The Curse of Fenric
|(Doctor Who Story No. 158, starring Sylvester McCoy)
- written by Ian Briggs
- directed by Nicholas Mallett
- produced by John Nathan-Turner
- music by Mark Ayres
- 4 episodes @ 25 minutes each
Story: Russian soldiers secretly gather near
a seaside English base during World War II, unable to find
half of their group or their sealed orders. Meanwhile,
Ace and a worried Doctor help the base's deciphering
expert Dr. Judson with his pet project to translate an
ancient Viking curse carved into the crypts of the local
church. Is there something lurking in the sea nearby,
quietly claiming more and more lives
from all sides? How many people know more than they are
Is there some unearthly mastermind behind it all, or
has the Doctor finally outmanipulated himself?
DVD Features include:
- Original 4-part broadcast version in stereo, with:
- Audio commentary by Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor),
Sophie Aldred (Ace), and
Nicholas Parson (Reverend Wainwright).
- Isolated music track by Mark Ayres
- Pop-up Production Note Subtitles
- Ultra-extended movie-length edit with new effects and 5.1 surround sound.
- 1990 Nebula convention panel featuring the cast and crew
- "Take Two" goes behind-the-scenes during the making of "The Curse of Fenric"
- interview of writer Ian Briggs
- interview with costume designer Ken Trew.
- "Recutting the Runes" featurette on the Special Edition with editor/composer Mark Ayres.
- Mask modelling TV clips with Sue Moore and Stephen Mansfield
- location recce footage and visual effects tests
- clean title sequences in stereo and 5.1 surround sound
- Photo Gallery
- Easter Eggs
VHS Features include:
- Partly extended edit of the show, in four parts, and with original stereo sound
Buyers' Guide Review
by Martin Izsak
(A more in-depth analysis, containing "SPOILERS" and intended
for those who have already seen the program, can be accessed
At last we come to what is arguably the very best story of the
Sylvester McCoy era. This one is chock full of elements that uniquely
define this time of the program, and all of them seem to be,
for the most part, quite well done in this story.
Particularly in light of all that went wrong with
the previous story, it is worth noting
that the considerable roster of mostly interesting characters
that we have in this story are almost all fairly normal,
particularly in the situations they spring from and the goals
they appear to have. This makes it easier for the audience
to understand them and get emotionally invested in them, and it makes
those things that are not so normal stand out better and become
worthy of our attention and the Doctor and Ace's investigation.
The Doctor and Ace themselves get the bare minimum of introduction
in this tale.
It probably would be an improvement to establish exactly why they
chose to come here. Early episodes can kind of get away without it
if you assume they arrived randomly and simply wanted to explore where
they are, as often happened in the
Patrick Troughton era.
However, both the level of
precise geographical knowledge displayed in their opening dialogue,
not to mention later developments in the story, added to the fact that
Ace has already made the effort to dress for the period, all make it much
more likely that this landing was an enigmatic choice. As it stands anyway,
their early scenes are so enjoyable, and so easily understandable,
that one forgives this fairly readily. The balance between
creating mystery vs. creating confusion has been much, much better
looked after in this script.
While there is little doubt that this adventure stands out positively
in McCoy's era, it still remains shy of some elements that previous
Doctors' eras thrived on. As we encounter strange phenomena here in
"The Curse of Fenric", it seems little is done to establish credible
scientific theories behind this, or in fact use scientifically plausible
reasoning to explain the plot mechanisms that our bizarre new antagonistic
forces must work through and/or can use to attain their goals. The story
is much more focused on a sort of magical folklore. It doesn't quite beg
for more explanation to the same degree as most of the other
candy-horror stories of this era
that try to set up shop in the real world instead of a mental dimension.
"The Curse of Fenric" isn't really in candy-horror territory, but is probably
sitting somewhere not too far from the border.
And, I have to give the story a lot of points for the idea of the
psychic energy of faith becoming one of the story's major mechanisms here,
even if the plausibility for its effects remains a bit vague and hokey.
It's every bit as cool as most of the uses of mental powers that we
saw back in season twenty, while partly
triumphing in finding the
"better way" that seemed to elude the
violence-fests of season twenty-one and beyond.
It does become clear that aiming for horror and fears and scares is
one of the aims of the script, and not one that I am ever particularly
impressed with. However, the success here is that it is only one
of many goals, and it never quite overpowers the more prominent
explorative ideas like code-breaking and seeking to understand curses,
histories, cultures, and character motivations. In fact the tapestry
remains quite rich as we get a mix of 1940's English, Russian, and German
culture, added to which is a lot of ancient Viking. Writer Ian Briggs does a
lot of research to make all of this come alive in his script,
along with some clever mathematical and computer concepts to give it all
a fascinating lift.
Armed with an exceptional script, the rest of the production team
then pulled out the stops to make the finished product special in many
other ways as well. There's a ton of gorgeous, atmospheric location work
in this one, particularly where the vistas include the sea. In fact,
the team decided at a late stage to abandon BBC TV studios altogether and
shoot the whole thing on location, which helps give it a believability
and credibility that helps keep audiences in the story.
Director Nicholas Mallett seems a strange talent for having directed both
Sylvester McCoy's worst story
"Paradise Towers" (no. 149), and now his
best story here. As such his final kudos are well earned.
Indeed, script content for this story won't carry the production on its own.
This one could have flopped rather easily if not handled properly,
and the director and all his actors deserve praise for keeping the tone
correct and serious as appropriate to the needs of the story.
Composer Mark Ayres turns in another impressive and effective musical
score for this story, helping to emphasize the life in the buried mysteries
that is slowly bubbling up into the light of day, and of course backing
the ensuing action and pandemonium excitingly. As usual, there are a lot
of musical themes in play here, all woven into a tapestry as rich as
the story itself. While his score for
"The Greatest Show in the Galaxy" (story no. 155)
is still a bit more enjoyable to listen to, "The Curse of Fenric" is
a very close second.
Music by Mark Ayres
The complete score is available on:
A selection of cues (some edited) is also available on:
For the most part, the story's prosthetic masks work fairly well,
but don't quite manage to outdo a more impressive one from
"Battlefield" (story no. 156).
However, in terms of characters with prosthetic masks,
the ones in this story are far more emotive and interesting.
The concluding dynamics are worth noting,
but of course I'll save such potential spoilers for the
in-depth analysis version
of this review.
Well, if others haven't convinced you yet that this is the
must-buy story for the Sylvester McCoy era, let me add my voice onto the
pile. You may first want to go through an arc of prior stories, including
"Dragonfire" (story no. 151),
"Remembrance of the Daleks" (story no. 152),
"Silver Nemesis" (story no. 154), and
"The Greatest Show in the Galaxy" (story no. 155),
but in that case, don't stop until you've got "The Curse of Fenric" as well.
This one is easily the big winner of season 26, although more
good stuff is yet to come....
This story is available on DVD and VHS video.
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