Doctor Who episode 695: The Curse of Fenric – Part One (25/10/1989)
‘This is it. The final battle between the gods and the beasts.’ It’s the most convincing Halloween episode since State of Decay, even if most of it takes place during the day. As with Dragonfire, it’s a melange of references, particularly to Dracula. And like most great Doctor Who it juxtaposes modern (for 1942) computers and machinery with ancient runes and Viking curses. It’s got POV shots of an unseen something hunting a terrified man along the beach, and the promise of ancient evil returning to haunt the present. It’s as much a race memory of Hinchcliffe Doctor Who as Remembrance of the Daleks was for the UNIT era.
Not all of it makes much sense: I can buy the British intelligence office dressed as a German cipher room so Millington can get inside the Nazi mindset, and even Russians deciding to speak in heavily-accented English while wearing Soviet uniforms. I struggle with the Doctor forging his credentials in plain sight of Judson and Crane, and Judson’s sudden flip from not wanting the Doctor to give away too much about the Viking runes when they’re in the crypt to, a few scenes later, seizing Wainwright’s translation of the runes as ‘invaluable’. But generally, it’s an exercise in mood-setting and atmosphere, and the moments of the Doctor and co. reading the translation of the Vikings’ blighted journey from the east over shots of bodies bobbing in the deep are very good.
It’s a shame this wasn’t directed by Alan Wareing, who I suspect could have brought out these qualities even more, and might have made some different choices to address some of the oddly jarring moments (like Ace’s extreme reaction to the name ‘Audrey’), but regardless this is a strong opening episode, setting up the idea of the Russians wanting to steal a treasure and in so doing apparently reawakening the ancient curse.
Next episode: The Curse of Fenric – Part Two