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Doctor Who: Horror of Fang Rock (parts three and four)

It’s always nice when our son is happy and excited about what we’re watching. He didn’t want breakfast this morning, he wanted to watch Doctor Who. Those last five Twilight Zone stories we watched were really sapping his enthusiasm!

He was thrilled and enjoyed this one, and I agree. It’s really entertaining, and amazingly, only the Doctor and Leela survive the incident. Even more amazingly, he doesn’t seem to notice, and certainly doesn’t say anything about it. The Doctor is shown as brooding and frightened for much of the story, until he figures out that their enemy is an alien blob called a Rutan, at which point he becomes the more relaxed and confident hero that we know.

But he never returns to brood over the fact that he failed to save any of the humans in the lighthouse, and left behind what must have been one of England’s greatest unsolved mysteries. Think about it: at some point, the authorities would find the bodies of these eight people, one of them graphically disemboweled by the Rutan to understand how Earthling anatomy works. One is a peer called Lord Palmerdale and another is a highly respectable retired colonel, and the killer left a fortune in diamonds behind, before fleeing. The History Channels and the In Search Ofs of the Who world probably feature recreations of “The Fang Rock Lighthouse Murders” as often as stories about Jack the Ripper, the lost colony at Roanoke, and the Oak Island Money Pit.

The Rutans, incidentally, are kind of the big Doctor Who monster that wasn’t. They were first mentioned in 1973’s “The Time Warrior” as the primary enemies of the Sontarans, but as for television Who, they’re an offscreen enemy, existing only to motivate the Sontarans into moving into this situation or that to gain a strategic advantage over them. It’s always “What are you Sontarans doing on Koosbaine?” and they say “We must conquer Koosbaine to establish a bridgehead into Andromeda to defeat the Rutans, don’t stand in our way, puny Time Lord!”

The next time a Rutan would actually be seen is in a 1995 direct-to-video movie called Shakedown: Return of the Sontarans. This is an independent production made with the cooperation of Robert Holmes’ estate, who own the rights to the aliens and license them out, but without any BBC input. The producers even got Terrance Dicks to write the script for the movie, and cast a bunch of Who and Blake’s 7 actors to play the parts.

It’s not actually a shame that the Rutans have never reappeared on the show, I say. The shapeshifting and electrical powers are interesting, but as characters, all they do is rant about the glory of war, and we get enough of that from the Sontarans!

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Doctor Who: Horror of Fang Rock (parts one and two)

Our son has quite a delightful theory about “Horror of Fang Rock,” the serial that launched Doctor Who‘s fifteenth season in the fall of 1977. The old lighthouse keeper believes in a monster called the Beast of Fang Rock, which was last allegedly seen eighty years before – the 1820s – on an occasion where two men died. Our son thinks that the shooting star that crashed in the nearby ocean might be the beast teleporting from its home planet, and that it comes to Earth every eighty years to feed. His theory was much, much more detailed than that, but he was talking fast and I wasn’t taking notes. Usually he’s quick to move on, with a brief “creepy!” before finding something to take his mind off the terrors, but not tonight!

“Horror of Fang Rock” was a last-minute substitute for another script by Terrance Dicks that was due to go into production before some high muckity-muck at the BBC decided to cancel it. That story was called The Vampire Mutations, and since the BBC was making an adaptation of Dracula that fall, somebody at the top didn’t want Who doing the same monster. So this was how the new producer, Graham Williams, got his start on the show, having his debut story axed out from under him. Dicks hurriedly wrote this replacement, but the delay meant that other productions got the London facilities and this was made at the BBC’s Birmingham studios.

Lore has it that Tom Baker was in a horrible mood with this story, and transferred his grouchiness into what seems like genuine fear on camera. He’d clashed with the director, the fantastic Paddy Russell, before, and was butting heads with his co-star, Louise Jameson, because he was under the impression that he didn’t actually need a co-star. For the next four seasons, there are pah-lenty of stories of Tom Baker causing headaches for everybody around him behind the scenes, and making Williams’ job extraordinarily difficult!

The tension really works here. “Fang Rock” is a textbook example of a claustrophobic story. It’s all set in a lighthouse on a remote, craggy shore on a dark and foggy night. I don’t like some of the visuals, and a few of the actors really don’t impress me. Colin Douglas, who had been in “The Enemy of the World,” is the only guest star that I really like in this one, but I think it’s a super story. For something that had such a frantic production, it’s very impressive, and our son’s right, it really is creepy.

