Doctor Who and the Enemy of the World – Written by Ian Marter & Read by David Troughton – CD / Audible (BBC)
Enemy of the World is, to say the least, an odd Doctor Who story. At its core is the Man In The Iron Mask conceit that the Second Doctor is a dead ringer for the oddly-named Salamander, a leading politician and scientist, who some view as a saviour for his work supposedly to make deserts bloom with a big old gizmo, but who some whisper is a psycho-slimeball, intent on becoming ruler of the world.
Like that could ever happen…
On the one hand, this lookalike storyline gives Patrick Troughton the chance to swan about playing a villain with an… interesting Spanish accent, and gives you lots of double-taking doppelganging fun. On the other, Enemy of the World is one of the least ‘convenient’ stories in Doctor Who history, in that it doesn’t concentrate all authority yet into a single pair of hands – there are governors of various world territories, there are competing security forces and each person in the story has personal motivations, organisational loyalties and individual agenda that are here, there and everywhere.
The thing about which is that not only does it create an inherently complicated story, but the first half creates a question that needs answering – if Salamander is as evil as some people think he is, he has to be able to create natural disasters on demand. How the hell can he do that?
The answer to that question turns The Enemy Of The World from complex political chicanery on a worldwide stage into sheer Bond villainy, as Salamander is revealed to be playing not one big game but two – in case you’ve never come across the story before, we won’t spoiler it for you, but it’s a doozy. It has the potential for slickness, this twist, but instead there’s a good deal of running about and, to give the story its due, a good deal of effort put into making Salamander the kind of villain to be really scared of – a narcissistic politician with a touch of personal savagery. That he’s entirely human all the way through is an underlining of a storytelling thread that has come in for some flack in the recent Series 11 – the notion that the biggest threats and evils are not coming in from outside, are not aliens with ray guns, but are the people we have right here who feel they’re inherently a different class or species from the little people, and are prepared to sacrifice those people to achieve their manifest destiny.
Enemy of the World gets cluttered with over-extensions of its narrative towards the end, as heroes fall under suspicion, villains find their world crumbling and try desperate final gambits, and the societies that Salamander has been manipulating finally collide, meaning we’re not sure how well the world will recover from his period of influence (a feeling which resonates even now when we look around the world stage), but on TV, it’s a satisfying watch even at the worst of times.
Ian Marter, as a noveliser, had a tendency towards grimness of phrase, particularity of detail and an eye for character which occasionally gave his novelisations a deeper, more believable air than those of the more regular Target novelisers. Bringing his skills to bear on Enemy of the World was a decision of practical genius, because the story demands individuality of character if the reader or listener is not to get hopelessly lost trying to remember who is on what side at any given moment in the allegiance-shifting narrative.
Marter handles this deftly, slowing the toing and froing down just enough so that the reader or listener keeps each character and their position in the dance of allegiances, motivations and agenda clear in their mind, while adding more depth and emotional complexity to the major players, so they stand proud of the page as prime movers of the action.
In the audiobook version, David Troughton follows Marter’s suit, giving each of the characters just enough of a vocal personality to allow you to follow the switchback storyline, but digging deeper for the major players. Rather gorgeously, David does a better Salamander than he does a Second Doctor, which means you get to revel in the intensity of that villain’s voice and pauses – a factor that absolutely helped put Salamander into the pantheon of Top Human villains. But, usefully in a story where differentiation is key, David delivers enough of both Salamander and the Second Doctor to let quick change scenes and scenes with both characters in them make sense and deliver their appropriate intensity and impact.
All in all, Enemy of the World on audiobook is an example of care taken all along the way to deliver a complex story in an appealing way, and to show the degree of sheer inventive ambition that powered Doctor Who in its black and white era. It draws you in, and you have to listen fairly carefully simply because Enemy of the World is not a simplistic story, but one that sticks more than most to the likely evolution of human power structures, but with an engaging read by David Troughton and a meticulous rendering by Ian Marter, you don’t mind the attention you have to pay, and it feels like a faster listen than it actually is because you get easily drawn in and swept away in the world of the story.
Have a listen – if nothing else, it’ll definitely make you want to dig out the DVD to compare David Troughton’s performance with his father’s! Tony Fyler