Doctor Who #709: Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death

"I can communicate with the Master by carefully controlled breaking of wind." "Could I be tied to a different chair?"
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired in 4 parts (23 minutes total) Mar.12 1999 as part of Comic Relief. Though it was released on VHS at the end, it has yet to be released on DVD. It is available on You-Tube.

IN THIS ONE... Steven Moffat's first Who work, a comedy sketch starring Rowan Atkinson (and others) as the Doctor.

REVIEW: At times, this Doctor Who parody could almost be the real thing. And not just because Steven Moffat wrote it, a lot of it HAS become the real thing. The Doctor in love with his companion. The Doctor getting MARRIED. Farting aliens. The timey-wimey, paradoxal duel found expression in a number of Moffat episodes, and the move, counter-move style of confrontation was mirrored in Let's Kill Hitler. A reference to the Doctor being Father Christmas (very Moffat, that). Even the Doctors themselves are kind of like the actual incarnations of the same number. 9th (Rowan Atkinson), an older man the companion is nonetheless attracted to. 10th (Richard E. Grant), prettier than his previous self and knows it (AND licks things). 11th (Jim Broadbent), shy and awkward around girls. See what I mean? Of course, if Peter Capaldi's Doctor is anything like Hugh Grant's, I'll eat my fez. And of course, the fact that some of these elements, previously played for laughs, actually showed up in New Who script, is what made a lot of us believe Moffat would eventually turn the Doctor into a woman, Joanna Lumley or no Joanna Lumley.

So yes, The Curse of Fatal Death is interesting because its writer eventually went on to write (and run) Doctor Who proper. But it was probably no more influential on Russell T Davies than the TV Movie, which also featured a romantic Doctor. In fact, the start of the story makes us believe it MIGHT be Paul McGann we're seeing from the back. It even uses the 8th Doctor's opening sequence for its vortex, along with the more iconic 4th Doctor opening credits sequence (sans face), and in the final moments, some 5th Doctor-era music cues. But it's not McGann, it's Atkinson who, within seconds, makes me believe he could have been a great Doctor in a proper series reboot, adding a third iconic British role to his C.V. He's great, and isn't particularly sending it up, despite the cheeky references to the show and all the scatological humor. He gets a great duel with the Master (played as a redundant fool by Jonathan Pryce, who's still way better than Ainsley and Roberts), and I love his reaction to seeing the Daleks ("How're things?"). Julia Sawalha's Emma reminds me of Jo Grant, for some reason. Wonder what that says about everyone involved. She's good too, though not a showcase part.

But is it funny? I'd say it's amusing, and it's clever, but not laugh-out-loud funny. It's at its best when playing with Doctor Who's toys and doing things the real show hardly ever (or outright never) dared do. The Doctor and the Master using paradoxes to outdo each other. The Doctor regenerating four times in the space of a few minutes. That sort of thing. And the actors are generally charming and get some good lines. I'm not a very big fan of the episode's obsession with bodily functions, the Master spitting out crap perhaps a step too far, but your mileage may vary. Between that and the cheap plastic sets, we're not really allowed to forget this is a parody (though there is a rather good model shot in there), but some would call it more Who than the TVM. If you can't see how, all I can say is "I'll explain later".

SECOND OPINIONS: In the Fall of 2008, I discussed the merits of each of this story's Doctors in Doctor Who's Fatal Quickies.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - It's fun AND it informs what comes later. Worth it for the latter, but not a chore thanks to the former.


Unknown said...

I loved Rowan Atkinson as the Doctor.

Randal said...

No mention of Julia Sawalha? The only companion the Doctor's...had?

Siskoid said...

I didn't mean to leave her out! I loved her in A Midwinter's Dream. Rectified.


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