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10 December 2013

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

Day 344: The Enemy of the World, Episode Four (Revisited)

Dear diary,

Salamander confirms today that the 'survivors' have been down in the bunker for almost five whole years, which means that they should be headed down there… well… any day now!

When these recovered episodes were released back at the start of October, I went into something of a lockdown while I decided what to do with them in regards to the marathon. I didn't just want to slot them in at the tail-end of Season Seven because it would have been very out of place (and I'd only just parted ways with the Second Doctor about three weeks earlier anyway!), but then I didn't know where to put them. The situation never drifted far from my mind, and people even tweeted me and left messages on the 50 Year Diary Facebook page to ask if I'd be tackling these episodes any time soon. No, I decided, I'd leave them until after the whole marathon was complete, letting me know that there'd still be a few bits of the 1960s waiting for me once I'd reached the finishing line.

Well… it was a nice idea, I guess. The problem is that so many of my friends these days are the kind of people who'd be downloading these episodes the very moment they arrived on iTunes, and suddenly my Facebook and Twitter feeds were filled with people discussing how wonderful they were. There was no way I'd make it all the way through to 2015 before seeing these stories again - it just wouldn't be possible. I made the decision to slot them in here after Troughton's (brief) return to the programme, and then carry on once more. I've still tried to ignore people's discussions of the stories for a while, though, because I wanted to be as unbiassed by outside thoughts as possible. I've even been avoiding the reactions on the forums. Have the tables turned? Is The Enemy of the World now a classic while The Web of Fear is universally panned? I guess I'll be finding out soon enough…

I wasn't able to avoid all mentions of the stories, of course, and there was one particular tweet from Clayton Hickman which caught my eye: “Ooh! We finally have a date (ish) when Enemy of the World is set. Astrid's helicopter license expires in 2018!” Cue a mad panic! Did this tie in with the timeline I'd been using for the stories? I only really touched on it once (During The Space Pirates Episode Three), but as I said back then, I was more than happy going along with the timeline proposed in the second volume of the About Time books.

In that essay, they muse that the Cold War style event that forced the people down into the bunker here happened around about 2025, with the events seen in this story taking place about five years later, which they place contemporaneously with The Wheel in Space. Well now we know that they're about twelve years too late - and as if to rub it in, the shot of the helicopter licence is big and bold and hard to miss! Ah, but why then does the description for the story on iTunes state that 'The Doctor has arrived on Earth in the year 2017 A.D.'?

Well… a discussion about this with a friend earlier today revealed to me that the newspaper found by one of the 'survivors' later on in the story bears the date '2017', but this is then described as being explicitly 'last year'. So there we have it, either the person writing the description got muddled up (or pressed the wrong key), or the survivors have lost track of the days and are out with their counting.

What's nice about having some (almost) firm dates for the story is that everything else still works! I can imagine The Wheel in Space as being somewhere around 2030, and the proposed timeline after that, leading through the Gravitron being installed in 2050, and then the events of The Moonbase in 2070 before another Cold War sets in for the 2080s feels very natural still, and if anything it spaces the stories out a little better. The other thing I rather like - assuming that we say they've been down there since very late 2012ish - is that Salamander could have used all the 'End of the World' myths that were floating around last December as a way to trick them all into believing the war was about to break out and destroy the world. I can imagine him as the leader of a cult, preaching portents of doom!

Anyway, away from dating quibbles, we're back into fine territory here. Within the first few minutes the episode is more visually interesting than Episode Three was - yet more proof that we've been left with the wrong episode for all these years! There's some lovely direction as the Doctor faces off against Kent, including some beautiful close-ups between the pair. Later on we get to watch Salamander's decent into the bunker… and it's like something out of Thunderbirds! The model work is rather nice, and the whole sequence is somewhat grander than I was expecting. I think I was simply picturing a rickety old lift last time around, because I still had this episode in mind with a very noir feel.

Indeed, that means that other areas of today have been something of a let-down for me. As I said first time around:

“I don't think I've ever been as visually connected to one of those soundtracks as I was during the first half of this episode, with the security forces closing in on the Doctor, Kent, and the others. It was like my head was mapping out exactly how I'd direct the scene if it were to be re-made, complete with angled cameras, and shots of our heroes on the run, silhouetted against the alleyway as the guards closed in.”

After The Enemy of the World, the number of missing episode soundtracks I had to listen to were severely reduced, but this episode - along with sections of The Macra Terror - still represent the best visualisations of the series that I ever had during the 1960s section of the marathon. Even now when I think about these scenes, I can picture the way that I saw them the first time around, with the high angles, and a city which to my mind was 1930s New York, complete with heavy film grain and the shadows of German expressionist cinema.

There was no way that the episode would ever live up to that. I don't care how much of a surprise Episodes One and Two turned out to be, or even the futuristic lift system in today's episode, even at the top of his game Barry Letts would be unable to achieve the shots i had in mind on the schedule and budget of a 1960s Doctor Who story. What's sad though is just how much of a let down the actual scenes are. I was braced for something a bit worse than I'd pictured, and when we get a shot of some guards high up on a balcony I did briefly wonder if we might really get some great high-angled images, but it wasn't to be. Ah well, you can't win them all, I guess…

Kim Altwies United States
3/24/2020 3:04:21 AM #

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