Dimensions in Time
Doctor Who [Enemy Within]
The Curse of the Fatal Death
A Special for Comic Relief
10 minutes each
|Dates||Mar. 12, 1999|
|Link||See it in RealVideo!|
With Rowan Atkinson, Julia Sawahla,
amd Jonathan Pryce as "The Master."
Written by Steven Moffat.
|Synopsis: The Doctor is played by BlackAdder... need more be said?|
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 13/3/99
If it is viewed as what it is, a parody, then The Curse of the Fatal Death is a highly enjoyable piece of Doctor Who. If you were to compare it to the earlier charity outing of Dimensions in Time, then The Curse of the Fatal Death wins on points. Dimensions in Time was a piece of nostalgia, but this is a piece of comedy.
Rowan Atkinson nicely underplays The Doctor, whose characterisation is both smug, insightful and McGannesque, and he is ably supported by Julia Sawahla as his companion, who seems a little like Sam Jones without the long speeches. Jonathan Pryce steals the show as The Master, who is reminiscent of the character of Soldeed, yet overacts like Anthony Ainley and looks like Roger Delgado.
The plot sees The Doctor lured to the planet Terserus by The Master, who is in league with the Daleks. Here they plan The Doctor`s final death... What is noticeable about The Curse of the Fatal Death are the production values ,which are certainly up to the standards of the McCoy era, even if the Time Rotor of The Master`s TARDIS does move in an alarming fasion. Add to this injokes a-plenty, incidental music from the series` past, three great cliffhangers and some big surprises in the final episode, and The Curse of the Fatal Death is an absolute joy to behold, proving that Doctor Who can do comedy just as well as any sitcom.
And all for a good cause as well....
A Review of the video release by Jamas Enright 22/10/00
I like this story. I see it as comedy Doctor Who, not parody, which was the intention. It's a sketch for Comic Relief, and forgive me for forgiving them the sin of not catering to the obsessed fan's taste. Though I am an obsessed fan myself.
Rowan Atkinson works well as the Doctor, giving him an air of confidence and compassion that all Doctors have, as well as portraying the romantic side, which obviously has developed since the McGann Doctor. And, of course, capable of impeccable timing in humour and an infinitely flexible face that Rowan has naturally.
Wonderful cameos for the other Doctors, Richard E. Grant, whom I remember from Hudson Hawk, Jim Broadbent, whom I admit I don't know, Hugh Grant, an actor I do admire, and the lovely Joanna Lumley, whom I prefer to remember for Sapphire and Steel as opposed to Absolutely Fabulous. Now there could be an interesting link with the Elementals.
Julia Sawalha plays a decidedly stronger female companion, although I find her accent to be rather grating after a while, although she plays second fiddle to the Doctor well.
But the show is stolen by Jonathan Pryce, who goes completely over the top as the Master, and yet remains entirely in character. If anyone is the Master, it is Jonathan Pryce. And he has very nice breasts, er...Dalek bumps.
The story itself has a wonderful mix of corridors, enemies, and death-defying situations, but mostly, of course, humour. Some of the jokes are over worked, and some don't work at all, but most of them find their mark and score a smile.
One of the more anticipated features of the video was the behind the scenes look at the making. And it lasts about as long as the actual story! Rowan Atkinson only says one line, or rather one word, "Welcome", at the beginning of the documentary, and that's about it for him. Rather a down side, as it would be nice to hear him talk about his views of Doctor Who and playing the Doctor in particular, but I've heard that he doesn't really do that sort of thing. Pity.
However, the other six main actors are more than ready to spill the beans. Richard E. Grant confesses to not really knowing what he's doing, nor really much of a Doctor Who fan, but since he's 'lick the mirror' gorgeous, I'm willing to let him off. Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant and Joanna Lumley, despite their brief appearances, are clearly Doctor Who enthusiasts and we get to hear, briefly, about their growing up with Doctor Who and how they prepared for the role of the Doctor. And they'd all like to play him (or her) again if possible, except Jim Broadbent who demurely turned down the idea.
