The Curse of Fenric
The Curse of Fenric (DVD edition)
Target novelisation
The Curse of Fenric

Author Ian Briggs Cover image
Published 1990
ISBN 0 426 20348 8
First Edition Cover Alistair Pearson

Back cover blurb: 'If this is a top secret naval camp, I'm Lord Nelson!' Ace has a poor opinion of the security arrangements at Commander Millington's North Yorkshire base - and she's less than comfortable in 1940s fashions. But the Doctor has grave matters on his mind. Dr Judson, inventor of the Navy's ULTIMA code-breaker, is using the machine to decipher the runic inscriptions in the crypt of the nearby church. Commander Millington is obsessed with his research into toxic bombs that he insists will hasten the end of World War Two. A squad of the Red Army's crack Special Missions brigade lands on the Yorkshire coast with instructions to steal the ULTIMA device - unaware that Millington has turned it into a devastating secret weapon. And beneath the waters at Maidens Point an ancient evil stirs... The Doctor uncovers mysteries concealed within villainous plots - but what connects them all to a thousand-year-old curse?


A Review by Rob Matthews 27/2/04

I must admit, I've never been a great one for the Target novelisations. Didn't read that many of them growing up - though I seem to recall I really enioyed looking at the covers in my local library! -, and by the time I returned to Who fiction in my early twenties, there were proper grown-up Who books to read, so my rationale's always been why bother with the kid's stuff. Also with all the extant TV stories now widely available on VHS, DVD and on UK Gold, the time when the novelisations were the only way of 'owning' what had been on television has long passed. Who needs a transcription of a TV story when you have the real thing?

By and large I still feel that way about them. I do however find some of the later ones interesting for the tentative steps they take towards the establishment of the Doctor Who novel as we know it now. I guess when those later ones were released, something had to be done to spice up stories that most fans would, after all, have already taped off the telly. They were starting to recognise the need to offer something different from television; something, um, broader and deeper than the small screen. I don't own a copy of it any more, but the one target book I do remember strongly from when I was a kid is Ben Aaronovitch's wonderfully expanded Remembrance of the Daleks. See, when I read a novelisation of a story I already know from TV I find it very difficult to read as a book. The more resemblance it has to what was on screen, the more readily I just see and hear what was on TV. Hence in a weird way, the more departures there are from the televised version in a novelisation, the more readable it is as a book and the easier to evaluate on its own terms.

Ian Briggs' novelisation of his own Curse of Fenric is a very intriguing little volume in that regard - broadly the same as the TV version in terms of plot, but differing in a lot of the details and expanding things here and there. It's done quite consciously as a sorta 'Writer's Cut' version of the story I think, because differences are emphasised right from the opening scene; the woman on the beach guiding in the Russian Commandoes certainly never appeared on TV, (or rather she did but not in that form), not even in the 'version 3.0' Fenric recently released on DVD.

Another thing you notice early in the book which continues right through is its more overt emphasis on sexual stuff - here it's less an undercurrent than a plain old current. Physical description of the arriving Russians centres on their strong powerful bodies; Jean (of Phyllis fame) is transformed into the kind of blonde who has more fun, all sexually predatory and intimidating, even moreso than was hinted on TV with the 'babydoll' stuff and the teasing of the Home Guard; in flashback we see Millington's sexual jealousy over some blond hunk as the cause of the 'accident' that leaves Judson a cripple; Ace joins in with Jean and Phylllis' rather laboured Carry On-ish joke about Maiden's Point, mentioning that she can't go there either (strumpet!); a young Mrs Hardaker was ostracised by the town as an 'immoral' woman; hot weather is emphasised, the way it was meant? to be on TV before brass monkeys conditions during filming made any sustained scripted reference to the heat seem ridiculous; the Haemovores telepathically call out for 'the pure fluid of life', which could in another context be taken a different way; the Arabian Nights-style depiction of the "Dok-Tar's" earlier confrontation with Fenric is related in the context of a (rather brutal) courtship ritual, the supplementary 'Curse of the Flask' document then taking the form of an archaic warning to men against the dangers of hooking up with women, and in the epilogue we see an older 'Dorothee' all geared up for a shag with Sorin's great great grandfather in 19th century France.? Plus, even though I've reade very few of them, I'd wager a tafelshrew to a toffee that this is the only Target novelisation to use the word 'whorehouse'.

