The televised/video release version
The Curse of Fenric
DVD Special Edition
|Released||Released on DVD in 2003|
With Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred.
Written by Ian Briggs. Script-edited by Andrew Cartmel.
Directed by Nicholas Mallett. Produced by John Nathan-Turner.
|Synopsis: The Doctor discovers that the origins of a WWII English village are linked with an ancient Viking curse and an even older enemy.|
Special Edition Review by Paul Rees 15/10/03
There are, by my reckoning, at least three different versions of The Curse of Fenric now doing the rounds:
The first thing to say is that we do get extra footage - particularly of the Haemavores creeping around in the graveyard, as well as a very nice shot of the Rev Wainwright agonisingly gripping his Bible with the Church rising up behind him (for some reason, I found that shot to be particularly striking.) The extra scenes would, I suspect, be more remarkable had we not already had access to an extended version - but the Special Edition is, if you like, the extended-extended-edition. So, maybe there isn't all that much which is new to us, but what there is is certainly welcome.
We also have some nifty examples of reediting here: in the original version, for example, the shot of the Haemavores killing Miss Hardacre lingers for just a little too long. Here, it cuts off earlier, with her scream carrying over into the next scene. Very effective, and very spooky. Similarly, when Ace is confronted by Fenric towards the end, her inner turmoil is now accompanied by a series of flashbacks. I'm not generally a fan of flashbacks, but in this case I think it works very effectively: it's as if we get inside Ace's mind, with the rapid succession of images underlining the theme of 'undercurrents' which echoes throughout this story.
Through the marvels of technology, the Restoration Team have finally managed to conquer the distinctly variable British weather. The original recording of Fenric was rendered difficult by the rapidly changing weather conditions: here, the whole thing has a more uniformly gloomier and murkier feel. It adds to the gothic atmosphere of the story, as does the increased amount of rainfall which now accompanies Fenric's awakening. Most notable on the meteorological front, however, are the swirling mists which we now see engulfing the graveyard and drifting along the beach. Atmospheric, indeed.
The music has also been tweaked. It's still the same recognisable score (one of my favourites, incidentally) but it has a more up-to-date feel to it. Various sound effects have also been added: in particular, the sounds accompanying the Doctor's fending off of the Haemavores in the Church crypt are ten times better than in the original version. Even more impressively, we can actually now hear the Doctor recite the names of his companions. That extra clarity makes a big difference with regard to the comprehensibility of that particular scene.
Just as we get some extra aural pleasure, so we have some visual treats also. The burning-on of the hieroglyphs is now achieved through an effect worthy of Hollywood; it's as good as anything we saw in the 1996 TV Movie. That's really the only piece of CGI technology which I immediately noticed, but I'm assured that there are plenty of others to be found throughout the story. I'm sure fans will be enjoying that particular easter egg hunt for many years to come.
There are, however, two areas in which I feel that the new version is actually inferior to either the broadcast version or the 1991 version. Firstly, the structure is totally different: gone are the four 25-minute episodes. Instead, we have an omnibus edition which, for me, is too long to watch in one sitting ( I ended up watching it in four 'episodes' anyway). And, secondly, Ace's "look, Doctor - dangerous undercurrents" line is missing from the final scene. Apparently, this was for technical reasons and, whilst it doesn't weaken the significance of that particular scene, it just feels a little odd.
But, overall, the Special Edition is highly recommended. In my earlier review of Fenric, I scored it at 9/10; this edition scores higher, at 9.5/10.
A Review by Rob Matthews 2/11/03
There seems to be a big resurgence of anti-McCoy feeling these days, and I'd imagine this story, just out on DVD and long held a classic of the Cartmel - or indeed any - era, is well overdue for a good kicking. Well, detractors can kick away, but they won't budge my opinion on this one an inch. With trimmed scenes restored, copious production notes and a very revealing interview with writer Ian Briggs all included on the DVD, I have a higher regard for this one than ever.
There's a few obstacles in the way of fannish enjoyment of this one - back in '88-89 Andrew Cartmel and his bunch of new Who writers decided to give the stagnating show a bit of a shot in the arm and try out some new directions. The main impulse, it seems, was to restore mystery and danger to the Doctor - this idea has oft been referred to as the 'Cartmel masterplan', but looking at those stories now I'd say the approach was far too scattershot to be referred to as such. It was more a sort of let's-throw-things-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks impulse. Some writers thought the Doctor was some kind of associate of Rassilon and Omega (the Other was never mentioned on screen), some thought he was a messiah figure, some thought he was madder than his enemies, and Andrew Cartmel would most likely have come perilously close to making him something akin to God himself, had there been a season 27. At least that's the impression I've got from some of his interviews.
But by now, 2003, many years of novels and audios have passed with no further really big changes made in the conception of the character, and with most of the Cartmel-era developments in fact long since painstakingly reconciled with the 'bored Time Lord' backstory with which fans are generally more comfortable. I think a lot of people are starting to see the Cartmel/McCoy years, with their often frenetic attempts to peel back another layer of the onion, as some kind of abberation. 'I like my onion as it is!' they say. Well, metaphorically anyway.
