8 December 2013

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 342: The Enemy of the World, Episode Two

Dear diary,

The weird thing about going back to do these stories for a second time is seeing how my perceptions have changed in the four-or-so months since I first experienced them. I think that it’s fair to say that my feelings towards the series have cooled a little since Season Seven, and I’m finding myself handing out a lot more ‘average’ scores than I was during the latter half of the 1960s. I means that when I reached the end of yesterday’s episode, I instantly reached for a ‘9/10’. I’d enjoyed it much more than I had any episodes for a while, and a solid 9 placed it firmly in that bracket.

But then I remembered that I’d originally given it a ‘10’. If anything, actually seeing the thing had made it better again. All the action sequences being pulled off spectacularly, the Doctor and his companions interacting so perfectly naturally, and of course some outrageous flirting in a beach house. There’s no way I could mark it lower than full marks, so up to a ‘10’ it went.

It makes it tricky in the long run, though, because I may be rating these revisited episodes slightly lower that I did first time round, and there’d be several reasons for this to happen. For a start – these stories aren’t ‘fresh’ for me anymore. This time around, I know the twists in Salamander’s story. Next week, while I’m making my way through the webbed tunnels of the London Underground, I’ll know every beat of the great Intelligence’s plans. On the one hand, I might find it exciting to enjoy them in a different way, with the prior knowledge of what’s to come, but on the other it may well lessen the impact in a way that seeing the visuals can’t make up for. What I’m trying to say is that I’m still going to be giving these episodes my honest gut reaction when it comes to a final score, and I’m looking forward to seeing how that may have changed since my first viewing.

Today’s episode is another perfect example of the visuals actively helping a story in my estimations, though, because seeing this one has really benefitted the tale. It’s funny just how much I can remember about where I was during these episodes the first time around. During yesterday’s episode, I could pin-point exactly the bit of road I’d been crossing when I first heard Salamander’s speech about the crop growth. For today, I can recall listening to the scene of Jamie ‘saving’ Salamander while I’d been going through the self-serve tills at the supermarket… and then listening to it again five minutes later when I realised that I’d not got a clue what was actually happening in the episode.

In total, I’d listened to bits of this episode three times last time and I still didn’t quite have my head around what was going on and who was who. It didn’t help that I thought Astrid’s surname was ‘Ferrier’, when that’s actually the name of a completely different character. No wonder I’d confused myself! Seeing everything happen makes it much clearer – and also reveals a kind of scope that I’d not imagined for the tale.

I assumed that all of Salamander’s conference (plus Jamie ‘saving’ him, and the final scene as they looked out over the volcanic destruction) were taking place in an office. For some reason, on first listen, this story took on a very ‘noir’ tone in my mind, and I’d pictured this office almost in the style of your stereotypical 1940s Hollywood private eye. To be honest, while it did the job, I’d never imagined that it would look as good as the actual set. These scenes take place out on a balcony, surrounded by foliage, and a very nice set beyond the facade of the house, too. It’s quite a large set – helped somewhat by some clever rear-projection, which I’ll come to in a moment – and it’s far more impressive than I’d have guessed.

Then we’ve got the scenes on the park bench. These don’t work quite so well with the rear-projection technique (if anything, it makes the bench look as though it’s been plonked in the corner of the studio as an afterthought – a shame for a location we spend a fair bit of time in), but it’s great to see Barry Letts playing around with things like this even in his first contribution to the programme. Having sat though his first few seasons at the helm of Doctor Who, I’ve grown used to his pioneering work with CSO, and this feels very much like a fore-runner of all that.

Perhaps the biggest revelation of all, though, is Troughton. In my original write up for this episode back in July, I said ’towards the end of today’s episode, I thought about the fact we'd not had that much Troughton in this one, except that we had, just not in his usual form’. On audio, this is because he’s doing an accent so different to his own (today’s highlight: ‘Is not so good, boys, is not so good!’), but even when we can see him on the screen it doesn’t feel like he’s really here. His performance as Salamander is fantastic, and it only serves to remind me why I love him so much. There’s a great moment where he makes a joke about Ferrier, and then snaps at her to get him a drink. The way he moves his eyes, and the scorn that comes out in the performance… it’s stunning. Seconds later he snaps his fingers for a guard and one comes running. I thought I’d experienced so much of the 1960s, but these few episodes coming back really does show that so much is lost when we can’t see these performances – I can’t wait to see what other little gems get unearthed over the next few days…

 

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