|Written by Ian Briggs|
Produced by John Nathan-Turner
Production code 7M
|Script editor Andrew Cartmel|
Incidental music composer Mark Ayres
|Directed by Nicholas Mallett John Nathan-Turner (uncredited)|
The Curse of Fenric is the penultimate serial of the 26th season in the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, which was first broadcast in four weekly parts from 25 October to 15 November 1989. Unusually, two further versions of this story exist: the 1991 video release incorporated about six minutes of extra material into the original narrative, and the 2003 DVD included a 'Special Edition' edited into a single movie-length feature, with new special effects, re-editing of some scenes, and 12 minutes of unbroadcast footage.
The Doctor and Ace arrive at a British naval installation near Maiden's Point on the Northumbrian coast during World War II. Befriending the base personnel, they learn that the base, run by Commander Millington, is being used as a listening post to intercept and translate German coded messages using the Ultima supercomputer and to stockpile a supply of a lethal nerve gas. Meanwhile, wheelchair-user Dr. Judson has also been using Ultima to help decipher Viking runes found in catacombs beneath the base, warning of a being called Fenric, which has attracted Millington's attention, he believing that he can gain Fenric's power. Outside the base, the Doctor and Ace discover a covert squad of Soviet commandos, led by Captain Sorin, who are seeking to capture Ultima; the Doctor warns them to lie low, while Ace and Sorin become smitten with each other.
The Doctor and Ace find a glowing oriental vase, a treasure captured by the Vikings and left in the catacombs, but it is taken by Millington when they return to the base. As Millington and Judson prepare to use Ultima to decipher the writings on the vase, vampire-like Haemovores begin to emerge from the sea, attack and convert the English and Soviet troops and other residents into more Haemovores. When Judson runs Ultima with the vase, energy strikes him and he becomes infused with Fenric. Fenric begins to give orders to the Ancient One, an old Haemovore in control of the other monsters, to continue to assault anyone in their path. Ace is able to warn one of the WRNS, Kathleen, in time for her to escape with her newborn child, Audrey.
The Doctor reveals he has faced Fenric, an ancient evil since the dawn of time, besting him by challenging him at a chess problem. Arranging another chess problem in the same room where the nerve gas has been stockpiled, the Doctor is able to delay Fenric, while he runs off to seek a more permanent solution. Sorin, the last remaining member of his squad, enters the room and prepares to shoot Fenric, but Fenric reveals that Sorin is one of his "wolves", having descended from the Vikings that carried the cursed vase to the English shores and takes over his body. When Ace returns to the room, she unwittingly helps Fenric, in Sorin's body, to solve the chess problem. The Doctor arrives too late, as Fenric can no longer be stopped. Fenric orders the Ancient One to attack the Doctor but a psychic barrier created by Ace's trust in the Doctor prevents the Ancient One from acting. The Doctor is forced to reveal to Ace that she too is one of Fenric's pawns, as it was he that created the time storm that transported her to the alien world where she met the Doctor the first time. Furthermore, by saving Kathleen and Audrey, she has assured that the cycle remain unbroken, as Audrey will grow up to become Ace's mother whom she despises. Ace's faith is shattered, causing the psychic barrier to drop but, instead of attacking the Doctor, the Ancient One grabs Fenric, pulls him into a sealed chamber and releases a lethal dose of the gas. The chamber explodes, killing them both. As the Doctor and Ace recover along the shore, Ace takes a moment to contemplate why she hates her mother and to celebrate overcoming her irrational fear of the water, before she and the Doctor return to the Tardis.
Writer Ian Briggs based the character of Dr Judson on Alan Turing. In an interview for the DVD release of this story, Briggs said that since at that time it was not considered appropriate to depict a character's struggle with homosexuality in a family programme, he transformed Turing's frustration at being unable to express his true sexual identity into Judson's frustration at being disabled. In the same interview, Briggs stated that he intended to suggest that both Judson and Millington were gay and had a shared past, although this was not realised in the finished programme.