Well, I say there's room for all sorts of vegetables in Doctor Who, and I don't really care if they don't all mix well in a salad. Just enjoy the side servings, say I.
Now, I'll admit Curse of Fenric has a few problems if you're looking at it with a literal mindset. There's a lot of why-did-this-make-that-happen stuff (which I'll leave it to some other fastidious soul to expand upon). And it also has a major stumbling block right at the core of the story itself - it's Silly. you know, all that 'evil from the dawn of time' nonsense.
What it has in abundance is imagination and ingenuity. Ian Briggs claims that the story developed from a single image -
The Blitz, bombs falling everywhere, and in the middle of all this chaos and destruction, the Doctor and his old enemy calmly playing a game.
It's a striking image, and it's very much to Briggs' credit that that's almost exactly the way I've always remembered this story. In fact, the scene that generally comes to mind for me is that one in the middle of episode four, the Doctor finishing setting up the chessboard, Fenric strolling in and asking 'Where is the game, Time Lord?' as the Doctor smirks. This happening right in the middle of all this chaos and destruction, like the eye of the storm. It's like that 'playing chess with Death' image from The Seventh Seal plonked right into the middle of Picasso's Guernica, an utterly starting contrast. And for me it's all made more powerful by the mystery - It's never made clear how the Doctor and Fenric are bound to the rules of this game, just as it's never clear why Fenric chooses this point in time to 'let the chains shatter' or why those new inscriptions suddenly write themselves on the wall in episode 1. I know there are people who'll disagree with me on this, but IMO a story of this sort shouldn't explain those things - the Doctor and Fenric are too alien for that. They're gods or elementals or what have you, they're operating on a level we can't see or comprehend. Me, I like it that way. All apologies.
What makes this single striking notion work is the thoughtfulness and care invested in the material from which it emerges. Andrew Wixon has perceptively pointed out that there's a veritable car crash of subtext come episode 4, but for me it's that dense layering of interrelated themes which makes this story endlessly rewatchable - you can see it differently each time, enjoy the subtleties - Wainwright's horrifying use of the word 'love' coming as a chilling payoff to the Reverend's 'crisis of faith' scene, Kathleen Dudman receiving the letter about her husband's death shortly after we've seen two army officers locked into the tunnel with the Haemovores, almost as an illustration of the consequences of violence, wondering exactly what the details of Judson's 'accident' were. I hadn't realised before that Briggs had ran with the Alan Turing parallel to the extent of writing Judson (and Millington) as homosexual, but the 'cripple' metaphor is an intelligent piece of symbolism ('I'm not an invalid, I'm a cripple. I'm also a genius, so shut up') and the imagery extends interestingly to the remark the Doctor makes about Ace in the big climactic scene.
Millington is still the character who makes this effective for me. I've made this comment before, I know, but he's a really haunting illustration of the sheer banality of evil. The... crapness of the man as he abandons those soldiers to their deaths with his bloodcurdling little tale of how 'the screaming finally stopped', buggering off with his relics and mad-yet-dull dreams of power; his casually truculent smirk as he kills the doves and imagines the destruction of Dresden; his clapped-out mien even after Fenric has arrived on the scene, too carelessly hubristic to even notice his dark god takes virtually no notice of him. He's a cross between Alan Partridge and Adolf Hitler (who I believe also took mad old legends literally), and very much the way I imagine your average BNP member. S'matter of fact Millington, Judson and Wainwright would each on their own be Doctor Who supporting-characters of an unusual depth. That they all appear in the same story makes it quite remarkable, for the eighties or any other time.
Thanks to the restoration of trimmed scenes, Fenric himself in the 'special edition' takes on something of a different aspect. Here he comes across more overtly as a kind of sarky, effete interdimensional sadist, more obviously corresponding to the Doctor's view of him as someone who revels in playing games. It also occured to me for the first time that the Doctor's hurried explanation of Fenric in episode 3 may not be the complete truth. The Doctor is after all very unwilling to tell Ace what's going on, and it's possible that when she puts the pressure on him he simply comes up with a pat 'cover story'. It's rather interesting to watch what follows with that idea in mind. It's one way of seeing the story anyhow.
One way amongst many - that, in my final analysis, is the beauty of the thing. It's incoherent in detail, yeah, but rich in characterisation and ambition. The novels sanded down the edges and perfected 'adult' Doctor Who, which is perhaps why in retrospect some of this serial seems a bit heavy-handed. But fucking hell, two years after Delta and the Bannermen, the closest Doctor Who has ever come to being a movie (thanks for that one, Joe!), even though filmed in less than three weeks with the pressure constantly on to get it in the can? I think this is an amazing piece of television. Absolutely amazing, and it's a fantastic tribute to director Nicholas Mallett that we can see it in full at last.
We play the DVD again, Time Lord. And again and again.
Mission Accomplished by Jonathan Martin 13/1/04
What can I say? I have now well and truly seen the REAL Curse of Fenric! This extended special edition has taken a can or two of nitro-9 and blown my critisisms of the TV episodes out of this dimension.
I couldn't tell you for the life of me what footage has been added in, but the whole thing is now perfectly paced, and the great performaces, writing, and direction have now been given the glory they deserve.
What's funny is that I still think McCoy and Aldred give no more than average performances, and yet they manage not to sink like stones in the midst of the talent around them.