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Doctor Who: The Enemy of the World (parts five and six)

Unfortunately, our son is so unhappy with this story that we went ahead and wrapped it up tonight rather than aggravate him any longer than necessary. Nothing really satisfied him with it, though I’m pretty sure the next one we watch will please him more. I honestly didn’t think he’d be wild about it, but the level of his boredom was still a little surprising to me.

For grownups, this really was a pleasure, happy to say. There’s another good twist at the end, and the climactic fight with Salamander is, while far too brief, nevertheless thrilling. I’m fairly sure that Salamander is the first villain to ever make his way inside the TARDIS, and you really feel that sense of occasion and weight, as Patrick Troughton plays both characters, each injured, with gravity and anger. It’s a terrific moment.

In fact, the only thing not to love about this story is the awful performance of an actor named Adam Verney in the role of Colin, one of Salamander’s stooges. There are worse – way, way worse – to come, but wow, is he ever theatrical.

An oddball little note about coincidences and actors: as we’ve watched this story this week, I’ve also been watching a 1972 ATV spy series called Spyder’s Web, and my wife and I have slowly been making our way through the black and white series of The Saint. I’ve been enjoying Milton Johns in the role of Salamander’s sadistic deputy Benek, and there he was this morning in episode seven of Web. Two nights ago, we watched a Saint called “The Invisible Millionaire” which guest-starred Mark Eden, and there he was this afternoon in episode eight of Web. I love it when that happens.

Anyway, “The Enemy of the World” was the last Doctor Who story produced by Innes Lloyd. He went on to be in charge of several prestigious programs at the BBC, including Thirty Minute Theatre, Nigel Kneale’s The Stone Tape, Alan Bennett’s acclaimed Talking Heads, and many of the sort of pipe-smoking critically acclaimed human dramas that don’t have things like Cybermen and Ice Warriors in them. He oversaw some great times for Who, even though it clearly was not the sort of program he really wanted to make. He died in 1991.

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Doctor Who: The Enemy of the World (part four)

In the 1990s, some enterprising fans began taking the audio from all the missing episodes of Doctor Who and marrying it to whatever visuals were available. These included a few surviving clips, publicity photos, and “telesnaps” that an entrepreneur named John Cura was taking with a special camera – about three shots a minute – in order to sell to directors and actors who wanted a visual record of their work in the days before home video. These reconstructions are amazing, but they’re not really for me. I’d really rather not experience TV in that way, even if it’s all that’s available. (We are going to watch one next week, though.)

I certainly had friends in the nineties who collected these reconstructions all the same, and one of them was kind of overbearing in his insistence that I spend time watching them with him. I declined, and when I first saw this story a couple of years ago, I was so very glad that I did. See, I’ve only paid the smallest attention to the plot details of the missing stories, and so I had no idea about the spectacular twist at the climax of this episode. In a program as documented and discussed and blogged about and written about and rewritten about, there are not very many surprises left.

In fact, I enjoyed this so much that I’m not going to mention in this blog where exactly Salamander goes for his cigar breaks.

When I was writing about “The Power of the Daleks,” I mentioned that it was common in the sixties for the regular actors to get occasional vacation weeks in the middle of a serial. Part four of “Enemy” is unique in that both Frazer Hines and Deborah Watling are absent; their characters Jamie and Victoria are Salamander’s prisoners. The guest cast began shrinking last week when George Pravda and David Nettheim’s characters were killed. Carmen Munroe’s character also dies in this episode, but Milton Johns and a squad of “guard” bullies take center stage.

Unfortunately, the guards would need to be replaced by Daleks or something to stir our son back into enjoying this story more. “This is not very cool,” he has pronounced. I think he’s wrong, but you can tell that all the Supermarionation shows that he’s enjoyed have had quite an impact when he grumbles “I wish this had some explosions in it.”

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Doctor Who: The Enemy of the World (part three)

We think that our son is enjoying this a little more, especially now that this episode ends with Salamander learning that there’s somebody out there who looks like him. That raises the threat level a little bit more and hopefully he’s able to connect with the greater urgency in the plot. Although this episode is far, far from urgent.

In almost every six-parter, one of the middle episodes can’t help but mark time a tiny bit, with very little movement in the plot. That gives the story a chance to breathe and develop the characters, and this one has a great one in the form of Reg Lye’s moaning, grouchy chef. He’s really funny.

