s played by Patrick Troughton, who’s clearly relishing the chance to play both the bad guy and the good guy in two very different performances. It’s a demonstration of quite how skilled an actor he was, sometimes switching character mid-scene when playing the Doctor playing Salamander. It’s a laugh out loud moment when he goes from being sinister to silly as Victoria threatens to thump him: “No Victoria, don’t hit me, it’s me!”
Ironically given that they’re played by the same actor, Salamander and the Doctor are not exactly identical. As Salamander, Troughton very clearly has a make-up induced tan and brown contact lenses (a nice attention to detail given that it’s in black and white). Perhaps this wasn’t so clear before the extremely well-done restoration of the episodes; now, however, you find yourself wondering how Salamander’s close confidantes are taken in when the Doctor hurriedly impersonates him by dint of combing his hair and putting on a Sartre-esque black polo neck.
Like any Bond villain, Salamander has a couple of key assistants and an army of disposable henchmen. Said henchmen are unwisely clad in what appears to be tight black fetish suits, which serves to emphasise that most of them are a bit out of condition for chasing our heroes around with guns. Frazer Hines does look rather good in one though, when he infiltrates the baddie’s HQ.
Salamander’s other confidantes are Security Chief Donald Bruce, who’s played by Colin Douglas (who also played Reuben in 1977 story Horror of Fang Rock). Bruce, while gruff and dressed in black, is clearly a decent type who’s been duped, and fittingly ends up on the side of the goodies. So, to balance him out, Salamander has a deputy called Benik, played in quite the campest performance I’ve ever seen by Milton Johns, later to be seen as Crayford in The Android Invasion and Kelner in The Invasion of time.
Cursed with the least flattering hairstyle outside of a Trappist monastery, Benik is clearly taking an actual sexual satisfaction from his acts of sadism; he’s practically panting with pleasure as he threatens to do nasty things to Victoria to make Jamie talk. He’s one of the most genuinely nasty pieces of work to appear in Doctor Who, his OTT campness made chilling by his unnerving sadism.
Ranged against Salamander is the also rather murky Giles Kent, played as untrustworthy from the start by Bill Kerr. Kerr, who also starred with Tony Hancock, was one of very few Australian actors in the UK at the time; as a result, any drama featuring at least one Australian character seemed to require his presence. He’s very good in this, minus the beard we’re more used to seeing him wear – all the way through, you’re suspicious of the character but never quite sure.
And as with any proper Bond villain, Salamander has a beautiful female assistant, coerced into helping him against her will. This is his ‘food-taster’ (what else does she have to taste, I wonder?) Fariah. In an unusual bit of casting for late 60s British drama, Fariah is played by a young black actress, the marvellous Carmen Munroe (now Carmen Munroe OBE). The nice thing about this casting is that nothing in the script specifies she has to be anything but white, but Barry Letts cast a black actress regardless. Munroe makes the character one of the most intriguing in the piece, bound to Salamander by a hinted at but never explained blackmail, and spitting her hatred and eagerness to be rid of him.
It’s not all good stuff though. David Whitaker’s script is, on occasion, infuriatingly vague as to what’s going on and where the characters are. No direct reference is made to Australia at the outset; we see a map that says ‘Australasian Zone’ though there’s no guarantee it’s where the characters are. Little details like the accents and the place names fill that in. Likewise, when a chunk of the story takes place in Hungary, it’s some while before the name of the country is mentioned, with only a few glancing references to the ‘Central European Zone’ to clue us in. With the Bond-style globetrotting confined to tiny BBC studios and lacking the sweeping establishing shots you’d get in a Cubby Broccoli opus, this sort of thing could have been made a little clearer.
The cliffhanger endings for each episode are oddly muted too, with the action just seeming to stop at a point that is, at best, mildly suspenseful. Ironically, the best cliffhanger in the story is the one at the very end, with Salamander sucked out of the open TARDIS doors while our heroes cling to the console for dear life.
And not all the performances are up there with Troughton either. One particular offender is Alan Verney, playing rebellious shelter resident Colin, who appears to be performing as though he was a sixth-former thrust into the role of Hamlet, delivering the most mundane of lines with excessive drama while staring epically into the middle distance for no discernible reason.
Ultimately though, there’s far more good than bad here. Even taking into account the slower, more ponderous grammar of 60s TV, Enemy of the World is a pretty thrilling story, and an unusual experiment for a show more used to dealing with alien invasions and historical excursions. Troughton’s performance is one of the key features; it’s a shame he doesn’t meet up with himself until the very end of the story, though the cost and effort of more split screen would probably have been prohibitive. Still, as Matthew Sweet remarks, it’s the Chaplin-influenced Troughton’s very own Great Dictator – the scruffy, good-hearted tramp played by the same man as the power hungry madman. And that’s high praise indeed.
On, then, to The Web of Fear. If the quality of Enemy of the World came as a pleasant surprise, Web has a much harder job – to live up to its already recognised status as a classic. It also still has one episode of the six missing – episode three, reconstructed here from its audio soundtrack and a series of photographs taken at the time. What it does have, however, is the advantage of one of Who’s best ever directors, the militarily inclined Douglas Camfield – and the first appearance of Nicholas Courtney as one Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, later promoted to Brigadier and given funnier lines.