Praise is often heaped upon Nicholas Parsons as the Vicar, but to me it's Dinsdale Landen who steals the show. I was very sorry to see him vanish towards the end, as Tomek Bork manages none of his intensity.
And Fenric still gets better as it goes along. After the first episode it loses it's "We're being so terribly clever" attitude of Aaronavitch's Remembrance of the Daleks and Battlefield, and sticks to telling a damn good story in a fast-paced exciting way, that DOESN'T leave the viewer an episode behind.
My one little critisism is one pointed out by Paul Reese in his review. Why the movie length? You can feel the ebb and flow of the beginning and ends of episodes... it just doesn't feel right, and like Paul I watched it in four blocks anyway.
The new CGI effects make little to no impact, but then they were pretty good to start with, and indeed during the McCoy era as a whole. I can't wait to see this inclusion on some some earlier era episodes though.
This DVD release has made Fenric my favourite seventh Doctor story after Greatest Show, although I admit to having highly regarded stories such as Delta & the Bannermen and Silver Nemesis still to view.
See this extended edition, and trust me, you'll never go near the transmitted version again!
A Review by John Seavey 7/7/04
Well, I watched both the regular and special editions of this... and I have to say, I thought it was really weird that they added the scene where Greedo shoots first. :)
Seriously, it'd been ages since I'd seen Curse, in any edition, and I was surprised at how much less I liked it than the last time I'd seen it. There were still enjoyable bits... but 90% of them were in Part Four (actually, 80% of them were at the end of the Special Edition, and were missing entirely from the broadcast version.) Parts 1-3 (or their SpecEd equivalents) were very slow, and a lot of the stuff they dealt with they merely alluded to, hinted at, and gestured towards... only to have nothing be done with them because everyone dies in Part Four. I realize that this is the theme of Briggs' story, that there are undercurrents to everyone's personality... but it does mean that not much happens, plot-wise, and most of what does gets tied up by killing off the people who are doing it. The Russian plot to steal the Ultima machine? Kill off Millington, Judson, and most of the Russians to deal with that. The haemovores? Die! Fenric? I never noticed how uninteresting a villain he was, but I suppose it makes sense, since he doesn't show up for the first three parts. Then dies. The Reverend Wainwright? Died. The girls who killed him? Died. Ms. Hardaker? Died. It's just long periods of people making cryptic statements, then dying! (And why are the Russians all speaking English, apart from saving money on subtitles? It can't be so nobody knows they're Russian... they're wearing hammer-and-sickle insignia, for God's sake!)
But the good bits remain utterly classic. The Doctor fending off haemovores by whispering the names of his companions... Sorin, holding up the hammer-and sickle and fending them off with the Revolution (and an added bit in the Special Edition, where they attack him after he's given it to Ace, only to discover that the faith can exist independently of the object)... the cliff-hanger, "We play the contest again... Time Lord,"... a few of Fenric's lines in the Special Edition, including, "How English. Everything stops for tea,"... and, of course of course of course, "Kneel, and I let the girl live." "Kill her." Downright mythic. The moment that defined Sylvester McCoy's Doctor. (Although again, on rewatching it, I'm struck by the fact that if he'd kneeled, Ace's faith would have been probably shattered that way too... but I suppose the Doctor knew Ace better than I do. :) )
On the whole, not the classic I remembered, which really suprised me... but still, there's just some damn great moments in it.
A Review by Terrence Keenan 16/8/04
(Oh hell, here he goes again....)
I know the obvious question is to ask why I would buy the Fenric DVD after demanding the cast and crew be covered in honey and staked naked over anthills?
One, I'm a completist. Two, even though I'm an army of one against many who love Fenric, I've always felt that maybe this time I'd get it, and finally learn to enjoy Fenric, or at least make peace with it.
Okay. Methinks there are two ways to take a story which seems to have a lots of good ideas working for it, but somehow gets lost along the way. One way is to salute the effort and appreciate the story for what it might have been. The other approach is to slam the story for making a big mess of good ideas and trying to figure out what went wrong.
And I know the exact moment where Fenric goes wrong... a little phrase called "Evil from the dawn of time." Any script editor worth his salary would have cut the line from the initial script stage and bitch-slapped the author for coming up with such a lame idea. Now why is "Evil from the dawn of time" so bad? Because, by default it labels our hero "Good from the dawn of time." And there's no way of getting around that. So a complex, shades of gray, two powerful aliens having a last go round, gets reduced to a childish morality play based on Manichean Concepts. Arguments have been made to rationalize or justify the "Evil" label, with a common one being it's shorthand for Ace's benefit and that the Doctor isn't telling the whole truth. The Virgin line of novels made him part of the Lovecraft mythos. But it doesn't work for me. "An old and nasty enemy" would have sufficed and also kept Fenric on the mysterious side, because calling Fenric "Evil from the dawn of time" limits the character as well. Might as well call him Satan and get it over with.
