Season 24 introduced us to the Doctor’sÂ seventh incarnation, in the form of Scottish Shakespearean actor Sylvester McCoy, a previous unsuccessful applicant for the role as Peter Davisonâ€™s successor.Â With prominent TV roles largely limited to Jigsaw and Tiswas, not much was known of the new show lead other than his amazing range of facial expressions, which were as familiar a part of his first season asÂ his rolling R’s.
Sporting a curly blonde wig and a shrinky-dink version of his predecessorâ€™s colourful ensemble, Sylvester McCoy tumbled on to the scene in Time and the Rani; three times in his first act to be precise, not exactly the most dynamic of starts to ones tenure.Â In truth, his debut season had potential, but it was sadly unrealised and worse undermined by a series of cringe-worthy low points; from Kate O’Mara’s portrayal of Mel (as if one wasn’t bad enough), to the Dragonfire episode one cliff-hanger – literally (where did that lower level come from?).
Whilst Season 24 had “all sorts” of annoyances, Season 25 had Bertie Bassett himself; however the episode that really polarised opinion was Silver Nemesis. The anniversary special again promised much, but ended up raising more questions than it answered. It did however have many redeeming features in my eyes, in addition to a nice link into my latest review.Â Materialising in the grounds of Windsor Castle 1638, hunting for the silver bow of Nemesis, the Doctor is drawn to a chess game. On his return, he notices the pieces have been moved and embarks in a contest that will culminate during the final season of the classic series; the wonderful, Curse of Fenric.
Arriving at a British naval base near Maidens Point in WWII, the Doctor and Ace are introduced to eccentric scientist Dr Judson and his Enigma – sorry, Ultima machine. As Russian soldiers arrive silently on British shores, intent on stealing the machine, they find themselves under attack by a mysterious force; for far beneath the waters of Maidens point, lies an ancient Viking ruin and an evil curse rising from the sea.
The Doctor soon discovers that Base Commander Millington is aware of their plotting and has, with Judson, booby trapped the machine with a poisonous gas – but his plans are not limited to destroying the enemy alone – for he craves the power of Fenric itself.
As a mysterious mist engulfs the coastline, a race of barnacle clad Haemovores emerge from the sea to invade the Church. Captain Sorin and his group of Russian soldiers help a smitten Ace to escape withÂ an ancient vase she discovered in the crypt, but are unable to hold off the rubbery aggressors – cue our GallifreyanÂ heroes physic barrier and a heart-warming nod to the past; more of that later.
Returning to base, Millington confiscates the vase and Judson sets about decoding its inscription with the aid of the Ultima machine, until aÂ sudden energy bolt from its circuitry strikes him and unlocks the power of Fenric. Taking over his body and casting aside the wheelchair to which he was confined, the ancient evil proceeds to reintroduce himself to the Time Lord, who left him trapped in the Shadow Dimension for seventeen centuries.
As the Great Serpent rises from the sea to be reunited with Fenric, the Doctor and Ace search desperately for a chess set – since Merrington ordered all on base be destroyed. They finally locate a terrified Kathleen, who happens to have one handily secreted in her suitcase (doesn’t everybody?) and, as Ace helps her to escape with her newborn baby Audrey, the Doctor sets a final puzzle for his ancient foe.
Alone and despairing, Fenric is joined by Sorin – who is intent on killing him until the revelation that he is one of the bloodline of the Vikings who carried the vase to English shores. The distracted soldier, like Judson before him, succumbs to Fenrics will and a new host is found. Bad news for Sorin but worse news for Ace, as oblivious to Sorinâ€™s demise,Â sheÂ unwittingly reveals the answers to the Doctors riddle.
A triumphant Fenric, reveling in his victory, reveals his identify to Ace and unveils her as another of his wolves – for the baby she has freed is actually the mother she hates â€“ typical! He orders her death, however her faith in the Doctor protects her – until he in turn reveals he knew all along of Fenricâ€™s manipulation. It transpires that it was he that orchestrated their meeting on the ice world (maybe he was responsible for that lower level I wonder – or he that convinced Mel to trade time travel for frozen food sales?). Her shattered faith leaves her vulnerable to attack, however rather than killing her, the Serpent – now briefed as to Fenricâ€™s evil intent – pulls the ancient one into a sealed chamber, releasing a lethal dose of gas and destroying them both.
The Doctor and Ace run to safety as the room explodes and Ace is left to reflect on her relationship with her mother and on her fear of water. Supported by the Doctor, she plunges beneath the waves, emerging with a smile: “I’m not scared now”, she announces â€“ unaware of the BBCâ€™s evil plot.
Companion character development is something we take for granted these days in Doctor Who – but it hasn’t always been the case. Ghostlight and Curse of Fenric really stand out for me in the classic series for genuine, demonstrable character growth, as the Doctor helps Ace confront her fears and demons.
The move/countermove between the Doctor and his evil foe, in addition to the manipulation of the pawns in their game, fits in well alongside the actual chess game that is a running theme throughout The Curse of Fenric and the Silver Nemesis.
A furious Ace finally confronts the Doctor for hiding the truth from her; “Itâ€™s like itâ€™s some kind of a game and only you know the rulesâ€¦ Tell me!” she screams.
The real McCoy – Sylvester – delivers a strong performance consistent with those throughout his final season. A change of outfit and a change of mood – darker and increasingly more mystical.
The Doctors physic barrier – created by reciting the names of his former companions and the faith he had in them – a touching and poignant momentÂ in a final season packed with them (the Master, the Brigadier, Bessie etc).
A great performance from the supporting cast – in particular, Nicholas Parsons – convincingly portraying the Vicars struggle with his faith, a product of the traumas of war.
Great imagery throughout – the Viking ship and scenes beneath the ocean that echo throughout the story and Judson reading the translated ancient text aloud as new scripture is burnt in the stone beneath the churchÂ leap out in particularÂ – powerful stuff.
Road signs – it does feel a little pedantic, but country side road signs and those depicting landmarks were removed or obliterated in 1940 to hinder enemy invasion.
Doctor Who in Superted – fine, Jon Pertwee is a legend and Spottyman a childhood hero.
Superted in Doctor Who – not in the 1940’s! Coincidence maybe, but someone really should have picked this up in the edit.
Ace’s hysterical attempts at luring a soldier with her feminine charms â€“ Daleks never made me hide behind the sofa, but this did!
The two ‘vampire’ girls beckoning the soldier into the water – well they’re not exactly the Vampires of Venice are they!
If you don’t own The Curse of Fenric, buy it – then go out and buy Ghost Light - you wonâ€™t be disappointed!
Overall Story Information:
Story Title: The Curse of Fenric
Production Code: 7M
Writer: Ian Briggs
Director: Nicholas Mallett / John Nathan-Turner
Script Editor: Andrew Cartmel
Length: 4 episodes (25 minutes)
Sylvester McCoy â€“Â The Doctor
Sophie Aldred â€“ Ace
Ordering this story: The Curse of Fenric was released on DVD in 2003 â€“ you can currently purchase this story from Amazon at over 50% off the cover price of Â£19.99!