Doctor Who #699: The Curse of Fenric Part 3

"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, and yet somehow, somehow the evil force survives. An intelligence. Pure evil!"
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Nov.8 1989.

IN THIS ONE... The Haemovores attack the church, Ace distracts a guard with her feminine wiles, and Fenric manifests in Judson.

REVIEW: Everything that seems strange in The Curse of Fenric can be explained without going outside the story, which is a testament to how it is constructed. For example, if you're wondering why there are so few soldiers on base, other than the fact the BBC couldn't afford a lot of extras, it's made clear Millington has emptied it to make it easier for the Russians to steal the poisoned Ultimate machine. Best of all, that decision bites him in the ass when the Haemovores - arguably the 7th Doctor era's best new monster - attack. It's a production problem explained away in dialog and then turned into an important plot point! Brilliant! Consider also the strangeness of a lot of dialog, especially Ace's seduction scene, then remember a lot of these people will turn out to be Wolves of Fenric, and under the great evil's influence somehow.

Ok, let's talk about that seduction scene, because as odd as it is, I personally love it. The main theme of the last three stories of the season is Ace growing up, and in this first installment, she actually gets angry at the Doctor for keeping secrets from her. It's a youthful rebellion against her parent figure, and forces some kind of explanation out of the Doctor (above). Of course, that's a rather poetic origin story for Fenric, but it will have to do (and it does echo the Gods of Ragnarok and other evil forces from the start of the universe or left over from the last one the Doctor fights throughout his career). So when Ace offers to distract the guard, saying she's not a little girl, it's not just a sign of sexual awakening. It's also Ace asserting her adulthood and telling the Doctor she can be trusted as a full partner. Ace would never be content with tag-along status, and if there's a companion role she aspires to most, it's the second Romana's (though she's relegated to Leela's). Yes, her seduction play on the guard is bizarre, but more so because his dialog is fantastic as well. After all, Ace might have learned flirting on Iceworld, and regardless, is putting on act for the soldier's benefit. It's naturally awkward. So maybe the soldier is more intrigued (or worried) than aroused, or perhaps she's using words that tie into the things Millington's men might have been briefed on seeing as their leader is communing with ancient gods. But as a piece of dialog, whether you think it in character or not, it's memorable stuff. When Ace says she's moving faster than light, so fast she might stop existing, is that not a memory of the time storm that brought her to Iceworld? And her reference to "moves" is as much about seduction as it is about the chess game the Doctor is playing. Ace seems to be saying a lot of things with a double meaning in this episode, including "Wicked!" as Fenric's resurrection approaches. Or do you think it's a coincidence she picked up his flask to make a Nitro 9 canister with?

Faith is again a strong theme, as the Haemovores besiege the church until the Doctor forces them away by reciting a litany of his past companions. A brilliant idea for what the Doctor believes in, but sadly smothered by loud music (thankfully, the extended cut restores the lines to their proper level). For Captain Sorin, it's the Revolution. For Wainwright, it's the good he knows is in everyone. He only doubts his own capacity for good, and that's what betrays him. Ace doesn't get to do a faith trick (they're keeping that for the finale), but gets to do a stunt, use the rope ladder from Dragonfire, and fight some sucker-mouthed vampires. It can't all be theology and literary criticism, you know! But amid the action and signs of the apocalypse, the program still finds time to weep for Kathleen Dudman's dead husband (not boyfriend Ace! that's a great contrast of eras) and her now fatherless baby.

REWATCHABILITY: High - Creepy monsters, eerie dialog, and a sense that the world - and Ace's innocence! - may be ending. Strong stuff!


Paul C said...

Really interesting take on the infamous seduction scene. It's always been my least favourite bit of the story but maybe I need to watch it again.

Timothy S. Brannan said...

The Curse of Fenric is one of my favorite Doctor Who story arcs ever. For me it hits all the right notes.

Siskoid said...

Well watching Curse of Fenric again isn't too much of a chore at least.

Madeley said...

I've always thought, and still think, that the seduction scene was a load of twaddle. I'm slightly more forgiving of it now than I used to be, in that I can see how Ace's dialogue might just about be the kind of thing a teenager would think of as being all smouldering and mysterious. But I just can't see a squaddie responding in kind. He'd just ask her why she was talking mental.

I know, it sounds daft talking about how something like this is the suspension-of-disbelief breaker in a story about time-travelling aquavampires, but I always think you can get away with all manner of fantastical bobbins as long as the mundane stuff rings true.

Siskoid said...

I agree, it's the soldier's reaction that seems strangest. But since the story is poetic in other ways, it doesn't break the spell for me.

Ghost Light is even more poetic and even stranger, and I love it.

Madeley said...

Absolutely agree about Ghost Light. I think Ace's speech fits in that tone better because Ghost Light is written wholly in that kind of dreamlike (or nightmarish) Gothic Victoriana tone.


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