If you need a reason to buy this video, it is Jonathan Pryce. Throughout the documentary, he stays in character as the Master, and insists on being addressed as such. He is the one person that kept me watching the documentary. His air of dignity as he says, for example, the line quoted above, is a sheer joy to watch.
All the fluffs feature Jonathan Pryce in some way. Watch for him speaking in Welsh. Even when lurking behind Steven Moffat, he plays to the camera. This is the man that really carried the show.
Well, maybe that's a little biased, but once you've watched the video, you might find yourself inadvertently agreeing.
The French and Saunders skit was reviled by Doctor Who fans, but I'm guessing that those were the same fans who hated the Comic Relief sketch, as I found it rather funny. It is over long, but it's more of a parody of the making of any cult TV show, of which Doctor Who was merely an convenient example. So, not really Doctor Who, but not a bad use of it for their point either.
At a mere 70 seconds, the Victoria Wood skit is very short, and for that I'm glad. I found it very confusing, and just didn't get it. I know of someone who is a big Jim Broadbent fan, and loved it, but for me it didn't work.
The third skit is very Lenny Henry, and is more of a piss-take on Doctor Who than the Comic Relief sketch was thought to be. It features plenty of technobabble and running up and down corridors, and Cybermen! I like Lenny Henry, and thought this was very funny, and rates first out of the three.
A Review by Tammy Potash 3/1/01
For goodness' sake, don't watch this if you are on any sort of intoxicant! I viewed it stone-cold sober and I nearly needed oxygen due to laughing so much.
I was amazed how professional it looked. The opening sequence, the superb-looking Daleks and the Doctor's TARDIS console all looked borrowed from the show itself. Hardcore anoraks such as myself will notice use of familiar incidental music from Caves of Androzani and Logopolis. It astonished me that they actually went and got the Dalek-voice people from the real series.
The only problem with Jonathan Pryce as the Master is that he's so good, one wishes he could do it for the real show, only now he can't because no one will be able to consider him as a serious candidate. He was absolutely amazing, chewing on the scenery as if it were his own private buffet. His is the Master we should have gotten for the telemovie. And let's face it, anyone who can keep a straight face when dealing with the Dalek enhancements and the sewer trapdoor bit has my admiration. As a video-game RPG fan, I have spent what seems like 936 years in sewers myself... His costume is great, too.
I'm not the world's biggest Rowan Atkinson fan, but he gives a competent performance, with no cringeworthy moments, and one really great sneer. Costume is adequate but not special.
Both Grants as the Doctor were fun. Hugh Grant actually seems like a viable candidate for a series revival, if we can't get Derek Jacobi. Joanne Lumley answers the age-old question of the Doctor as a woman with a resounding No. Broadbent was an unknown to me who was thankfully shortlived.
The script is a delight, other than a few questionable decisions such as the communication method of Tersurus (!) and a tendency to beat certain jokes into the ground. Which jokes? I'll explain later... There is a reference to the Doctor's companion, (who is listed in the credits as The Assistant, poor girl, and is never named on-screen, though the box says she's called Emma) as being "the only *time-traveling* companion I've ever had" which seemed like a set-up with no follow through; I had thought this was going to be used to rescue the Doctor somehow...
And after the feature, you get interviews (Pryce's is the best) and bonus sketches. The producer's referring to a Dalek as "the King of Terror' made me wonder if the title of Keith Topping's PDA isn't better than we're giving him credit for. Lenny Henry as the Doctor is a delight, but the long sketch by French and Saunders is entirely too long and not funny enough; I was hoping for sonething to make fun of TOATL, as that's how the set is dressed, as is one woman who is costumed as the Inquisitor. And could someone please shoot the closed-captioner? Captioning for these tapes has always been a problem, with them not knowing how to spell Gallifrey, and now Silurian is consistently butchered.
