The Curse of Fenric

Chase - Posted on 15 August 2009


That's more like it. When I first saw this story in say 1989 or 1990 at Stonybrook's ICON on a big screen I was most unimpressed. For some reason on a big screen, the mix of the interior sets and the exterior location just looked like DW was trying so hard to be American in scope and visuals but failed miserably on a big screen, that is. On a televsion, it's much nicer to look at and much more visually pleasing than GHOST LIGHT, still, I think I've found a pattern in that I prefer settings that show location or imply locations that are different (think HORROR OF FANG ROCK, which is studio bound but had the guts to do a lighthouse...well!). Back in the original viewing I was bored, I did'nt understand any of it and to be fair, I probably still wouldn't understand any of it...if it could be understood...without the aforementioned fan articles, magazines, books, interviews and the helpful DVD texts. And yes, they do throw everything at you but the kitchen sink: Russians attacking, Viking curse, Viking dragonship, a cursed "point" beach, vampires, the Haemophores (spelling?), chess, the Germans, Nazis I think, British trying to pretend to be Nazis, the search for the code, girls listening to the radio, Ace's mum as a baby...and back then it didn't all fit in in my mind. Now...I kind of like the many things going on so maybe it was ahead of its time or maybe I just couldn't comprehend it all at once or maybe it just didn't do a great job of giving us what we needed to know or maybe I wasn't willing to try. Face it, back then, I was close to hating DW. Why?

Well, I liked the carefree nature of DW and the Doc's travels and his whimsical if serious companions---even the UNIT family. I liked that he never knew what was going on and he landed in over his head, made fun of everyone, didn't fit in, didn't really have any credentials, and made it up as he went along. THIS and THIS DOCTOR in particular and THIS companion were all the opposite of everything I liked about DW. He knew where he was landing. He knew what was going on and made plans for it so that he wasn't in over his head (but sometimes this backfired and he was). He made fun of few peeps, if anyone. He fit in. He made friends easily. He played the spoons. He was part of the establishment and entertainment world. He showed credentials or acted like he had them and fooled people that way. He didn't make it up as he went along AND on top of all of that, he let people die, possibly because he knew they had to in the laws of time or history and all that.

Still, ALL of the acting here is terrific. The build up is suspenseful and if you really listen and pay attention, it's not that all confusing, not as much as GHOST LIGHT anyway and all the parts fit together and no one is acting retarded as in HAPPINESS PATROL, somewhat in DELTA, especially in all of GHOST LIGHT, and a few others. It's all played completely straight, well maybe except for the way one of the Russian victims runs from an unseen terror.

The build up is great, the music is excellent (FINALLY!), the location work super (just look at that water!), and Ace is back to being a proper balance of girl and companion who sticks up for the underdog and she even mentions liking a teacher. A teacher! OMG! Anyway a good start to this story, well done! 


Great episode in what is turning out to be, for me, a great classic, in every sense of the word, story. I spotted Christian Anholt, son of Tony Anholt (Tony in SPACE: 1999 and also an actor in another Gerry Anderson law and order type show in the 70s). Christian also played a villain in something recent, the live action BEN 10 movie and he also played, before that, the sometimes shirtless sidekick in RELIC HUNTER (in the late 1990s I think) and (don't say RELIC HUNTER too fast).

Anyway Ace makes an innocent mistake in this episode and it's fairly charming this time; the Doctor seems to have more faith than Rev Wainwright. While watching this, this time out, I felt that this story is one that I would have shown any non fan, me thinking that they might enjoy it. I also felt that this story would fit at home, somewhat in the new series and might even be somewhat at home side by side with the TV MOVIE, for some reason. It seems suitably different in style and tone and musically from all that's come before it and around it.

On the other hand, someone, not sure who the DVD text named, said that the Doctor could be the main villain for this season. Possibly Ian Briggs, who also envisioned this story first and foremost as the Doc and his enemy (Fenric?) sitting in a bombed out building playing chess...

The deaths are all justified but scary, even the Russian massacre of the British Marines; the transformation of Jean and Phillyis (spelling?) is scary and well done; the surfacing of the Haemovores is also very effective, much more so than the Marshmen in FULL CIRCLE, not that those are bad but these are better. Ian wanted black smoke for the lake scenes but to be honest, the white smoke works just as well.

A good episode and I worried about the baby. Also: JNT's dog Pepsi can be seen running across the lawn as Ace and the Doctor sneak around the side of the building. This story is very well done and for now, I am really enjoying it unlike most of GHOST LIGHT.  FENRIC is just very exciting, energetic, and intelligent as well as atmospheric.        



