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Series / Enemy at the Door

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Enemy at the Door is an ITV drama series that ran from 1978 to 1980. It was set on the Channel Island of Guernsey during World War II, and opens in June 1940 as the island is occupied by German forces. It consists of a mixture of one-off stories and ongoing plotlines exploring the difficulties of life in occupied territory.

The main point-of-view characters are the Martel family. Philip Martel (Bernard Horsfall) is a local doctor, and in the first episode he is invited to be the medical representative on the Controlling Committee that will run the island's civilian government services and liaise between the Germans and the local population. As the series progresses he also gets involved in other goings-on either because his professional services are required or because the people involved are family friends. The Porteous family, local land-owners, are also regulars; Martel's daughter Clare and Helen Porteous' son Peter are romantically involved, and occasionally collaborate on acts of resistance against the occupiers.

Deciding what constitutes correct behaviour in the circumstances is shown to be a disputed issue among the Germans as well as among the locals. Regularly-appearing German officers include Major Richter (Alfred Burke), the garrison commander of the occupying forces on Guernsey; Major Freidel (Simon Lack), the feldkommandant (governor of the occupied territory); Hauptsturmführer Reinicke (Simon Cadell), the ranking SS officer on the island; and Oberleutnant Kluge (John Malcolm), who brings peacetime experience as a police detective to his role keeping (the German interpretation of) law and order. The second season introduces Generalmajor Müller, the commander of all German forces in the islands, and sees Richter and Reinicke Rank Up.

Not to be confused with Enemy at the Gates.

This series provides examples of:

  • Aborted Arc: A plot thread running through the first two episodes involves Peter's attempt to sneak away from the island by boat, which is interrupted without him being identified, and the Germans' subsequent efforts to figure out who he was so he can be made an example of. The second episode ends with Kluge reporting to Richter that he is now certain it was Peter — and then the whole thing is never mentioned again, perhaps because the showrunners decided they wanted to keep Peter on as a regular.
  • All Germans Are Nazis: The islanders tend to assume so, leading to German characters sometimes having to explain (with varying degrees of annoyance) that it's not the case. Reinicke is, as would be expected of an SS man, but the episode "Call of the Dead" establishes explicitly that Richter, Freidel and Kluge aren't.
  • Artistic License – Military: Early episodes aren't consistent about recognising that the SS had different ranks from the regular army, with Reinicke frequently addressed or referred to as having the army rank of "Hauptmann" instead of the SS rank of "Hauptsturmführer".
  • Bad "Bad Acting": In "The Polish Affaire", most of the regular cast get roped into amateur theatricals. Peter in particular is very wooden.
  • Bait-and-Switch Tyrant: Generalmajor Müller's arrival in the second season is preceded by rumours about him being a hardline by-the-book leader, in contrast to Richter and Freidel's preferred style of trying to get on with the locals even if it means occasionally turning a blind eye. He turns out to be not as bad as his reputation suggested.
  • Boyfriend Bluff: In "The Jerrybag", Peter intervenes when he comes across a young woman being harassed by a couple of German soldiers, apologizing for being late to an invented rendezvous. It doesn't entirely work, since the Germans are confident they have him outmatched physically and in authority, and he has to do some more fast talking to get them both away unscathed.
  • The Bus Came Back: Dr Martel and Peter are sent to prison in the final episode of the first season; the former returns in the third episode of the second season, and the latter in the sixth.
  • But Liquor Is Quicker: In "After the Ball", one of the contributing factors to the unfortunate outcome of Marie Weston's night out with Anton Schen is that he kept her well-supplied with schnapps. It's left ambiguous to what extent this was his deliberate intention.
  • Call-Back:
    • The first couple of episodes of the second season explore the consequences of the events of the first season finale, and also pick up plot threads from the earlier two-part "Steel Hand From the Sea"/"The Laws and Usages of War".
    • The second-season episode "Post Mortem" also revisits plot threads from "Steel Hand From the Sea"/"The Laws and Usages of War".
