A while ago we watched the recently rediscovered Second Doctor tale ‘The Enemy of the World’ on DVD (a present from my wonderful wife). Since my Hartnell and Troughton knowledge is shamefully poor compared to my knowledge of later Who, I had no knowledge of the story except for the ‘high concept’ premise: world dictator Salamander is a dead ringer for the Doctor. I don’t even remember reading the novelisation. I suppose I was expecting some kind of Man in the Iron Mask storyline in which The Doctor must impersonate the dictator, but – although much of the story is driven by this concept – it seldom actually happens. What we get instead is a very enjoyable spy thriller, quite tightly edited and pacey in contrast to much 1960s Doctor Who (we get next to no recaps at the start of most episodes).
Episode one is particularly action-packed, with a helicopter and hovercraft providing probably the greatest concentration of real hardware in one episode until Pertwee’s swan song ‘Planet of the Spiders’. Subsequent episodes are more studio-bound (with some of the most painfully cramped ‘outdoor’ scenes ever committed to videotape.) But despite that the story fair barrels along without the usual quagmire of capture-escape-recapture that plagues six-parters – partly because of the slightly bizarre left turn it takes around episode 4. (The worst I can say about the pacing is that the Doctor spends too much time sitting on his hands, but given that Troughton is pulling double duties that’s understandable). It’s a highly melodramatic story, and the late plot twist involving Salamander’s buried secret stretches credibility almost to breaking point, but David Whitaker’s deft script never loses control of its pulpy twists and turns. Unlike some Who from the era, this holds your attention right to the end.
Troughton’s performance as would-be dictator Salamander is broad, particularly the ‘interesting’ choice of a thick Mexican accent, but he’s utterly unlike the Doctor and really shows his versatility. (It’s notable having seen Orphan Black that the two Troughton characters don’t share the screen until the finale, presumably a by-product of production constraints). In fact Whitaker crafts several strong characters who transcend their various ‘types’ – notably including an extremely capable female character in Astrid, and a rounded black female character in Fariah – with the help of a mostly excellent main cast.
It all wraps up a tad swiftly and conveniently, hinging on one too many character reversals and convenient coincidences, but not enough to mar a thoroughly enjoyable serial.