The title of this 1968 serial alone sounds suitably scary, so it’s pleasing to state that this is one Doctor Who ‘classic’ that just about lives up to its name; with the dangers and horror on a par with the rest of the stories that surround it (Yeti and Cybermen and Ice Warriors, oh my!). At times, creepy, at times, unsettling, it’s not as tension-filled as it should be – which is probably down to it being a six-parter and, therefore, requires padding to expand the relatively simple storyline – but it manages to unnerve on several occasions.
Of course, if you’re a Doctor Who fan of old, you’ll know that this is one of the many missing stories that the BBC, in their infinite wisdom, ‘junked’. So, aside from a few recovered clips that had been trimmed by censors to make it less scary for an Australian broadcast (and, really, who would have thought they would make their programmes less scary? They gave us Neighbours and I still haven’t mentally recovered after watching so many mullets in one suburb), this is mostly an audio only affair. However, there are ‘telesnaps’ (photos of the broadcast that were taken at intervals during the show), which show what characters, sets and the monster of the week look like. So, although it is a lost show, it does have visuals and audio to show us exactly what we’re missing!
This is the story that introduces us to the Sonic Screwdriver, a device that the Doctor will come to be synonymous with. It’s a sort of throwaway thing, which makes it quite astounding that it’s brought back and beefed up time and time again. Here, it simply unscrews an inspection hatch on a gas pipe. Whereas, nowadays, it emits a green light, has doubled in size and is whipped out more frequently than a companion falling in love with the Doctor.
I’m sure there’s an allusion to be made here for what it is a substitute for, as it also cures virtually every one of Matt Smith’s problems as the Eleventh Doctor; so it’s safe to say that size does matter when it comes to your handy tool.
The story starts off, as most Second Doctor stories do, with the Time Lord and his companions (in this case Jamie and Victoria) getting captured. You’d think, by now, they’d just walk out of the TARDIS with their hands held high, expecting the inevitable. But, being as the TARDIS lands hovering on the sea, they’d have met with a watery greeting. Instead, they use a rubber dinghy to row to the shore. There’s a nice little exchange in the conversation about how they are always landing on Earth, targeting England in particular, which shows that the programme was already addressing regular fans and second-guessing what they would be thinking; just that simple bit of dialogue proves that they were aware the audience were not just children too, as it would more than likely be the adults pointing out such things.
We are into the story pretty quickly, as our intrepid trio come across a large gas pipe which appears to be emitting a heartbeat (this creepy sound effect is used brilliantly throughout). It’s then that they are captured and taken to the refinery itself, as the beach was private property. Exposition abound, they are soon witness to the real problem here and then treated to the perpetual ‘base under siege’ plot that Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor stories seem to love so much.
Giant, living seaweed may not sound like the most exciting of monsters but it’s realised brilliantly by tons of foam, a hauntingly disturbing electronic sound-score by Dudley Simpson, and by the actions of the actors who come into contact with it. Whilst fans seem more desperate to see other stories recovered that have been lost, the clamour for a discovery of Fury From The Deep should be very vocal. The small clips alone are disturbing and shocking, especially as this was televisual family entertainment on a Saturday teatime. By the look of the clips and the existing telesnaps, you can tell that Hugh David (the Director) really put some thought, imagination and verve into this story.
All of the cast are well-cast and give strong performances, which helps elevate the script by Victor Pemberton. (I always wonder why those writers who have written ‘classics’, and who are still alive, haven’t been approached to at least attempt a ‘New Who’ story, regardless of whether it was used or not. Obviously, the pace and timing of the story is different from the truncated, squeezed form that the Ninth to the Eleventh Doctor have received but a writer who can write well is usually able to adapt and change to the medium they choose).
Patrick Troughton (Second Doctor) and Frazer Hines (Jamie McCrimmon) are often overlooked in any reviews of their stories but I think that’s because they are universally excellent throughout all their stories. An instant camaraderie and friendship on-screen was mirrored off-screen too and it really shows through. Nowadays, TV companies would be snapping them up to work together again after Doctor Who but, sadly, they never seemed to cross paths professionally again. It also helps that they are very natural actors, who are at ease with serious melodrama or silly comedy. Deborah Watling (as Victoria Waterfield) isn’t so easy to like but I’ve never been sure whether that was the actress being inexperienced or the one-note characterisation of the role. She exists simply to get into scrapes and to scream at anything and everything. I always imagine she must wake up screaming every morning. Either her nerves have been rubbed raw with sandpaper or she’s got a serious psychological disorder that causes her to be frightened of her own shadow. In fact, she’s almost like a little child, looked after by her father and brother in the TARDIS.
But, ironically, it’s this incessant screaming and fear of the unknown that becomes the selling point of this story, as it is her amplified vocal reverberations that cause the seaweed to retreat and return to the sea. She also gets a dignified exit too, as she decides to stay on Earth with her adopted guardians, Frank and Maggie Harris (played by Roy Spencer and June Murphy, as the characters who you engage with the most aside from our TARDIS trio); having said how much the travels have affected her. Unlike many of the other companions in the ‘classic’ series of Doctor Who, she has a proper arc to her disaffection with her travels and her decision to stay somewhere (and with a substitute set of parents) that makes perfect sense. At least she didn’t get married off to a minor character on a whim or killed off pointlessly trying to eradicate the dinosaurs.
The stand-out performances of the remaining roles are definitely John Abineri as Van Lutyens and Margaret John as Megan Jones, both outside officials who come into the situation and try to sort out what’s going on. Their battles with the authority within are well-realised and intriguing – both seemingly impotent to stop what’s happening.
But, all in all, it’s Mr Quill and Mr Oak who steal the show completely (both infected by the seaweed and acting as its agents, breathing poisonous gas out of their mouths and generally sabotaging everything they can get their hands on), played by Bill Burridge and John Gill respectively. They sound like a pair of James Bond villains and they certainly could have been well utilised pitted against 007. Fury From The Deep has a spy thriller feel to it, with high-speed chases, helicopters and oil rigs a-plenty. It’s like a black and white forerunner to Diamonds Are Forever, with the Second Doctor’s woollen hat in place of James Bond’s woollen wig. The little and large nature of Mr Quill and Mr Oak, and their heavily expressive faces (augmented by make-up that almost makes their faces look like theatre masks of the Commedia Dell’Arte style) proves to be a winning combination. They loom and creep and attack like the living embodiment of the foaming, enlarging seaweed.
In the end – spoilers! - and unusually for a Doctor Who story, everybody lives. It might be a great line from a joyous Ninth Doctor story (“Just for once, everybody lives!”) but it’s very relevant here, especially as we see so many people taken over by the weed and turned into walking zombies; assuming them to be the walking dead. Victoria, whose screams defeated the monster that so terrorised them all, is depressed in defeat and it’s the final scenes that show real adult poignancy and drama as she leaves with the Harris’s, abandoning the Doctor and Jamie on an already abandoned beach.
They’ll soon pick themselves back up again, with the arrival of Zoe to make them a trio again but, for now, the sparse dialogue and beautifully framed final scenes show how much they’ll miss their frightened friend.