All-in-all, it's great fun indeed, and well worth your twenty bucks. Yes, it's costly for such a short tape, but it's for a good cause.
A wonderful spoof by Tim Roll-Pickering 21/7/02
The Curse of Fatal Death is an unashamedly proud spoof of Doctor Who, sending up the complicated technobabble, the avoidance of explanations, the single-mindedness of villains, the pointlessness of certain developments and so much more. But it does so in a way that makes it clear the production team still care for the series and wish to celebrate it, not mock it. Consequently the whole affair is highly polished and in no way an embarrassment to the series.
Looking back it now surprises me that Rowan Atkinson's name hasn't been more widely suggested as a potential Doctor. Whilst it is true that he is best known for his comedy work, this factor didn't stop William Hartnell or Jon Pertwee proving successful in the role, whilst many other artistes best known for their comedy work before and afterwards have given strong serious performances throughout the series' history. Wisely Atkinson plays the role seriously, contrasting effectively with Jonathan Pryce's Master and so the comic drama holds together a lot stronger than in many attempted spoofs. Julia Swalha appears as Emma, a companion who serves little more purpose than to ask questions, show how clever the Doctor is, look pretty and, in an interesting development, become the Doctor's love interest. Jonathan Pryce is cast as the Master and he takes every opportunity to steal each scene, sending up the part no end. The Daleks are also used and wisely there's no attempt to make jokes about their supposed inability to go up stairs but the design of their ships and their inability to actually kill the Doctor when they get the chance to are sent up instead.
A lot of elements of the story are lifted from stock, most obviously the music which sounds like a collection of tunes from various 1980s stories, but for a charity production this is to be expected. What's surprising is the way in which the only cheap sets are the two TARDIS console rooms with their hyperactive time rotors whilst everything else is on a par with the BBC series, if not always the most functional. Even the title sequences are a rehash of existing elements, with a few additions mixed in. Interestingly the credits on the video credit "Dalek's Voices" [sic] - presumably a clever homage to either "Yate's Guard" in The Green Death or the camera script that reads "The Dalek's Master Plan". Normally such a thing would be dismissed as a mistake, but the care and attention given elsewhere suggests that this is a deliberate detail for those who spot it.
This spoof takes the bold step of having the Doctor decide to retire and marry his companion, and then later he regenerates into a female body. Both of these moves had been speculated about by fans for years and so it is touching to see an attempt to work them into this spoof. Neither seems especially out of place amidst a tale of aliens that communicate by farting and villains getting trapped in sewers for 936 years, though in the regular series it would be more difficult to carry these off without skilful writers and editors. More surprising are the regenerations. On the original transmission these new Doctors were truly unexpected, and the opportunity to see Richard E. Grant, Hugh Grant and Joanna Lumley finally play the role, if only for a few moments, is spectacular. Jim Broadbent has already played the Doctor once before in a Victoria Wood sketch (included on the videotape) but he gives a good performance nevertheless as a shy Doctor and gives a decidedly different take on the role from his earlier attempt. Of course this makes it harder to accept The Curse of Fatal Death as absolutely canonical given the status quo at the end (the Daleks renouncing evil, the Doctor in her final incarnation and going off with a reformed Master) but nevertheless it makes for a good attempt. Now if only Big Finish could lure at least one of these Doctors to do an audio adventure... 9/10
A Review by Finn Clark 7/2/07
On the face of it, there's no reason why this should have attracted as much attention as it did. It's just another comedy sketch, no different to the likes of Lenny Henry's one in the mid-eighties with the Cybermen and "Thatchos". Of course it has lots of star names, but that's Comic Relief for you. No, back in 1999, everyone was excited because it was only the BBC's second televised Doctor Who story since Survival. Certain fans thus took the whole thing far too seriously and drew inferences about the BBC's motivations which were almost as funny as the sketch itself.
