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Doctor Who: The Curse Of Fenric by Ian Briggs (DVD review).

May 21, 2021 | By | Reply More

‘The Curse Of Fenric’ is the penultimate story in the McCoy era starts with two military dinghies approaching shore when a fog falls and one of the dinghies vanishes. On shore, its commander tells his troops not to worry about it. Later information reveals that they are Russians preparing to masquerade as British troops.

The TARDIS arrives at a nearby secret naval base and the Doctor (actor Sylvester McCoy) and Ace (actress Sophie Aldred), appropriately dressed for a 1940s time period although clearly not knowing why they are there or why they aren’t stopped. Well, that is until they are surround by base security and the Doctor bluffs their way to see crippled Dr. Jutson (actor Dinsdale Landen) and preps a fake pass for themselves. Jutson is intrigued that Ace understands his codes as he is a code expert.

Now imbedded on the base, the next day, they begin to investigate. At the local St. Jude’s church, they meet the Reverend Wainwright (actor Nicholas Parsons) and Ace specifically to two rebellious late-teens, Jean (actress Joanna Kenny) and Phyllis (actress Joanne Bell) who she promises to meet later at Maiden’s Point. Later, their landlady Miss Hardacker (actress Janet Henfrey) warns them the place is dangerous but they ignore her advice.

Back at the church, the Doctor finds Jutson using his ‘computerised’ codebreaker to translate Viking script in the church crypt and base Commander Millington (actor Alfred Lynch) being involved. There is a secondary plot that they want the Russians to steal the codebreaker because concealed inside is a vapor poison that can be released with the right password.

There is also something mysterious going on in the sea and a second visit for a swim by Jean and Phyllis results in them being possessed and then the rest of the later identified Haemovores, a different name for vampires, joins them from the sea.

A lot of it is various people running away from these Haemovores and a mix of sub-plots like Reverend Wainwright regaining his faith although that doesn’t help him very much. Commander Millington is clearly out of control and Jutson gets possessed by Fenric who has a compulsion to solve a chess problem given him by the Doctor many years ago. I’m still trying to fathom just what the botttle Ace locates is actually used for.

Ace has her own thread where she rescues Kathleen Dudman (actress Corey Pullman) and her baby and only discovers later that the baby will become her mother. Oh, the leader of the Haemovores is noted as the Great Serpent, although doesn’t appear to have an snake-like properties and his species won’t come to the fore until many centuries later. Anything beyond that should be regarded as spoiler.

Considering that Fenric is a wolf son of Loki, much of the Norse mythology is ignored and just an energy being that possesses people. In Norse mythology, Loki also fathered a serpent that surrounded the Earth and if the Great Serpent was supposed to be him, it’s a wasted opportunity that he wasn’t given his proper name of Jörmungandr. Actress Anne Reid is certainly wasted in her role as a nurse.

Adding to my criticisms, there is far too much going on and the directions of some side-plots ended up being ignored or cut short, often in a predictable path. In many ways, this story has had the most deaths since ‘Remembrance Of The Daleks’. Some aspects of the plot work but there is far too much misdirection. I’m still puzzled why it is a requirement to grow long fingernails and so quickly. It’s not as though they make holding things easier.

The audio commentary with actors Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred and Nicholas Parsons is far more illuminating revealing that the locations were especially cold. McCoy points out that the duffle coat was only supposed to keep him warm off-camera but looked period piece and stayed on. A lot of it is reminisces about the various cast members and the craft, like non-rustling paper used on the radio and non-reflective glasses now exist so that camera aren’t caught in their reflections. Oh, keep an eye out for John Nathan-Turner’s dog popping up again and Wainwright wearing wellington boots in the mud. Aldred reminds that a lot of episode 3 was taken out and entire story could have made 5 episodes. Had the powers-that-BBC known that, they would have cut their budget, so the film-length version on the other DVD should fill in some of the gaps. Oh, the original title was going to be ‘The Wolves Of Fenric’. They also had to keep an eye on their own continuity, especially when Ace gets a scarf and new badge, not to mention after one explosion, on camera, she and the Doctor had to remove mud from their faces to match later scenes. The story was originally supposed to be earlier in the schedule, foretelling ‘Ghost Light’ but now acts as a reminder to that story. Aldred points out this is also her favourite story and Parsons proud to be in a ‘Doctor Who’ story.

Now, the extras. ‘Modelling The Dead’, running at 5 minutes, has Sue Moor and Stephen Mansfield showing how they made the Haemovore mask. I did wonder when they say the latex dried when hot why they didn’t lay it under colder conditions. Oh, the barnacles were made of lentils that grew and popped overnight.

‘Claws And Effects’, running at 17½ minutes, is a rare opportunity to see behind the scenes with footage at various locations and why one was deemed too dangerous both from cliff bits falling and unfriendly water. We also see more mask effects as they play with acetone to melt the mask and finally used in the film-length version. If you want to get some idea of what goes on behind the scenes, this will make you think.

The ‘Photo Gallery’ of 6 minutes shows behind and in front of the camera.

‘Nebula 90’ has crew and cast at a q&a session at a ‘Doctor Who’ convention in 1990 discussing script, weather conditions, make-up and Ace’s underwear. Writer Ian Briggs pointed out that he had targeted the story to be filmed in the summer but re-scheduling put it in winter conditions.

The ‘Take Two’, running at 4½ minutes, shows a mixture of the above and mostly not the same footage.

On the second DVD, we have the 1 hour 44 minute film-version of the story so I was on the look-out for extra scenes although a lot of the differences was more in the way of extended footage. We see the end result of the three girls going rock climbing, the Doctor acknowledging there were noises in the vault, the acetone dissolving of the girls heads. Probably more significant was the details of Ace’s history and the Doctor discussing with the Ancient Haemovore his place in time or rather times although this is final destination.

More extras on the second disk. ‘Shattering The Chains’ running at 24 minutes has Ian Briggs discussing his own script and the fact ‘Doctor Who’ was being commissioned one season at a time and was asked to do a period piece. He discusses the undertones of the story but I don’t think they come out in the story. From my own stories, it’s a lot harder to do undertones in a TV or film story simply because the viewer is absorbing different things and even re-watching and analysis is still going to be going in the wrong direction. There’s also the point that in rehearsal that the episodes were running short which might explain the extra footage being done.

The 15 minute ‘Recutting The Runes’ has Mark Ayers making stereo versions of the sounds and music so everything matched for the film version. Director Nick Mallett wanted to do a film-length version with all the material so this was fulfilling that. Sorting out the grading of the footage is useful for any of you potential film-makers out there.

The shortest one so far is the 3 minutes ‘40th Anniversary Celebration 1963-2003’ looking at the past regenerations, companions and enemies of ‘Doctor Who’.

Finally, a 17 minute feature on ‘Costume Design’ with costume designer Ken Trew discussing the choices and showing design illustrations so keep your freeze frame ready from his 30 year career at the BBC.

Quite a lot to digest here and more analysis than usual.

GF Willmetts

May 2021

(region 2 DVD: pub: BBC. 2 DVDs 92 minutes 3 * 96  minute episodes with extras. Price: I pulled my copy for about £ 7.00 (UK). ASIN: BBCDVD1154)

cast: Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred, Dinsdale Landen, Alfred Lynch, Tomek Bork, Joanna Kenny, Joanne Bell, Nicholas Parsons, Anne Reid, Janet Henfrey and Corey Pullman, Tomek Bork, Marek Anton and others

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Category: Doctor Who, TV

About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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