Okay still good but a bit more confusing and at at the time, a bit depressing at all the death happening in this episode and indeed this story. This episode sees the deaths of many including Wainwright and Judson, but the really disturbing bit is when Millington orders the doors sealed on two Russian soldiers who bought Ace, Wainwright and the Doctor more time to get out. Why couldn't the Doctor fight more to get them out? It was disturbing as I'm sure it was meant to be. More death to come if I recall correctly.

The faith thing was interesting. I never really realized the Doctor recalls the names of Susan, Ian, Barbara, Vicki and Steven to ward off the vampires as part of his faith. It's odd because the Russians are killing but they aren't totally evil, the British are killing somewhat but not a lot but they are somewhat evil but not totally...yet...although Milligton seems as though he was cursed already and Ace seemed to think he was always Fenric's ...what? WTF? As I said, it gets a bit confused here.  Also, why does the machine zap Judson? Is that the flask attached to it?

What I don't like is how the Doctor doens't tell anyone anything. Not even Ace. I guess he's doing it because other alien forces could find out too from her or from his very telling her. This might be why he conceals his name and his past and all that for all his lives...and possibly because, like almost all the major characters, she can be (and is proved to be) a Wolf of Fenric. What that totally means, I"m unsure of as yet.

Alot this resembles the movie THE FOG, the original. That's not a bad influence but sometimes it gets overwhelming as with the priest and the faith thing and the hands attacking people through wooden doors. How did the Doc get away from about six Haemovores pulling his upper body through the doors? Ace's fight and climb up and fight above are all quite well done and exciting.

JNT nixed...and IMO rightly so, metal talons for the Hameovores. He felt they were too like NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET'S Freddie. I agree with his reasoning. I don't see that metal talons are as scary as the ones they had in the finished product. For FReddie, they are scary, for vampires, not as much so the vampires are scarier here for having regular talons.

Nice touches include: Sorin giving Ace his scarf (why they got so close is beyond me) AND the scene where Ace comforts Kathy over her the note that told her that her husband's ship went down. Another touch that was changed and not in the finished show was that a Russian soldier was supposed to say something about Sorin and the now dead (or comatose?) Prozorov (who didn't like killing) were "together" a long time. In fact, this meant they were gay but this was changed to something like knew each other or worked with each other. Ahh, have times changed that much?

Ace's seduction of the guard guarding Sorin is ridiculous. She's not sexy in it at all, and she's been sexier on the show...and the dialog makes NO sense here. It's as if they imported this scene from GHOST LIGHT.  

As I've said, this is still a good episode and a good story, great story but things are a bit more confusing here and a little out of hand...but not terrible...            


In the end, the story doesn't make any sense really. Mostly because of the Ancient One and the powers of Fenric and also: the moving around of scenes. Judson seems to flit from place to place as Fernic but why? Of course we get PYRAMIDS OF MARS like scenes as his trusted (?) nurse gets offed by the Heamovores (and others do too). He also seems to be weakening as Judson/Fenric and doesn't know where the Doctor is despite Millington having taken the Doc out to be shot. Perhaps he meant after the Doc escaped? Ace screams like a shrew twice...

I used to love the Doc telling her off to fool her and Fenric so that the Ancient One's able to kill Fenric. But what was the plan? And from who and by whom? If the Ancient One can simply kill Fenric like that, why didn't it? It needed the gas? The timing wasn't right? And I guess it didn't want to be created as it was? The Doc seems to change time? Also see the LONG THINGS THAT DON'T MAKE SENSE in ABOUT TIME 6. And why did the AO, want to kill the other Heamovores? It hated them? It wanted to be the only one? It was depressed? If this had been better planned out, it would have been an excellent story but as it is, thanks to this episode, it's just okay and barely passable to be honest because all the whole doesn't come to fruition.

Oh and I guess Ace knew nothing of her paternal grandmother's back ground? And what is Kathy going to do? Show up as Ace's nan's house and say what? I knew her granddaugther---she told me to come her for help? WTF? Also: Isn't Kathy still a Fenric agent? What was Fenric trying to do? What was the Doctor really trying to avoid or do? I't's  all a muddled mess by the end.

The juxtraposition of scenes is a mess, too. Sorin talks about getting the chess set but I guess he's distracting everyone away so Ace and the Doc can sneak inside? Then he goes and finds...Judson, leaving the other surviving Russian to go get the Ultima Machine? And I take it all these Wolves of Fenric are related somehow? And is the Ancient One one of them, along with Ace?    