Anyhoo... the special edition movie version adds a few moments the clarify a few of the really bad plot gaps, but don't add much in the realm of character. But, what really dawned on me while watching this extended version, is that Fenric really should have been told in a flashback form. Picture an opening scene with the Doctor setting up a chessboard in a rubble-strewn warzone, calm, unoccupied. The camera pushes in and the Doctor greets his nemesis and ask whether or not he's ready to play the game. And off-screen voice says yes, and the Doctor makes the first move on the chessboard. From there, we flash back to the main narrative of the story until we reach the climatic chess game. It just seems to me in a era where Who was pushing away from conventional plotting, a flashback story would have fit in well.
I'm not going to rant about the acting, because even I would get tired of typing in that many vulgarities, except to say that Alfred Lynch, who played Millington, looks like he's reading every scene off of cue cards (And I do mean every scene). And Ace's distraction scene features Sophie Aldred's worst acting moment ever. And.... (MUST STOP NOW.... FOAMING AT MOUTH!).
The two-disc DVD does come loaded with extras, including a very insightful interview with Ian Briggs, the author of Fenric. Alas, he never explained the rationale for my big bone of contention. (Maybe it's Andrew Cartmel who needs to be bitch-slapped for it.) However, he does go into the original Fenric concept -- part of my point about being a flashback story -- and touch on some of the deeper levels he hinted at in terms of character.
Y'know, I didn't make peace with Fenric. It's mainly because I'm not that all enamored when Who takes on big mythic enemies (despite wordy psuedointellectual essays on the subject). As to why, well, when I figure that one out, I'll let you know. In the meantime, I'll just have to maintain my lone crusade of ranting about the awfulness of Fenric.
A truly special edition by Michael Hickerson 31/8/04
"You know what's going on, don't you?"I'm not generally a big fan of special editions. If the film or television program was good enough in its original form, I don't see the point in going back, updating it the special effects or changing entire plot points from the original. This reaction even extends to the process of colorizing old movies -- if it was made in black and white, it should remain in black and white. (Hence why I can praise the Restoration Team for restoring the color to the old Pertwee stories that were only available in black and white -- color is the way these stories were meant to be seen!)
"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. You knew all about that inscripiton being a computer program, but you didn't tell me. You know all about that old bottle and you're not telling me! Am I so stupid?!?"
"No, that's not it."
"Why then? I want to know!"
"Evil, evil since the dawn of time..."
"What do you mean?"
"Will you stop asking me these questions?"
"The dawn of time, the beginning of all beginnings. Two forces, only good and evil. Then chaos. Time is born, matter, space. The universe cries out like a newborn. The forces shatter as the universe explodes outwards Only echoes remain, yet somehow, somehow the evil force survives... an intelligence of pure evil."
"And that's Fenric."
"No, that's just Millington's name for it. The evil has no name, trapped inside a flask like a genie in a bottle."
--Ace and the Doctor.
Over the past decade or so, several high profile filmmakers have seen fit to go back and tweak their classic films into "special editions." George Lucas did it was the Star Wars trilogy (I've heard he'll make even further edits when the movies finally hit DVD in a few weeks), Steven Spielberg did it to ET and they even went and made a longer version of Apocolypse Now. In each of these cases, I'm not sure getting the "special edition" treatment really made that big a difference. It didn't necessarily make the films in question any better and in some cases, it made them a bit less (Greedo shoots first?!? Come on!)
It also makes things far more interesting for the hard-core fans, who want to possess every possible edition of their favorite movie or TV show. Bringing out a special edition means we'll have to shell out our hard earned cash, again, to update our collection to this new version that the director or writer thinks is better for us.
Thankfully, the Doctor Who Restoration Team gets it.
They have the technology to update the DVD releases, giving them super new special effects, but yet, for the most part, they choose not to do it. Sure, they've done some updating for stories such as The Ark in Space, Dalek Invasion of Earth or Earthshock, but, for the most part, these are left as an extra on the DVD. It's something that's fun to look at now, but part of the joy of being a Doctor Who fan is the tatty special effects and bad model shots from all those years ago. Having digitally done Daleks running about would be something close to Greedo shooting first... it just can't and shouldn't happen.
But then, along comes a story like The Curse of Fenric. Admittedly, this is my favorite Doctor Who story of all time, so it's hard to really come to it and be as critical as I normally should be. But I'll say this -- it's one of the only times when a special edition actually makes the original viewing experience better. When I first saw the story in 1990, I was amazed at how good it was, but I will admit that the first episode of the original edition was a bit too choppy for my liking. The editing was too quick and it jut felt as if the Doctor and Ace moved about geographically too quickly. If anything, Fenric seemed in such a hurry to set us up for the great stuff to come later that the first episode suffered as a result.
After that, it was sheer brilliance as the plotlines Ian Briggs introduced slowly began to play out on screen, culminating in the final battle of wits between the Doctor and Fenric and the betrayal of Ace.
Fenric was so popular among fans right out of the gate, that it was quickly pushed into the rotation for release on VHS. But it wouldn't just an episodic release of the story. Instead, JN-T took the footage that was cut due to time and released an extended edition. Now, we had a truly definitive version of the story -- episode one was less frantic, more calm. We got a clearer understanding of things in episode four and along the way, we had a few nice moments added in as well. And it had all the cliffhangers there, including my all time favorite, "We play the contest again, Time Lord!" to end the third episode.
