The Curse of Fenric part 4

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  • #36060
    Craig @craig
    Emperor

    The chains of Fenric are shattered

    The final part. Fenric has inhabited the body of Dr Judson and has an old score to settle with the Doctor. The Ancient One is summoned from the sea and ordered to kill all humanity with the stockpile of chemical weapons.

    Rescued from a firing squad by the Russians, the Doctor, played here as a master manipulator, seeks out a chess set with which to challenge Fenric once again.

    Ace helps Kathleen and the baby escape, only to learn more about her past and that she’s been part of a larger plan all along. Shades of “The Impossible Girl” perhaps, with a bit of Amy and River thrown in. Certainly, it foreshadows the role of companions in the revival of Who after the gap.

    #36145
    PhaseShift @phaseshift
    Time Lord

    So we have a nuts Millington, and Fenric is now in the body of Judson. Escaped from the shadow dimensions where he was trapped by the Doctor “Seventeen centuries ago”.

    We can tell Millington is nuts because he orders the immediate execution of our heroes. In an obviously very localised rain storm, Ace faces death and pleads forgives from her Mum. Hurrah! It’s the Russians to the rescue! And Sorin is very taken with young Ace.

    Meanwhile, Fenric has ordered back-combed goth girls call the ancient one, and is having a bit of a field day with some melodramatic dialogue. Which gets interrupted and he comes up with a truly knowing:

    “Don’t interrupt when I’m eulogising!”. Great line and delivery.

    Apparently The Doctor trapped Fenric the last time through a game of of Chess. And so he wants another Chess Board. That’s difficult because Millington had them all destroyed didn’t he? Except his, which he’s booby trapped, and Ace and the Doctor almost become the boobies. Love the simultaneous dive work as they leg it to safety.

    I quite like the design of the ancient one lurching from the sea. Twisted and distorted, with suckers on its skin. I think the difficulty with prosthetics of this time though is that harsh light is not their friend. I think modern lighting techniques and an emphasis on darkness would have been friendlier.

    While alliances are forged between the “allies”, the rest of the camp is being converted. There goes the Cipher girls. I bet Kathleen will be glad she got the sack now. Nurse Crane gets hers, and it must be reassuring for Anne Reid to know that the Haemovores are about to convert her to a Plasmavore, and she’ll get to meet dishy number 10 in a couple of decades.

    Ace has stopped with Kathleen and her baby and there is time for a bit of heart to heart. Cue automatons on the internet huffing and puffing that this is getting a bit Soap Opera. Ace is, perhaps, starting to realise her past and youth are counting against her. The house she mentions is a call back to Ghost Light. Under attack, Ace sends Kathleen and her baby of to her Gran, whose address in war torn England she’s memorised. Which is handy, unlikely and suspicious simultaneously.

    She’s about to be munched by the undead when Fenric orders the ancient one to kill his creations. But Fenric is about to have a hard day by being confronted by the ultimate weapon – a chess board, and “the game of traps”.

    McCoys confronting of ancient one is good stuff. Seven had a silver tongue, and could often talk his enemies into surrender or simply killing themselves to get away from his talking.

    And then we get a series of hammer blows. I’ll acknowledge earlier concerns of the story in that it was complicated because:

    KA-POW!

    The Ancient One is about to create his own future timeline with the poison. This is a Paradox.

    Ace has time for the revelation that Pawns can join forces before discovering that Sorin is now fenric

    THWOCK!!

    Kathleen’s baby, who conveniently had her mum’s name, is her mum. Ace saved her own mother, thus ensuring her own future. This, again, is a Paradox.

    AAARRRGG!!!

    So Fenric (who has become the king of exposition by this point), trapped in the Dark Dimensions, as he was, has manipulated potential futures and past to bring these circumstances to a head. We now award writer Ian Briggs the Timey Wimey award.

    And so we discover that Ace was a pawn in the game of Fenric. Her unwavering faith in Doctor shines through. A lot has been written about the way the Doctor dismantles her faith, and the comparison between the scene between The Doctor and Amy in The God Complex. I’ll probably add some more later, but another old story Silver nemesis is referenced here. An arc, of sorts was in play.

    By destroying Ace’s faith in him, The Ancient One can enter play, and self sacrifice killing Fenric-Sorin with the poisons. Fenric hoist by his own petard, killed by the product of a redundant timeline.

    And we conclude with a great scene between Ace and the Doctor, discussing dangerous undercurrents, on the beach. Possibly one of the best scenes they filmed, I’ve always thought. The SE with the remixed soundtrack is fantastic.

    A Pleasure to watch.

    #36146
    PhaseShift @phaseshift
    Time Lord

    I’m surprised that, at time of writing, I appear to be the last man standing on this one. Oh well. I promised McCoy, when we selected his story, to do the decent thing by The First Scottish Doctor. I therefore present:

    The Legacy of Fenric (and The McCoy)

    I think Curse of Fenric isn’t my favourite 80s slice of Who (although I enjoy it greatly). I do think it’s the most important story of that decade though, and signalled a shift change in storytelling that had been going on behind the scenes for over two years. The end of a two year character Arc for Ace, with partnered with a Doctor of uncertain motivations.

