Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Serial 40: The Enemy of the World

Doctor: Patrick Troughton (2nd Doctor)
Companions: Jamie, Victoria

Written by: David Whitaker
Directed by: Barry Letts

Background & Significance: Story wise, "The Enemy of the World" is the exact middle of the Troughton era. Coincidentally (as this isn't always the case), it's the exact middle of Troughton's second (middle) season.  It's most famous for being the one in which "The Doctor is the bad guy" and Patrick Troughton plays the evil villain of the story, the devious Salamander.

But really it looks to me like this is just a big ol' changing of the guard.

This is the final story to be produced by Innes Lloyd, the man who had overseen the previous two seasons worth of Doctor Who, taking over after the departure of John Wiles starting with "The Celestial Toymaker". He'd overseen the show through its first ever regeneration and after continuing on the show far longer than he had planned or wanted to, he left after this story with script editor Peter Bryant stepping up to take the producership reigns. To replace Bryant they found a young fellow named Derrick Sherwin to be script editor and Sherwin in turn quickly hired his friend Terrance Dicks to be his assistant. This is also the last story to be overseen by Sydney Newman, who was the head of BBC drama going back to before "An Unearthly Child." So yeah. One of the guys who ushered in Doctor Who is no longer a force involved after this story.

To further complicate this massive changing of the guard, we have David Whitaker back and writing another story that defies our expectations yet again. "Enemy of the World" is the sole story in this entire season that isn't a base under siege. No. Whitaker comes up with something totally different: a James Bondian inspired story featuring Patrick Troughton as the villain. To play up the Bond (and really, so much Bond), they bring in Barry Letts on to direct the story. So yeah. The Patron Saint of Bond-based Doctor Who got to preview his own entire era a year and a half before he actually took over the show. It wasn't the plan, sure, but it's interesting that the first script editor is teaming up with the future producer to usher out a bump in production team with a unique story before it gets all sieged under bases again.

And that's just a taste.

So let's get to it!


Part 1:

I love not knowing where a story is going.

As Joss Whedon is so apt to point out, our culture is the most story literate culture that’s ever been. We are constantly absorbing stories, be they movies, television, video games, comics, books, anything. We get the rhythms. We get the sense of where the plot is driving us to. We understand a Campbellian model of story structure even if we can’t always articulate it. We understand that things have beginnings, middles, and ends. We know the way these things play out. We know it gets really bad just before the third act. We know our hero(es) have to go on a journey and get roped into it. We know there has to be sanity and stability before the madness and earth-shattering events to come.

One of the strongest ways to get your audience interested in a story is to start throwing things at the characters and be relentless in said bombardment.

Which is what Whitaker does here.

The first episode of “Enemy of the World” is somewhat relentless once it gets started. It starts innocuously: The Doctor, Jamie, and Victoria land on a beach and prepare for something of a frolick. The Doctor strips to his skivvies and runs into the ocean to splash around. He stubs his toe. Jamie and Victoria laugh. They prepare to make sandcastles. They wave to a friendly looking hovercraft that’s a little ways away. And why not? It’s beach day!

And then all hell breaks loose.

It’s instantly engaging and sounds impossibly thrilling. There’s gun fire and running and a hovercraft in hot pursuit of a sudden and surprising helicopter. To add to the complications, we’re given more information than The Doctor and his companions, learning a little about the pursuers before they even start their pursuit. We meet Astrid early enough to know that she’s on our side? Or is she? Something is clearly going on here. She races to them in an effort to keep the hovercrafters from killing them. And before you know it The Doctor and Jamie and Victoria are shepherded into the helicopter and shipped off to a safehouse for just a few minutes before they’re set upon again.

Truly, it’s thrilling, and Whitaker does an excellent job of trapping The Doctor, Jamie, and Victoria in the middle of a situation they do not understand. And fair enough. There’s no time for them to understand it. We, on the other hand, get enough to keep us interested amidst a whole lotta action.

It’s a strong first part, especially when it slows down in the back half to explain everything that’s happening with the Earth and Salamander. I have to throw mad props to Whitaker for doing world building that isn’t so much good as it is tremendously cool. This is a world I’m excited to spend five more episodes exploring as the plot unfolds. To add to the threat, Salamander’s vision of the world is the vague promise that this story takes place in a world that’s pushing slowly towards a dystopic dictatorship. The design feels extremely sexy 60s sci-fi and the sequence of the home invasion of Astrid’s home feels strangely dark and dystopic to me.

