Sunday, 13 October 2013

Of Webs and Enemies

The plan was to post, alongside each section of my 50th anniversary story, thoughts on the Doctors featured therein and their eras. However, I scuppered that by deciding to write about the problems and opportunities involved in scripting the real 50th anniversary show alongside the first episode of my fiction. This week I could catch up by writing about Six (Eleven will reappear later in the story, so I can deal with his era then), but I find I don’t have much to say about that era; not that I don’t like it (or at least some of it) but it’s too late in my Classic Who fan life to induce much nostalgia. Colin was great casting but deserved better scripts, costume was a disaster, Nicola was great but deserved better from the scripts, costume was…er, I didn’t mind her costumes so much.

But there are other things to be talked about. Of course the big thing in Who circles this week was the return of the two Troughton stories. This was especially nostalgic for me as I do remember The Web of Fear from its transmission, though the recollections consist of little more than soldiers battling Yetis (well, I was five and a half). Without having the benefit of any visual material, I also recall a disagreement with a friend a year or two after the story about what the Yeti actually looked like, stemming of course from the fact that their appearance did change. I also seem to recall that when we got to see a picture (in The Making of Doctor Who) we both claimed our own interpretation was the more accurate…

I’m pretty sure I also watched The Enemy of the World. It’s an odd thing: I clearly remember seeing the trailer, featuring the helicopter, which would have been shown (I think) directly after The Ice Warriors…but I have no memory of the actual story, or of The Ice Warriors. My earliest definite Who memory is the Cybermen being shot down with their own weapons in The Tenth Planet (and what a moment it was to see that again in a clip around the time Earthshock aired, 18 years on), so it seems overwhelmingly likely that I watched all of Troughton, but apart from playground discussions of the Dalek production line in Power and perhaps misty memories of The Highlanders and The Moonbase, I have no recall of season 4 at all. I didn’t remember Ben and Polly (it wasn’t until the ripe old age of 7, with Liz Shaw, that a miniskirt would would assist in focusing my attention). My much stronger memories of Evil come, I suspect, from the post-Season 5 repeat.

We now have just over half of Season 5, reputedly Troughton’s best season, even if the story situations are somewhat repetitive. Enemy is the exception to that, and is written by David Whitaker, who for my money may be the best writer ever to work on the classic series. So, in prospect, that was promising. I listened to the audio long ago, but had no really strong memory of it from that.

Watching it on Friday, I found…it was ok. Troughton is very good, of course, there are two strong female characters which is always nice (even if Fariah is ultimately sidelined by the plot) and I’m part of a minority that really likes Victoria, but…I found the story itself a little lacking in dramatic focus. Visually, and in other ways, it often felt like a Hartnell story, which is not in itself a criticism, but gave it a certain slightly primitive, cheap feel which the monster stories seem to sidestep, at least for me. Enemy is also highly reminiscent of certain kinds of Avengers episodes, which is again not a bad thing, but it means it is not such ur-Who for the part of me which is still six years old. And it essentially means that what the story does has often been done better by other series. Which makes it hard for me to love it.

Season 5 was quintessential Doctor Who in its subject and treatment – armies of monsters attacking. Exactly the kind of thing I loved growing up (and one reason why, after the monster-heavy Pertwee era, many of the Hinchcliffe stories from Planet of Evil onwards initially left me a little cold, much as I love them now). And an important part of the reason I still watch old Doctor Who is simply the nostalgia – many of the stories do still hold up as adventures, but if I, as an adult, want to be absolutely knocked out by a TV programme I’ll go to Our Friends In The North, The West Wing, or, to take something contemporary with classic Who, The Forsyte Saga or Tenko.

My interests now are not the same as they were when I was growing up. The part of me that loves Doctor Who for what it meant to me as a child can still quietly thrill to Yeti in the underground, but it has a much harder time getting worked up about Patrick Troughton made up as a Mexican. Enemy of the World will obviously be reassessed in the wake of its rediscovery, and lots of people for whom Patrick Troughton is a demi-deity (and, don’t mistake me, he is excellent) will no doubt praise it as a masterpiece, but for me it’s…just ok. Still, it is beyond lovely to have it back, and I will watch it again very soon, I’m sure. And maybe then I will come to love it.

1 comment:

  1. I
    know what you mean. I've seen a lot of people raving about Enemy since
    Friday, but I can't help but think that might just be because it's less
    familiar to them. (Can't do paras for some reason on my mobile,
    apologies...) I think it has a good opening episode and a good (if
    rushed) end, but despite some interesting characters, it is quite
    plodding and repetitive in between. And the proto-Invasion of the
    Dinosaurs underground base stuff is *very* stupid. (Actually, doesn't
    Dinosaurs feel like a cross between these two recovered stories?) Barry
    Letts makes a very good move by having a very rare film TARDIS scene so
    he can do Troughton-vs-Troughton properly, but it did amuse me earlier
    in the story to see that before he could use CSO everywhere, he was
    happily using back-projection instead! I agree with you as well that
    Whitaker's script does evoke his days as script editor, with its
    incredible go-everywhere-on-no-budget ambition. Can you imagine Hartnell
    as Salamander, though!!?? Hah!