The Enemy of the World

Posted in Episode by - October 11, 2016
The Enemy of the World

Aired 23 December 1967 – 27 January 1968

Immediately following the miraculous recovery of ‘The Enemy of the World’ and ‘The Web of Fear,’ both long thought lost to time forever, popular attention naturally focused on the latter because of its popular monsters and the introduction of one Lethbridge-Stewart. However, despite ‘The Enemy of the World’ not garnering nearly as much excitement and not necessarily topping most-wanted or most-loved polls, it is an incredibly strong serial that manages to avoid many of the pitfalls of other six-part stories while offering something totally unique for the Troughton era.

Stepping aside from the base under siege staple of this series, the tense and globetrotting plot of ‘The Enemy of the World’ is much more tonally in line with early James Bond adventures. Of course, the story is best-known for featuring Patrick Troughton in a double role, much in the vein of William Hartnell in ‘The Massacre.’ While there are certainly those that will overlook this story for that very reason alongside its more experimental nature for the time, the dichotomy and nuance of Troughton’s performance is undoubtedly the true highlight and the very reason that this story’s recovery is so important. There is no reason offered to explain just why the malevolent Salamander bears such an uncanny resemblance to the Doctor, but Troughton is able to imbue a completely different physicality and presence to the two that is astoundingly impressive. Even more so is the immense skill that he puts into playing Salamander being the Doctor as well as the Doctor being Salamander as the script dictates, and the purposeful discomfort that slowly subsides with practice is a joy to behold.

The strong opening chase scene and the secret plans of an industrialist to take over the world are brought to life surprisingly well with the BBC budget, and the pacing never really diminishes despite the story’s length. Salamander himself is a superb villain and would easily fit in with the pantheon of James Bond greats- he has an ecological agenda, he has a massive underground base filled with scientists, and he is unafraid to boast about himself and his plans. Obviously, though, the Doctor does not take on the role of James Bond. Instead, he takes on the rather staunch standpoint to remain uninvolved for much of the adventure, not wanting to interfere with a distinctly human event that features no alien component. He realizes that he is being asked to kill Salamander, but he knows that there are several actions to be taken before that including exposing and ruing him. He does not have a license to kill, and he operates on his own terms regardless of external pressures, his greatest strength being his ability to get those around him to question their beliefs and reality.

In fact, visual similarities aside, Salamander is uniquely positioned as what the Doctor could be should his own moral code be shed. Both want to topple corrupt regimes and create a better world, but the Doctor realizes that it must be the people themselves who build this better world whereas Salamander believes his unilateral rule will force a better world into existence. This type of character the Doctor must never become would occasionally rear its head through the classic series and become a major storyline of the Tenth Doctor some fifty years later, but it’s fascinating to see the groundwork of these elements being so overtly discussed here. ‘The Enemy of the World’ is certainly the exception to the series of besieged bases of its time, but it’s a fascinating experiment that exceeds wonderfully and proves that Doctor Who can still subvert expectations expertly.

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