And why didn't the toxic gas that just killed almost all the Russians but one hot one dead in just 20 seconds, not have the same effect when the Doc and Ace are somewhat gassed in Millington's office? And why was Millington moving around so much? Why does on UK soldier stand there as the vampire girls move in on him---without even shooting? Was he hypnotized? It didn't seem that way? Why did the other men just retreat without helping him away?

And the kicker: how does playing a chessgame help/stop adversaries? It seems we're in the realm of the supernatural somehow and it's ...NONE OF IT...explained. That's also bad storytelling, just like GHOST LIGHT.  

The extra stuff, just liek GHOST LIGHT, doesn't really give us what we need but some of it is nice. There's the rock climbing scene and some dialog, more dialog about the baby I think, and Sorin having his faith tested after he gave away his Soviet Emblem to Ace (he passes). There's one ABOUT TIME 6 comment I'm not sure about: who had their faith tested and passed but it wasn't told what their faith was? Bates? The other Russian? Ace? Ace also drops the scarf Sorin gives her at the end. And in one sequence Judson seems to be giving us all the middle finger! 

McCoy is a great Doctor but I'm glad, honestly, he's not the Doctor any longer. His mumbling in certain scenes, his not pronouncing things correctly, his mouthing of words, and his rambling mumbling is a constant source of annoyance to me. Hitting the DVD subtitles often thanks to him and Aldred (who's not as much a mumbler but sheesh! following suit!). On Tom Baker, who did it ONCE in a while, it was funny or charming but with McCoy doing it so often---and I'm not the only one---during one pivotal scene where Ace is yelling at the Doctor to tell her what is going on (and everyone says she's not a traditional companion!)---the director told them that their diction had to be better and that the words had to come out better!

That said, all that, the ending is rushed and too much left unexplained and strange.  A good story but it could have been a GREAT story, a contender, and thanks to this last ep, which wasn't terrible and had some great action and a few good tender moments (Sorin and Ace; the two gay friends at the end, the Russian and Bates now becoming "comrades" and "partners") and a good lesson I guess, I wouldn't show this to non fans.    

And another pet peeve of mine about this error/era is that I like to know who survived at the end and who did not. Even the minor characters. For instance, did Perkins live?   

Aurelius's picture

Nearing the end of the McCoy Era we come to the crown jewel of his tenure, a classic to stand amongst the great, CURSE OF THE FENRIC. There is so much happening in this episode—a cloth of so many threads—it’s hard to decide quite where to begin. Better to dive right in.

At first glance, there appears to be one too many plots and sub-plots:
- Jean and Phyllis, the two girls who befriend Ace who are stuck living with the mean, gnarled Miss Hardaker (played brilliantly)
- Secret Russian commandoes invading English soil
- The disillusioned vicar Wainwright (a character seemingly taken out of King’s SALEM’S LOT)
- The scientist Judson and his ULITMA machine
- Viking graves and inscriptions
- The Doctor and Ace in the middle of everything
But, unlike the previous story GHOST LIGHT things do not get out of hand and are not a muddled mess, but rather interweave into a rather grandiose story that, to a certain degree, carries its thread back some 7 episodes previous to DRAGON FIRE.

At the heart of this episode are the ideas of predestination, manipulation and faith.

We find out everything that has unfolded thus far has been a part of the Fenric's (a source of timeless evil) plan; all the pawns in his game were descendents of the Vikings who first buried the flask. Fenric has also manipulated Ace in more ways than one by creating the Time Storm that sent her to Ice World and by bringing her to 1942, she has met her grandmother and mother (whom she despises) as a baby and, in the words of Fenric, “created her own future.” Fenric has left clues through the Doctor’s adventures, most notably, the chess chest in Lady Peinforte’s cottage (SILVER NEMESIS). The Doctor, aware of this, too has manipulated people—Ace, by allowing her to interact with her mother and the Ancient One, whom he tells the Fenric has deliberately brought him back in time to poison the Earth's waters with chemicals—because this act will set in motion the chain of events which leads to the future which creates the Ancient One himself, the last survivor of a polluted, dead Earth. But all of the Fenric’s plans are brought to nought by faith—or rather the lack of faith.