    After the chaos of the Sixth Doctor run, JNT obviously felt weakened by criticism and stepped back from the publicity hound mentality. We had Sylvester McCoy who had ideas he wanted to explore, and more importantly a Script Editor, in Andrew Cartmel, who wanted to listen.

    You can criticise the execution of this period, but I’d hope you can admire the ambition and scope, because we are playing a very different ball-game here. There is additional characterisation with Ace, and not always admirable. We have call backs to old episodes, and the feeling we’ve been building up to something.

    As an arc, I suppose it’s similar to RTD’s initial attempts. Running themes and motifs that could be spotted, but from which the final answer couldn’t be deduced. The Arc in this period led to Fenric, a new character for Who with an unseen history with the Doctor. When RTD brought the show back to life in 2005 he peppered “BAD WOLF” about the place. No-one could have forseen “Rose absorbs the Time Vortex and becomes a vengeful God” from that. What’s funny about BAD WOLF though is that the internet comments on some forums was ablaze with speculation that this was a Fenric Manipulation. The Wolves of Fenric=Bad Wolf.

    We saw it again, and the trailer for Wedding of River Song, with its Norse looking alien playing chess with the Doctor. It led to the same speculation that Fenric was back. He’d manipulated the TARDIS destruction etc. I’d call that a win for a menace who’d only ever appeared in one story.

    I think ultimately the choice to make the Doctor a more secretive and manipulative being really paid dividends when the show was stopped. RTD contributed to the Seventh Doctor New Adventures novels with Damaged Goods, and there are definite hints of how the show would return in 2005 to be found in that book.

    More striking still is Steven Moffat. He contributed a short story to a collection covering all the Seven Doctors available at the time. He chose the Seventh Doctor, and it’s hard to think of any of his predecessors for whom that story would work. If you have, or fancy installing an .epub reader, you can download it here. Give it a go and you’ll almost find a mission statement for his later stories, through the medium of the Seventh Doctor.

    On a planet sized Library the Doctor and his companion, a future archaeologist (who is delighted to find her academic achievements have led to a mini-bar being installed in all archaeology sections) have individual missions. Hers to try to learn something about him, and he to get a book which is on the restricted list.

    To do this he has to navigate a sour Librarian, an intransigent foe who he sets out trying to change and “improve.” It’s intercut with extracts from a very funny lecture by a Professor Candy “Doctor Who? Nice guy or utter bastard?”

    Yep – it’s all there, the fascination with the name, questioning the morality of the Doctors lifestyle and actions. The Doctor being a “Complicated Space Time Event”. Read it now, and it’s very easy to see Eleven and River. But it works so well for Seven and Prof. Bernice Summerfield. It somehow seems right to know that when Steven Moffat first thought of a child asking “But what scares the Monsters?” it was McCoy that he imagined bursting in and gleefully declaring “ME!”.

    I think McCoy has a fine legacy that stretches way beyond these early TV shows, into his Big Finish works, and his period really did lead inevitably to the RTDs and SMs setting out their visions of the Doctor. Not bad at all. Cheers Sylvester.

    #36151
    Arbutus @arbutus

    @phaseshift     I watched it on Monday but haven’t had time to make a post until today. A nice finale to a great story, and I didn’t actually find it overly complicated (unless you count my inability to keep straight which stalwart military character is which!).

    Ace’s horror and panic when she is about to be shot feels very believable, as does her sweet moment with Sorin. In general, Ace is presented as someone who can think for herself. It had been awhile since we’d had a companion who could really do that effectively. When she accused the Doctor of keeping secrets (the Doctor lies?), you could almost imagine the Doctor thinking that his last few companions weren’t bright enough for it to have made a difference.   🙂

    Your comments about the story arc of McCoy’s last season remind me of my reaction to Silver Nemesis the first time I saw it. At the end of the story, I was vaguely irritated that there were things that weren’t explained. How times have changed. We’d be pretty cranky now if we were left with nothing to speculate about after an episode!

    I agree with your thoughts on McCoy’s legacy. I think it’s unfortunate that a lot of fandom has tarred him based on his first, rather poorly written, series (even the first story alone, which was probably the weakest). So many people had given up by the time of Ace’s arrival that his more complex, interesting Doctor got lost in the shuffle.

    #36162
    JimTheFish @jimthefish
    Time Lord

    @phaseshift — a masterful analysis of McCoy’s influence. And, definitely the template that sees us through the Virgin Adventures and through to the new series. There are certain stories in Who’s history that are crucial ones that define and guide the entire show — The Daleks, The Tenth Planet, The War Games, Genesis of the Daleks and The Curse of Fenric was the last of these until the new series.