In my mind, the extended edition was the perfect version of Fenric.
And it was the one I strongly feel should have been released on DVD.
However, the Restoration Team had other plans. With the DVD release of Curse of Fenric, we got the best of both worlds. We got the original, episodic version of the story, complete with a choppy episode one, bad on-screen captions and all the cliffhangers and then we also have a super deluxe, extended movie-edition special edition of the story that keeps much of the extended edition, drops a few things and adds in a few other scenes I'd not seen before. Also, some of the order of scenes are switched about to make the story flow more evenly. Personally, I'm not a huge fan of movie format Who, but apparently director Nicholas Malett felt that some Who stories like Fenric would work better in movie format. For me, the jury is still out -- especially since the production notes indicate the author Ian Briggs intended this story to be four episodes, built around three cliffhangers (there was talk of making it five episodes).
What we get is a verison of Fenric that is 12 minutes longer and still very entertaining. Is it the definitive version? I still have to give that edge to the VHS extended edition, but only because I like my Who with cliffhangers. But the rest of this special edition is just flat-out brilliant from start to finish. We get a newly done 5.1 sound for this one, some updating of the special effects and some reordering of scenes to make a bit more sense and flow better. About the only glaring error I can find is that in episode four, Fenric comes off as a bit stupid when he sends the two girls to summon the Ancient One twice within two to three scenes. But other than that, the special edition of Fenric is just that -- special. And it won't taint your love of the original version in the least. In fact, this DVD will make you appreciate the story that much more.
The story is a complex one. As Ian Briggs points out in one of the many great little DVD extras, it's all about the subtext. It's about characters growing up and things buried deep down coming to the surface -- both literally and within the characters. It's all about just how far the Doctor is willing to go to win and it's the perfect example of just how dark the seventh Doctor could go. It's also the turning point of the McCoy years -- with Ace finally getting fed up with the Doctor's game and demanding an explanation. Fenric is full of great scenes and the confrontation between the Doctor and Ace is one of the best ever done in Who. It also sets the stage for the NAs.
Now, I know there was reaction to the NAs going too "adult" but I'd argue that trend had already begun in Who. Both Ghost Light and The Curse of Fenric show a new, adult edge to Who. It's all there in the subtext -- from the questions about Millington's sexuality to the two virgins going out into the water. There are questions within questions and Briggs' script wisely doesn't come out and force answers upon us. It assumes the audience has half a brain and can figure these things out, something I've always admired and respected about this story.
And it creates such memorable, well-defined characters.
Even a one-dimensional victim like Ms. Hardaker gets some shades of gray. We see her be an unbelievable hard-ass to Jeanne and Phyllis, but yet we also see her enjoy the music. The story sets up a lot of characters who will be killed off over the course of four episodes -- just about all the principles in the story but the Doctor and Ace die. But the story's brilliance is that we come to have strong feelngs about these characters before they go -- in some cases, we're sorry to see them go, but in some cases, they've got what's coming to them.
It's also a story about games. Up to this point, we've seen that the seventh Doctor is the master of manipulation and playing games. But it's here that we see how far he'll go. He arrives into events set in motion, but he actively manipulates events and people to play his own game. He's not even above playing Ace. We saw that in Ghost Light and we see it here -- especially in one of the added scenes to the DVD -- after the Doctor and Ace escape the firing squad, the Doctor tries to find out why Ace said something about her mother. Indeed, the only terribly obvious part of this story is the baby is Ace's mother, but Briggs uses it so well, that in the end, you don't really mind.
All in all, The Curse of Fenric is Who at its best and always spectacular.
And the DVD of this one is nothing short of spectacular. As the defnitive story from the McCoy years, this is the defnitive DVD release from the McCoy years. On disc one, you've got the original episodic vesion and then on disc two, you've got the newly enhanced special edition. I can say this -- I watched both editions relatively close together and loved every minute of both. You won't be bored by either edition of Fenric and it's one of those stories that I come away from watching eager to see it again. So, seeing these two great versions together was a treat.
The extras are up to the usual high standard of excellence for the Restoration Team. The audio commentary track features Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred and Nicholas Parsons, who played Rev. Wainright. I've stated before that I think the best tracks come from a combination of folks who worked on the story -- both in front of and behind the camera. But this one clips along well enough and is entertaining enough to keep me interested all the way through.
Some of the comments made by the team about the relevance of the story today with the threat of biologial weapons is a bit chilling. Of course, there's the requisite text track, which reveals quite a few things about the story I didn't know -- including that it was scheduled to air first in seasons 26. I viewed both the commentary track and the text track at the same time and it was amusing how the two tracks would bring up the same comments and information within a few seconds of each other. Also, listening to both, you gain a large measure of respect for the work that went into Fenric. Based on all the havoc going on behind the scenes -- espeically the weather -- it's amazing that the story turned out as great as it did.
I do wish they's had a commentary from some people behind the scenes for the special edition. I heard this was planned but had to be scrapped at the last minute due to time constraints.
The DVDs are also jam-packed full with a lot of other extras. One fascinating feature examines the Who production team scouting out locations for the story. It's odd to see the backgrounds that become Fenric before they become part of the story. Also, there is some discussion of the masks used in the story and some of the special effects. All of them are worth a look, though I'm not sure how much long-term replay value they'll actually have.