    • The final episode has several call-backs to the first, with Peter resolving to have another go at getting off the island.
  • Camp Follower: The episode "The Prussian Officer" revolves around an establishment of French prostitutes imported to the island for the use of the German soldiers.
  • The Chessmaster: Major Freidel has a talent for maneuvring people into doing what he wants, which is mostly seen when he's forcing the Controlling Committee (in the person of Dr Martel) to agree to doing things his way. Instances include the conversation about bicycles in "The Polish Affaire", and the scene in "Judgement of Solomon" that begins with Dr Martel complaining about medicine shortages on the island and ends with him admitting that the only reasonable course is for him to travel to France to personally secure new supplies — and Freidel immediately handing over all the papers and passes he'll require, already filled out.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • In "V for Victory", a message of defiance is found in the public library. While discussing the situation with Dr Martel, Major Richter makes a reference to the events of the earlier episode "The Librarian".
    • In "Treason", Dr Martel has a meeting with the commandant about the Germans' program of requisitioning bicycles from the locals, which was initiated a few episodes earlier in "The Polish Affaire".
    • After Clive Martel is sent to prison at the end of "The Laws and Usages of War", later episodes from time to time have his family mentioning that they've received word of how he's doing.
    • In "The Right Blood", Betty Ridge gets a job at the Porteous house; a few episodes later, in "Escape", it's mentioned in passing that she's still working there.
  • Court-martialed: A recurring hazard, not only to the German characters, but to any civilian who transgresses against the German military rule.
    • In "The Librarian", the custodian of the public library is arrested after clashing with Reinicke when he attempts to confiscate books the German authorities don't approve of, which leaves her liable to be tried in the German military court. Dr Martel, on behalf of the Controlling Committee, attempts to negotiate for her to be tried in the island's civil court instead. The negotiation breaks down, and she's tried (off-screen) and given a prison sentence.
    • The climax of "After the Ball" is the on-screen court-martial of a German soldier accused of sexually assaulting a local girl.
  • Covert Distress Code: In "Call of the Dead", a character who's been sent to a German-run prison writes home to his family assuring them that things are going well for him, and marks off the bit that's actually true from the rest that's lies because he wouldn't be allowed to tell the truth with a mention of a non-existant friend named Betty Martin, a reference to the expression "all my eye and Betty Martin".
  • Crosscast Role: Baby Erich in "The Jerrybag" is played by a female infant.
  • Cut Short: It was cancelled after two seasons without any kind of wrap-up, stopping halfway through the war with the Germans still in occupation and the ultimate fates of the individual characters unresolved.
  • Dances and Balls: "After the Ball" revolves around a ball held by the Germans in the hope of promoting good relations with the locals (or at least of getting some photos that can be used as propaganda claiming good relations with the locals). It inspires Marie Weston to rebel against her overprotective dad and try to have a social life of her own, with what might be charitably described as mixed results.
  • Date Rape: In "After the Ball", Marie Weston attends a ball held to promote cooperation between the Germans and the locals after being personally invited by a charming German soldier, Anton Schen. They have a good time (and rather a lot of schnapps), and while he's walking her home his approaches become increasingly insistent...
  • Destroy the Evidence: In "Judgement of Solomon", two sixteen-year-old boys are caught with a camera in a restricted zone; developing the film shows that they've been taking photos of German military installations. Not wishing to apply the mandatory death sentence for espionage to a pair of children, Richter orders Kluge to destroy the prints and negatives and proceed as if the boys had been found trespassing with no evidence of their intentions.
  • Deus ex 'Scuse Me: In "No Quarter Given", Richter is called out of a meeting with Martel to deal with an urgent message from Generalmajor Müller, giving Martel an opportunity to notice and read the plot-relevant paperwork on his desk.
  • Didn't Think This Through: In "Jealousy", a woman anonymously denounces her sister-in-law to the German police as a black marketeer, justifying it to herself as saving her brother from a woman who (in her opinion) doesn't deserve him. The Germans confiscate the entire family's papers as part of the investigation, discover an irregularity in the brother's birth certificate, and deport him. Any consolation the sister might have got from having at least succeeded in separating him from his wife is lost when the Germans decide at the last minute to deport his wife along with him.