This story was originally going to be titled The Wolves of Fenric (and before that, Wolf-Time). Fenric does refer to his servants as his "wolves" (and wolves play a strong role in Norse mythology, especially the monster Fenrir). However, Nathan-Turner felt that as the "wolves" connection was not revealed until quite late in the story, the title would not initially make sense to the audience.
Although there are several references in the story to the Norse belief in a final battle at the end of the world, the word Ragnarok was removed from the script to avoid confusion with the Gods of Ragnarok from the previous season's The Greatest Show in the Galaxy.
This story is the second in what some have called the "Ace Trilogy", a three-story arc that explores elements of Ace's past before she met the Doctor. This was not an intentional trilogy, since Fenric was originally intended to start the season and be followed by Battlefield, Survival and then Ghost Light. Fenric was moved to third in the season because its horror themes were seen as more fitting for airing in October.
The Curse of Fenric was originally to have been shot, as with most Doctor Who serials, as a mixture of studio interiors and location exteriors. However, after reading the script, director Nicholas Mallett persuaded producer John Nathan-Turner that given the settings involved, the serial could be made more effective and realistic by shooting the entire production on location, to which Nathan-Turner eventually agreed. Shooting on the serial went over-length to such a degree that consideration was briefly given to editing the story into five rather than four episodes. However, Ian Briggs strongly opposed this, feeling that the narrative flow would be badly disrupted.
The story is set either in Northumberland or near Whitby, Yorkshire. The scenes set in the fictional location of Maiden's Point were shot on location at Lulworth Cove in Dorset. The production also visited Kent and filmed at Lillesden Manor which doubled as the laboratory under the church, Roses Farm in Hawkhurst, which doubled as Mrs Hardaker’s Cottage and St Lawrence Church in Hawkhurst which doubled as St Judd’s Church.
Broadcast and reception
Paul Cornell, Martin Day, and Keith Topping described the serial as "something special" with "many magical scenes" in The Discontinuity Guide (1995)." In The Television Companion (1998), David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker praised the direction and horror. In 2012, Mark Braxton of Radio Times wrote that there was "much to enjoy and admire" and an influence on the revived Doctor Who in terms of companions. He felt that it was "as if three scripts have been rewritten as one" as the plot was too convoluted and noted that the special effects were "a mixed bag". Christopher Bahn, reviewing the serial for The A.V. Club, also commented on its influence to the modern series even though it has not aged well and "starts strongly and has some terrific moments, but gets convoluted and confusing toward the finale." He criticised the "less-than-graceful dialogue", special effects and felt that Fenric and the Haemavores lacked sufficient background.
A novelisation of this serial, written by Ian Briggs, was published by Target Books in November 1990. The novel features additional character information absent from the serial and an epilogue featuring an older Ace after she has left the Doctor. This formed part of the basis for Ace's departure in Kate Orman's Virgin New Adventures novel Set Piece, where she chooses to stay in Paris to monitor a time rift and at some point has a relationship with one of Captain Sorin's ancestors.
The Curse of Fenric was released on VHS in 1991. The release included about six minutes worth of the extra scenes. This story was released on DVD in the United Kingdom in October 2003 in a two-disc set as part of the Doctor Who 40th Anniversary Celebration releases. This consisted of the original four broadcast episodes, with an additional DVD commentary recorded by Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred and Nicholas Parsons, plus a 'Special Edition' edited into one movie-length adventure including 12 minutes of unbroadcast material. This version has reworked special effects and music arranged by Mark Ayres based on notes written up by himself and the late Nicholas Mallett; it also sees several scenes re-edited to produce a more coherent narrative. This serial was also released as part of the Doctor Who DVD Files in issue 39 on 30 June 2010.
Mark Ayres's music from this story was released on CD in 1991 by Silva Screen Records.