There's also a music only track on the episodic version of Fenric, which is good if you don't have a CD of Mark Ayres' brilliant score.
But the real highlights of the extra are those that look at the story in greater depth. We get a nice little discussion with author Ian Briggs about the story, the subtext, etc. This is fascinating to watch and worth the price of admission. Of lesser interest is a panel of some of the cast and crew at Nebula 90. Not terribly enlightening in terms of the rest of the extras, but it's intersting to hear how much fun the cast and crew had making this story. But the real highlight is an extra that looks at the hows and whys of making the special edition. I have to say I found this compelling and interesting to watch. Part of it may be that this is my favorite Who story of all time, but I think it's mostly that it's fascinating viewing.
Indeed, with all the great extras, The Curse of Fenric may be the best Who DVD to date. It's got two great versions of one great story and a wealth of fascinating extras. It's worth every penny to get this new edition and it's one that I'm glad to see in my Who DVD collection. Curse of Fenric is now my new gold standard of excellence for Who DVDs.
Which, since the story itself is my gold standard for Doctor Who stories, is not really that surprising.
A Review by Finn Clark 21/9/06
I'd only ever seen the original broadcast version of this. Not only had I not yet watched my extended DVD edition (2003), but I'd never even seen the less-extended VHS version (1991). Did I prefer it? To be honest, until the equivalent of episode four I didn't see much difference. Until then the extra scenes are mostly just filling in the gaps. It makes things easier on the audience, but personally I like having to work and draw inferences. I also like the episodic structure and cliffhangers. Nevertheless in any version this is still a strong story and I there's only addition that I dislike: the flashback when Ace gets told the truth about baby Audrey.
Most importantly, it works as a horror story. In 1989 the Haemovores scared me. Even now I think they're among Doctor Who's most effective monsters, since they're such a direct threat. They don't pussyfoot around. They want to eat you! This kind of straightforward bloodlust isn't as common as you'd think. Other examples might be the Daleks on rare occasions, the Vervoids (which I also rather like), the Yeti, the Autons, the Krynoid and maybe the anti-matter creature in ,a href=plane.htm>Planet of Evil. These guys don't want to talk. They're just death on legs. I like that! It gets a bit unconvincing when we have to watch the Ancient One's mouth approximately flapping along to its dialogue, though.
Sylvester McCoy does good work, too. I like his energy and unpredictable focus. Look at the scene where the Doctor faces down the vampire girls. Sylvester sells it, summoning the necessary disgusted authority. Similarly watch him with that "evil since the dawn of time" speech. Most actors would play it sonorous and doom-laden, as do Judson and Millington with their Viking translations, but instead Sylvester chooses something more passionate and urgent. It's different, but compelling. For me he's a more Doctorish Doctor than certain others who were merely good actors playing a role.
I also like his relationship with Ace, which this time is even important to the plot! Interestingly it's not without sharpness. There's mutual understanding and fondness, but the Doctor can sometimes seem like an irritable teacher who knows he has to be strict with an unruly child. Fortunately he's not always serious about it.
Of the other performances, Nicholas Parsons is a piece of JNT stunt casting that really works. It's easy to be impressed by Wainwright's courage and dignity. I particularly like the character's final stand... not so much the actual vampire confrontation but the shot beforehand of him standing in the mud, waiting for them.
Commander Millington is creepy. Only Jean and Phyllis let the side down, being annoying enough to make you side with Miss Hardaker. Amusingly the old bat is completely right about everything, even if the language with which she expresses herself is a tad intemperate. I can't put all the blame on the actresses, though. Ian Briggs made Ace unbearable in Dragonfire and he seems to have a problem with writing teenage girls. Here he overuses the phrase "baby doll" to the point where you want to scream, then gives Ace that infamous mock-seduction scene. It's dire. I honestly couldn't look at the screen, which I think makes it the single worst moment in all of televised Doctor Who.
Admittedly, Ace's relationship with Sorin is good, but that was created by the actors and had nothing to do with Briggs. It's also amusing that having fallen for a "kick out the darkies" fascist in Remembrance of the Daleks, here she goes to the opposite extreme. Long live the Revolution! Well, you can't say she's not open-minded.
The story isn't as deep as it thinks it is. I groaned at "good and evil, two sides of the same coin," not to mention all that bollocks in Ace's mock-seduction scene. It's like teenage poetry. Amazingly it's even worse in the novelisation. Religion and evil are powerful elements of the story, so it strikes me as bone-headed to undercut them simply because you don't know when to shut up. I still like the story, but I could have lived without the Not So Deep And Meaningful Thoughts of Ian Briggs.
I couldn't help wondering how a machine deciphers Viking runes. Foreign languages are more than just codes! Can Judson speak 9th century Norse, or is Fenric playing more mind games? A sillier goof is Audrey's Superted.
Nevertheless for every little grumble, there's something brilliant. Kathleen Dudman is wonderful, never failing to add a human dimension. She makes the history real. There's her daughter, her husband and of course her friendship with Ace, which provides what's probably the best culture shock moment in all of Who. "Well, you can stop thinking it, all right?" It works so well because Ace is just saying what we were all lazily thinking too.
