Directors:  Bill Bain, Jonathan Alwyn

Starring:  Alfred Burke, Bernard Horsfall, Simon Cadell, John Malcolm

Many British TV drama series have been released on DVD in the US, while they continue to languish in the vaults in their native territory: series like The Beiderbecke Affair and Lillie are available in America (not to mention sitcoms like Are You Being Served?), but not here. Many of these, though, have had some recent exposure on British television (Lillie has been shown by Granada Plus, for example), or have been available on VHS, so, re-discovering something that hasn't been seen in the UK for a long time can be a real thrill. (It could also be noted that the show was produced by London Weekend Television, a company whose vaults seem relatively impregnable to the acquisitiveness of enthusiasts). In the case case of Enemy at the Door, the delight is amplified, since it stars one of my favourite actors, Public Eye's Alfred Burke.

Occupying forces: Oberleutnant Otto Kluge (John Malcolm), Major Ernst Freidel (Simon Lack), Major-Doktor Dieter Richter (Alfred Burke) and Hauptmann Reineke (Simon Cadell).Enemy at the Door was a series set on Guernsey during  the German occupation of the Channel Islands during World War Two. (The first time since 1066 that British territory had been occupied by a foreign power).

The first season was broadcast between January and April of 1979. 

The series is often said to have been ITV's answer to the very popular BBC series Secret Army, about the Belgian resistance. It is certainly overshadowed by Secret Army, and the BBC's earlier wartime series, Colditz, both of which have been widely seen since they were originally transmitted, and have thus retained some degree of public recognition. Enemy at the Door has all but disappeared from memory.

Frankly Enemy at the Door is only rarely as good as the best episodes of the two BBC series, but at the time it was popular enough to have made quite an impression. The series even spawned some memorabilia: a 7" record of Wilfred Joseph's haunting theme music was issued, and there was a novel, published in hardback and paperback, by James Andrew Hall, adapted from some of the first season episodes.

Bernard Horsfall as Doctor Philip Martel (from "The Librarian")Enemy at the Door has a similar format to Secret Army, and features two similarly charismatic lead actors, one on either side of the opposing forces. Here Alfred Burke plays the commander of the occupying forces, Major-Doktor Dieter Richter, and Bernard Horsfall plays the notional head of the community, Doctor Philip Martel. The major difference is that the relationship between the Germans and the islanders is less adversarial in Enemy at the Door than the one between the Belgains and the Germans in Secret Army. Unlike Bernard Hepton's Albert Foiret, Martel isn't the head of a resistance unit: he's simply struggling to maintain a fragile harmony between the two sides, acknowledging that, although heavily outnumbered, the Germans hold the overwhelming balance of power. Richter is less of a villain than Secret Army's cruel Sturmbannführer Ludwig Kessler (Clifford Rose), and willing to give the islanders the benefit of the doubt in some minor infractions of law which might, by the book, have resulted in reprisals which would have inevitably strained the relationship between the two sides. If there has to be a villain of the piece, it's Richter's SS representative, Hauptmann Reineke, played with obvious relish by Hi Di Hi's Simon Cadell. Richter's somewhat lax enforcement policy is addressed at the start of the second season, when Reineke is promoted, and a more senior Third Reich officer, Generalmajor Müller (David Waller) is brought in to supervise matters. Müller, incidentally, was the only regular character in the series who was a real person.

Enemy at the Door has been released on DVD by an American company called Goldhil Home Media International, a company perhaps better known for their catalogue of the boisterous Japanese cartoon series Dragonball Z. The company has released two box sets of Enemy at the Door, each containing four discs. Each set contains a complete season, comprised of thirteen fifty-minute episodes. The discs are coded for Regions 1-6, so can be used on all players.

Update: details of the UK DVD releases can be found at the bottom of this page, here.

The episodes are of generally uniform quality, with wishy-washy black levels and pale colour. There are numerous analogue tape dropouts, indicating Beta SP source materials. Occasionally these appear have been slightly exaggerated by the standards-conversion process. Even the worst of them is fleeting, but there are an awful lot of them, far more than would normally be considered acceptable by a broadcaster. It's unlikely that the original LWT masters exhibited these problems, unless they've been poorly handled.

Casualty of war: from "V For Victory".Like most drama series of the time, the series was a mixture of videotaped interiors and filmed exteriors. Often 16mm film inserts can look very grotty, since little care was given to their handling, and companies were working to tight TV budgets. They are typically showered with dirt and debris. They're also often flickery, and bounce slightly on every cut. The Enemy at the Door film inserts aren't perfect, but they are substantially better than I've seen in several other contemporary series.

