Image Description: The Ancient One
In a jaunt away from new TLV content, John Salway takes a look at the stories featured on the Road to the Dark Times Blu-Ray, and their place in TLV canon. This time, The Curse of Fenric…
Following on from the pretty strongly-linked State of Decay, we now arrive at the Road to the Dark Times story with the loosest connection to Time Lord Victorious, as the Seventh Doctor and companion Ace battle against master of the long game, and ancient evil, Fenric. The titular villain is very, very old, and could therefore have existed in the Dark Times, but I don’t recall anything concrete in this story to that effect. By the same token, we could include other McCoy stories like The Greatest Show in the Galaxy or Ghost Light as TLV stories if our only criteria is ‘the villain’s been around for a while’. The story does feature blood-sucking vampires, slightly similar to those in State of Decay and across TLV, but these vampires aren’t the definite article. They are instead dubbed the Haemovores, and originate from the distant future rather than the ancient past, so that’s not really a connection either. Ho hum.
But I don’t really mind all this, because any excuse to re-watch The Curse of Fenric is something I’ll welcome with open arms. The story is a personal favourite, filled to the brim with intriguing characters; exciting action scenes; and a lot of themes to explore. Events range from the deeply personal, as Ace discovers more than she bargained about her family history, and the local Reverend struggles with a crisis of faith; to the classically epic, as an evil force emerges from its prison to destroy the world. There’s an awful lot of ground to cover, so the story zips from place to place at a high speed that keeps the story engaging and exciting.
However, the high density of interesting material is also this story’s biggest weakness, as it leaves some moments difficult to follow, and at other points important developments are glazed over when more detail and explanation is called for. For example, the origins of the Haemovores are revealed to be a causal loop – their transportation to the past allows them to create the conditions necessary for their existence in the future. While this concept is quite important to the story’s resolution, it is mentioned only briefly, and is fighting for space with Fenric’s other time-bending plots and revelations, so it’s easy for a first-time viewer to miss. But to be frank, when my major complaint is that a story has too much content, that’s a pretty good day for Doctor Who.
As well as having a conceptually rich script, the production is generally strong, and also boosted by the unusual decision to shoot entirely on location. This choice lends real credibility to the setting, and does away with the jarring back-and-forth between video and film which can often fracture the verisimilitude of Classic Who. The Haemovores are also quite well realised, with suckers and coral-like growths reflecting their underwater stomping grounds, as well as appropriate historical dress for some of their older ranks. Less successful are the newer members of their roster, who are essentially just normal people with pale skin, a lot of hairspray, and very long fake nails. This renders one scene in particular, where a Russian soldier is compelled towards his death, faintly ridiculous, as his predators are two young girls with massive hair who look like they should be singing a power ballad. But they get a lot right, so I’m willing to overlook it.
Ultimately, while I highly enjoy The Curse of Fenric, it really could have benefitted from a longer running time. Perhaps if given another episode or two, the suspenseful or tense moments could have had more breathing room, and more time could have been given to elements that are brushed over, like the aforementioned Fenric-triggered paradoxes. Compared with other stories that we’ve covered in this collection, such as the fairly simple six-part story Planet of the Daleks, this adventure contains more than enough plot, action and thematic content to justify such a longer slot. If only this Blu-Ray contained the extended special edition with cut footage that I still haven’t seen…