My random walk through the TV reign of the Seventh Doctor continues with The Curse of Fenric. Written by Ian Briggs this is a rich story that combines plenty of themes, is a treat to watch as much of it is shot on location and gives plenty of Ace’s back story. It isn’t all perfect – my memory from the time is that I didn’t watch all of it and it might have benefited from better costumes. That aside, there is an enormous amount to like.
In a lazy mood I will refer the reader off to the BBC Classic Series guide. In particular Peter Anghelides is quoted from Doctor Who Bulletin (DWB) #73 (January 1990) as saying:
Was it a discourse on the morality of warfare – questioning the rights of the Allies to bomb Germany into submission fifty years after the event? Was it a lurid spy drama about double-crossing the Cold War enemy? Was it a vampire story of the first order? An eco-thriller cashing in on the green renaissance? An investigation of Ace’s background? A traditional Doctor Who monster thrash? The culmination of the seventh Doctor’s mysterious and omnipotent opposition to an unknown evil force? Well, actually, it was all of these. Blink and you’d miss one.
I’m not going to argue. It’s a rich story as I said with influences from Alan Turing, we have a proto- Bletchley Park (most of the story of Bletchley has emerged since Fenric was made), there are Russians on a dangerous mission, women in a hut listening for messages and a code breaking machine.
We also get a lot of Ace’s background – this was meant to be the first broadcast story of the final season and it closes down Dragonfire and has a nice time loop on Ace’s relationship with her mother. It gives us Fenric the arch-manipulator and the chess theme. This is a key story and evidence of the Cartmel Masterplan at its finest.
It also gives us the powerful, angry tension between Ace and the Doctor that can bubble up at right at the climax of the story. It also gives us an older Ace who is not a little girl any more.
I also liked the combat sequences and have to again wonder why Battlefield is so weak in this regard.
The weaker parts
I mentioned the vampire / haemovore costumes already, if you ignore them then there is a straight line to the performances in Vampires of Venice that leaps straight out.
I was disappointed with the chess element. I am sure it is hard to make chess dramatic (ask Andrew Lloyd Webber) but as a crucial battleground between Fenric and the Doctor this disappointed.
The biggest surprise
[pullquote]Parsons is a revelation[/pullquote]
Since the 1980s I have learned that Nicholas Parsons can act – not only the Rocky Horror Show but also, more recently, the Wireless Theatre’s Springheel Jack. At the time he was more known for comedy on Radio 4 and being a quiz-master. He is tremendous here with an understated, solid portrayal of the The Rev Mr Wainwright. The character may be familiar but Parsons is a revelation.
So, it’s a tremendous story and costs very little on DVD. Surely you’ve got a copy?