Incidentally, some sources say that this series was a blend of archive material and dramatisations. That's entirely incorrect. The only archive material used in the series was in the opening titles sequences (each season had a different titles sequence), and for the odd stock footage insert. 

The first season has very smeary chroma, exaggerated by timing errors that's displaced the colour component of the signal slightly to one side. In practice this is only marginally worse than an ordinary standard definition TV image, where the colour component of the picture is very blotchy anyway, but it is noticeable, and sometimes quite prominent. The second season episodes, from the 1980 series, are generally much better, but are still contaminated by underlying chroma noise. Each disc contains three or four episodes, on DVD9s. This seems perfectly adequate and, although the bitrate is virtually constant (averaging about 5Mb/s), there are no distracting encoding problems. 

The series audio is acceptable. Once or twice dialogue is unintelligible, but this seems to be the result of poor recording conditions, rather than in any deficiency that's been introduced subsequently. The discs offer an option to play the discs with the original mono mix, or with an airy 5.1 mix, which adds a little ambience, but can be rather distracting. 

Defiance in the face of the enemy: Captain Tom Foster-Smythe (David Ryall), Doctor Philip Martel (Bernard Horsfall) and Lily (Elizabeth Adare), from "No Quarter Given".Each disc offers two ways of viewing the series, neither of which is entirely satisfactory, because there's no easy way of watching the entire episode, from opening LWT logo' right to the end of the end credits (even though the entire programme is present on the disc). The first is a "Play Feature" option, which plays the opening titles for the first episode on the disc, the episode itself (including end credits), but then skips the opening titles for the second episode, and goes straight into the action, and so on. There's an option to select individual episodes, but the first chapter offered is the beginning of the episode, after the end credits. The only way to watch each episode intact is to select the first chapter, and then hit the "previous" button on your remote, which skips back to the LWT logo'. It's a minor annoyance, and not the way fans of archive TV like the material to be presented. On a more positive note, the episodes include their advert bumper caption cards. In fact, a bit of judicious pruning wouldn't have gone amiss here, since the cards are often on-screen for what seems like forever, and sometimes there's a few seconds of black between each part, too. (Using the "next" chapter button would probably help, if you're particularly impatient, since there are chapter marks at the beginning of each act). The ribbon-like LWT logo' is present at the head of most episodes, but is usually missing from the end (Wilfred Joseph's plaintive theme music finishes over a black screen).

Each disc contains a photo' gallery (the same on each disc in each season set), and a few other features (weblinks, etc) of dubious usefulness.  The discs are not available separately.

Goldhil's Enemy at the Door sets would be a fine addition to the library of any archive TV enthusiast, as long as they're willing to accept the picture glitches and awkward presentation. 

It's a joy to see Alfred Burke in a starring role, and Bernard Horsfall can always be relied upon for a remarkable performance, but the series also features many guest cast members who will be familiar to fans of 70s television, and more than a few who are still prominent and popular today (Midsomer Murders star John Nettles, and The Lord of the Rings star John Rhys-Davies, for example). It's also worth noting that, before this site made its debut, the only Internet presence the series had was as a footnote to the dozens of online Anthony Stewart Head biographies. (For those of you who have been hiding under a rock for the last few years, Head is one of the regular cast members of Buffy The Vampire Slayer). Anthony Head (as he was credited then, before Equity rules forced a name clarification) features in a couple of season one episodes, as Doctor Martel's son, Clive. It was Anthony Head's first television role. Enemy at the Door also features more than a few faces familiar from Eastenders (Barry Jackson, Pam St Clement and Michael Cashman, among others).


2009 Update: Enemy at the Door has now been released on DVD in the UK. A label called Prime Television was the first to bring the series to the UK, in August 2006. They released the first series, spread across four discs.

A couple of years later, cult TV specialists Network released both series of the show. These were in PAL format, and offered much better picture quality than the American Goldhil sets. Not only that, but the authoring is improved, and the episodes also include the original advert bumpers. As an additional bonus, the UK four-disc sets are packaged in a normal-width Amray-style case, so they take up much less space on the shelf! In September 2009, Network released a Complete Series box set, packaging together both seasons. Sadly, none of the UK discs have featured anything in the way of bonus features.

Incoming records for the three Network sets, offering press release information and etailer links, can be found here:

The Complete First Series

The Complete Second Series

The Complete Series

A section devoted to the series can be found here: Enemy at the Door.











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