The Curse of Fenric: Doctor Who: Season 26
The Curse Of Fenric SYNOPSIS:
The Doctor and Ace have arrived at a Naval base on the coast of England during world war two as the Time Lord wants to meet Dr Judson, creator of the Ultima machine, one of the first computers used to break German cipher codes. He presents forged credentials to Commander Millington to get the run of the base.
A squadron of Russians have arrived undetected on the beach, their mission is to steal the Ultima machine and one of their number is already been taken by something in the murky waters. The Doctor and Judson are trying to translate old viking inscriptions in the local church. Ace deduces the oldest inscription is like a computer program and gets Judson to use the Ultima machine to decipher what couldn't be translated.
The Doctor is given a literally translation of the inscriptions which relates the curse of Fenric and the Ultima machine sets it in motion. Vampiric Haemavores rise from the sea to devour the blood of the faithless and Commander Millington believes Fenric will return and use the natural source of poisons the navy has found under the base to destroy the whole world.
Ace has found a flask that could contain Fenric itself. Commander Millington wants Fenric's powers for himself while the Doctor is forced to play a deadly game of chess he once played with Fenric many centruies before but this time not even the Doctor knows which of his allies are the true wolves of Fenric.
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The Curse Of Fenric DETAILS:
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The Curse Of Fenric CAST & CREW
Sylvester McCoy (Seventh Doctor)
Sophie Aldred (Ace)
Dinsdale Landen — Dr Judson
Alfred Lynch — Commander Millington
Stevan Rimkus — Captain Bates
Marcus Hutton — Sgt Leigh
Christien Anholt — Perkins
Tomek Bork — Captain Sorin
Peter Czajkowski — Sgt Prozorov
Marek Anton — Vershinin
Mark Conrad — Petrossian
Nicholas Parsons — Rev Wainwright
Janet Henfrey — Miss Hardaker
Joann Kenny — Jean
Joanne Bell — Phyllis
Anne Reid — Nurse Crane
Cory Pulman — Kathleen Dudman
Aaron Hanley — Baby Audrey
Raymond Trickitt — Ancient Haemovore
Production Staff for Serial 7M:
Writer - Ian Briggs
Director - Nicholas Mallet
Script editor - Andrew Cartmel
Producer - John Nathan-Turner
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The Curse Of Fenric REVIEWS
From Victorian London to umm world war 2 south coast of England…not a huge move in terms of years and geographical location but better for it. Here's to the Curse Of Fenric!
Ian Briggs turns in his second script and it's much better in terms of story and dialogue than his first outing. The World war setting is something that the Doctor hasn't actually visited in the last 26 years which is surprising, although for some reason the continuing Ace's development storyline is getting a bit tiresome by this stage. Plus we have back director Nicholas Mallet, whose two previous efforts left a lot to be desired but he must have taken a BBC director's course or something because he manages to turn in a deeply dark and atmospheric story with Curse Of Fenric.
The casting is very good, Commander Millington and Professor Judson are a great double act, especially as they have a back story. Nurse Crane is annoying in a good way and Commander Sorin and Captain Bates are all portrayed well and Nicholas Parsons does a stand out turn as faithless Reverend Wainwright. The other characters are more second tier and don't really add much to Curse Of Fenric. But all the performances are on a high and believable level. It's almost as if guest actors are treating the show with respect again. Ok, except for the two "east ender girls" Evacuees. Yeah they may be cute but they were irritatingly bad performances. Couldn't help cringing at their dialogue delivery, made Sophie Aldred seem like a Shakespearean actor by comparison.
The Haemavores were a good new monster, and funnily enough like all the classic monsters they lumber about, don't say anything, can't be killed by bullets and all they want to do is drink blood. They look good rising from the sea and wandering about in the fog, it's only when shown in close up they fail, where the joins in the masks are too obvious and the fake heads wobble a bit too much.Still the animatronic Ancient One looked good but like the Destroyer was only in the last Part and not for long. Story had nice touches like the Rune carvings being a computer program that sets about the release of Fenric and the storming of the church and what the gas bombs were.
But the only drawback I can find is Fenric itself. It was supposed to be all powerful evil trapped in a flask by the Dr centuries earlier. But apart from teleporting once, it didn't seem to have any real powers and all it could do was be tricked into playing the Doctor's dumb game. Surely if you are all powerful evil, you'd just fly around the planet creating havoc, why stop to play a game? The Doctor's explanation about what it was was confusing and added nothing to what it was or why it likes to play games with a Time Lord. Therefore as an actual threat it seemed to carry nothing.