Maybe because he gets shot.

And the biggest layer that The Doctor looks like Salamander but with different hair and dress is perhaps the most engaging. You can already tell what’s coming when you realize they look similar. They’re going to use The Doctor to bring down Salamander by having a great impersonation plot. To add to the complication, The Doctor has no time to “perfect” his character. He’s thrown out onto center stage in the last three minutes, forced to convince one of Salamander’s closest confidants that he is Salamander. If he fails, he will most likely be killed along with Jamie and Victoria for being where they’re not supposed to be. If he succeeds, then I don’t know what. But it looks like an impossible situation. Dear god.

And that’s where the episode leaves us? Genius. It doesn’t leave us on a moment of The Doctor stepping out looking exactly like Salamander. It leaves us on a moment of him saying his first line and a moment of “what the hell is going to happen next?”

Truly, it’s an amazing cliffhanger and one that has me racing out to see the next episode and find out what happens next. If it was just “Where is he” there’s any number of ways for them to get out of it. But by taking it thirty seconds more, Whitaker locks us into a scenario (and an incredibly dangerous scenario at that) and says “this is where we’re going. DON’T YOU WANT TO KNOW WHAT THE HELL IS GOING TO HAPPEN NEXT?” it’s a gutsy moment rife with suspense and tension. A turning point for the story and the episode, and even though it’s mid-scene it kind of doesn’t matter because it’s easily the most intense moment of the whole bloody episode.

So yes, Mr. Whitaker. Yes I do.

Part 2:

The arrival of Salamander’s head of security at the end of the previous episode was a turning point for the story. Without providing Salamander, Whitaker gives us a wonderful proxy to fear: this giant hulking security guy, who goes by the name of Bruce.

Bruce’s arrival is terrifying. You can hear it in the soundtrack as he steps into the room. It gets a little bit colder. It gets a little bit tenser. This is a guy who can crush you with his hand and he doesn’t even need to. He walks into a room and you pay attention. His black outfit echoes the vague dystopia of the story so far. He is a force to be reckoned with. At the end of the episode he’s barking orders at Kent, demanding that Kent tell him things.

But when The Doctor shows up at the end of the episode dressed as Salamander and the scene continues into this episode, Bruce cowers almost instantly. He cannot comprehend what’s happening.

All this tells us one thing: Salamander is not the sort of man you fuck with.

It’s fascinating watching Troughton in this story because he’s clearly the star. The Doctor isn’t much in it after the first scene. The narrative transfers to Jamie and Victoria and Astrid as they attempt to infiltrate Salamander’s villa in Central Europe. But the focus is always squarely on Salamander and the sphere of influence he has over the world around him. He’s a force to be reckoned with, and it’s astounding to hear just how much Troughton captures the character’s voice and just how distinct it is from The Doctor’s.

It’s more than that, though. This whole episode is about nothing but displaying how much Salamander is a force to be reckoned with. It’s there in the scene where Salamander reveals that he has guards protecting him 24/7. He has a personal taste tester to test his food for poisons.

That’s just the tip, though. Those are precautions laid out to show you how defensive he his about his life. This is not a reckless man who lives on the edge of danger. He’s cool, calculating, perceptive. His epic take down of both Denes and his deputy Fedorin is epic. Not only does he manage to convince Fedorin to assassinate Denes (through blackmail no less) he also manages to make a freaking volcano erupt and obliterate vast swaths of land and kill thousands of people. And Salamander never really pretends he didn’t have this planned. The implication is there.

Holy shit. This is a man who can make volcanoes erupt on command.

And everything else that isn’t Salamander paints a tremendous picture of this. The villa is clearly an impentetrable fortress, but the production design makes it look tremendously inviting and sexy. Totally Bond villain. And there’s nooks and crannies for people to hide. Astrid under the bridge (or wherever the shadowy place is) is shady and creepy in the way that illustrates Salamander is always watching. They hide from him at every turn, and even Benik, who is Salamander’s right hand man looks like a slimy weasel and you can already tell it’s a terrible, terrible idea to trust him. He’s an equal to Bruce. That should tell you all you need to know.