Another strengthening of emphasis is on Millington's lunacy. In the televised version it was ambiguous for a little while - clearly he was haunted and obviously unpleasant, but he remained a bit of an enigma. Here he's described bluntly as a 'madman' on the very first page in which he appears, with the mystery of his bond with Judson explained almost immediately around what on screen was the middle of episode 1. He also wanders trancelike into his office in the scene where the Doctor and Ace are having a nosey around it, and we're left in no doubt that he plans right from the start to kill them both sooner or later. The inclusion of his Norse-myth derived schoolboy essay as the first of the nicely used supplementary documents is a good way of reinforcing the nature of his obsession and showing just how long it's been in his mind. On screen Alfred Lynch did this purely through great acting. The book rightly does it the way a book should - through, you know, words.

(One odd thing regarding the Norse mythological references - 'Hvergelmir' - the Well - is here incorrectly spelled Vergelmir. I only mention this as odd because Sylvester McCoy pronounced the 'H' on TV, so presumably it was correct in the script)

Millington dies differently here too - not shot by Vershinin in this version, he's present for the Doctor's final confrontation with Fenric and dies unable to leave Judson's body, a bit reminiscent of the demise of Sharaz Jek. Couldn't be done on TV it seems, but with the sexual-blackmail thread now visible it works here.

Another standout TV character, Wainwright, is presented in a slightly different light here, constantly referred to as a young man. Presumably that's the way Briggs envisioned him before Nicholas Parsons was cast, but the character remains essentially the same. The Ultima machine meanwhile, is specified as a rival project to the Enigma machine, rather than just the fictionalised Doctor Who analogue to it that it was on TV.

Other more fundamental changes darken the story further. Mrs Hardaker actually witnesses the deaths of the Home Guard members at the hands of the Russian Commandoes - deaths in which the army itself is shockingly complicit -, and that's why she gets so angry at Jean and Phyllis for going swimming and causing the Home Guard to be called out in the first place. Hence when they go charging back into the water boasting about having nothing to lose, it's far more powerful, and their deaths come more as inevitable 'punishment'.

Also, the reason why Millington actually makes it to the climax is because Vershinin doesn't get to kill him in this version. Millington kills Vershinin and fatally wounds Bates, with the result that there's something a lot less triumphant about the scene where Bates tells Ace they're banding together - a lot less triumphant in the sense that the por bugger croaks there and then! And Ace doesn't go running off all excited about her solution with the pawns, instead she's upset and angry.

In the original transmitted version the Doctor's history with Fenric was pared right down due to timing constraints- we know he somehow got Fenric into the flask after bamboozling him with a chess game in some desert, we know Fenric is 'pure eevil!', but that's it. Arguably it's more effective the less we're told. The 'special editions' did however add that invaluable scene relating the Great Haemovore Ingiger's travels after the flask, and here the Arabian Nights segment not only explains the origins of the flask, but also relates - albeit in vague secondhand fashion - the original confrontation. There's a strong implication here that the Doctor is indeed the Good force from the dawn of time, which for me crosses that important line of ambiguity and goes too far.

However! This is undercut in the remarkable and memorable epilogue (the one Kate Orman incorporated so divinely into Set Piece), where the Doctor admits to the older Dorothee that he was simplifying things and not really telling the whole truth. This reading occured to me for the first time only on my most recent viewing of Fenric, and it's nice to see it backed up somewhat by the author himself.

Additionally the book confirms the wonderful attention Briggs gives even to his minor characters, like the fey Petrossian and the reluctant assassin Trofimov. And Nurse Crane becomes a soviet spy! Though actually I'm glad this revelation didn't make it to the screen, as I much preferred that she was magnificently (under)played as a very practical emphatically normal person who didn't seem to understand any of what was going on and didn't really care either until the monsters came for her. Her death scene is thus not as shocking here (believe me, whenever I see it on TV it chills me right to the bone), because it's also a revelation scene and the sense is more of 'just desserts' than of shock.

The Curse of Fenric as a book, ultimately, is far from perfect. You'll note from the above that most of it appealed to me as a kind of compare-and-contrast exercise complementary to a TV story rather than as a standalone read. The main problem for me is that this is a story fit for expansion into a 'proper' full-length novel, but written at only novella length. So too much seems to happen to quick, an epic compressed into a pamphlet. It's not an excellent book in the way the original was an excellent TV story.

Still, I must remind myself that this was before the days of the NAs and the PDAs, and Briggs' efforts to write something more substantial than a simple transcription are commendable. For fans of the televised story this is an enjoyable read which provides some interesting new angles, details and clarifications. Definitely worth giving the once-over.

