Doctor Who episode 697: The Curse of Fenric – Part Three (8/11/1989)

‘You always know. You just can’t be bothered to tell anyone. It’s like it’s some kind of game, and only you know the rules.’ Again, the choppy TV edit constantly teeters on the brink of collapsing into a mess. Luckily, it’s shot on location in period costume rather than on outer-space sets with glittery costumes, because the dialogue and plot isn’t much advanced from Dragonfire’s (and I like Dragonfire).

Admirably, Ian Briggs is trying to give Sophie Aldred good material, but in short order this involves her falling for Sorin in the fastest romance since Mel decided she wanted to shack up with Glitz; childishly complaining about not being able to make an explosion; reacting entirely bizarrely when she sees Kathleen is upset (‘What’s the matter? I’ll do anything!’), suddenly laying into the Doctor and then, incredibly, attempting to seduce a guard. It’s impossible to take any of this seriously, especially with dialogue as absurd as, ‘What can you see?’, ‘Undercurrents bringing things to the surface.’ Luckily, the story is so packed with uncanny moments that Ace just becomes part of the weirdness: stick these scenes in Battlefield and the audience would be in stitches.

Being edgy, Briggs also shows that Wainwright’s questioning and doubtful CofE Christian faith is no match for the vampires, while Sorin’s absolute faith in the Bolshevik revolution leaves them screaming. I suspect this hasn’t aged well: it’s hard to imagine anyone these days having much time for a hero with absolute faith in a totalitarian regime (still less a modern Socialist defeating the vampires clutching a red rose and chanting “Tony, Gordon, Ed, Jeremy”). Conversely, Wainwright’s humanitarian distaste for war and the escalation of atrocities by whichever side claimed to know what was good and right is the kind of thing that would make him the hero in a modern drama, rather than the hapless victim he is here. Still, it was the 1980s and Cartmel’s avowed intent was to bring down Thatcher: no room for wets or fellow travellers.

Fenric3

Several elements conspire to make this really quite good and memorable, not least the elements themselves, with the gloomy skies and thundering rain providing an appropriately grim backdrop. McCoy plays it brilliantly, too, injecting a welcome bit of deliberate silliness when he drops a box on his foot in the crypt, and is slow to spot Ace carrying ‘the oriental treasure we’ve been looking for’. The besieged church, the proto-Buffy fight on the roof, the effect of the melting tunnel door are all brilliant, while the crescendo of chaos leads into an absolutely superb cliffhanger as the paralysed Judson rises up to declare, ‘We play the contest again, Time Lord’.

Next episode: The Curse of Fenric – Part Four

One comment

  1. Pingback: Doctor Who episode 696: The Curse of Fenric – Part Two (1/11/1989) | Next Episode...

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