  • Down to the Last Play: In "War Game", the format for the chess championship final match is for two games (with players alternating colours), with provision for a third tie-breaking game if required. Naturally, it is.
  • Dramatic Irony: In the first episode, Peter Porteous is one of the few able-bodied young men not to have evacuated; he wants to go and contribute to the war effort, but chose to stay and look after his mother, whose mobility is limited. She eventually persuades him that she can manage without him and would prefer him to go before the Germans arrive — too late, as the Germans have already arrived but the news hasn't reached them yet.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • The German pilot in "Steel Hand From the Sea", who has come to doubt both the usefulness of his past actions and Germany's chances against the British air force. Kluge suggests that he has become a Death Seeker and recommends that, if so, he should commit suicide properly because seeking death by British airman would be unfair on the rest of the crew of his plane. Near the end of the episode he is shown contemplating Kluge's advice, but events intervene before he comes to a decision whether to take the plunge.
    • In "V for Victory", an islander is presented with a choice: he will be sent to a labor camp on the mainland unless he gives up a friend who has been leaving subversive messages around town (which will get the friend the death penalty). These, the Germans tell him, are his only two options. Rather than accept either, he commits suicide.
    • At the end of "Call of the Dead", Clare Martel attempts suicide, haunted by the actions she has had to take to survive.
  • Economy Cast:
    • Any time the plot of an episode requires a single member of the Controlling Committee, it will be Dr Martel, even if the issue at hand is outside his area of expertise. Occasionally there will be a handwave that this happens to be the day he's covering for the colleague whose job it ought to be.
    • Any plot involving resistance against the Germans will likely have Clare Martel and/or her friend Peter Porteous involved somewhere, even if the plot would work just as well with entirely new characters. ("V for Victory" is a case in point: it could be told just as well without any Martels and Porteouses at all — but then there would be nothing for the main characters to do.)
  • Faint in Shock: In "The Polish Affaire", Lady Diana Prideux faints dead away on finding an escaped prisoner hiding in her garden shed. When she recovers, it turns out that he's not just any escaped prisoner, but a man she loved and lost before the war.
  • The Ghost: In the two-part "Steel Hand From the Sea"/"The Laws and Usages of War", Joe Le Bec is often mentioned and plays a signficant part in the plot without ever appearing on screen.
  • Glove Slap: Played straight in "The Prussian Officer". Reinicke challenges the Prussian officer von Bulow to a duel by slapping him in the chest with his gloves in front of their fellow-officers, after von Bulow humiliates him (and inadvertantly gets the woman he loved killed).
  • Good Cop/Bad Cop: In "V for Victory", Kluge attempts to gain the confidence of a young suspect this way, recruiting Reinicke to be the Bad Cop. It doesn't go according to plan.
  • Helicopter Parents: In "After the Ball", John Weston supervises his teenaged daughter's social life very closely, and has never let her had any kind of unchaperoned contact with the opposite sex. When she takes an opportunity to slip away and have a good time on her own initiative, it goes badly, at least partly because her sheltered upbringing has left her unprepared for what might go wrong.
  • Home by Christmas: In "Steel Hand From the Sea", Reinicke expresses confidence that the Germans will be in London before the summer's end. It's not an uncommon belief for a German officer with Dunkirk a recent memory, but it's completely wrong.
  • Honor Before Reason: Sir James Prideux's "fastidious conscience" in "The Polish Affaire". He has been manipulated into a position where the only way to save himself from the German secret police is to hand over another man first. The other man is a former friend who betrayed him, and Sir James would get great pleasure in seeing him taken down — which is precisely why he won't allow himself to do it.
  • Icon of Rebellion: Churchill's "V for Victory" sign is used as one in the episode "V for Victory".
