Reviews

The Enemy of the World / The Web of Fear Review

“Are you a Doctor of Law? Of Philosophy?”
“Whose law, whose philosophy?” – The Doctor, flirting shamelessly with Astrid in The Enemy of the World

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I would like to start this review with a large, collective hoo-rah on behalf of all Doctor Who fans, for this year is one to remember.

Who fans rarely have the chance to feel the thrill of watching episodes of the classic series unseen for 45 years. Since the BBC have released virtually all of the classic stories on DVD, we have little new material left save the new series. But, on this rare occasion, the 10th of October, 2013, Who fans simultaneously felt a moment of that thrill. In Nigeria, of all places, nine episodes have been found. The episodes comprise the remaining entirety of the serial The Enemy of the World (starring Patrick Troughton as both the Doctor and the “enemy”), as well as completing all but one episode of The Web of Fear (which introduces both Nicholas Courtney as the then-Colonal-come-Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, and sees the return of The Great Intelligence, which later featured in the 2013 series 7 finale).

The Enemy of the World

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The story of Enemy is unusual. Doctor Who generally steers clear of political criticism, notable exceptions being the close of The Christmas Invasion, which vaguely references Margaret Thatcher’s governance, and a brief stint by Simon Pegg in the previous season’s The Long Game. Racheline Maltese writes an interesting essay on politics and Doctor Who in 2013’s essay collection, Doctor Who in Time and Space. Her piece explains how classic Who often had an agenda, but how that agenda has usually avoided jading topics such as politics and the like. The Enemy of the World is the exception.

This serial, made smack-bang in the middle of the Cold War, follows the story of Salamander, evil dictator of an undisclosed world power, whose plan to cause natural disasters on his enemies’ land doesn’t quite settle with the Doctor, Patrick Troughton. The crux of it is that Salamander, our story’s arch villain, is played by none other than Troughton himself. What arises from the ashes of a cliche thrice-killed is a beautiful phoenix – a phoenix who can hold its own.

Despite one wobbly set in Episode 6, the story is unsurprisingly well made – I always knew Series 5 was a goodun – and the plot flies ahead with very little padding. Of course, Patrick Troughton is the star of the show, featuring as at least one character in almost every scene, and as two characters in a final and inevitable climactic stand-off. The music is unnoticeably good and the cinematography is of its usual high standard for a show in which the camera couldn’t be tilted more than 30 degrees up or down for fear of blowing a tube.

The highlights include some superb night shooting in the final episode, the inimitable Bill Kerr, the longstanding presence of Mary Peach and Troughton’s acting in Episode Six, which is by far the best episode of the serial. Watch out for an early example of split-screen, too. We also get a rare glimpse of The Doctor stripping down to his undergarments at the beach and Jamie referring to Victoria as his girlfriend.

What the serial lacks are decent cliffhangers. The transition from Episode Two to Three, for instance, merely sees a cut from one plot-point to the next with no attempt at suspense, and many of the cliffhangers are the same old “who’s who” game, with the Doctor and Salamander being unbiologically identical twins. Even the conclusion seems rushed, and there is no denouement. This is picked up more carefully and clearly in the proceeding serial, The Web of Fear.

The Enemy of the World is one of those serials that, if asked, many Doctor Who fans would have put at the top of their lists of “Top 10 Stories We Wish Weren’t Missing”. Now, it is found. It can be confusing at points, and Troughton’s Salamander accent begins to wear a bit thin by the end of the serial, but it is ultimately a brilliant Doctor Who story which tackles a tough subject with grandeur, ease, and dare I say, style. It is worthy of no less than eight stars out of ten.

The Enemy of the World – 8/10

The Web of Fear

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The next serial found, The Web of Fear, lasts now in all but one episode, which has been reconstructed using telesnaps and the original soundtrack for its official BBC release. The Web doesn’t have the same political agenda as Enemy, but it is more of a classic cassic Who. In terms of technique it’s film-noir meets sci-fi. In story it’s more like Monster’s Inc. meets Skyfall. That is to say, it’s a monster-laden action flick set in London’s underground, darkly lit and more stylistically shot than your average Who. It sees the return of the robotic Yeti et al. from The Abominable Snowmen, and introduces a collective of new characters – many of whom stay around for the Doctor Who ride. Hardcore Doctor Who fans and Nu Who fans have a lot to look forward to in The Web of Fear besides its classic status, with an alternative closing-title sequence for the classic fans and an early look at The (Great) Intelligence, as seen in 2013’s Series 7, for the new ones.

The reconstruction of Episode Three is ample, with little need for explanation along the way.

Sadly there is little time for character development – one of Series 5’s pitfalls – as the story is mainly plot. Not a problem, really, as most Doctor Who fans don’t mind a bit of sci-fi, but it’s nice to see the occasional character moment for the Doctor and co., a la Tomb of the Cybermen, but unfortunately these are missing from The Web. Nevertheless it’s always nice to see the Fantastic Trio (Doctor, Jamie and Victoria) in their prime.

To cut a long, six-part story short, The Web is a solid episode well deserving of its classic status, and while there is much to enjoy, as a story, it doesn’t quite reach the heights of The Enemy of the World – but it comes damn close.

The Web of Fear – 7/10

Both six-part serials are available on iTunes for a slightly high but undoubtedly worth-it price of AU$14.99, or AU$2.99 per episode. DVDs are to be released in late November.

Each episode has been remastered and they are in generally good condition. Not as good, perhaps, as the remastering of The War Games (granted, these episodes have been gathering dust in Nigeria for 45 years), but they’re certainly watchable despite the relatively low-quality iTunes file. With new classic Doctor Whos, we must be grateful for what we get, and with serials like The Enemy of the World being found, boy, have we got reason to be grateful.

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