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Posts Tagged ‘Season 5’

Not all that long ago, having a spare half hour or so on my hands, I broke out my copy of Lost in Time and sat down to enjoy the first episode of The Web of Fear. Possibly because ‘orphan’ episodes have been in circulation for rather less time than most complete stories, I find many of them have a greater capacity to surprise, whether that be with their invention, atmosphere, or simple quality. I distinctly recall thinking ‘this looks like it could be a really good story… what a shame we’ll never see the rest of it again.’

Well, here we are, fifteen or sixteen months on, and who would have guessed? The Web of Fear, back with us again (well, about 84% of it, anyway). Although, on the other hand, there’s a sense in which The Web of Fear has been with us for many years in one version or another, and it’s curious to note the ways in which these different manifestations of the story have perhaps influenced our view of the original.

Web-of-Fear-Yeti

Anyway, the story runs thusly: London in the mid 1970s (anyone seriously attempting to argue otherwise is on an extremely sticky wicket, given it’s stated on screen that 1935 was ‘forty years ago’), and… Well, you see, here’s the thing about The Web of Fear, one of the things that makes it one of those very distinctive and perhaps even definitive pieces of Doctor Who. It’s very easy to tell a story about killer Yeti in Tibet. Robot killer Yeti in Tibet is perhaps a more challenging brief. With the idea of robot killer Yeti roaming the London underground, we are perhaps departing from the realms of the advisable. Robot killer Yeti roaming a London underground which is slowly filling with lethal, luminous fungus, under the command of a disembodied presence? Come on, be serious.

This story has that weird juxtaposition of wildly disparate ideas and images one only finds in certain pieces of Doctor Who, and it has it in spades. As a result, the story when viewed has a surreal, almost phantasmagorical quality to it, which may explain why it apparently spawned so many nightmares back in 1968: it’s almost like a waking dream to begin with.

And yet none of this is really captured by the version of the story which I and many others grew up on, Terrance Dicks’ novelisation. Terrance is a master of telling a straightforward narrative, and there’s no story so experimental or outre that he can’t knock it into a reassuring 126-page shape, usually opening with chapter 1, ‘The Terror Begins’, and concluding with chapter 12, ‘The Final Battle’.

I know I may sound a little snide, but I really don’t mean to: this is Terrance Dicks, after all. I can’t imagine how you could capture the fractured essence of The Web of Fear in a satisfying prose narrative, and Terrance doesn’t even try. He smooths over some of the cracks in the story, provides a satisfying backstory for key characters and events, and helpfully provides information to the reader that’s held back from the TV viewer for several episodes – it’s not until the middle of the TV story, after all, that we’re told what exactly has been happening in London, but Terrance explains it all at the end of the first chapter.

Of course, the fact that Terrance was writing in the mid 70s himself gave him a certain amount of information not available at the time the story was broadcast. High on the list of things which make The Web of Fear notable is the fact that it features Nicholas Courtney’s debut as the Brigadier-to-be, one of the longest-lasting and most beloved characters in the entire series – but, of course, none of this was planned at the time and Lethbridge-Stewart doesn’t get the big entrance you might expect, nor do we really see his first meeting with the Doctor. Terrance fixes this, adding an appropriate scene and laying on the significance with a trowel (he also adds some dialogue at the end with the Colonel announcing the whole affair has given him the idea for a sort of Intelligence Taskforce…).

Even so, this overlooks an element of the story which probably eludes modern viewers entirely, familiar as we are: the fact that this is an enemy-within story as much as a base-under-siege adventure. One of the big questions throughout the later stages of the story is that of who the Great Intelligence’s puppet might be, and the story has a good go at throwing red herrings at the audience. What’s potentially curious is the fact that one potential candidate for the secret villain is Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart himself.