The story's tension reaches its height in the last episode. Fenric is a lovely villain with some delicious lines, especially in the extended edition. Then there's the classic scene: "Kill her." There's still nothing else like it in Doctor Who. The entire Cartmel era would be worth it for that alone. Curse of Fenric is perhaps the best story in McCoy's best season, although personally its lack of Stephen Wyatt has always inclined me towards Season 25. It's not flawless, but its corresponding strengths are impressive. It's ambitious, convincing and scary! Great stuff.
Don't Go Into The Water by Joe Briggs-Ritchie 5/8/09
When one compares Season Twenty Four with Season Twenty Six, the difference is staggering. I can't imagine that there are that many people who would be prepared to say that Season Twenty Four is high quality. I find it barely watchable. Time and the Rani is probably the best story - which doesn't say very much for the other three stories. Paradise Towers is rubbish, Delta and the Bannerman is a truly excruciating piece of drivel and Dragonfire hovers somewhere just around watchable. The fact that two years later they were producing stories of this high calibre is all credit to the production team. The Curse of Fenric is so far away from anything in Season Twenty Four that it's almost as if you're watching two completely different series. It's one of the finest stories in Doctor Who's history and one can easily place it alongside Genesis of the Daleks, Pyramids of Mars or The Caves of Androzani.
And what of the DVD Special Edition? Well, I can wholeheartedly recommend it. The scenes are allowed to breathe more, merely by being extended by a few more moments and it really adds a sense of dramatic and artistic energy to it. The additional material just makes you appreciate it all the more. There's that lovely little touch when Sorin starts sharpening a wooden stake. We later get to see that he has indeed used the stakes on two Haemovores up on the church roof. The additional CGI effects are also a nice touch. The fact that they've change the episodic format into a feature length one means that you get the feeling of watching something really special.
The Curse of Fenric is a real character piece. Sylvester McCoy's portrayal of the Doctor has really changed since his first season. He's so much darker and more subtle than he originally was. I think McCoy is absolutely fantastic in this. He has such a knack for convincingly portraying the really profound stuff; for example, the scene where he explains to Ace about "the dawn of time, the beginning of all beginnings". I love the way he instantly takes control of the situation when the soldiers ambush him and Ace at the start of part one. McCoy has taken a lot of criticism from fans but I'll have none of it! I think he's a fantastic Doctor and always was. This is possibly his finest portrayal of the character.
As we all know, this story is one of those that gave rise to the New Adventures, of the idea of the Doctor as Time's Champion, a shadowy manipulator more interested in the bigger picture, the grand scheme of things. So, stylistically speaking, it's hugely important in the history of Doctor Who. Sophie Aldred is very good in this. I think it's her best performance as well. That scene where she screams at the Doctor to tell her what's going on is, in my opinion, one of the defining scenes between a Doctor and a companion. All the other characters are first rate. Nicholas Parsons just blows me away every time. He portrays Wainright as a tortured soul. He stays behind to confront the Haemovores almost as if he's trying to prove to himself that he still has his faith. But he doesn't have enough faith left and the Haemovores kill him. It's a tragic scene. Millington comes across as a haunted character, albeit a barking mad one. He's obviously round the twist and he becomes more unstable as the story progresses. Dinsdale Landen is good as Judson but he's superb as Fenric. Seriously sinister. I love that scene where he has the Haemovores kill Nurse Crane. I think it's quite ironic that Anne Reid plays a character who ends up being drained of blood and then in Smith and Jones she was cast as a character who is draining blood from others. Janet Henfrey is always good at playing vicious old battleaxes and she doesn't disappoint here. It's actually satisfying when Jean and Phyllis kill her. Tomek Bork brings a lot of humanity to the part of Sorin and it's actually quite sad when Ace finds out that he's been possessed by Fenric.
It's basically a period piece and you can always count on the BBC to produce delightful-looking period pieces. The attitudes and sensibilities of the period are spot on, such as the scene where Dudman gets annoyed with Ace for insinuating that she has a child out of wedlock. Visually, it doesn't put a foot wrong. The clothes, uniforms, hairstyles... they're all utterly convincing. The Haemovore costumes look amazing too. Anyone who says that all the monsters in classic Doctor Who looked unconvincing really needs to watch this. The scene where they rise up from the sea is instantly memorable and stands alongside similar scenes in The Sea Devils and Full Circle. And, in typical Doctor Who style, they are immune to bullets. Doctor Who has always had a predilection for debunking magic and mysticism in favour of science and rationality, and here we are presented with Haemovores instead of vampires. The Doctor quickly dismisses the story of Dracula and explains that Heamovores are what humans evolved into thousands of years in the future. Instead of being afraid of holy objects such as Bibles and crucifixes, it is the faith of the person carrying the object which creates a psychic barrier and drives them away. Without that faith, a Bible is merely a book, as Wainright discovers to his cost.