For many years, episode three was all that we had of this story, and it led to some very unfair opinions about the serial. Back in the days when Doctor Who fandom seemed to be built around appreciations (and lists) of recurring monsters, the mostly-lost season five was really treasured. Bookended by the Dalek adventure that ended the previous season and an unprecedented repeat of it at the end, the season went Cybermen, Yeti, Ice Warriors, this one, Yeti, seaweed creature, Cybermen. It was “the monster season” with this oddball political story in the middle, and all that anybody could see of it was this slow bit in the center where the Doctor gets just one scene and the narrative is dominated by a comedy chef.

Now that it’s available in full, everybody can see that this is one of the highlights of the Troughton years, a great adventure with a super cast. I think that if any one of the other parts of the story had survived, “The Enemy of the World” would have never been overlooked by fandom at all, though. Especially if the next episode had been available…

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Doctor Who: The Enemy of the World (part two)

Our son is still pretty confused by the goings-on in this story, which adds Milton Johns and George Pravda to its cast as its scope expands to cover goings-on in Central Europe as well as Australia. Both actors would show up in Who again in more substantial roles in the mid-seventies.

Our boy is quite honest that he doesn’t like this story very much so far, but at least he’s optimistic that things will improve. To be fair, this isn’t – despite an explosion and some volcanoes erupting (via stock footage) in Hungary – a really exciting episode. It’s all political intrigue, with Salamander blackmailing one world leader and having a second arrested. It’s really good and I’m enjoying it a lot, but it’s not one for the five year-olds who want to see Daleks and Ice Warriors.

Since this story is set in 2018, I do hope that the next series of Doctor Who will mention Salamander in a news report or something. They could have the new companion watching that UN speech that we saw in episode one “live” on television while waiting for the Doctor to arrive and take her on a trip to that week’s destination. I know it probably won’t happen, but it’s fun to imagine.

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Doctor Who: The Enemy of the World (part one)

About three and a half years ago, SF news sites began reporting a really remarkable rumor. A fellow in England had started a second career after a couple of decades globetrotting and troubleshooting, and founded a company that went around to very small television stations in developing countries, particularly the ones in the Middle East and Africa whose broadcasting facilities and archive vaults had been waylaid by revolutions and civil wars. His company, TIEA, works to bring their backrooms up to date, and transfer aging, rotting, decaying old 16mm film reels to modern formats. And while doing this in the city of Jos in Nigeria, the rumor said, TIEA had stumbled across ninety of the 106 missing episodes of Doctor Who.

Of course it was too good to be true, but it was remarkable. A game of telephone had turned nine into ninety, but good grief, finding nine was amazing. These were all five of the missing episodes of “The Enemy of the World” (only part three had survived the purges) and four of the five missing parts of the next serial, “The Web of Fear.”

And now that it was back, in October 2013, people could at last reevaluate a story that was always overlooked. I’ll write a little more about its reputation in a couple of days, but this is a terrific story. Originally broadcast in December 1967 and January 1968, the story is set in the far-flung future of 2018. It’s written by old hand David Whitaker and directed by Barry Letts, the first of many Who contributions from this actor-turned-director.

It was Innes Lloyd’s final story as Doctor Who‘s producer, and it looks like he wanted to go out with a bang, a thriller that opens with lots of location filming on a beach, a hovercraft, a helicopter, and the always-timely debate over whether you can justify a political killing. A disgraced politician named Giles Kent is convinced that a controversial Mexican scientist and diplomat named Salamander is murdering his enemies and consolidating power. He’s a dictator and tyrant in waiting, Kent claims without proof. What is certain is that Salamander employs a ruthless security force led by a man named Donald Bruce (played by Colin Douglas) and that, in the story’s big hook, Salamander is a dead ringer for the Doctor.

Our son started out thrilled by the exciting chase on the beach and the fight scenes – Jamie knocks a fellow cold with a fist and a cry of “Creag an tuire!” – but started to calm down when one fellow is accidentally shot dead and two others are killed in an explosion. (Perhaps, like the Dalek he saw earlier this month, he does not understand why human beings kill other human beings.) Then the sight of Patrick Troughton – in allegedly archive footage of Salamander addressing the United Nations – in a second role left him a little baffled. Hopefully tomorrow night will go down a little better with him, but I’m hugely pleased. This story is excellent.

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