The problem with there being so many books written about Doctor Who is that so many of them seek to be definitive. Which is extremely unhelpful for anyone seeking to think about the programme. The history is useless; a history is everything. What has happened is of little interest; what people say happened is actually worth pondering. As much as the continuity of Who is mutable, depending on the whims of each story’s writer, our history of Who has changed over time.
Think about how those first two seasons, phenomenally popular at the time, are largely ignored, especially in comparison to the final two – which at the time were met with apathy and indifference – which are unanimously considered to be masterpieces nowadays. The history dovetails. Once upon a time season five was the high point of the Troughton era; now it is an endless series of repetitive, formulaic base-under-sieges. The Pertwee era is lauded, rejected and then made peace with. There still is no resolution to the relative merits of season seventeen versus season eighteen, and expedient judgments of fellow fans can be made based upon their allegiances. It is only Phillip Hinchcliffe, with his rarefied mixture of critical and commercial success that has largely removed his era from anything other than adulation, though individual stories, most notably The Talons of Weng-Chiang, are up for grabs.
This constantly rewritten history is no more apparent than in the history of the missing episodes. For years, The Tomb of the Cybermen was the great, gothic masterpiece… and then, in 1992 everyone got to see it and realised that this was a slightly shoddy serial, which often underwrote its moments of dramatic tension and featured some of the worst American accents in a series habitually destroyed by poor American accents. Allegiances soon shifted to The Web of Fear. The first episode is rather enjoyable, but since its recovery, we’ve all realised that its central mystery is not at all engaging and the story is rather thin. So, the masterpiece became Fury from the Deep, especially after the recovery of the genuinely terrifying Antipodean censor clips, but a brief survey of the story will reveal that it is phenomenally boring, and features a helicopter sequence which is unlikely to be anything other than tedious. All the while, The Power of the Daleks remained largely unloved…
Any recovery of a missing episode has led to a re-evaluation of a story. This is never more apparent than in the spectacular rise in estimation of The Enemy of the World after its return in 2013. We had all grown up with the solitary episode in the archives, episode three, and written the story off as an excruciatingly irrelevant drama, set largely on benches in corridors. It didn’t help that it was a complete outlier in the monster-heavy, base-under-siege season six. But now that we can watch it at our leisure, we see how unrepresentative the episode was of the whole serial, and how textured and changing the whole story is.
It remains to be seen what changes are to come. The recent deification of Troughton has led to some unfair overpraise of what is a wonderful central performance in a rather large number of very ordinary stories. Will the new series change its critical standing (perhaps – perspectives really seem to have shifted on series three since its broadcast.) The critical analysts of Who mark their territory by their judgements – Kim Newman’s adoration of the Hartnell era, Phil Sandifer’s epitome found in Steven Moffat’s work. Toby Hadoke and Robert Sherman recently published a run-through of seventies Who and became rather tired with the formula of the Petwee and Tom Baker eras in comparison to the inventiveness of the black-and-white era (…which unfortunately made for a lethargic read). About Time can be ignored by some for its vastly overstated apathy for New Who. Andrew Hickey, rather sweetly, sees Lawrence Miles as the key creative figure in the history of Who. Add to this, the legion of individual opinions on blogs, forums and fanzines. These are our histories; none of them are definitive. All of them are limited. And out future evaluation of the programme comes from the conversations we play between these histories, and the conclusions (and perhaps, just perhaps, new perspectives) that we bring ourselves.
One day, we will be history too.
No story greater represents the flow of history than The Enemy of the World. An outlier in a season of repetitive base-under-siege stories featuring the latest merchandisable monster, it was for the majority of its existence represent by its solitary third episode.
Which is an outlier in and of itself. Largely set in a couple of corridors, episode three seeks to colour-in the lives of the people effected by Salamander’s machinations. He is the enemy of the world after all. We see that the paranoiac, selfish world promulgated by Salamander is causing ordinary people to lose all sense of perspective, and subsequently compromise themselves in order to survive in the servitude of luxury. In a story that is genuinely multi-cultural, we see how black people are treated as disposable, giving us a greater insight into the horrors of the world than any half-arsed rant from Kent Jones.
Since the rediscovery of the remaining five episodes from some dusty shed in Nigeria, the perceived worth of the story as increased dramatically. Ultimately, and despite the insistence of Big Finish, Doctor Who is a visual medium, and many stories can only be appreciated once they can be seen. If the only understanding of this story was episode three, and it was watched in isolation (as was my first exposure to it), we would lose gradual shift of Salamander coming from the fringe to the fore, the casual dismissal of Doctor Pat to anything of consequence (this is just another world to him, and quips – however witty – about ‘disused Yetis’ are more important to him than meaningless talk of necessary evidence), and the gradual build-up of a story where everyone is playing a part, everyone is playing multiple roles, not just Patrick Troughton.
The Enemy of the World underlines the key contribution of David Whittaker to the series. His mercurial nature leads to a story that is never fixed; an action adventure opening leads to episodes of political intrigue, followed by a comedy breather episode. Then the whole narrative (and the assumptions that came with it) is thrown on its head once the revelation of the underground bunker is exposed. Even the final episode features our nominal hero – Kent Jones – unveiled as a villain worse than Salamander himself. Whittaker created a story that was a serial, unfolding and developing each week. Never fixed, never safe, the worlds he created were alien places, strange and unknown, and totally unlike the ones we inhabit. Whittaker’s TARDIS was a gateway to another way of thinking, not just another scenario ready to be disrupted by the Doctor.
Consumed by audio, we would also have lost the keen visual eye that Barry Letts brought to the production. Letts exists as a contradiction – the writer in him is serious and moralising, the director is him is witty and effervescent. His visual contributions to the series push closer to a comicbook aesthetic than anything else I can think of. He quickly cuts from extreme detailed close-ups to long-shots filmed with the broadest of brushes. Geography matters to him very little. He present stock footage as reality, and then surprises us (underlining the mercurial nature of this story) by revealing that it was a (possibly?) fictional image on screen. His cuts are sudden and violent like the panels on a page. In the final moments of the story he presents a violent intrusion into the TARDIS that is so powerful and terrifying, and is only made more so by the condensed timeframe in which he presents it to us.
Salamander, surrounded by earnest and naïve followers, in a bunker far under the Earth, deludes himself with their love, by telling them of the horror and history of the surface. The story he tells them is of the creation of the Daleks. Maybe Salamander, the twisted reflection of the Doctor, is one of us. Maybe he has watched as much of this programme as we have.