It's been commented upon on countless occasions that The Curse of Fenric bears many similarities to John Carpenter's The Fog. Well that's because it does. A small coastal town, undead creatures coming in from the sea, descendants of local people being afflicted with a curse, a troubled vicar, an item being found sealed up in the walls, undead creatures attacking the local church etc... The Fog is also one of my favourite films, so I'm not complaining! There are just so many wonderful scenes in The Curse of Fenric: the Haemovores attacking the church, the dead Russian soldier opening his eyes underwater, the Haemovores emerging from the sea, Wainright confronting Jean and Phyllis but not having enough faith and being killed as a result, Judson having the Haemovores kill Nurse Crane, the "TELL ME!" scene, the Wrens being transformed into Haemovores, the confrontation between the Doctor, Ace, Sorin and the Ancient One... The list goes on.
Mark Ayres' music is superbly atmospheric, easily one of the best scores in the show's history. It has a distinctly military rhythm at times which is wholly in keeping with the story. The fact that it manages to take on an orchestral profundity even though it is essentially just synth is all credit to Mark Ayres' skill as a composer. I have to say, though, I would like to know what those things are that people keep finding on the beach. It's never really explained. I don't think it was very clever for Petrossian to drop his rifle either.
Easily one of my favourite stories. I'm sure many people would agree with me.
The Best Story Of The McCoy Era Gets Better by Matthew Kresal 22/1/12
There is a saying about going out on top. Sylvester McCoy (and indeed Doctor Who itself) found itself coming to an unexpected end in 1989 with some of the original series best stories. Of those the best of them would be The Curse Of Fenric. With this DVD release, this classic story is seen not only in its original form but in an expanded "special edition" that presents the way it was originally intended. The result is a unique release of what I consider to be the second best Doctor Who story ever.
Any good production must have a good cast and this one has one of the best of the series. The performances start with the regulars: Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor and Sophie Aldred as Ace. McCoy gives his single best Doctor Who performance in this story as he strikes just the right balance between his more comedic Doctor of season 24 and the more serious Doctor of season 25 and earlier in season 26. Just look at the final episode (or the last half-hour of the special edition) to see McCoy at his best. Sophie Aldred also gives one of her best performances as Ace. This was the middle story of what has become known to fans as the "Ace Trilogy" (the other two stories being Ghost Light and Survival) due to their heavy focus on Ace and giving Aldred a chance to show off her skills as an actress. Aldred doesn't disappoint with a strong performance as the companion who discovers that her past is interlinked with events unfolding around her. Despite their excellent performances, McCoy and Aldred are just the tip of the cast.
There is also an excellent supporting cast as well. There's Dinsdale Landen as Dr. Judson, the crippled computer scientist who unleashes the title and effectively embodies it. Alfred Lynch gives an excellent performance the obsessive Commander Millington who grows more and more paranoid as the story unfolds. There are also excellent performances from Tomek Bork as Soviet Captain Sorin plus Joann Kenny and Joanne Belll as the two teenagers Jean and Phyllis. Even the smaller roles are filled with good actors and actress like Anne Reid (Nurse Crane), Steven Rimkus (Captain Bates), Janet Henfrey (Mrs. Hardaker) and Raymond Trickett (the Ancient One). The true highlight of the supporting cast is Nicholas Parsons as Reverend Wainwright. Parsons, who apparently is better known in the UK for his more comedic roles and game-show hosting, gives one of the best performances of the McCoy era as the priest who loses his faith and pays for it. There is a wonderful scene in the church where he is giving a sermon to an empty church that illustrates this beautifully and gives Parsons his best moment in the story. All together they form one of the show's best casts.
The story also has some strong production values as well. From the outset, we get a rather well-done recreation of a WWII era army camp complete with trappings of the era (including a great 1940's computer). Then there are the Haemovores: the vampire possible future evolution of humanity brought back to the past. The Haemovores, especially the Ancient One, are amongst the best monsters ever designed for the show as they are incredibly spooky and convincing. Couple this with the underwater filming and excellent location work, and the result is a story that proves that under the right conditions a low budget can be overcome.
Then there's the heart of it all: the script. This is a story with many threads and layers. It is a story about war and faith that explores the nature of evil plus the lengths one must go to fight it. On top of all that, there is the obvious horror aspect in the form of the Haemovores. Ian Briggs also manages to tie together stories from the McCoy era (Silver Nemesis, Dragonfire) to explore the background and character of Ace. Above all, this story is a sort of chess game between the Doctor and an ancient enemy named here as Fenric, in which all the other characters act as their pawns. This is a story where one must watch to get everything that is going on, making this not only an action story but one of the show's most cerebral as well. It is because of its complexity that the "special edition" is worth watching.
The DVD is packed with special features, including interviews, commentaries, making-of stuff etc but the true star of this release is the "special edition" version of the story. This version is movie length with new scenes, CGI effects and a 5.1 soundtrack which makes it the superior of the two versions. This is not only because of the CGI effects and the excellent 5.1 soundtrack but because of the new scenes added to the story. The new scenes add a depth to the story that expands on the backgrounds of some characters and the actions of others. The result is a classic story made all the better and this version of the story alone is worth the price of the DVD.
The Curse Of Fenric is Doctor Who at its finest or close to it. It is defiantly the best story of the McCoy era at any rate with its strong performances, good production values and a strong script. This DVD release, with the "special edition" version, is the definitive version of this classic Doctor Who adventure. Believe what you've heard: The Curse Of Fenric is excellent.