  • Inadvertent Entrance Cue: In "No Quarter Given", an islander who sent his wife and children to safety before the invasion but remained behind himself is discussing his deteriorating situation with Dr Martel, and remarks rhetorically, "I don't know why I chose to stay in this god-forsaken place." Enter his housekeeper, with whom he is in love.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: In "No Quarter Given", a character is seen using a bottle of whisky as accelerant for a fire he's about to set; in the midst of splashing it around, he pauses to take a swig out of the bottle.
  • Interrupted Suicide: Played with in "Steel Hand From the Sea". A disillusioned German officer goes to a remote beach and ponders committing suicide by throwing himself down onto the wave-washed rocks. He's interrupted by the arrival of two locals who have chosen the same remote location for a secret meeting — one of whom promptly knocks him off onto the rocks to prevent him reporting them to the authorities.
  • Karma Houdini: In "The Prussian Officer", Hauptmann von Bulow is successful in humiliating Reinicke, with terrible consequences for a number of innocent bystanders, for which he suffers no consequences, not even a twinge of conscience. Reinicke's attempt at retribution just humiliates him more and leaves von Bulow even more self-satisfied.
  • Lecture as Exposition: In "The Raid", the German officers go on an inspection tour to an installation that forms part of Germany's line of defense against British air raids. Before they set out, the officer in charge of the installation gives a lecture to bring them and incidentally the audience up to speed on the defense plan and the installation's specific role within it.
  • Let the Past Burn: In "No Quarter Given", a character's house and business are confiscated by the German authorities, and the woman he loves is killed by a drunken SS soldier, whose superior shelters him from prosecution. At the end of the episode, he decides to make a break for England, and burns the house down as a parting gesture.
  • Long Bus Trip: In the beginning of the second season, Clare Martel has a nervous breakdown, and is prescribed a period of rest and seclusion away from anything that might remind her of her troubles. She goes to stay as a guest at a convent, and although there are reports of her progress every few episodes, she never appears on-screen again.
  • Making the Choice for You: In "The Polish Affaire", Sir James Prideux is manipulated into a position where the only way to save himself from the German secret police is to hand over another man first. The other man takes the choice out of his hands by committing suicide, leaving the Germans with no handle on Sir James.
  • Medal of Dishonor: In "Steel Hand From the Sea", there is a German pilot who has been awarded the Iron Cross for his actions in Poland. He has come to regard it with distaste, since the actions in question largely consisted of mowing down ground troops with no defense against an aerial attack.
  • Modesty Bedsheet: In "The Jerrybag" has several scenes with the young lovers in bed together, always with at least their lower halves covered by the bedsheet. His naked torso gets plenty of exposure, hers none at all.
  • Nazi Nobleman: Hauptmann von Bulow, the title character of "The Prussian Officer", is a Prussian nobleman who fits the more nuanced version of the trope. He actually objects to being called a Nazi, and explains at length that he is not a Party member and that people of his class regard the Nazis as inferior and common but temporarily useful in the pursuit of increasing Germany's imperial dominance.
  • New Neighbours as the Plot Demands: New islander characters are often introduced as acquaintances of the Martels and/or Porteouses, and sometimes implied to be close friends they're regularly in social contact with (as for instance the Prideux family in "The Polish Affaire"), but will nevertheless, with very few exceptions, appear for only one episode and never appear or be mentioned before or since.
  • New Old Flame: In "The Prussian Officer", a woman who comes to live on the island is revealed to be the old flame of, of all people, the SS officer Reinicke. They met and fell in love in Paris, but her family was persecuted for Communist links and he wasn't willing at the time to risk his career in an attempt to protect her. He still isn't.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Von Bulow, the title character of "The Prussian Officer", appears at first to be a gentleman, but is rude to the waiter, treats his valet terribly, and is basically a dick to anyone he considers a social inferior.
  • Oblivious Guilt Slinging: In "Jealousy", a man whose business is being investigated by the Germans as an alleged cover for black market activity attempts to reassure his distraught sister by telling her there's no truth in it and the anonymous author of the allegation must be insane or just plain malicious. What the audience knows by this point, but he doesn't, is that his sister made the anonymous tip-off.
