Sunday, 13 October 2013

It’s an exciting time to be a Doctor Who fan. While the wait for the fiftieth anniversary special plods on, this week the BBC surprised us with an early anniversary present – two new stories! Well, not quite new – they were originally transmitted in 1968, starring Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor, and had been lost since. Also, not quite a surprise – rumours of found episodes had been doing the internet rounds for a while. The point is, no one had seen these stories in my lifetime. In fact, no full ‘lost’ story had been unearthed in my lifetime. So this was quite a big deal, and, though novelisations exist, The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear were entirely new to me.

I can't remember how that money got into my iTunes account, but it must have been waiting for this day. I gave up my twenty quid, cracked open some Custard Creams, said my thanks to Phillip Morris and his Nigerian TV relay station, and got started on The Enemy of the World.

The Enemy of the World

The Enemy of the World follows the second Doctor, Jamie and Victoria as they arrive in a futuristic Earth to find global politics threatened by Ramón Salamander, a corrupt politician and scientist who plans to manipulate his way into global domination. Complicating the issue, Salamander is, hairstyle and dress aside, the exact double of the Doctor.

I’ve always been interested to see how Troughton handled the double role and indeed his performance is one of the highlights of this story. Though it’s a little suspicious how, in a story set in both Australia and Central Europe, the villain is the only character without a British accent, Troughton makes him one of those villains you love to hate, with a sinister performance that's the antithesis of his Doctor. The Doctor, too, is wonderful. The opening scene, in which the Doctor and companions arrive on a beach, could have been quite boring with any other lead, but Troughton’s clownish prancing around, jogging daftly into the sea, is a joy to watch. He’s so different to the First Doctor, and yet so similar to the Eleventh – although Matt Smith had evidently not watched this story, you can see how this Doctor inspired Smith’s physically clumsy performance decades later.

The Doctor is accompanied by Jamie and Victoria. I do like the dynamic Who has with two companions, but I don’t think this is the best TARDIS team. Jamie’s great – he’s the charismatic action hero figure, concocting a fake assassination attempt to infiltrate Salamander’s personal guard. He’s also Scottish, which always helps. Victoria, meanwhile, doesn’t really do much. She sits around, whimpers, and needs to be rescued. I know what you’re thinking – “She’s a sexist portrayal of a young girl in 1960s TV – at least she can cook, right?” Well, no. In this story, she even fucks that up. I prefer Zoe when she comes along a few stories later.

There’s a lot more to love in The Enemy of the World – the first episode clearly swipes aside all stereotypes about the slow pacing of 60s Who by having an action sequence featuring a hovercraft and a helicopter, and the serial keeps the excitement up with a global scale, a volcano eruption and a very unexpected twist when an extra element is added half way through. There are some points at which the pace dips, particularly when the focus moves away from the Doctor and his companions for some time, but there are enough twists, turns, and action sequences (in which people are very clearly not really getting shot) to sustain interest. An international political thriller with intrigue, action, and elements of James Bond, I really enjoyed The Enemy of the World, more than I expected to.

The Web of Fear

The second found story, The Web of Fear, continues directly on from The Enemy of the World and features the return of the Great Intelligence and the robot Yeti, as well as the first appearance of Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, later known as the Brigadier. Pulled into the tunnels of the London Underground, the TARDIS crew find that the trains have been shut down as the British Army are hunting loose Yeti.

Even when played by neither Richard E. Grant nor Ian McKellen, I do like the Great Intelligence as a villain – a mysteriously powerful and god-like entity. Yet it’s the Yeti that really make an impression here, and the image of them skulking through the dark catacombs understandably made a lasting impression on many minds. They may not have the visual believability as some of today’s Who creatures, but their imposing frame and sheer brutality nevertheless remains effective today. Their first scene, in which a Yeti is awakened by a businessman (admittedly, a nasty Jewish stereotype… oh, you guys and your racism) is sheer horror at its purest. Adding to this tense atmosphere is the reveal that the Great Intelligence has a spy among the heroes, beginning a Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy-esque game of guessing who it is, which successfully wrong-foots the viewer at several points.

The London Underground setting is perfect for this story – it’s much closer to home than the first Yeti story, ramping up the stakes, and it's tight and claustrophobic while large and labyrinthine in scale. Imagine watching this as a Londoner and going to bed thinking there could be Yeti right underneath you! It also means that the BBC could achieve this scale using one or two sets – one tunnel standing in for the entirety of subterranean London – and perfect sets they are too, so much so that London Underground reportedly filed a complaint that the BBC had filmed on their property without permission! 

There are downsides to the story: the journalist character, Chorley, is constantly annoying and irrelevant, and it doesn’t make any sense why the army would invite a journalist to a covert operation like this anyway. A few of the supporting actors are more than a little wooden – though I do like those bits in black and white Who where an actor fluffs a line and they clearly didn’t see it worth re-recording. Victoria, once again, doesn’t have much to do. The absence of the Doctor in episode two is notable (Troughton was on holday!), which means that we never actually see the first meeting between the Doctor and Lethbridge-Stewart.

Nor can we see their first scene together in full, as episode three, which begins with the two together, is the only unfound one. The BBC have done a reasonable job of putting something together from the stills and audio that exist, but, frankly, I got bored by this non-episode. Ah, well. The pictures started moving again in episode four.

All in all, I enjoyed The Enemy of the World more, but The Web of Fear is another strong story – atmospheric, full of interesting characters, and well-paced despite its long running time. It's a real treat to see one of the best classic Doctors in action in both of these New Old Doctor Who stories. And now back to waiting for New New Doctor Who


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