New year, new team. The Powerful Enemy opens slightly differently than we’ve become used to: the TARDIS lands in some caves (‘materialised is a better word,’ says the Doctor) but rather than then following the crew as they explore the new environment, it cuts directly to a crashed spaceship populated by a teenager, Vicki, and an injured man, Bennett. In an efficient bit of dialogue they fill in the backstory – this is the planet Dido, they’re waiting for a rescue ship that’s three days away, and someone called Koquillion is menacing them – so that we know more after the first three minutes than we do after 25 minutes on Skaro.
Only once the situation is established do we cut back to the regulars, to find the Doctor napping on a nice leather recliner. This scene, which I guess was polished by Spooner, is comedy gold. The Doctor is jollier than we’ve ever seen him, except for a moment when he remembers that Susan is no longer aboard. It’s a nice touch (‘You can’t expect him to say goodbye to Susan and then forget about her the next minute,’ says Barbara – incorrectly anticipating every subsequent companion departure), acknowledging the last episode without getting maudlin about it.
There then follows a short bit of exploration, cut short when Koquillion – a creature that’s like a cross between an ant and a porcupine – threatens Ian and Barbara. The Doctor, who, in another first, has visited Dido before, is shocked. The people of Dido were previously peace loving and non-violent. ‘I’ll take the Daleks any time,’ Ian says. ‘What could have happened to change them?’ the Doctor wonders.
The rest of the episode is split between Ian and the Doctor trying to get out of the caves, in a comic inversion of their investigation of the warehouse in World’s End, and Barbara meeting Vicki, and learning more about the fate of the crashed ship’s crew. Maureen O’Brien is immediately impressive. She’s clearly cut from the same cloth as the previous story’s Jenny: a survivor, who puts on a tough act. But she’s more vulnerable and younger than Jenny, and O’Brien makes her just girlish enough without ever becoming wet. Certainly there’s nothing in her character to suggest Susan’s tendency to hysterics.
This is an incident-packed episode, which leaves a lot of open questions. Why have the people of Dido turned violent? What does Koquillion want? Can the humans survive the next three days before the rescue ship arrives? How will Ian escape the creature in the pit? And without the benefit of all those episode guides, there’s nothing obvious about the answers. With a brilliantly witty script and a handful of very entertaining performances this is one of the best episodes to date. It’s also very well directed by The Daleks’ Christopher Barry, who re-uses one of his shots when he has Ian and Barbara on a cliff, overlooking the crashed spaceship much as they looked out at the Dalek city in the earlier story.
Next episode: Desperate Measures