Mad Mariachi's Master Plan:
A Review of "The Enemy Of The World"
by Alan Stevens and Fiona Moore
Broadcast from 23rd December 1967 to 27th January 1968, "The Enemy of the World" was the fourth story of Doctor Who's fifth season, and stands out as the only one not to feature a monster or to rely on the tired and formulaic base-under-siege scenario. As a consequence, "Enemy" has more in common with the Hartnell era than the latter Troughton, demonstrating a level of sophistication that is sadly missing from its contemporaries. In spite of this, however, the story is far from perfect and is compromised on many levels.
Having worked as Doctor Who's story editor for all of its first season and part of its second, penning five serials up to this point, David Whitaker clearly had a strong grasp of what the show was all about and how to write for it. It is also interesting to note that his two previous scripts, "The Power of the Daleks" and "The Evil of the Daleks", had been heavily influenced by "The Daleks' Master Plan"; his characterisation of the Daleks owes more to that serial than to any other, and the concept of Theodore Maxtabile's desperate attempt to get the better of the Daleks on their own terms draws obvious parallels with Mavic Chen. It is therefore no surprise that "The Enemy of the World", like "Master Plan", is an engaging thriller focused on the ambitions of a cunning dictator in a globalised, multiethnic but fascist, future world.
Precisely what happened after the scripts had been drafted, however, is uncertain. According to the DWM Special The Complete Second Doctor, the first episode was thought to be rather thin; while this may be the case, it has to be said that Whitaker's usual problem is his tendency to overwrite scripts, requiring cuts and changes to the story to make it fit the situation. In either case, an experienced story editor would have been able to compensate for the problems with the scripts; however, due to some complicated behind-the-scenes changes going on at the time, Whitaker's adventure instead ended up being worked on by incoming story editor Derrick Sherwin, who then sought the assistance of the equally-inexperienced director Barry Letts. Both men were further hampered by technical problems with the editing, which robbed the production team of the time needed to complete the final version.
As a consequence of this combination of problems, the resulting story is somewhat unsatisfactory. Although the script, for instance, has many good ideas, it also has what seem like last-minute cuts (e.g. the truncation of the scene in which Denes is shot) and poor pacing (the sudden rush of events at the end of the story contrasted with the run-around in the middle). There are also cases of repetition (Fariah saying the same thing to Victoria in the same setting two episodes running) and some glaringly contrived scenes, most notably the one in which Jamie and Victoria inveigle their way into Salamander's entourage (although it must be said that the idea of sending Victoria and Jamie on a special mission requiring intelligence is dubious from the outset). Once Jamie and Victoria have been established in their posts, they have some genuinely wonderful moments-- Jamie confronting Bruce, and Victoria admitting her lack of culinary skills to the cook-- which further highlights the fact that their entry could have been better written. While most of the dialogue is vintage Whitaker, there are occasional moments which ring false, such as Salamander's OTT speech comparing a volcano to a sleeping man, or the risible moment in which a guard lamely explains that he has imprisoned Denes in a corridor rather than locking him in a room as it is "more secure." Finally, the story shows signs of former producer Innes Lloyd's heritage of dumbing-down; although Lloyd continually insisted that he wanted more grit and guts in his stories, this is given the lie by the adventures he actually produced. In this vein, "Enemy" delivers broad-canvas explanations and contrived plot points: one has only to note that Ian Marter, when novelising the story, chooses to imply that the people in the shelter have been killed rather than that they have, somewhat improbably, survived a close-range bombing, to see how this pulling of punches detracts from what could otherwise have been a quite powerful story.
