Day 356 — December 22nd 2021

The Curse of Fenric Parts One and Two

Stop! Don’t panic! Put down your copies of The Programme Guide. No, you’ve not missed a couple of days. No, I’m not skipping some stories. The last two McCoy seasons were both swapped around before broadcast, resulting in them being screened in a different order to the one originally intended for them. In the case of Season Twenty-Five it’s not a massive issue — the biggest thing is that Ace is wearing Flowerchild’s earring on her jacket before they’ve ever been to Segonax. But Season Twenty-Six is more affected by the changes. The biggest thing is that in this story Ace tells Doctor Who all about the house in Perivale that used to creep her out… which is an odd thing to do given that as broadcast they’d just had an adventure there! I think this final season works better in a different order, so that’s what I’m going with.

You’ll also be thrilled to know that I’ve finally replaced my Blu-ray player, specifically so I could watch the extended cut of this one, because it’s a more satisfying experience. Only… well, I’m a bit of an idiot, you see. When I plotted out this marathon at the end of last year I ascribed two days to The Curse of Fenric, because that’s how long I’d usually need for a four-part story. As I was choosing which Blu-ray player to buy I decided that I’d do the entire Extended Edition today, and stick More Than 30 Years in the TARDIS in next week or something, to make up the lost day. Fine. Having checked the book and confirmed which disc I needed to watch, I stuck it in the player and was surprised to find it was still in four parts. Result! I must have mis remembered it being a feature-length edit.

No, I wasn’t wrong about that. What I’ve done is mis-read the booklet and watched the earlier extended cut from the VHS release, which gets its own disc in the Season Twenty-Six set. Apparently the Extended Edition I meant to watch is listed as an extra about halfway down the listing for the previous disc. It’s lovely having the option of all these different edits, but blimey it’s not half confusing! Anyway, I’ve done the first two episodes and it’s too late to turn back now, so…

One of the things which gets lost when this story is watched in broadcast order is the ‘reveal’ of Doctor Who’s new jacket, which was supposed ot be something of a big deal. John Nathan-Turner was so determined to keep it a surprise that he had them take the cream jacket on location with them to do a load of publicity pictures in. The jacket’s hidden away under a nice duffle coat for the first half of this episode, so it makes for a nice surprise when you finally get to see it. I always used to think the brown jacket was my favourite, but I’m not so sure these days. It’s nice, certainly, but I’ve come to appreciate the cream one more than I used to!

When I did Terror of the Zygons I commented on the fact that it had a completely different tone to Season Twelve, despite having been made as part of that run. I think there’s a similar thing on display here — right from the opening moments with the camera moving around under the water, this feels like a different atmosphere than any of the stories we’ve had in the last couple of seasons. I don’t know if it’s just down to having an all-location story as the season opener in this order, but it feels different. There’s something autumnal about the location which contrasts nicely with the sunshine of the last two stories.

As ever, being out on location makes all the difference to the production — there’s something very real about the setting which you just can’t replicate in the studio. The rooms are cramped and solid, and the locations feel nicely different to the places we’ve seen the series go for quite some time. It amazes me that it took them until the final run of the Old Testament to do a story set during the war — I suppose there’s an argument to be made that it was still so much fresher in the memory, but given the way the earliest Dalek stories lived in the shadow of the conflict this feels like we’ve come full circle. There’s also something really interesting about the idea that we’re doing the Second World War but without the Nazis as villains. It’s that age old Doctor Who thing of juxtaposing ideas for maximum impact.

I don’t have a lot else to add for this one, save to say that McCoy and Aldred continue to be a brilliant paring. I love the way they bluff past the soldiers by pretending to be in charge (it’s an extrapolation of Doctor Who’s plan from Silver Nemesis, and it works brilliantly), and at this stage it’s quite novel to see them arriving somewhere specifically because Doctor Who’s got a mission he wants to undertake.

7/10

I’ve been surprised by two of the cliffhangers now — in both cases because they’re not what I was expecting them to be! I thought Part One ended with the close up of the dead soldier’s eyes snapping open under the water, but while we get a couple of shots of him in the lead up to the end of the episode, he doesn’t open his eyes until a few minutes into this one. Then I thought this episode was going to end with one of the most iconic moments of the entire story — you know the one — but… no! Hah! I’m assuming, with all the pieces in the right place, we’ll be getting that moment early in the next episode. I think this story was cut to pieces in the editing, even more than most around this time, which means these moments probably were planned as cliffhangers at one time but ended up shunted around. A shame, because I think both of them would be better than what we actually got.

This is a brilliant episode for showcasing Nicholas Parsons as a guest star, and I think he holds up as one of the best se series ever had. I’m a fan of Parsons generally (I grew up near Norwich, so of course I am), but he’s especially good here. There’s several lengthy scenes which feel tailor-made simply to show him off as a performer — the reading from the bible and his chat with Ace are brilliant, of course, but it’s his first encounter with Phyllis and Jean which really works for me. The conversation about his loss of faith is marvellous, and it feels like another example of the different tone to this season. It feels like they’re aiming the show at an older audience again, but doing so with some brilliant characterisation and scripting. This sort of depth to a guest character feels like something we’ve not seen for a while, although they’ve been building towards it for some time.

The same scene also highlights that Sylvester McCoy can do anger when he needs to. I love the way he almost growls his lines at the girls and forces them to back off. It feels like quite a different performance to anything we’ve seen him do in the series so far, and it really works for him. He gets another brilliant quiet scene later on when he’s asked if he’s got any family and responds that he doesn’t know. This kind of thing is far more interesting and meaningful than any nonsense about some dark ancient Gallifreyan history which they’d been teasing in some of the last season. I love the version of him that’s slightly alone and lost.

I’ve found a lot to enjoy in this episode — I’ll be going with another 7/10 — but I’ll confess that I’m not a huge fan of all the Norse Mythology stuff. Some of it rings more of a bell this time than on any previous viewing (having recently heard the Norse Mythology episode of the brilliant You’re Dead to Me podcast), but it’s just not something which ever really grabs me. I think I recall being a bit confused by it all as the story goes on (I think some of the Heamovores are from the future, but they’re also the Vikings from the past? I’ll find out tomorrow, I guess…!), but it’s very much more the character work which is capturing my attention here, rather than the mythology stuff.

< Day 355 | Day 357 >

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Will Brooks

English Boy in Wales. Freelance Writer and Designer. Doctor Who Art for Big Finish, Titan Comics, Cubicle 7. TARDIS Fan. Pinstripe Counter.