Faith then becomes a strong undercurrent in this story. We find that it is faith, not iconography, that holds the vampires—excuse me, Haemovores—at bay, because absolute belief in something creates a psychic barrier, such as the Doctor’s faith in his companions (apparently during the attack on the church, the Doctor begins rattling off names of companions, according to the Doctor Who Reference Guide, but this was not readily apparent upon viewing the episode). It is this same faith the Doctor must dispel in Ace so the Ancient One can act against Fenric and destroy him.

Bubbling near the surface of these undercurrents we learn more about both Ace and the Doctor: we see Ace as a seductress, luring the guard away and infatuated with Captain Sorin; there are brief allusions to the Doctor’s family, when asked if he has a family he responds, “I don’t know;” and then there is the dark, callous side of the Doctor. We can feel a tinge of truth when he rails against Ace, that we’ve seen before in his character that he constantly dismisses as “Oh, that’s not true; I had to do that so such and such could happen,” but somewhere we believe that, quite maybe he wasn’t completely lying.

For all of its greatness, there are problems with CURSE OF THE FENRIC. Most notably with the character of Millington—is he insane or merely that dedicated to winning the war? Why with all the allusions to Norse mythology (the Doctor is able to “win him over” by mentioning some)? Or is he nothing more than the Fenric’s macguffin? Then there is the “poison.” This is never really explained save that it bubbles out of the earth and is extremely lethal and some vague reference to Norse mythology. Its color is green and the Fenric’s eyes are green, so I suppose there’s vague loose connection that he may have a hand in its creation.

CURSE OF THE FENRIC has more in common with the “new” series than it does with “classic” series. We see the Doctor of the future taking form—akin more the 10th (and mayhap the 11th?) who is larger than life, can open the TARDIS doors by snapping his fingers and who carries with him a deep, dark, turbulent side that can and will envelop any who cross his path or travel with him. A truly great episode that has an air of melancholy (knowing that the end is nigh; and what might have been in the McCoy era) and glimmer of things to come.
RATING: 9 out of 10

"Gosh, that takes me back. Or forward. That's the trouble with time travel; you can never remember." (The Doctor, The Androids of Tara)

Again you are too kind. As I've reviewed above, it really falls apart by the end and nothing makes sense or is explained at all. For instance, how does a chess set figure into this at all? It seems to be supernatural and how does the Doc playing chess with Fenric...think about that scene for one moment: does it make any sense? He plays chess...with Fenric...and what exactly does that do? How does Ace's grandmom come to live with her other grandmum? What? And why did the all pwerful Fenric need Haemvores and esp the Old Ancient one to being with? The regular Hameovores were doing quite well until the ANcient One...under his guidance destroyed them and then the AO turned on him! WHAT?


And I almost forgot, the MUM I'M SORRY!!!!!!!! bit. Wouldn't it have been more dramatic to have Ace mumble it or pray it or something rather than shout it out but then again , this is Ace, who cares what people think of her and she would probably shout it out so the whole world can give its attention to her and her problems.   

Aurelius's picture

I suppose there are two ways at looking at this story, figuratively and literally. Literally, the chess set means nothing--or, as Freud would say, "sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." But, most other times it is not. I liken this episode to the famous Hemingway quote: "[Literature] is like an iceberg--3/4 of it lies unseen." The chess set is a classic symbol for a struggle of wits, intelligence, good vs. evil, etc. By showing the chess set early and referencing it later, it shows the struggle between the Doctor and the Fenric, rather than giving a lengthy backstory. It is ambigious at best. As for the idea of Ace's grandmum ... well I don't know. I'm not always bothered by having all the threads tied up for me. Sometimes, yes to make it tidy but here it didn't bother me. Yes, the end seemed a bit rushed and would have liked it developed more--this would have been a great 6-part story. But alas, you get alot of jumbled things thrown in there. I beleive the Ancient One was simply thrown in there as a plot device--i.e. a cataylst to turn against the Fenric and simply another figure that has been manipulated by both the Doctor and the Fenric. I do agree with you on the scene with Ace and her mum--it would have been better served as you described. The story is not without flaws, but it is the best of the McCoy era ("GREATEST SHOW" is also quite excellent).

"Gosh, that takes me back. Or forward. That's the trouble with time travel; you can never remember." (The Doctor, The Androids of Tara)

like it but as my review shows it sort of fails in ep 4. I used to LOVE GREATEST SHOW IN THE GALAXY but again, that story failed me on this viewing and falls totally apart by the last ep ...and McCoy's "show " for the GODS OF RRRRAAGGGORRARRRRRANRRRROCKKKK is so embarassing. I used to think it was somewhat funny but it's not. Really, not. 

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