The performances of the actors are also variable. The supporting cast is excellent; even the one-note Mary and Colin are well-played, and Bill Kerr as Giles Kent is fantastic, to say nothing of Reg Lye as Griffin the cook. The one truly bad note, ironically, comes from Patrick Troughton as Salamander. Admittedly, Troughton cannot be blamed for the fact that Salamander is apparently dressed as a Mariachi band leader; the costuming on certain other cast members is equally regrettable, suggesting as it does a convention of rubber-fetishists. He can, however, be blamed for an accent and delivery straight out of The Three Amigos. While Troughton does have a reputation as a wonderful character actor, there is little evidence of it here; Salamander comes across as the Doctor doing a fancy-dress turn as an "excitable foreigner," gurning at the camera in a way that would get Sylvester McCoy lynched. A comparison with Hartnell's subtle and sinister turn as the Abbot of Amboise in "The Massacre" is all but impossible. It may be that Troughton's characterisation of Salamander has gained an inflated reputation due to the circulation of a publicity still in which Troughton does look genuinely sinister; to judge by the surviving episode, audio and telesnaps, however, this is not generally borne out by the performance. Ironically, although "The Daleks' Master Plan" has taken a critical bashing for its supposedly stereotypical villain, Troughton's performance as Salamander is much more suspect with regard to its portrayal of a hyperactive, lunatic, corrupt Mexican dictator.
In short, then, "Enemy" demonstrates that the treatment, editing and performance of a script make all the difference between a superior tale and a merely decent adventure. In "Enemy"'s case, a story which could have been "The Daleks' Master Plan II" is effectively a cut-price Bond film.
This is, of course, not to say that "Enemy" is a disaster. Its portrayal of a globalised world is, if anything, actually better than that of "The Daleks' Master Plan", which, although it has a mixed-race Everyman in Mavic Chen, is otherwise exclusively populated with English people. In "Enemy" by contrast, we have a cast of Australians, Nigerians, Greeks, Czechs and Mexicans; with one notable exception, they are all portrayed sensitively and without resorting to "Moonbase"-style stereotypes. As well as the casual use of rapid transport and telecommunications (both essential for a globalised world) we see a very different balance of power to that familiar to 1960s audiences. Australia appears to be the culturally dominant nation; there are no Americans or Russians in sight, and instead of two power blocs, there are scattered "zones" increasingly coming under the aegis of a world president, in shades of today's balkanised "region states" coming under the control of supranational entities such as the E.U. We also see the presence of private as well as governmental security forces-- a scenario which could have developed out of the stereotype of corrupt Latin American regimes raised by Salamander's presence, but which also befits the privatisation ethos which seems to accompany globalisation as the state loses power (witness the similar scenario in the 1979 Quatermass serial). "Enemy" thus gives us a surprisingly clever portrait of a globalised world.
The drawback of this scenario, however, is the fact that it is painted in very broad brushstrokes. "Master Plan", in the brief scene with Lizan and Roald watching Mavic Chen's speech, gives us a quick but clever sketch of a globalised, fascist world full of ordinary people who are more concerned about sports results than politics. In "The Enemy of the World" we do not meet any ordinary people, and get very little impression of what the social makeup of the world is like. Is there tension between the zones? Controversy over Salamander's leadership? We never find out, beyond one or two lines of expository dialogue, and as a result this complex scenario comes across as more simplistic than it should.
This can also be seen in the case of the people in the shelter. Presumably, at some point in the recent past, some states or zones were in a position to conduct a global nuclear war, such that Salamander's excuse for keeping them in the underground shelter would be sufficiently convincing. It is entirely possible, given this scenario, that the happily globalised world which we have seen up until this point is a development of the past five years (not inconceivable, as witness the difference in international power relations between 1985 and 1990). There is also a subtle ethical question with regard to the shelter's inhabitants; it has been suggested that they are innocents, killing people on the surface through remotely-controlled geophysical reactions without realising the consequences of their behaviour. However, the fact that they believe a nuclear war to be taking place suggests that they are quite actively and willingly engaged in destruction, leading one to question how innocent they are. There is also something faintly Philip K. Dick (or even, if it is not too cliched a statement, Orwellian) about the idea of a terrified, wretched group of people convinced they are in the middle of a global war, whose efforts are secretly benefiting a wealthy, powerful globalised elite. Unfortunately, due to the lack of time given to the shelter scenario, these ideas are not explored.
In a way, then, the portrait of a globalised world given here is very like the effect which the viewer has when switching from telesnaps to surviving footage in Episode 3. At this point, the wide-open, large-scale effect caused by the viewer's imagination when filling in the blanks, as it were, between still images, shrinks down drastically when confronted with the narrow sets and low-budget feel of the filmed version. The globalisation scenario is in many ways quite clever, but is too hastily conveyed to deliver on its promise.