It’s just awesome. The setup of Salamander’s character is wonderful and the locale is a tremendously fun place I feel like staying in for a while. Great marriage, this.

Part 3:

Whenever there’s an episode that exists in the midst of a given story that mostly doesn’t, it always feels to me like I’m privy to something new and fresh. Like my imagination is grounded. In a good way.

So it’s hard for me to say that watching this episode is an experience that’s different from treating it like its own episode independent of the story that’s gone before. The rest are almost theoretical if you will. And if you aren’t paying attention, you might miss what’s different or new about an episode. Like listening to part one, you might have missed out on the fact that all the hovercraft pursuers are dead and haven’t appeared since then. It’s also weird seeing Denes sitting on the bench like he is. Not because of the bench mind you, but because that’s the first place we actually SEE him as a character.

Which brings me to Chef Griffin, who makes his first appearance in this episode.

It’s because of Chef Griffin that this episode strikes me as strange or, better yet, tremendously one-upping. With the last episode we painted a picture of Salamander and the influence he has on the world. Everyone he’s around has a very specific role in his life and their livelihood and narratives are all inextricably tied into his plans and plots. They’re bringing context to the world of his. His taste tester was impoverished and now every day she puts her life on the line for him despite that I’m sure she’d rather not if it was up to her. Fedorin is being completely puppeted by Salamander at every turn, with his career aspirations put into place by Salamander’s machinations.

But hey. What does this have to do with Chef Griffin?

What Chef Griffin brings to the story that no one else does is a complete ambivalence to the global conflict that’s going on. It’s a context that, quite frankly, you don’t expect. This whole season is full of people who are (for lack of better term) obsessed with their immediate situation. The whole point of the base under siege is that everyone who’s in their situation needs to be completely focused on everything else. Their personal lives are given neither time nor context. All that matters is their job, their role in the base under siege, whatever that role may be. To be honest, it’s one of the failings of them in general. They’re so generic and self-obsessed that the lack of context can be too much at times.

Chef Griffin? Different perspective.

One of the things that my dad pointed out when it came to the Harry Potter universe is how small fry the war between the Death Eaters and the Order of the Phoenex was when compared to other things. If the world under the control of Lord Voldemort is so impossibly evil, why in the world do so many people put their heads down and go along with it? Is it because they are in favor of Death-Eater-ocracy? Do they prefer it to the previous regime? I don’t think so. Or at least, that’s not what my dad argued. It’s no different than the political situation in the United States or any other nation for that matter. The truth of the matter is there’s always a percentage of the population (less than half) that’s going to be ardentliy fighting for one side of something like another percentage of the population (probably about the same as the first) that’s diametrically opposed to the first group.

You see it all the time. People attend Democrat rallies. Others attend Republican rallies. But how many people have never actually attended one? I’m sure it’s not a small number. Hell. I’m very firm and vocal in my political beliefs but I’ve never been to a political rally/event of any kind. And that’s not really anyone’s fault or whatever. Nor is it something I'm particularly ashamed about. It’s just not a priority for me. I’m more worried about putting food on the table or paying my rent. How can you be expected to spend time on such intangible difficult problems when there’s more tangible, simpler problems to focus on? The world of the political intrigue and the war between wizards and international espionage isn't for the people who just need to get fed. Best put your head down, weather the storm, and just keep on living.

That’s what’s genius about Griffin. He’s that guy. He’s the us. He’s the people who can’t get involved because he both has no interest and if he did his wife would frakkin kill him.

This context adds a layer to the world building that makes this world even stronger and better than just about any other Doctor Who world ever. How many times in Doctor Who do we have characters who are not part of the story? It’s not very often. In fact, it’s the opposite of recommended to be honest. Non-vital characters are a quick way of boring your audience because with them it’ll feel like your story has come to a bloody standstill.

But David Whitaker (who I’ll reiterate is an excellent writer) chooses to include Chef Griffin in the proceedings. To Whitaker he is an important character because of the way he contextualizes the story. The blossoming context is key to the story, isn’t it? That’s the argument, anyways.

Besides. It’s about to get crazy.

Part 4:

Let’s take it back to Salamander for a minute, because he’s the main crux of the incredible left turn that happens halfway through this episode.

