Written by David Whitaker Directed by Barry Letts Last week a series of bombings killed over 30 people across Iraq in attacks that appear to have been motivated by the upcoming elections. The chances are you probably did not hear about that. There is a good chance that you did hear about the bombings at the Boston marathon on the same day. I don’t think that the Boston bombings drew media attention away from the attacks in Iraq: if they hadn’t happened then the media here would have concentrated on something mundane. The fact that the two attacks happened so close together, however, does say alot about how the media covers such events. The Boston attacks were horrific, it’s no wonder that they made headlines for over a week; what’s odd is that the Iraq attacks, in which over ten times the number of people died, were buried deep in the middle of the world news section, where only hardcore current affair junkies (and their friends, like me) would ever see it. As far as I can tell, there are two obvious explanations for this, both of which are about the way those working in the media gauge public opinion. The first, rather depressing one, is that they do not think people in Britain care about folk getting blown up, unless their white. The second, which I hope is more likely, but is still depressing, is that they consider violence in Iraq to be an inevitability, and thus not newsworthy, whereas terrorist attacks on the US are extremely rare.
The idea that attacks in which 33 people died and over 160 were injured were considered too mundane to be newsworthy is something that I’m sure the Doctor would find horrific. That side of his personality is very much at the forefront of this story, with him constantly fighting for a better solution to situations than those put forward by people in positions of authority. In particular, his disgust with Giles Kent’s quickness to propose violent solutions ultimately leads him to correctly identify Kent as being a corrupt little shit, not the freedom fighter he claims to be. At almost every turn the Doctor is pushed towards violence, and at every turn he refuses to sink to that level, finding a better solution.
Jamie and Victoria both have a fair amount t do in this story, but sadly Victoria is still in screamy screamy ooh-save-me mode, not getting to show any of the teeth hinted at a few stories back. also, I’m not sure I’ll ever forgive David Whitaker, and otherwise flawless writer, and one of my favorite scribes in the history of Who, for putting Jamie in anything other than a kilt. Its just not done.
But the real draw of this show is Salamander. Patrick Troughton had already proved his acting chops 100 times over as the Doctor, but this double role allowed him to stretch a very different set of acting muscles. The notion of a villain who looked exactly like the Doctor was not an original one: William Hartnell had played exactly such a double role in the excellent Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve, but while the Abbot of Amboise was only revealed to conclusively be a separate character, Salamander is very much the bad guy right from the word go. Troughton’s performance here is very different to his performance as the Doctor, which is fitting as Salamander is everything the Doctor is not, but his total transformation is extremely impressive nonetheless. His whole bearing changes as Salamander. Gone is the affable disheveled demeanor of the Doctor, replaced by confident, slick efficiency. Shame about that accent though.
Unlike many writers, Whitaker manages to keep a story going for six episodes. His introduction rather late in the game of the Fallout style Vault and its inhabitants rather late in the game brings in a whole new dynamic and injects a freshness that was sadly lacking later on in the previous few stories. Like most of Whitaker’s output, the writing on this story is excellent, though I’m still angry about that kilt thing.
This story is something of a rarity in Second Doctor era: a story with no alien or monster elements. Even the Underwater Menace had the fish people. Salamander isn’t even really a mad scientist, more a malevolent politician. Which is probably for the best, given the lameness of some of the recent monsters. But even the lamest of creatures can be at the centre of an effective story. What would happen, for example, if the Doctor was playing detective in an Agatha Christie style mystery revolving around the fluffy robots, the yeti? Find out next time in Web of Fear.