The same can be said of the character of Salamander. The name Salamander is significant, denoting a cold-blooded amphibian which was believed until modern times to come out of fire. Here we have a cold-blooded, clammy, ruthless little man who not only controls volcanoes, but whose power over the people in the shelter (and thus over the elements) stems from their belief that he has saved them from nuclear war. In a number of ways, the character is quite clever. Nineteen Eighty-Four's totalitarian regimes attempt to develop similar machines to Salamander's "sun catcher," as well as for causing earthquakes and tidal waves. Unlike the regime in Nineteen Eighty-Four, however, which ruled by terror alone, it seems that Salamander rules partly because the people are happy and well fed, and partly through blackmail and clever manipulation of his political rivals. Again, shades of the Daleks' treatment of the delegates in "Master Plan" emerge in Salamander's attempt to gain control of the Central European Zone by setting up a weak leader who is secretly indebted to him. Salamander's politics are thus surprisingly clever, under the circumstances.
One aspect of Salamander's character which does not seemingly translate too well to the modern day is his scientific credentials. The Sixties saw many people believing that scientists would, for good or ill, one day rule the world; today, this seems a bit contrived. However, if one considers computing a science, the scenario is not so alien as all that; the most powerful and influential men in the world include Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Linus Torvalds, and it is impossible for any government to operate without a decent computing infrastructure. Salamander thus may not be such a dated figure after all.
The character also has subtle elements to him. Why does he not kill Swann (the apparent spokesman of the people in the underground shelter) as soon as he starts making seditious noises? Why is Giles Kent, his avowed enemy, flitting about free as a bird, bar the occasional visit from the police when he comes close to crossing some line or other? These cases suggest that Salamander has some respect for intelligence and self-sufficiency. Similarly, he tolerates Bruce, who is quite a decent fellow under his facade, and is willing to have him in charge of the police force, suggesting that Salamander does care enough not to endorse a ruthless sadist like Benik. Clever twists of characterisation throughout the story leave one wondering, at the end, who the Enemy of the World actually is. Salamander thus, despite everything, has elements to his character which transcend his broad portrayal.
Unfortunately, however, it is very difficult to see these traits under Troughton's sledgehammer performance. The set-up which we are given also makes it much more easy to perceive Salamander as a kind of criminal mastermind who somehow has a way of controlling the Earth's natural forces; more Blofeld than Big Brother. There is also less of a sense of a cult of personality here than in "Master Plan", Nineteen Eighty-Four and so forth; while we are told that Salamander is well-loved, everybody whom we meet, from Swann to Fariah to Bruce, appears to hate, or at least distrust, him. The subtlety which would be needed to convey the relationship of Salamander to his subjects is thus glossed over in favour of a James Bond supervillain set-up.
The world over which Salamander rules is similarly Bondlike. The lack of explanation for the technology behind the sun-catchers and so forth can be argued to be a good thing, as too much pseudoscience can rapidly ruin a decent story. On the other hand, however, it can make Salamander's plans seem less like the skilful application of geophysics, and more on a par with blowing up nuclear weapons using a satellite-mounted laser beam in Diamonds are Forever (which was set in 1972). Throughout the story, one has an evil ethnic mastermind, global travel and exotic locations, a helicopter literally borrowed from a Bond film, even two beautiful women, one "good"and one "bad." There are also a series of henchpersons with no initiative or intelligence; one might well ask why Bruce, if he was so full of misgivings about Salamander, did not feel motivated to conduct his own investigation before meeting the Doctor. Although "Master Plan" also had Bondlike elements to it, there was a sense of riffing on ideas from 1960s popular culture; here, one feels more as if they are being copied wholesale.
Although "Master Plan" has been accused of being too much like a James Bond film, it is "The Enemy of the World" which truly fits this description. Although there are subtle elements to the character of Salamander, indeed to the story in general, they are lost beneath a veneer of global travel and unexplained pseudoscience.
In sum, then, "The Enemy of the World" has the potential to be a clever and perceptive piece of television, but, as it stands, does not actually achieve it. It is interesting, however, that the best Doctor Who, if not the best twentieth-century science fiction in general, gives us a chilling portrayal of a world which is globalised yet fascist. In the present era, with globalisation increasing daily and power becoming ever more concentrated in the hands of right-wing figures, we would do well to look out.
Effects courtesy of Maureen Marrs