Today what's most interesting is that it's written by Steven Moffat. Apparently he and certain other production team members were quietly proving a point to the BBC, showing in those pre-Eccleston days that Doctor Who didn't have to be a Hollywood movie. It had almost no money, but it looks great. However history has stripped away any such manifesto qualities and left us with an minor curiosity. It may no longer be important, but it's fascinating.
There are two criteria worth mentioning: (a) "is it funny?" and (b) "is it Doctor Who?" The answer to both questions is "yes", but I'll start with the first one. It's funny. It's very funny. I laughed out loud at the dung slugs and the Master's trapdoor. The all-star cast is terrific... there's a reason these people are at the top of their profession, you know. Jim Broadbent can't do much with the characterisation he's been saddled with, for all of his three seconds of screen time, but everyone else is wonderful. Richard E. Grant comes over about 10000000000 times better than in Scream of the Shalka, while Rowan Atkinson is Rowan Atkinson. Need I say more?
My only nitpick with the comedy is that I think Moffat missed a trick with the Daleks. Put some faith in the metal meanies. Daleks can act! Just watch them in New Who, or back in their debut in 1963. Their body language can speak volumes and they're so full of attitude that they could drive an entire comedy series single-handedly. Here they're oddly sidelined, but if you give them enough story space they're comedy gold. The one that accidentally pushes the Master down the trapdoor for the third time could have done it deliberately, for instance, simply for laughs.
However I love Jonathan Pryce's Master. Like Sir Derek Jacobi in Scream of the Shalka, he's clearly the best thing on show and incidentally showing the Doctor-Master relationship in a light we hadn't quite seen before. I don't just mean the comedy ending. Throughout there's a relationship between them that's closer and more familiar than anything we'd seen since Pertwee and Delgado. They're old friends, although they're trying to kill each other. The key is that Pryce and Atkinson know they have to play the relationship for real to get the laughs. Despite all the toilet humour and fart jokes, oddly Jonathan Pryce can seem less camp than some of his predecessors in the role and less so even than his Bond villain in Tomorrow Never Dies. It was this story that convinced me that the Master is a glorious role to play, transcending the character's admittedly shallow roots. Let's face it, the Doctor isn't exactly the most deep or sophisticated character either, but that doesn't mean he's not watchable.
Of course that's just one example of this special's Whoishness. The music is ripped straight from the series, offering something for all generations with both Dudley Simpson and Resurrection of the Daleks. It's bloody loud, though! The Master looks great, crucially having the correct beard, while the Daleks even have a nifty extermination effect that you won't see in the Eccleston series. Admittedly, as often with parody, occasionally it's clever but not funny. "These corridors all look the same" falls into that category for me. However "I'll explain later" made me laugh, especially from the Dalek. As I said before, Daleks are funny!
However I'm afraid I can't give Steven Moffat a free pass for the manifesto stuff at the end. It's acceptable as an unashamed "heart on sleeve" love letter to Doctor Who at a time when it had been dead for a decade and looked likely never to return... but today it feels a bit corny. Oddly the Master's subsequent renunciation of evil works. There's something fitting in a Milesian Adventuress of Henrietta Street way about it, especially given their relationship as seen previously in the episodes. The way they go off together at the end... personally I enjoy this sketch as a Master story. Some of my favourite takes on the Master have been non-canonical, such as Scream of the Shalka and even that Destiny of the Doctors computer game.
However the Daleks' reunciation of evil... no. They look awesome and they're undoubtedly the all-time greatest Doctor Who icon, but I'm not a fan of how this story uses its Daleks.
It's a time-twisting story, as often with Steven Moffat. The Girl in the Fireplace is just one example, with others to be found in Decalog 3 and the Doctor Who Annual 2006. I've spent a lot of time talking about this story, but at the end of the day the most important thing is that it's funny. "You're the camp one." It knows and loves Doctor Who, it does things we'll never see in a regular story and it makes you laugh. When's it coming out on DVD, then? As an extra for Survival, perhaps...?