Doctor Who: The Enemy of the World DVD Review: A True Gem Dug Up In Africa

We're really quite lucky to have it, and ultimately, it is quite enjoyable.
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It really is quite astonishing that they are finding various Doctor Who serials after literally believing them to be lost forever.  Here at Cinema Sentries headquarters we threw quite a party when it was announced last year that all but one episode of The Web of Fear and the entire serial of The Enemy of the World had been found in Nigeria.  They've only recently started to seriously scour the Earth for missing episode so who knows what they'll find next.

The Enemy of the World is the fourth serial of the fifth season of Doctor Who.  It originally aired in six parts from December 23, 1967 to January 27, 1968.  It stars Patrick Troughton as the Second Doctor and Frazer Hines and Deborah Watling as his companions Jamie and Victoria.

It is a bit of an odd duck storyline for the era.  Doctor Who plots in the late sixties tended to rely on alien monsters or base-under-siege plots; this one acts more like a low-budget James Bond cast-away (though it still holds up better than Moonraker.)  Bit of trivia for you: the explosing helicopter in the first episode was actually borrowed from footage filmed for From Russia With Love.

The plot involves a classic Cold War trope with a fellow named Salamander who is bent on world domination (and who by use of another classic trope is a doppelganger for The Doctor and creates a dual role for Troughton).  Salamander uses a device that focuses solar radiation to multiply crop yields to increase his popularity while at the same time is able to predict various volcanic eruptions and earthquakes (which of course he predictably secretly creates via an underdeveloped and late-to-the-game plot device).

The serial is set in 2018 and it's fascinating to see what British writers in 1967 thought our very near future would look like.  Apparently we are going to eliminate individual countries and unite worldwide into continental zones.  Peace does seem to reign, but there is still poverty and famine that Salamander exploits for his own gain.  The threat of war must be real since he has been pretending that a massive, worldwide nuclear war happened in the near past which he uses as a ruse to keep a group of people held captive underground.  It's unclear exactly what they do all the time down there except that periodically Salamander has them cause earthquakes and volcanic eruptions via methods that are not specified.  He pretends to go above ground to scrounge for food but makes it sound so unsafe that no one else is allowed to go with him (or if they do go with him they wind up conveniently dead.

This was my first full-on Troughton serial.  I'd previously seen him in the tenth anniversary special, The Three Doctors, but there he was playing alongside Jon Pertwee and William Hartnell as the other incarnations of The Doctor and thus, it doesn't really count as a true Troughton story. I was a little leery of his version based solely on his look, but was quickly won over in the first scene in which he joyously strips his outer clothes upon seeing ocean and goes frolicking in it.

I found it a little disappointing that this clownish Doctor almost immediately disappeared once the real story started to develop and he was replaced by a much more serious character. It would have been nice to see a little of that devilish silliness throughout the serial. Mostly though, I really did enjoy Troughton's version of the character and look forward to seeing him again.

The actor really does an amazing job of conveying not only his Doctor persona, but also Salamander and even The Doctor pretending to be Salamander.  That's quite a feat for any actor and given that the production does little more than part his hair for the Salamander role. Troughton does a brilliant job of differentiating between characters.

The story is good, though overlong and the underground sub-plot is under developed.  The concept is solid - that of hiding away a group of people underground and convincing them it is too dangerous to go above ground.  But they don't even present it until the fifth episode and they don't give it enough time to answer even basic questions (How did Salamander initially convince them to go down there? When did he build this very high tech lair anyways? What exactly do those people do all day? etc.).  It's the sort of sub-plot that could make an interesting serial on its own, but feels rushed here.

It feels a bit insulting to nit-pick The Enemy of the World since we're really quite lucky to have it at all, and ultimately, it is quite enjoyable, but one can't help but wish they had cut it down an episode and tightened it all up a bit.

The video looks surprisingly well considering it's been sitting on some African shelf for the last few decades. This DVD version is quite bare on the extras front.  There is a brief coming-soon trailer for The Web of Fear and that's it. I'm just speculating but I'd say its a good bet we'll get a special edition sometime in the future with the now typical commentaries, production subtitles, etc.  But for now, we can all just be thrilled we have it at all.

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