Ok so it manipulated events but with all the stuff about Ace being a wolf of Fenric and her grandma Kathleen being the one who lead to Ace having mummy issues was bound up in so much fan wank continuity references that I really didn't give a toss as to how Ace was developing as a character afterward as it wasn't very clearly explained how this all meant something. Pity it was so clumsily handled as it was a really good idea and deserved a bit more of a re-write.
However Sylvester and Sophie really put in great performances throughout the entire thing. Especially in the last scene where he pretends to be cruel and dismissive of her. You really think he is now the darker Doctor, a manipulator on the side of good who doesn't seem to care as much about the ends justifying the means. Didn't buy the 'instant' romance between Ace and Sorin either or that dreadful bit where she tries to lure away the prison guard, why not just flash the funbags and run? That bit of dialogue was hammier than a double ham sandwich. So nice to see the Curse of Fenric is taking the series in a much better and different direction and was well tied together by some tense incidental music for a change which complemented the horrific bits well. Thanks production team for finally taking Keff out the back and blowing his talentless brains out. Well done, Curse of Fenric is more like old fashioned traditional Who but with a few new neat and dark tricks. 7.5/10 from me.
Anyway, I like Curse Of Fenric cos there is a fair whack of atmosphere, direction, ideas and acting to keep a grumpy old fart like me happy (its my birthday this Friday by the way) and it really brings the show back to Earth (no pun intended).
Cos there are so many positives to Curse of Fenric I'll get the few negatives out of the way first. I never really understood how the flask got to where it was (holed up in a wall) so some soldiers could find it after floating round the English coast for centuries. Also not sure how the Ultima machine was capable of translating the church inscriptions or how it was programmed to do that. Likewise, how the Ancient One turned up, how the Haemovores turned up or where the came from, how do you enter a secret corridor underground at the church yet end up above ground coming out of a hut on the navy base grounds. Actually the entire layout of the naval camp is very dodgy.
Those aside, there is a hell of a lot to enjoy in Curse Of Fenric. Ian Briggs comes up with a very atmospheric script with some very gripping scenes and interesting characters for everyone involved to make the most of. The direction is first rate from Nicholas Mallett who directed the appalling Mysterious Planet and clumsy Paradise Towers. Here he lets the script come to life by letting everyone else tell the story. He doesn't do any intrusive or whizz bang shots but he isn't doing a Chris Clough by standing around doing stuff all. He has learnt how to build the tension and atmosphere the story requires which at times climax with some very scary and effective moments. The attack of the church, Millington gassing the doves, the ancient one and Sorin gassing each other, and the climaxes of episodes two and three are some of the most memorable sequences the series had seen for ages. Likewise the scenes in the tunnel with the Haemovores attacking the soldiers is very dramatic.
The acting is top notch from all concerned. Sylvester McCoy is mean and moody and makes the part his own. Its amazing to see how much better he is once he tones it all down. This in one of the few times I believed that this was the CHARACTER of the Doctor rather than seeing the actor playing him. Sophie Aldred is better in Curse Of Fenric than in many of her others. Her scenes with Kathleen Dudman and her baby were very well played. Sadly the same can't be said about her seduction scene with the soldier as a ruse to spring Sorin out of jail.
I really liked Commander Millington who starts off as a cold blooded leader who later realises he has set in place a chain of events that spirals totally out of control. Dinsdale Landen is excellent as the crippled and single minded Dr Judsen - quite a stretch for an actor who is more known for his comedy. Speaking of a stretch, game show host Nicholas Parson is an absolute standout as the beaten vicar Rev Wainwright. His performance is totally believable, sympathetic and blew away many people's perceptions (including mine!) that a has-been game show host in a lead role was not capable of delivering the goods. I certainly wasn't expecting to see him die at the hands of the haemovores or end up seeing a shot of Nicholas Parsons lying down dead in the mud and the rain.
Tomek Bork is equally good as the dashing Captain Soren and is even better when he becomes Fenric. Just using some contact lenses to change his eyes was very effective and creepy. I loved the scene where he confronted Ace at the end. Actually those scenes in the missile facility are all very good - the offing of the doves is brilliant and the scenes where the Doctor is shown the missiles and then Millington's sudden realisation of his place in the scheme of things by storing the gas weapons are exceptional.
The Haemovores are a very good monster which at times look very good, but occasionally do look a little shabby. Thankfully that is few and far between. I thought the Ancient One was a great idea (as I said I was a little unclear about his origins or how and when he came about or ended up where he was). Fenric was a good idea as a creature the Doctor had battled in the past who finally caught up with him to have another crack at him. Its a simple concept, simply realised but very effective and a real highlight cos it was such an interesting back story. My only drawback to it was that when you examine this plot point it starts fall apart rather quickly. When I first saw Curse Of Fenric I was quite amazed and thrilled at the references to Dragonfire and the shithouse Silver Nemesis but now its all talk and very little substance as though they thought that if they threw in enough jargon then you wouldn't notice that there was very little going on with this backstory. I guess Andrew Cartmel felt a need to make his presence felt after all.......
