We live in a world where you can watch The Enemy of the World. All of it. Isn’t that amazing? It’s been three years since those long lost episodes came winging their way back from Nigeria, and I still can’t quite believe it. I feel I can’t be trusted to critically assess this story, I’m just so happy it’s back.
Well, I say “it’s back”. To me, and to many other fans not old enough see this story on broadcast, it was not really returned. We never had it in the first place. It’s essentially new Who. We thought we knew it because we’ve read the book, heard to the soundtrack, seen (most of) the telesnaps. But we didn’t really. On viewing, the story revealed dozens of exquisite details which could never have been gleaned from any of the versions we previously made do with: the Doctor’s outrageous flirting with Astrid, the woman randomly pushing a pram past Kent’s office, the look on Kent’s face when he drops the prop listening device thrown at him by Bruce…
Oh and that final scene. Shot on film, and so clumsily appended to the end of Episode Six, but with Troughton acting against himself, that punch in the gut, Salamander being dragged out along the floor, and nothing – nothing – matching up with The Web of Fear Episode One, not even that little sticking plaster on the Doctor’s face… How glorious. A miracle.
The sheer unfeasibility of it is not just that the episodes have been recovered. It’s also that the story is also complete. That’s thrillingly rare. And it’s almost too obvious to say, but it’s a story which benefits hugely from being whole. Each episode, although languidly paced, pushes the plot forward so that every installment ends in a very different place from where it started. Given this structure, how could we have made much sense of this story from its previously solo Episode Three? Sure we read the book, listened to the soundtrack, but Enemy shows us that you can’t fully understand a story until you can see it all.
I’m quietly obsessed with Doctor Who‘s missing episodes. I’ve been reading about them for years, fantasizing about their return. I’ve thought for a long time that were I to suddenly become ridiculously wealthy, I’d give up work and travel the world looking for missing episodes. But then I read Philip Morris’s accounts of the dangers he faced in Africa retrieving these episodes, and I’ve decided to leave it to him.
But still, there’s scope for make believe.
What if, I sometimes feverishly wonder, I started collecting 16mm films. Might I make contact with a collector with a copy of The Sea Beggar, who’d trade it with me for a song? What if I found a stash of old film cans in some disused edit suite, and there, sitting neglected were Episode Five of The Abominable Snowmen, Episode One of The Highlanders or maybe all of The Myth Makers? Would I know what to do? Who would I take them to? Can I safely open them? What if I smell vinegar? For the love of God, what if I smell vinegar?!
I jest (slightly). I can’t really see myself as Telecine Jones, Missing Episodes Hunter. But then my thoughts turn to what other people might turn up, and how that might change how we view Doctor Who.
What if we had one of the later episodes of The Evil of the Daleks, one of the wackier ones with humanised Daleks and Dalekised humans? Would we like that story a little less? What if we had one of the later episodes of The Space Pirates, perhaps one set on Ta? Would we like that story better? I feel a bit smug about The Enemy of the World because I always thought Episode One would improve its reputation, and it turned out to be a cracker, with so much of it on film and lots of action sequences. Little did I guess we’d get it all back.
Then there’s the game of speculative swapping. Which would you rather have returned: the two missing episodes of The Invasion or the two missing episodes of The Moonbase? Do you want an episode of The Massacre (of which we have nothing) or the final episode of The Tenth Planet (of which we have all but)? Which episode of The Daleks’ Master Plan do you want back? (Dumb question. Always The Destruction of Time.)
But the true agony of the missing episodes is not knowing if any more exist to be found. The tally stands at 97. Perhaps that’s it. Perhaps it’s not, but we’ll never know exactly which eps remain to be found and which are gone forever.
Although that’s not quite true. We have some idea, which is enough to lead us down a whole new avenue of speculation: which episodes are the most likely to turn up? The Web of Fear Episode Three, it seems, is out there somewhere. The Feast of Steven is probably gone forever. How could so many prints be struck of Marco Polo and not one episode survive? What happened to those viewing prints of The Daleks’ Master Plan? Did someone really see The Macra Terror at a high school in New Zealand in the 1980s? Should I be on a flight to Aukland to undertake an extensive audit of all secondary colleges right now?
No wait, calm down. How easy it is to get feverish about this topic.
Because that’s how much we love this strange little show. The thought that there are 97 episodes of it we’ve never seen gnaws away at us. Worse than that, what, a dark little voice inside us says, we die, and the next week they find The Power of the Daleks? What if we had died without seeing Enemy? Not worth thinking about.
It’ll be ages before watching this story seems normal, in the way that watching The Tomb of the Cybermen now seems like a perfectly ordinary thing to do (I’m old enough to remember when that was an impossible task too). Until then, I’ll just stare at it vacantly, smiling benignly and paraphrase an apt line from the similarly named The End of the World: “Forgive me, The Enemy of the World, but it’s remarkable you even exist”.
ADVENTURES IN SUBTITLING: Jamie’s war cry of ‘Creag an tuire!’ becomes ‘Brigadoon!’. But I think this happens on some other Troughton DVDs, so perhaps it’s an in joke?
LINK TO The Wedding of River Song. Doctory doppelgängers.
NEXT TIME… Castrovalva, here we come.