A Review by Terrence Keenan 19/8/07

On the whole, this is not a bad book, although there are a few huge flaws that still cause me to not like this story. If you have the DVD of TCoF, then the novelization mostly follows that version, plus adds more.

The Good:

Millington & Judson's relationship is brought out fuller in TCoFN. They were lovers, and it was Millington's jealousy that caused him to cripple Judson. Judson, in return, is using Millington for the funds/space to work on the ULTIMA machine.

The interludes, which give a fuller picture of the story of the curse itself, and show the actual first battle between Fenric and the Doctor.

Millington, stripped of Alfred Lynch's horrid performance, comes across as a more believable loon. His fate is slightly different than in the TV version.

The Bad:

That snot-dribblingly awful seduction scene is still in there. Phyllis and Jean are even more annoying in TCoFN, even with the added background. The last couple of chapters are a cornucopia of "then suddenly!" moments that still fail to excite the reader. Ian Briggs wields the word "undercurrents" like a sledgehammer, as if to say "look, my story is deep, dammit," which made me realize how shallow it still is.

The Ugly:

Ian Briggs comes out and does the single stupidest thing, ever. He comes out and calls the Doctor "Good from the Dawn of Time." Add this to the whole "Evil from the Dawn of Time" bollocks and you have, for me, destroyed any tension and possible deeper meanings. I think Briggs did this to tie in with all of the Norse mythology he plunders, but it still instantly reduces the Doctor and Fenric to childish Good/Evil Manichean concepts.

Anyhoo, the book itself is well written, and the pages fly by. It is a worthy read, and complements the TV serial well. My beefs are with the story concepts, which I still hate.

A Good Novelization That Could Have Been Great By Matthew Kresal 7/4/12

Novelizations are exactly what their name implies: a previous work (usually a script) that has been turned into a novel. Novelizations therefore can range from being little more than a prose version of the script it's based on to full-fledged novels in their own right. The Target novelizations of stories from the original series of Doctor Who ranged between both ends of the spectrum. Falling somewhere into the middle of those two ends of that spectrum is the novelization of The Curse Of Fenric by its original writer Ian Briggs.

Briggs takes the chance to expand upon the original TV story. Some of the additional scenes were later reinstated for the expanded 1991 VHS release and the 2003 special edition DVD version, but there are plenty of things that can only be found in this novelization. There's new material throughout the entire story from an agent signaling the Russian commandos where to land, to recasting Reverend Wainwright as a young man instead of the older one seen in the TV story, Miss Hardaker's tragic background that created the old woman seen in the story and a slightly different final showdown between the Doctor and Fenric. These changes or additions aren't for done for the sake of doing them: they each expand upon the story and give it a new interesting development.

The most intriguing additions are four "documents" placed between the four "chronicles" (chapters) that cover the scripted material and the epilogue. The documents expand on things seen or hinted at in the story proper such as Commander Millington's interest from his school days in Viking legends, the curse of the flask that plays a major role in the story that's told through an "excerpt" from an old Norse saga, a letter from Bram Stoker upon visiting the village where the story takes places (something hinted at by Reverend Wainwright) and the story of how the Doctor's first confrontation with Fenric as laid out in Arab folklore. The epilogue expands upon two things referenced as the story builds to its conclusion and suggests a rather intriguing possibility in its own right. Though these documents and the epilogue are all fairly short, they make for fascinating additions that can only be made in the context of a novelization.

All that though is undermined by two different things Briggs does. The first is that that the novelization cuts very much like its screen version in places, which leads to a brief paragraph that cuts away from a scene and then back into it. While this of course works for a screen version, there's something rather disconcerting about it on the printed page as it tends to make the novelization feel unfocused. The second is that Briggs lapses into the melodramatic, ranging from stating the obvious (for no apparent reason) on page 38 about what the Doctor finds to a rather over-the-top take on the final scene of the TV story which in fact undermines it or the melodramatic opening prologue that really has no purpose, storywise. The issues undermine the novelization's additions and the strong nature of the TV story itself, and serve to do nothing but hurt it.

With its intriguing additions that expand upon the original TV story, Ian Briggs' novelization of The Curse Of Fenric has the makings to be amongst the best of the Doctor Who Target novelizations. Yet, despite making moves that would have made the story into an excellent novel, it's hampered by its sticking to the editing of the TV story and of the use of melodramatic elements. As a result, The Curse Of Fenric novelization is a good read, but leaves one wondering if a few changes could have made it even better.