After the previous episode, it looked like Salamander had hit something of a wall. It didn’t look like there was anything more to this story. It was a story of this guy who was manipulating world events and was planning on taking over the world. He was a blackmailer and a scoundrel but always in charge of the situation. At the end of part three we get a chink in the armor when Bruce confronts him with the revelation that Bruce met with Salamander at Kane’s back in episode one. Suddenly Salamander learns of a variable he hadn’t accounted for. It’s a tense moment for him.

And the first thing he says when he gets this information? I have to get back to the lab.

The “lab” in question is this massive underground facility that holds a whole bunch of people holed up for the apocalypse. I guess calling it “facility” is not quite so accurate as “bunker”. Or “fallout shelter.”

What happens next is straight out of “Invasion of the Dinosaurs”. You remember Operation Golden Age? It’s the same bloody thing, isn’t it? And no slam on Malcolm Hulke, because I’m a huge fan of “Invasion of the Dinosaurs”, but it’s the same bloody thing. This is the future of humanity that will come out after the big bad plan from the big bad guy. And it’s way out there sci-fi with characters that have names that (as Robert Shearman points out in Running Through Corridors) “sound a little bit fey, a bit like tea-drinking Radio Four listeners.”

Suddenly Salamander becomes an even more wildcard force than he was just an episode previous. THIS is his plan? It’s madness. But he’s been working at it for five years! Five years?! Are you kidding?

The underground bunker, too, is a zone of sanity. It’s a world that’s unconcerned with the madness of the world above and like Griffin before them, this is a world of “special people” who live their own lives. The conversations between Mary and Colin feel positively banal and straight out of an interpersonal drama despite the fact that the actual content of their conversation is loaded and subjected around major mythology of who they are and the imminent arrival of Salamander and his triumphant return to the bunker.

So in the span of one episode Whitaker takes the context established by Chef Griffin and blows it completely out of proportion by introducing a whole society of people who are caught in the middle of this whole story and have not a care about Salamander’s upper world plans nor the plans of his opponents. They just want to go about their lives.

To be honest, it’s genius. Utterly gobsmackingly genius. Whitaker’s use of world building is unlike anything just about every other writer in the history of Doctor Who. This is a lived-in, breathed-in world. But more than that, it’s a world full of conflict and shifting perspectives. These people in the bunkers are chosen peoples, aren’t they? They’re just caught in between Salamander and his opponents. It breeds tremendous conflict just within the narrative because we don’t know what to think of these people. Because they are allies of Salamander, but would they be if they were aware of the world above?

And in this I find a sense of… tragedy to Salamander’s character. He’s an evil villain dude, and yet he cares about these people. I empathize with that. When faced with the notion that there’s a double of him running around and the prospect of being out of control of a situation, he flees to this bunker. It’s his place of comfort and control. Down there he knows everything. He controls everything. And he is treated like the king his ego requires. Part of me empathizes with this. The vulnerability that he shows as he enters is analogous to the vulnerability he feels outside of the room. And sure, he’s deplorable but he’s also been humanized quite a bit, hasn’t he?

Oh. And because of this whole thing, it turns out he’s miles ahead of everyone and still in crazy control of this whole situation.

Love that.

And then outside we see The Doctor and his allies starting to make their move against Salamander, resulting in The Doctor getting his Salamander face on and the brutal execution of Fariah. It’s a reminder about why we need to keep fighting this fight. Because the people down there do not deserve to be locked downstairs, princesses in towers as it were. Salamander will probably need to pay for the death of Fariah. Then again, so will Benik. Because Benik is a total dick, isn’t he? Total dick, yeah. The stuff above ground works just as good as the stuff below. This is a story that’s running on all wheels and firing on all cylinders. Expertly juggled, wonderfully executed.

Part 5:

In the early episodes of this story, the Salamander we see is a ruthless bastard. After last episode, Whitaker softens him a little bit, giving him more rounding out.

Salamander’s major problem/threat in this episode comes from a careless slip up. While transporting the supplies from the world above to his subterranean bunker, a scrap of newspaper got attached to one of the crates. Swann (a citizen of the bunker) finds the scrap and races to Salamader, world shaken by the prospect that my god. There might not be a catastrophe topside. It explodes his brain and Salamander does his smooth talking (which he’s good at) to soothe his fears. But the idea is festering in his head. The sedition is there. He demands to be taken topside.