  • Officer and a Gentleman: Major Richter.
  • Overnight Conquest: The Germans basically just walk in and take over before the news of their arrival has made it all the way around the island. This is Truth in Television, and less a sign of the Germans' superiority than a reflection of the fact that the islands were entirely defenseless; the British High Command had decided that trying to fight the Germans off would cause a lot of collateral damage to no worthwhile effect, and had withdrawn their entire military presence from the islands a few weeks before the Germans showed up.
  • Rank Up: In the first episode of the second season, Reinicke is given a promotion to Sturmbahnführer as part of a gambit by his SS superiors — it means he's equivalent in rank to Majors Richter and Freidel, so they can no longer overrule him as they did several times in the first season. He gets one scene to enjoy his new position before Richter breaks the news that his own Army superiors have responded by bumping Richter up to Oberst.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Richter prefers to maintain cordial relations with the locals, and wishes to see justice done without discrimination along national lines, and resists tendencies by some of his underlings (particularly Reinicke) in a more tyrannical direction. Even so, his idea of what is reasonable doesn't always accord with the islanders'.
  • Repeating So the Audience Can Hear: Kluge taking an underling's telephone report in the episode "V for Victory". (Compare with an earlier scene in the same episode where the person taking a telephone report doesn't repeat anything because the audience will get the details when he discusses it with someone else after putting the phone down.)
  • Revealing Injury: In the first episode, Peter Porteous attempts to slip away from the island by boat, and is shot in the arm by a German patrol (the friend who is in the boat with him is killed). He escapes the patrol, but has to rely on Dr Martel's discretion to get the injury treated, since the Germans are still looking for the second man from the boat and will know it was him if his injury becomes public knowledge. In a later episode, Kluge's investigation leads him to suspect that Peter was the second man in the boat, and he tests his theory by "accidentally" bumping into Peter's arm.
  • Season Finale:
    • In the final episode of the first season, Clare and Peter are caught out trying to smuggle information on the German military presence to a contact in the French resistance, and inadvertantly implicate Clare's father as well. For extra drama, this occurs just after the German high command hands down an order making the death penalty mandatory for anyone convicted of espionage on the islands. Major Richter chooses to prosecute only for the lesser offenses, such as Peter's trespass in a restricted zone. Dr Martel and Peter get prison sentences of six months and a year respectively; Clare gets no official punishment, but Richter punctures her bravado by pointing out how much trouble she's made for her family and friends and how little good the information packet would actually have done even if they'd succeeded.
    • In the final episode of the second season, Peter resolves to make another attempt to get off the island, unable to bear any longer being forced into idleness while others are fighting and dying. Like his attempt at the beginning of the series, things go wrong, and this time Peter himself is killed. The episode thereby provides Book Ends for Peter's storyline, and with its cancellation for the series itself.
  • Sequel Episode: The second-season episode "The Right Blood" is a sequel to the first-season episode "The Jerrybag", the only time in the series that a non-regular character's story is revisited.
  • Shot at Dawn: The sentence given to the court-martialed German soldier in "After the Ball". The execution scene plays out (onscreen, though it ends just as the squad fires) in unhurried fashion, and the soldier goes from respectably stoic to a trembling nervous mess as the fatal moment approaches.
  • Spoiler Title: The episode title "From a View to a Death" makes it a foregone conclusion that there's going to be a death; recognising the phrase as a reference to fox-hunting makes it clear whose, since the plot of the episode is the Germans hunting an escaped prisoner.
  • Suicide by Sea: The episode "Call of the Dead" ends with a character taking off her shoes and walking into the sea.
  • Taking the Heat: In "Escape", Peter writes a letter confessing to killing a German soldier (who had actually been killed in a confrontation with a farmer, one of Peter's neighbours, whose livestock he'd repeatedly raided), since he intends to escape the island or die trying and thus there isn't anything the Germans can do to him. After reading the false confession, Richter makes it clear to Dr Martel that he recognises it for what it is, and hints that he might choose to accept it at face value anyway; the episode ends without showing whether he makes that choice.
