[22 May 2014]
It’s something of a miracle worthy of The Doctor that I am even reviewing “The Enemy of the World”, the fourth serial of the fifth season of Doctor Who. Why? For decades, “The Enemy of the World” was almost entirely lost with only episode 3 escaping destruction.
Yes, destruction. Way back during the original run of the first series of Doctor Who, the very idea that anyone in the “far future” year of 2013 might show interest enough in programs from the ‘60s was pretty much laughable. You kids with your robot best friends, flying cars and ray guns can surely relate. Thus, films were frequently thrown away and video tapes were often recorded over to make room for new shows that were also erased just after broadcast. Thus, The Enemy of the World was trashed along with countless other films and television shows, years and years before the BBC’s collective “Oh my God, what have we done?”
Once the BBC realized what a horrible mistake they had made, an open call was made to recover as many lost episodes (and they ranged in the hundreds) as possible to both satisfy fans and reap in more profits (supply and demand, of course). Recoveries came from rummage sales, foreign affiliates, eccentric collectors and just about anywhere else you can possibly think of. However, many serials (or, at least, many episodes that comprise them) remain completely lost.
To fill in these blanks, the BBC has been releasing serials with re-creations of the missing episodes with surviving audio and animation based on the original storyboards, scripts and still photos that survive (for a recent example of this, please see “Doctor Who: The Ice Warriors”). Luckily, this serial, “The Enemy of the World” did not need such animated reconstruction as it (along with another serial called “The Web of Fear”) was recovered from recordings made at a Nigerian television relay station in 2013 (over 45 years after the episodes’ original airing).
“The Enemy of the World” is unique among Doctor Who stories as it features Patrick Troughton in a dual role. Troughton here plays both the second incarnation of the series’ Alien Time Lord character “The Doctor” and a human dictator (who happens to be the Doctor’s exact doppelganger) known as Ramon Salamander. Where “The Enemy of the World” shines is in Troughton’s acting, which is taxed here by these two physically identical, yet personality disparate roles. The Second Doctor is generally something of a playful uncle and “cosmic hobo” almost always with a half-smile and twinkle in everything he does. Salamander, on the other hand, is as ruthless and nasty as they get, manipulating nature to commit atrocities around the world that kill millions and ultimately grant Salamander more power.
Troughton’s multiple levels of acting are entrancing here as he portrays the evil mastermind, the impish Doctor and the challenged in-between state in which the avuncular, mercurial character forces himself to emulate this enemy that repulses him so severely.
Sadly, these moments prove to be fewer than the viewer would like and one finds oneself waiting for something truly interesting to fill in the gaps between impersonations as the Doctor does his own thing and Salamander focuses on his own cruel machinations. This is often with the Doctor’s companions Highlander Jamie (Frazer Hines) and Victorian Victoria (Deborah Watling) trapped somewhere in the middle. Sadly, while many of the events in this serial are quite exciting, many of the valleys between these peaks are quite dull, slow, plodding and boring. The ending itself leaves a lot to be desired, as it ends on a note that is difficult to really interpret. Is this a cliffhanger or merely a somewhat dark ending? The ending is not made clear; the final moments cut directly to the final credits with no graspable picture.
However, occasionally these episodes prove their worth with some inventive and groundbreaking special effects. The use of split-screen technology, particularly for the few moments in which the Doctor meets Salamander in person, proves to be ahead of its time in this serial. Furthermore, the set design and use of miniatures and even stock footage proves to be cutting edge for such a low-budgeted television show. Either due to an original cleanup of the stock footage or because of digital restoration of the recovered tapes, most of the episodes appear seamless, as if everything was shot for this serial.
That said, we don’t know what caused this to be the case, as there is no documentary about the recovery of “The Enemy of the World”, nor any other real DVD extra for that matter. There are previews for other BBC shows and releases, but none of the fascinating story of the recovery of these long-lost tapes is told here. Contrasting this to the rich extras we find on other Doctor Who releases makes this DVD questionably worth its price (especially when the episodes have already been released on iTunes).
Still, for longtime fans of Doctor Who, “The Enemy of the World” is a must-see, if for no reason than to witness the generally laughingly clever Troughton portraying a vastly different character from the norm. It is a sad thing that the rest of the serial doesn’t quite hold up as well as his performance and that the monumental recovery of these episodes isn’t celebrated in DVD extra form.