Here though, he’s all seriousness. As indeed is the story. This is basically a horror tale, and notably influenced in both tone and visual style by Quatermass and the Pit. Certainly the well-realised London Underground setting can’t have come from anywhere else.
The premise – the return of the Great Intelligence and its robot Yeti servants to drive people from the capital and the military fighting back from the very real deep-level shelter at Goodge Street Tube station – is very intriguing. It’s also the template for where the show would find itself going in the near future, with a contemporary setting in which aliens come to us rather than us going to them. It’s no accident that Jon Pertwee characterised such stories as “a Yeti sitting on the loo in Tooting Bec”.
We’ve never really seen the Yeti in action much before. Their first story is mostly absent from the archives, you can barely see that one in the caves from The Five Doctors, and they don’t appear much in the already-extant first part of this story. Now we can see them in action properly for the first time, and they’re actually rather good. I always thought the idea of robot Yeti was rather a ropey one, but these roaring, glowing-eyed furry giants come off rather well, especially in the dimly-lit Tube tunnels which serve as the story’s main setting.
They also get a cracking battle scene in episode four, which never really came across properly on the audio version. Here. though. we can see Camfield’s skill at staging this sort of thing, as we would time and again when he directed stories with UNIT. The Yeti may be lumbering and slow, but they’re also extremely strong and, as ever, immune to bullets, plenty of which are flying around here. Camfield’s collaborator in staging this gunplay was stuntman Derek Ware, later to become founder of the show’s resident stunt group Havoc; look closely and you’ll see him actually given a line as the soldier who call out in horror, “Look, sir!”
It’s not just about the action though. Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln’s script gives us characters of real depth amid the crisis, meaning you actually care when they get killed (which is pretty frequently). Top marks in particular for Jack Watling’s Professor Travers, who gets to contemplate the consequences of time travel in a way unusual for the show at the time when confronted by people he last saw forty years ago who’ve not aged, while he’s become a doddering old man. Later on, Travers is possessed by the Great Intelligence, and you realise that Watling’s bumbling eccentricity as the Professor can be matched by his sinister, hissing alien performance.
Tina Packer too is marvellous as his daughter Anne, portrayed as a rounded character in a time when the temptation was for any female character to be a vacuous damsel constantly twisting her ankle and requiring rescue. Asked by a lecherous soldier, “what’s a nice girl like you doing in a job like this?”, she frostily replies, “well, when I was a little girl I thought I’d like to become a scientist, so I became a scientist.” As an independent woman, she’s far more convincing than her later counterpart Isobel Watkins in The Invasion, whose feminist attitude is displayed only by a helpless cry of “oh, you, you… MAN!”
Here again though, it’s not all good news. The platoon is later joined by comedy Welshman Private Evans, whose function appears to be running away and generally giving the Welsh a bad name. It’s no particular fault of actor Derek Pollitt, whose Welsh accent is presumably native, but of the script and the lines he’s given. Proof once again that even classic stories have their missteps.
But the performance that stands out of course is Nicholas Courtney, making his first appearance as Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart. He’s an effortlessly commanding presence as a senior officer – ironically, Courtney himself never rose higher than the rank of private during his national service. The character here is a lot less fleshed out than we’re used to in later stories, but Courtney’s performance lifts it out of being just a cypher of ‘military officer’. You can see why they invited him back.
And of course, there’s Patrick Troughton. He’s at the height of his powers here, switching effortlessly from bumbling comedian to serious, grim-faced investigator of the menace to Earth. He’s ably assisted by Frazer Hines and Deborah Watling – one of the nice things about this discovery is that we previously had very little of her work on the show available, and now there’s quite a bit more. She herself said the other night that it was magical to be able to see her work alongside her father for the first time in 45 years.
Web of Fear sustains its six-episode runtime very well (unlike many six-parters). It’s immensely atmospheric, the dimly lit Tube sets very convincing. It would be churlish to point out that they only built one station and just kept changing the name plate on it – but they’re the BBC, not MGM. Plus the dim lighting and some skilful camera direction from Douglas Camfield work well at concealing this.
If I have a criticism at all, though, it’s that the ending is a bit anticlimactic and cerebral, with the Intelligence seemingly banished just by a scuffle that destroys its control pyramid. Of course, now that Steven Moffat has made it clear that the Intelligence exists all through the Doctor’s timestream, you have to wonder whether this was just one of its many piqued attempts to do away with him – one where Clara didn’t need to help out.
It would have been great to have any missing episodes recovered – even if it was The Space Pirates. These two, however, are real gems. Now we can see it, The Web of Fear definitely deserves its classic status; but the real surprise was how enjoyable Enemy of the World was. It’s really gone up in my estimation now that I’ve actually seen it.
Philip Morris wasn’t at the (rather bungled) BBC press launch. He’s still in Africa, trawling the dusty archives of TV stations in frequently dangerous and war torn countries. Let’s hope he finds some more, and that the more entitled fanboys can show the proper gratitude for a quest every bit as dramatic as any on the show itself.