  • Ten Paces and Turn: In "The Prussian Officer", Reinicke challenges the Prussian officer von Bulow to a duel after von Bulow humiliates him (and inadvertantly gets the woman he loved killed) and escapes official censure. Von Bulow accepts, despite Richter reminding them that duelling is illegal. The duel takes the form of pistols at dawn; the duellists are depicted pacing away from each other, then standing facing in opposite directions until the umpire calls "Fire!" Reinicke turns and fires first — and misses, leaving von Bulow the opportunity to return fire at his leisure. After letting Reinicke sweat a bit, von Bulow deliberately and obviously fires wide, makes a sneering comment about Reinicke's aim, and walks away.
  • Titled After the Song: The episode "After the Ball" shares its name with a 19th-century popular song. The verses don't fit the episode, but the refrain does:
    Many a heart is aching,
    If you could read them all;
    Many the hopes that have vanished
    After the ball.
  • Too Good to Be True: In "The Polish Affaire", a man and woman who were lovers in the Balkans before the war are reunited when he escapes from a forced labor camp and hides out in her garden. It turns out that his choice of hiding place owes nothing to luck, nor even the fact that he was transferred to a labor camp so near her; the escape was stage-managed from the beginning, and not for either of their benefit.
  • Translation Convention:
    • The German characters are depicted always speaking in English, even among themselves. As a side-effect, this also means that there are no scenes where a German who speaks no English struggles to communicate with an islander who speaks no German.
    • Perhaps less obviously, the islanders are also depicted always speaking in English, though French and the local language Guernésiais were also commonly spoken on the island at the time.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The German occupation of the Channel Islands was a genuine historical event, but the series is more about exploring the dramatic possibilities of the situation than re-enacting history. All the characters who appear on-screen are fictional, including those prominent enough to have appeared in the historical record; for instance, Major Richter, though he shares some similarities with his real-life counterpart, is basically an invented character with an invented name. Martel's friend Ambrose, another member of the Controlling Committee who appears briefly in the first episode, may have been intended to represent Ambrose Sherwill, the president of the real-life Controlling Committee; if so, this was walked back when the character subsequently made a second and more substantial appearance, in which his full name was given as John Ambrose and said to be the secretary of the Committee. The plots are likewise invented. Some of the scenes in the first episode depicting the arrival of the Germans are based on actual events, but even those take full advantage of dramatic license.
  • Victorian Novel Disease: In "The Prussian Officer", Dr Martel treats a prostitute whom he suspects of having early stage tuberculosis, though she insists it's just a bit of a cough; she subsequently turns out to have the kind of romantic-tragic backstory that prostitutes with tuberculosis tend to have in stories. Averted: before it turns into full-on VND — indeed, before she gets around to having the medical test that will prove whether it actually is tuberculosis — her romantic-tragic backstory gets her stabbed to death, and the tuberculosis subplot comes to nothing.
  • Villain Episode: "The Prussian Officer" expands Reinicke's backstory and puts him in a difficult situation that the viewer can empathise with — which he then handles badly, because he's Reinicke, leaving the viewer feeling sorry for Reinicke and confirmed in the opinion that he's a terrible human being whose sorrows are his own fault as much as anyone else's.
  • Why Are You Looking at Me Like That?: In "No Quarter Given", two islanders (a businessman who has had his house and business confiscated by the Germans and a fisherman who's struggling to man his boat after his offsider was jailed for publicly questioning Hitler's sanity) are drowning their sorrows with a sympathetic German NCO (who is in the sights of the SS, who regard him as being too sympathetic to the locals). The businessman asks the fisherman if he's ever considered making a break for England, and the fisherman replies that he has done so, frequently, but he's not allowed to take the boat out without a German soldier on board. Their gazes turn to the German, who looks from one to the other, then remarks that he wouldn't say no to a day's fishing.