The temptation when watching The Web of Fear is to curl up in the warm glow of this earliest Brig-Courtney performance and marvel that the characterisation was absolutely spot on right from the very start. And, in a way it is: the elements of humour that later appeared aren’t there, but in every other respect this is clearly the same man who later becomes such a fixture of the series: honest, loyal, brave, intelligent, and dedicated. but what we’re perhaps in danger of overlooking is that the Colonel may only be presented that way to make him a more plausible candidate as the Intelligence’s vessel (on the basis of this-guy’s-just-a-bit-too-good-to-be-true).

You have to judge any Doctor Who story in context if you want to come to a fair assessment of it – and of course, the context of Patrick Troughton’s first two series is such a devastated wasteland that it’s hard to say anything with a great degree of certainty. However, The Web of Fear provides more confirmation, as if any were needed, of the brilliance of Patrick Troughton’s central performance (and here, as in The Enemy of the World, he seems much more inclined to flirt with the female guest cast than our traditional ideas of his characterisation might suggest), and the consistently strong direction of Douglas Camfield. It’s certainly a more engaging and memorable tale than The Enemy of the World; it certainly mounts a strong challenge to The Invasion and The War Games as the best (mostly) surviving Troughton story, not least because it is so much darker and stranger than either of them. It almost goes without saying that we needed the actual episodes to see this for certain, but I’ll say it again anyway – novelisations and recons are, in their own way, wonderful things. But there’s no substitute for the original episodes themselves.

 

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Honestly, you wait twenty years for a ‘lost’ Doctor Who from the sixties to turn up, complete and intact, and when one does it’s The Enemy of the World. Tomb of the Cybermen excepted, it’s never the ones you want, is it? (I am sadly aware that the chances of either of the David Whitaker Dalek serials having survived are virtually zero.)

My reading of the mood music surrounding the return of Enemy of the World is that most people have been pleasantly surprised by the quality of the story: though quite why this should be the case, given that it’s written by David Whitaker and directed by Barry Letts – both long-term members of Doctor Who‘s roll of honour – I’m not entirely sure. Nevertheless, this is a story which had – well, not so much a bad reputation as no reputation at all. I expect people expressed a mild curiosity to see Patrick Troughton’s dual performance, but that’s about it – it’s impossible to imagine fandom choosing to see this one again, if Fury from the Deep or – ha! – The Web of Fear were also options.

Enemy_of_the_World

Nevertheless, here it is again. The TARDIS lands on the coast of Australia in the year 2018*, by which time the world has become a unified, federal body divided into Zones run by Controllers. Accompanied by the kilted duo of Jamie and Victoria, the Doctor enjoys a quick dip – is this the only scene in fifty years where we are treated to a view of our hero’s undergarments? I’m not aware of another – before finding himself under apparently unprovoked attack by a squad of gunmen. Luckily, he and his friends are rescued by special agent Astrid, who cunningly deploys stock footage from From Russia With Love to rescue them.

Astrid and her boss Giles have a proposition for the Doctor: he is the spit of pre-eminent world leader Salamander, who some people believe to secretly be a wrong ‘un – hence the attempt on the Doctor’s life at the start of the story. However, they have no evidence to back up their suspicions. If the Doctor were to impersonate Salamander and infiltrate his headquarters, that could change…

So, the one line pitch for The Enemy of the World would run something like ‘the Doctor meets his evil double’. However, one of the slightly frustrating things about this story – which I have to say I find myself rather less inclined to praise than many – is that this premise rather gets forgotten about until the last couple of episodes. There’s a lot of equivocating by the Doctor before he finally decides to go along with the idea – his first instinct is to say a polite ‘no’ and clear off – which really reduces him to a passive figure on the sidelines. This is hardly ever a good move for a Doctor Who story.

On the other hand, one gets a very definite sense that the production demands of a dual-role story were a real limitation on this story. I must confess to not being entirely conversant with the technicalities of how it was made, but it does seem to be very carefully structured so that Patrick Troughton only has to get in or out of his Salamander make-up and costume once an episode, and the two characters he plays only meet once, in a slightly peculiar coda to the main action.