Still, Curse of Fenric is quite a rollicking good story with some nice touches, great direction and some top class performances. 8/10
It's definitely not an adult show any more, but for me it's here where it really pulled itself out of the dodginess of the mid 80s to a place where it could hold its head up proudly amongst other quality kids TV of the era - the measuring stick of which was ironically Steve Moffat's Press Gang!
Maybe it's because Curse OF Fenric becomes self referential within its own era that makes it come of age? The way it does that here is nicely done, and really adds to the tension of what is an excellent climax to the story. Ace was Briggs' creation in Dragonfire, and he does a great job here of expanding on what seemed to be a pretty crap explanation originally - and on top of that he was able to bring more interest out of the much maligned Silver Nemesis.
WW2 provides an interesting backdrop for Curse of Fenric(funny that for the major event of the 20th century, it's not often referred to in Dr Who) - and it's interesting to have the big enemy something bigger than the biggest "enemies" of the 20th century, the nazis and the commies! Of further interest - well to me anyway through working on Ross' play! - is that the central character to the plot is based on the real life Alan Turing
"Writer Ian Briggs based the character of Dr Judson on Alan Turing. (The "ULTIMA machine" of the story is based on the real Enigma machine.) In an interview for the DVD release of this story, Briggs said that since at that time it was not considered appropriate to depict a character's struggle with homosexuality in a family programme, he transformed Turing's frustration at being unable to express his true sexual identity into Judson's frustration at being crippled. In the same interview, Briggs stated that he intended to suggest that both Judson and Millington were gay and had a shared past, although this was not realised in the finished programme."
Chemical warfare and environmental themes also play a part - but for me the most interesting and effective theme that's explored here is faith. The concept of being able to defeat the Haemevores by having complete faith in something is great - and is used extremely well as both a plot point and a character development point. War would have to be a time when faith is questioned pretty heavily I guess, and the struggle that Reverend Wainright goes through here is one of the highlights - particularly as it's his lack of faith that ultimately brings about his downfall at the hands of the Haemavores.
Conversely, the ultimate faith that Ace has in the Doctor almost brings about the downfall of everything - and the breaking down of this faith gives character depth the likes of which we've never really scene before in Doctor Who - and almost certainly paved the way for the kind of character development we see in the new world of Who. I know Ace comes under a bit of criticism, but while she is a very stereotyped character (not that different from the Leela or Tegan stereotype really), the frailty that comes with her breaking down, followed by the kind of cleansing at the end, is one of the more compelling moments in the later Dr Who years.
As good as Curse Of Fenric is though, it does have a couple of weaknesses. For me, the main one is Millington... there's not really much subtlety there! He almost needs to be twirling his moustache and wearing a cape! But the thing is, he's not even that good of a bad guy... he's just kind of an in between guy who just comes across as being muddled... maybe without his tangents the script would have been shorter and they wouldn't have had over-run... apparently Curse Of Fenric could have been a 5 parter it was so long!
And speaking of long - this review has been going for about four weeks I think... so now it's well and truly time to wind it up.
For the main part of this, the direction is excellent. It's unfortunate that scenes where it wasn't supposed to be raining, the actors have to contend with rain (and actually using the question marked umbrella!), but for scenes that did call for rain, they had to obviously fake it. Apparently though, because of the rain delays, they were able to spend more time on some of the under water shots - and a lot of these shots are some of the best of Curse Of Fenric... I particularly like the early under water shots coupled with the voice over from the church (I think it was) - very effective. Mallet's come in for a bit of criticism here, but I think he's definitely learnt from his mistakes and given us his absolute best in his last effort. I guess the realisation of some of the haemavores (particularly the big bad one at the end) is a bit "foam" dodgy - but we can probably let that pass.
Performances are also very strong - I've mentioned how much I liked Sophie Aldred in this, but McCoy is also probably at his best in this one too. Nicholas Parsons (who I think is a radio personality?) is great as Rev Wainright, and Dinsdale Landen's Dr Judson is perfect... both possessed and unpossessed! I don't really think Alfred Lynch brings much to Millington, and I'm not sure about the young Russian bloke who kind of falls for Ace and then becomes part of the history of Fenric... actually I'm not all that sure about the whole Ace protecting her Mother and sending her off to live with her Nan... isn't Kathleen her Nan? Anyway, that's all by the by - I need to wrap it up and for the most part, this is excellent.