    I loved those last few McCoy stories, to see a Doctor who was clearly not telling everything, who was often a bit of a bastard, even to his companion (in the cause of the greater good), who already saw all the pieces and just gave them a final nudge here and there to drop them into position. I had kind of expected Capaldi’s Doctor to be something similar but I think they’ve gone out of their way to emphasise that he’s not a particularly ‘in control’ Doc and I think that’s the right move.

    On the story in general, it’s a testament to this story that Fenric is so well remembered that he’s often held up as a possible returning villain, despite only having appeared in one story, and at the tail end of the show’s dwindling popularity. I’d love to see another Fenric story personally. And I thought Dinsdale Landen did great work as him — so much that I was sorry when Sorin became Fenric. Landen had him gliding malevolently about like Richard Dawkins on a bender.

    But as others have said, it’s nice that an entity dubbed Evil Since The Dawn of Time is so accommodating that he agrees to finish a chess game first. If only all the Doctor’s foes were so agreeable. Did the Daleks ever put their universal domination on hold until they’ve finished a grand slam snakes and ladders tournament. Maybe they’re just so bitter in the first place because no one ever invites them to play Twister at parties.

    #36209
    JimTheFish @jimthefish
    Time Lord

    One more final thought on the cultural relativism of the portrayal of the war in earlier episodes. I’d argue that part of the point of the story is that it seeks to contextualise WW2 as being part of a wider, ongoing conflict. The war, the Viking battles of centuries earlier, they’re all just minor skirmishes in the ongoing war between Fenric and the Doctor — it’s a conflict that exists throughout all time, the past and the future. Whether we find it acceptable that WW2 is used in this way — what with it being just about still in living memory — is open to question. But I’d say it’s fair enough.

    #36671
    ScaryB @scaryb

    Thanks @phaseshift and @jimthefish

    Great summing up.  The thing with Fenric, is that it was much bigger than it appeared from the outside!

    @arbutus Loved your comment – “you could almost imagine the Doctor thinking that his last few companions weren’t bright enough for it to have made a difference”   I was glad I came across Fenric when it was broadcast tho, more by accident than anything. I’d more or less stopped watching by this time. Although some of the script can be a bit heavy handed – the repeated question about who are the real monsters for example – the ideas in it, and the multiple layers, are great.

    The stockpiling of chemical weapons, the long timescale it incorporates, including Ace’s full back story since she first appeared, Fenric’s long lifespan, the DNA planted so long ago in Fenric’s “wolves” – including Sorin and Ace, the suggestion (as highlighted by @jimthefish) that all wars are influenced/caused by Fenric’s masterplan, the timeywimey solution of the Ancient One (who actually isn’t even born in this time) taking his future/destiny into his own hands – a very Doctor Who characteristic of the monsters not always being what they appear. And the concept of faith as a protective force.

    No problem with the mystical power of a chess board – of course the game has to be played and of course the board catches fire when the game is over! Chess is like that. See Bergman’s brilliant Seventh Seal (which I presume is an influence). And of course was revisited by 11, in Wedding of River Song and Nightmare in Silver.   There were a few (oversized) chess pieces spotted around Coal Hill School in series 8.  I liked Fenric’s line that the doctor “pulled bones from the desert sands and fashioned them into chess pieces”.

    #36674
    ScaryB @scaryb

    Also wanted to add – the extended version on the DVD is well worth a watch. Extra footage is about 12 minutes in total, and includes eg a scene showing that the Doctor and Ace have indeed been spotted when they first materialise in the camp, and are being tracked from a distance.

    And in the random way of these things, Tomek Borkowey, the actor who played Sorin, now lives in Edinburgh and runs a Fringe venue and an arts production company. He’s still friendly with McCoy and proud of having been part of Dr Who.

    #36675
    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip

    Okay, finally been able to catch up with Episode 4.

    I’ve not much to say that others (especially @phaseshift) haven’t said. I’d agree that this is an important story; mainly because it was one of those stories in Series 26 that made you think there was more to come.

    And then, there wasn’t. But if the show had ended on Trial of a Time Lord, I don’t think it would’ve ever come back. Instead it ended on the McCoy/Cartmel era, where they’d found a direction and had stuff they wanted to say. Despite the low viewing figures (they were placed against Coronation Street), it gave everyone the feeling of a series abruptly cancelled, not one that had come to a natural end.

    Very much the multiple layers that the AG Who would take up. Together with massive time loops, people creating themselves, clues to something you couldn’t possibly guess in advance, and a Doctor who really wasn’t human. At all.

    @jimthefish Evil Since The Dawn of Time is traditionally obsessive about stuff. The story about the mismatched socks is a Pratchett invention, I think, but you can certainly delay a vampire by leaving a heap of millet at its grave (if Chinese, try a sack of rice). Possibly the Doctor reckoned chess was more classy. 😉

    #55623
    Chris Biffen @chrisbiffen

    The 7th doctor has so many stories if you count the novels that came out after ’89. It would be awesome if more were made into episodes like the human nature novel was with David Tennant. I also wish they would give the 7th Doctor a bigger cameo in New Who and not just the group shot in the 50th anniversary special.

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