Salamander doesn’t seem remotely nonplussed at learning his lookalike emanates from something as utterly alien and exotic as the TARDIS, which strikes me as a real missed opportunity – then again, the story is down to its last handful of minutes by this point. Prior to this bit, Salamander has been shown to be ruthless and resourceful, but hardly an opponent in the Doctor’s class, so it would have been nice to see him crack and lose it upon realising just who he’s been up against – but not to be. Troughton’s performance is, of course, very good, although one wonders quite why they decided to go with that through-gritted teeth ‘Eyy, gringo!’ Mexican accent. Fun for Troughton, though, I expect.

With the twin-double storyline on hold for most of the story, what else is going on? Well, there’s the idea of the people down the bomb shelter believing there to have been a nuclear war, which is pretty much a cliche of late-20th century SF, but then again it wouldn’t be entirely out of place in what seems to me to be the main donor of ideas for this story – which would be the late-60s spy-fi genre. By this I mean things like James Bond, The Man from UNCLE, The Avengers and Danger Man, and you can discern elements in The Enemy of the World that it shares with all of these other films and programmes – whether that be the globetrotting nature of the story, or the evil double gimmick, or the idea of the fake nuclear shelter, or even Salamander’s rather implausible earthquake-manufacturing machine (come to think of it, isn’t there a joke about an earthquake or volcano machine in one of the Austin Powers films?).

However, what most 60s spy-fi has in its favour is either a brisk 50-minute running time, or a big budget (and the gloss that inevitably accompanies it). The protracted low-budget ramblings of The Enemy of the World do not, therefore, really resemble the things it is arguably attempting to pastiche, and rather unfortunately it doesn’t much look like the rest of Doctor Who from the rest of this period either. It’s always nice to see the show taking a running jump and having a go at something new and completely different – but you can see why this is one particular style that they never really revisited. There are some lovely moments in The Enemy of the World – most of them courtesy of Troughton as the Doctor, such as the wonderful ‘Whose law? Which philosophy? scene – but this story is a weird oddity more than anything else.

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*The Semi-Obligatory When’s-It-Set Dissertation

The Enemy of the World is awkwardly easy to settle on a date for – very early on we see a licence which is due to expire at the end of 2018, while later in the story there’s a newspaper clipping from ‘last year’ which is dated 2017. Even the most hardened contrarian would struggle to find evidence against the conclusion that 2018 is when this story is set.

This places the story in a noble tradition of the 20th century show, where ‘futuristic’ stories end up being conveniently set a nice round number of years in the future, counting from the year of first broadcast – whether that be 20 years (The Tenth Planet), 50 years (this story), 100 years (Warriors of the Deep), or 1000 years (Terror of the Vervoids). I suppose this was done partly to form a convenient hook for the audience (‘Tonight, Doctor Who lands fifty years in the future!’) but it is a little bit hokey, which may explain why it’s something the modern show has abandoned (plus, as mentioned previously, the modern show’s notion of when the present day actually is has become a little chaotic).

Of course, the problem with putting a specific date on near-future stories is that you instantly create a hostage to fortune – here we are in 2013, just five years away from the events of the story (and parts of the backstory to it actually happen in 2013), with no sign of a World Zoning Authority or any of the other parts of this story’s background.

This is a problem here in a way that it isn’t for The Tenth Planet, because The Enemy of the World has that political angle and global scope which most Doctor Who stories don’t. In short, the gap between the fictional reality of the story and that of the real world is wider and deeper than is usually the case.

It’s a reasonably safe bet that they will still be making Doctor Who stories with a present day setting when 2018 rolls around, but it’s an absolutely watertight certainty that the production regime at the time will make no effort whatsoever to ensure that continuity with this ‘earlier’ 2018 is maintained. Explaining the difference will be left to continuity cops, and loath as I usually am to say it, I think there’s very little option but to conclude that this story is set in one of those peculiar timelines which got overwritten by the Time War or the reboot of the universe.

(Though I suppose you could equally well argue that this story is set at some point in a much more distant future where the calendar has been reset, but where contemporary names and weapons are still in vogue – Earth in 2018, just not the 2018 we think it is. That might even explain Benik’s haircut.)

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