What follows is Salamander heading topside with Swann in an effort to learn the truth and see the world for himself. Salamander begs Swann to turn back. But Swann will not be deterred. Conviction and curiosity can have that effect on people.

That’s when Salamander picks up the crowbar.

To me, it’s at that point that Salamander crosses the line. It’s not him actually bludgeoning Swann half to death with a crowbar (although that’s bad). It’s the moment that Salamander chooses to make a move against one of his chosen children that damns him in my eyes. And why not? It’s because he raises his hand against one of his “children” that Swann speaks against him when Astrid comes across his broken body in the cave. This, finally, is the concrete proof that Salamander has committed a crime. Sure, assault and battery is not really the best thing to get him on. But it’s better than nothing.

The assault is Salamander’s undoing.

It’s opportune that this is the point during which The Doctor really starts to impersonate Salamander. Troughton does an excellent job of blurring the line between Doctor and Salamander, especially in the scene where he lets the impersonation go on for just long enough that you’re not sure if it really is The Doctor (despite the fact that it’s a certainty given Bruce’s presence. It’s so convincing that even Jamie and Zoe don’t believe him when he steps back into his old Doctor schtick. That’s fascinating and really echoes Whitaker’s previous writing of The Doctor. Whitaker’s 2nd Doctor is always much more mysterious than he was when Whitaker was dealing with the 1st Doctor. The Doctor in “Power of the Daleks” is nothing but enigma, and it’s hard to argue that The Doctor is totally on the side of right at all times in “Evil of the Daleks.”

But these two reflect each other. The rise of Salamander’s influence on the narrative saw an ebb to The Doctor’s presence. The Doctor is pretty much not in episodes two and three, leaving those episodes to be fairly exclusively Salamander.

With episodes four and five we get to see The Doctor starting to insert himself into the narrative and Salamander as a character starts to fray. Hell, it’s not until The Doctor really starts to get into his Salamander interpretation that Salamander’s plan starts to fall apart and he begins to lose his control over the narrative. To be honest, he’s almost downright sloppy at times. Remember the Salamander of the first half? He could take down two major figures with a matter of sentences. And here he can’t keep control over a curious bunker baby and soon resorts to a moment of crude and brute force.

It makes me question the relationship between The Doctor and Salamander and how Whitaker subtly plays on that dynamic. There’s no real answer to the question and it’s hardly concrete, but couldn’t you argue that once The Doctor becomes Salamander, Salamander is no longer relevant in any capacity and is starting to get unmade? I mean. That’s what I kinda see here. And that’s a fascinating idea, especially because the Salamander here at the end of the story is so divorced from the character as he was originally. It really does feel like he’s devolving in some weird way, doesn’t it? I mean, god. Salamander in this is pleading! Literally pleading for Swann to go back and turn off his brain. Does the Salamander of the first three episodes plead and beg?

Much less does he seem the type to resort to something so barbaric as a crowbar. That’s extremely base, isn’t it? Really animalistic and savage. Hardly the sort of act done by a man who lives in a villa and can make volcanoes explode.

And yet…

Part 6:

While I’ve really loved Troughton all throughout this story, now that we’re in the last episode and we have everything going at once we get to see Whitaker pull out all the stops.

And boy does he not disappoint.

Now that The Doctor is able to pull off his Salamander impersonation, the amount of scenes in which Whitaker can play against expectations of who is in the room. More often than not it’s The Doctor, but the impersonation is so convincing that it can fool even us. Watching Kent reveal his true intentions to The Doctor is revelatory and continues to build on what we know going all the way back to the initial episode. The impersonation is so good that the person whose idea it was to do the impersonations in the first place, the guy who was Salamander’s ally once upon a time, cannot tell the two apart.

