Right, then. Since we’ve all had some time to watch them… what did you all think of Enemy of the World and Web of Fear?
Enemy, for me, was as much of a treat as I’d hoped. The ending is a bit more rushed than I’d realized from the reconstruction, but it is on the whole a piece of wonderful subtlety and nuance, and it keeps the plot moving well. Troughton is better than I’d imagined – the little tip-offs when he’s playing the Doctor impersonating Salamander are fantastic. In particular, the start of Episode Two is just so wonderful – all the little flicks of the eyes and small Doctor-like gestures that bubble up under the improvised and hurried impersonation.
And the plot is, in fact, really good. The underground bunker twist is very smooth – smoother than I’d thought, really. There are enough tip-offs that Salamander has some secret way of controlling volcanos. When you actually see the extended volcano sequence in Episode Two, the bunker ends up feeling much fairer. And the elaborate visual sequence of getting down there, in which the rules of the records room are set up, calls much more attention to it.
I hadn’t really appreciated how consistently suspicious Giles Kent was through the whole story. Benik is even more unnervingly sadistic than I’d imagined. Barry Letts’s direction is fantastic, balancing action shots with intimate close-ups. Really, virtually everything about this story came out at the high end of what I’d imagined, with Troughton absolutely blowing me away. Absolutely wonderful – such an complete joy. It’s really an incredible experience to have hyped the story this much for myself and then to have it absolutely nail and surpass my expectations. I don’t really have much to say beyond what I already have said; this really is an absolutely amazing piece of work.
The Web of Fear, on the other hand… I was never one of the major boosters of The Web of Fear, although I did always assume that it was the most competently done of the Season Five bases under siege. I’m less confident of that now. Indeed, I think that’s actively wrong – The Ice Warriors beats the pants off this.
In The Enemy of the World, everything left ambiguous from the audio broke in the story’s favor. The action sequences in the first episode really were quite good. Most things that looked like plot holes were filled. With The Web of Fear some things break in the story’s favor… but others decidedly don’t.
Episode Three still being missing hurts it a lot. The first two episodes are very padded, and Episode Three is the point where the story actually picks up decently. With that as a reconstruction, it’s not until Episode Four that the story gathers any sort of momentum, and that’s squandered in a time-wasting Episode Five in which the Doctor plays with screwdrivers for the entire episode.
The Arnold revelation is worse than expected, which is unfortunate. Arnold is apparently meant to be the traitor from the start, but there’s zero evidence of it whatsoever. Episode Three would be a terribly big help here, since that’s where he does most of his sabotage, but unless that one’s loaded with clues then Arnold’s a giant cheat – the traitor is the one person there’s not even a shred of evidence about. And so much of the scheme makes no sense if Arnold is the traitor. How did Arnold manage to get the fungus out of Evans’s tobacco case? What the heck was the point of diving into the fungus and then resurfacing an episode later?
In short, there are three episodes too many, which is padded well beyond the usual scope of a six-parter. Evans is insufferable and offensive to boot. Chorley is at least inoffensive and absent for much of the latter part of the story. The Yeti usually look absolutely ridiculous. The plot is full of holes. Why is it such a classic?
I believe it was Alex Wilcock who pointed out that there were two ways, before VHS, to experience an old Doctor Who story: Target novels, and nightmares. This was a story that excelled as both. The Terrance Dicks novelization is one of the all-time classics. And it has some truly great nightmare fodder. Much of the latter comes down to the fact that this is sublimely well-directed. Whatever the problems with the Yeti and the script, Camfield papers over almost all of them. Scenes that would have been insufferable in the hands of other directors at worst move with a reasonable clip, and regularly shine. And in amidst the “quite good” there are moments of absolute genius. We’d already seen the cobwebbed newspaper man in Episode One, but the shots of the Doctor through the webbing are fantastic. The trolley sequence is gripping. The Covent Garden battle has an obvious problem – Camfield can’t light the Yeti in shadow like he usually does, and we’re forced to face the fact that they really are just waddling teddy bears. And yet it’s gorgeously structured and shot – the entire Pertwee era never manages a fight scene this good.
The other thing to point out is Nicholas Courtney. Given a character who’s not designed to be comically unflappable, he turns in the best performance until at least Mawdryn Undead, if not of his entire Doctor Who career. Instead of playing the Brigadier he plays a soldier so scared that he risks his entire squad on an absurd story about a magic police box told by a man he doesn’t even trust. It’s a nuanced, human character, not the loveable cartoon of the Brigadier, and it’s one it’s easy to lose under the historical weight of this story.
In other eras we’re aware that stories that stuck in people’s minds often did so because of a handful of moments. The Daleks is a classic because of two shots in its first two episodes, and we forgive and ignore everything after. The Green Death is remembered for the astonishingly good maggot scenes – the less visually flashy BOSS bits are only beloved by afficianados, and everyone politely forgets the fly and the crappy maggot scenes. The Android Invasion has that one memorable moment of Sarah Jane’s face falling off. The Web of Fear has four or five moments where you go “OK, I see why children had nightmares about this.” Its reputation as the holy grail was based on these moments and on the fact that the rest was mercifully forgotten.
None of which is to say that I didn’t have a blast watching it. I loved it. It was glued to the screen. It’s wonderful to see it. It’s moments of genius peeking out among general adequacy. If Fury From the Deep or The Wheel in Space came back and was this good this consistently we’d be over the moon. The only reason to complain is that this is heralded as an all-time classic and straight-up one of the best Troughton stories, nay, one of the best Doctor Who stories ever. It’s not, and saying it’s not takes up a lot of words, which makes the overall impression feel harsher than it is. I think I gave it a 5/10. It should probably be a 6/10. Maybe even a 7.
In any case, the real point is, holy crap. We have nine new episodes of Troughton, and essentially two complete stories we never had before. All of them are really, really good. This has been an astonishing, wonderful week.
Finally, because it’s been asked of me bunches of times, am I going to revise the Troughton volume? To which the answer is that there isn’t an answer yet. There are so many rumors flying around about more finds, and I’m not going to make any decisions until things settle down a bit. I have four books to get out over the remainder of the year, and when that’s done… I have more than enough things to worry about, including another four volumes of TARDIS Eruditorum that are drafted and ready for revision and expansion. I don’t think, on the basis of Web and Enemy, that either of my existing essays are wrong, as such. Incomplete, sure, but not inaccurate. And so I don’t feel like there’s a rush or like the Troughton volume is fatally flawed at the moment. So I may get around to it, but it’s not a priority, and I’m not going to make any decisions until it’s clearer what’s going on.