The Doctor takes Jamie and Victoria to a beach in Australia sometime in 2018. Unfortunately, they get caught up in that time’s politics when a group of rebels led by Giles Kent capture the Doctor and his companions. The Doctor’s current incarnation happens to have an exact resemblance to Ramón Salamander, a Mexican politician and scientist on the brink of seizing control over the world government, the United Zones Organization. Because he invented and spread the use of solar energy to increase agricultural production, the world believes Salamander to be a humanitarian, but in reality he’s a power-craving megalomaniac more than willing to resort to violence. Giles Kent drafts the Doctor into serving as an imposter Salamander. After testing the Doctor’s impersonation by having the Doctor speak to one of Salamander’s lieutenants, Giles Kent sends Victoria and Jamie to infiltrate Salamander’s retinue by stopping a bogus assassination attempt. The ploy works, and the two are given jobs in Salamander’s personal staff.
Meanwhile the actual Salamander is in Central Europe at the mansion of Alexander Denes, who happens to be the last major official of the United Zones Organization not in Salamander’s pocket. Salamander claims that his technology has shown that a dormant volcano is about to erupt in Hungary, while Denes argues that his own team of scientists have claimed that such an event is scientifically impossible. As soon as news of the volcano eruption hits, Salamander orders Denes arrested for negligence. However, Salamander tries to arrange to have Denes, who suspects that Salamander somehow triggered the eruption, poisoned before he can be brought to trial by blackmailing Denes’s lieutenant into carrying out the deed, but Salamander ends up having the lieutenant poisoned when he backs down. One of the rebels, Astrid, tries to rescue Denes, but the plan backfires; Denes is killed, and Victoria and Jamie are exposed as spies and arrested. Worse, Salamander learns that there has been contact with him in Australia. Salamander decides to head south to unmask the imposter and personally crush the last of his enemies. Giles Kent and the Doctor receive intel on Salamander’s attempt at blackmail from a former servant of Salamander’s, but they are nearly captured and the servant is killed when an army led by Salamander’s security chief Belik storm the rebel headquarters.
Elsewhere at Kanowa Research Center Salamander puts on a radiation suit and goes into a secret subterranean compound underneath the center. There he greets a small community of people who are convinced that Earth was decimated in a nuclear war five years ago. Salamander is revered as a hero for braving the irradiated surface, teaming with dangerous mutants, to bring the “survivors” food, but a few are suspicious, especially because no one who goes with Salamander to the surface ever returns. Nonetheless, the community agrees when Salamander urges them to continue using a weapon that creates seismic disturbances anywhere in the world whenever he asks in order to fight the mutants. Unfortunately, Salamander’s plan unravels when one of the underground dwellers finds a recent newspaper clipping implying that civilization has actually continued as normal. Salamander convinces him to join him on the surface to see the situation for himself. After naturally Salamander attacks the man and leaves him for dead, Astrid discovers him and discovers the underground community and eventually convinces them that they have been deceived for years.
Through pretending to be Salamander, the Doctor uncovers the fact that Kent had been Salamander’s secret ally all along and had originally established the community in the underground bunker. Kent flees into the underground where hes confronted by Salamander, who kills him, but not before Kent is able to activate a device that blows up the bunker. Astrid goes to save the remaining people in the bunker, while the Doctor, wounded and exhausted, shows up at the TARDIS. When the Doctor requests Jamie to fly the TARDIS for him, he realizes that it’s Salamander who is now playing the imposter. The Doctor and Salamander wrestle for the controls, causing the TARDIS to spin out of control and throwing Salamander out the doors, sending him screaming into the time vortex.
Victoria: Perhaps we’ve landed in a world of madmen!
The Doctor: They’re human beings, if that’s what you mean. Indulging in their favorite pastime of trying to destroy each other.
Jamie: You must have been a nasty little boy.
Benik: Oh, I was, but I had a very enjoyable childhood.
Our Future History
By 2018, there will be something of a global government (although whether or not it’s replaced or works over existing national governments is unclear), which divides the regions of the world into administrative zones. Now imagine the recently (as of this writing) elected US Congress reacting to that development.
There are sci-fi elements here outside the Doctor himself and the TARDIS here, but no alien threats, just an old-fashioned ruthless political power play. It’s another type of episode along with “pure historicals” that I wish the current series would bring back. We can’t have the Doctor tackle just alien invasions all the time, can we?
Anyway, this is another fan favorite, and deservedly so. It’s a tour de force for Patrick Troughton, who not only plays a very different character, but plays the Doctor pretending to be Salamander (and vice versa). I think in other hands these episodes might have been fumbled, but Troughton juggles two unlike characters flawlessly. To be honest, Salamander isn’t exactly written as the most complex character (although by the standards of the show at this time, he may be a little complex), but Troughton makes it believable that Salamander is both a menacing aspiring dictator and a beloved politician who can charm anyone into believing he’s a philanthropist. To be honest, the padding is excessive even by early Doctor Who standards, with one embarrassing example where Astrid has this exchange with the dying man from the bunker (“Who did this to you?” “A man named Salamander.” “Salamander?” “Down there.” “Down there?”). Even then, Troughton’s performance more than makes up for it.