As an ending, this is thrilling and tremendously cathartic. The ending of Kent is thrilling, but so too is watching The Doctor square off against Salamander. Yes, it doesn’t go for nearly long enough, but even still, seeing The Doctor standing at the door to the TARDIS squaring off against Salamander is one of the most badass moments Patrick Troughton ever had as The Doctor. Yes.  I said that. I believe it. This is a guy who has completely taken this narrative and made it his bitch. Just two episodes ago Salamander looked unstoppable, but here at the end of the episode when he steps into the TARDIS (which alone is transcendant, as Sandifer pointed out in his own post about this story) he can’t even make a sound. Sure, it’s partially because he has no idea how to impersonate The Doctor, and yet the way it plays out in my head reflects a dude who cannot speak simply because he is unable to. He’s lost the ability.

I also love that Whitaker really doesn’t spend a lot of time wrapping up the storyline with the bunker because there’s not much to wrap up. The bunker babies come out of the bunker and then… what? Nothing. It’s better this way. Besides, by this point it’s all Doctor/Salamander. All other concerns secondary.

All the confrontations are good, though. Watching Astrid attempt to deal with the panicking bunker folk is just as good as the confrontation between Salamander and Kent in the cave. Whitaker really does a good job of making Kent a surprising reveal without having it rely too much on last second information. Hell, all of the stuff with Kent is really outstanding and we can tell just how foolish we were to trust him this whole time. But I love how The Doctor is unsurprised by any of this. His reluctance really started as one thing but ended as another, making it a really satisfying reveal when it’s all said and done.

And I guess I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Benik was still a giant dick in this episode. So. That.

Final Thoughts?: This is a really fantastic story. Easily Whitaker's most underrated.

The thing that strikes me about this story looking back on it is how special it ends up feeling. Amidst an entire series of recycled structures and stale machinations, this story really ends up looking fresh by comparison. But it doesn't need that because this one of the most fun Doctor Who stories out there.

The story itself is a really great tale that twists and turns in unexpected ways and will have you guessing all the way up to the final minutes. The setting and plot is a corker while all of the characters are well defined and cast extremely well. It's almost like Letts cast using only character actors so you understand these people without them even needing to talk. Bruce and Benik stand out in particular and both take the opportunity to chew the scenery.

But really this is Patrick Troughton's show.

Patrick Troughton is out-fucking-standing in this story and Whitaker gets all of the mileage he can possibly get out of pitting Patrick Troughton against a weird, evil doppelganger. It's fascinating to watch Troughton pass the narrative back and forth between his two characters as they fight for who gets to control the story. And it's funny watching how the lines between the two characters finds itself more and more blurred as we get to the end of the story. It's almost like Troughton is allowing his performances to crossover and influence each other however slightly so that it really shows off just how alike these two characters can actually be when you get right down to it.

The best way I can describe this story? It just scratches my itches. All of them. There's never been a Doctor Who story *quite* like this, and I think that's a damn shame because all of the elements that are here really do a great job at showing just how infinitely flexible Doctor Who's premise really is.

Because in what other show can you have a James Bond plot and a hero and villain who fight over the narrative simply because they're played by the same actor? It's espionage and danger and excitement and character and twists and turns. It's a near future and vaguely dystopic. And it has an incredible final showdown that, while too short, is nonetheless incredibly badass and extremely awesome.

What more could you want?

Next Time!: 3rd Doctor! Time Travel! Daleks! Ogrons! Time Travel! Strange devices! And UNIT action! Cassandra's stepping in for a look at "Day of the Daleks!" Coming Next Tuesday!

1 comment:

  1. You really make this story come alive and is obviously far more complex and interesting than the one surviving episode has ever made it appear. I know I read the Target novelization as a kid but far too much of it was over my head at that point in my development. :-) it seems particularly relevant today, with out of control earth shaking events and conspiracy theories abound concerning the very real D.U.M.B.s (Deep Underground Military Bunkers), claimed weather and earthquake control by HAARP, and political machinations that make most Bond movies pale in comparison.
    In fact, if someone simply added a line that Salamander and his Bunker People were Illuminati, you'd pretty much have a timely daramtization of the world now! :-) I think I must track down my old Target Novelization of this story and give it a good re-read...I know they have republished some of the books - I hope they'll republish the entire range as most of mine were lost/donated over the years. If nothing else, surely they could offer them all as ebooks? With cover art from all the editions and the illustrations from the ones that featured illustrations (which sadly seemed to be only the earliest released books - but coud always rectify that with new additions to the editions!). :-)
    In any case, thanks for a rich and reflective analysis on a multi-layered story that needs and deserves a second look!