In yesterday’s press conference, the recovery of ‘The Enemy of the World’ in its entirety, and ‘The Web of Fear’, complete save for Episode 3, was described as the most significant recovery of Doctor Who episodes in the last 25 years – a reference, presumably, to the rediscovery of four episodes of ‘The Ice Warriors’ in 1988. But truthfully, this feels the more amazing and remarkable event. Nine new-old episodes – formerly languishing unnoticed in a relay station in Jos – and now available to buy, today, 45 years after their first BBC broadcast.
If fandom does what fandom does, it’s likely that the conspiracy theories surrounding the discovery – as well as the hype of expectation that the episode trawl was going to be bigger – will dilute the glory of the moment. But Doctor Who is always a more brilliant and resilient thing than the politics which attaches to it, and these episodes themselves – at least, the two shown to the press yesterday – are the glorious antidote to any feelings of niggling rancour.
They are simply captivating.
So many things make them so: the directorial touches of Barry Letts in ‘The Enemy of the World’ Episode 1; the uncanny recreation of the London Underground in ‘The Web of Fear’ Episode 2. But whether he’s dominating the former episode, or only appearing in the recap sequence in the latter, it’s Troughton – it’s always Troughton – who lights up every scene.
From audio alone, the opening moments of ‘The Enemy of the World’ promised much – a thrilling seaside chase scene, complete with hovercraft and an attempted assassination of the Doctor. But what the audio does not reveal is the wayward physical comedy of Troughton: his skipping jump as he runs down the beach, the childish glee as he careers down to the water in his long-johns, and then the moment when he seems to play-wrestle with the waves – they being the only ones who will join in with his games – while Jamie and Victoria look on laughing.
The episode is full of touches like this, and there are two, in particular, which have such an in-built sense of Who-ishness in them, they are destined to become fan favourites. In the first, Astrid observes of the Doctor, ‘For me, you’re the most marvellous man who ever dropped out of the skies.’ In his response, Troughton has never been more adorable: first with a bashful flirtatiousness as he accepts the compliment, then with a canny refusal to be led by the nose.
In the same scene, Astrid questions whether the Doctor is a doctor of Law or Divinity. The Doctor’s reply, ‘Whose law? Whose divinity?’, is, as Mark Gatiss observed after the screening, a mission statement for the character. It is an utterly Troughton moment – full of charm, and delivered with the kind of lightness of touch that belies not only the cleverness of the character but also the cleverness of the performance.
When, in the cliffhanger to the episode, the Doctor impersonates his double, the despot Salamander, it is purest Sixties escapism: Troughton in black roll-neck, elongating eeevery Mexican vowel. Like so many of the best moments in Doctor Who, it comes with the certainty of its own contrariness: sinister-funny; farcical-tense.
If ‘The Web of Fear’ Episode 2 doesn’t quite match that for a cliffhanger – relying instead on an outing for the Bryant era foam machine – it succeeds in other ways in capturing the spirit of the era. From viewing ‘The Web of Fear’ Episode 1, you could be forgiven for assuming that the serial was a kind of Hammer horror. But in truth, Episode 2 reveals it to be closer to a wartime drama: full of pragmatic resistance types battening down the hatches and drinking cups of tea against the wider menace of aliens unknown.
There’s nothing in this episode to compete with the sight of the Doctor’s would-be assassins in ‘The Enemy of the World’, slinking their way into Astrid’s resistance base love nest like a troupe of Austin Powers backing dancers, before being despatched by Astrid’s ‘bam! kapow!’ karate. But instead it’s a different vision of Englishness on display.
Two Tommies do what the British do when faced with terror from without: they take the piss – in this case, suggesting that the Yeti came in the post – before settling on suspicion of their superiors – regarding the Yeti as the product of bacterial warfare,
A ‘gutter press’ journalist is a little too Rita Skeeter in his desire to find out why everybody is being so evasive. But his social sympathies are clear when he rounds on Anne Travers as a ‘smug, little, red-brick university….’ Unsurprisingly, Victoria is left to make the tea in the absence of too much character development. But in this story, you can believe that she does so, not because she’s a woman but, more particularly, because she’s British. And that’s what the British do.
One could write about these episodes for so much longer. They are glorious. But what is even more glorious is the knowledge that there, waiting on iTunes, are a further seven to be discovered.
Doctor Who always was a programme which returned fan loyalty with joy. But today, it becomes that much bigger on the inside now that episodes which have for so long existed vividly in the imagination exist miraculously as fact.
We’ll drink a cup of tea to that.
All the newly-found episodes will be available to download exclusively from iTunes on Friday 11 October. ‘The Enemy of the World’ will be released on DVD on Friday 22 November, while ‘The Web of Fear’ will be released on DVD early next year.
Watch a clip from ‘The Web of Fear’…
Are you looking forward to seeing these episodes? Do you remember seeing them on their original broadcast? Let us know below…