‘THE CURSE OF FENRIC’
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Haemovores and Fenric with the Doctor and Ace
“We play the contest again…Time Lord!”
‘The Curse of Fenric’ is an extraordinary ‘Doctor Who’ adventure by Ian Briggs, starring Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor and Sophie Aldred as Ace. It is set during World War II and it features a deadly chess-playing enemy for the Doctor. This is also a story about Ace facing her present personal fears.
This story is on a 2-disc DVD set. The first disc contains the original four-part adventure whilst the second disc contains a full-length special edition version of the story with new scenes and new effects. I enjoyed the special edition version of the story, especially when watching it for this review.
The Doctor and Ace visit a secret military base. The base is used as a post to intercept German messages. Also at the base is an eccentric scientist who tries to discover ancient-old Viking runes on a wall. This is a part of a deadly curse, as vampire Haemovores rise and Fenric makes his next move.
I enjoyed watching this story (both versions) on DVD. I don’t fully understand the whole plot as there is a lot going on within Ian Briggs’ story and it is very complex. But what is happening in this story is a game of chess played between the Doctor and Fenric that has been going on for a terribly long time.
This is a dark story in the Seventh Doctor era, compared to his earlier comical endeavours. There are aspects of the story I found interesting, including Viking old legends and Norse mythology; vampire-beings like the Haemovores and the Doctor’s cunning agenda that reinforces the chess theme again.
What shone out for me was Ace’s story. Ace has developed gradually during the series since she joined the Doctor. This is the story where we find out some of the truths of Ace’s character such as how she came to be on Iceworld in ‘Dragonfire’ and what the relationship with her mother was like.
The Doctor is more mysterious than ever and his relationship with Ace is far more than interesting and deeper than before. He knows about Fenric already, who is a pure force for evil and was locked up by the Doctor. Fenric managed to escape and use his pawns in the game of chess on the Doctor.
In the story, a group of Russian commandoes comes to the British coast by sea. This gets interesting, as the Russians are supposed to be on Britain’s side during the war. The reason for why they come here in the story is to capture the ULTIMA supercomputer used at the military base to win the war.
Sylvester McCoy delivers a superb performance as the Doctor. He balances the clownish side and the more serious, darker aspects of his Doctor well. He knows what’s happening and doesn’t tell Ace. You wonder why Sylvester’s Doctor does these things and why he must play the chess games of his.
Sophie Aldred is wonderful as Ace here. Ace has been growing up gradually in this set of stories for Season 26. She’s still the daring girl with Nitro-9 explosives and climbing down rope ladders from church buildings. But we also see her becoming scared and Sophie portrays the angst of Ace so well.
I liked it when Ace gets to show her compassionate side such as when befriending Kathleen Dudman and loving her baby Audrey (which is also Ace’s mother’s name). Ace also gets to show her sensual side since she’s no longer ‘a little girl’ and she distracts one guard for the Doctor to rescue someone.
Ace gets angry with the Doctor when he won’t tell her anything about his secret agenda and keeps her in the dark. I liked it when Ace gets to be clever as she works out the mystery of the Viking runes as being a logic diagram to Dr Judson. I was so terrified when Ace was almost taken by Haemovores.
I liked seeing Ace in her 1940s clothes with the red hair net; blue dress and stockings. She still manages to look cool and she sometimes wears her Ace jacket at times during the story. Sometimes Ace doesn’t blend in very well within a 1940s society, as she still talks like a 1980s girl from Perivale.
The guest cast are superb. There’s Nicholas Parsons as Rev. Wainwright. Parsons is a well-known radio/television presenter and actor. He plays a vicar who loses his faith. I liked the scene between him and Ace in the church and he tries to ward off vampires with his faith, but it sadly doesn’t work.
There’s also Dinsdale Landen as Dr. Judson, who tries to uncover the Viking runes on the wall in the catacombs beneath the military base. Judson is pretty eccentric, but welcomes the Doctor and Ace’s help. Judson gets taken over by Fenric and the ‘Part Three’ cliffhanger is creepy with his yellow eyes.
There’s Alfred Lynch as Commander Millington. Millington runs the military base and has his own office as an exact replica of Hitler’s office in Germany. He is a ruthless and ‘inhuman’ person as Ace calls him. Millington tries to think like Hitler to win the war for Britain, hoping to gain Fenric’s power.
Tomek Bork guest stars as Captain Sorin, in command of the Russian commandoes. Sorin is an honourable and decent man who has a strong faith. He becomes smitten with Ace and gives her his scarf, admiring her bravery and skill. Sorin sadly gets killed and gets taken over by Fenric in this tale.
There are two girls, Joann Kenny as Jean and Joanne Bell as Phyllis. These two girls are London refugees who come to the countryside to stay with Janet Henfrey as Miss Hardaker. They’re cheeky and naughty. They soon have black hearts when swimming in the sea waters and become vampires.
There’s also Cory Pulman as Kathleen Dudman. Kathleen is a member of the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRENs) at the military base. She has a baby daughter called Audrey and she forms a close bond with Ace. I really liked how Ace grows fond of Kathleen and the baby and helps her to escape.
The monsters are the vampire-like Haemovores. I’m not a fan of vampires as I find them terrifying enough as it is. The Haemovores are very grotesque and scary to watch with their blue faces and blubbery skin. They seem very hard to kill, as Russians firing bullets won’t keep them down forever.
There’s an interesting Haemovore character that speaks called the Ancient One, played by Raymond Trickett. This is a big Haemovore that Fenric in Dr Judson summons. It was used the control the Haemovores and attack the military base. He doesn’t seem so hostile and vicious as it appears here.
The music in this story composed by Mark Ayres is very eerie and creepy. There are some beautiful; haunting cues when we have scenes underwater. The music easily shifts into a snappy and gripping tone when there are action-sequences and when Haemovores come up out of the water and attack.
The final episode of this story has the truth of Ace revealed. It turns out that Ace is one of Fenric’s pawns – ‘the wolves of Fenric’. Ace’s transport to Iceworld in ‘Dragonfire’ was no accident. It was part of Fenric’s scheme to bring her back to 1943. It seems the Doctor knew this all along, but Ace didn’t.
Fenric reveals to Ace that she has created her own future. It turns out that Kathleen Dudman’s baby daughter is actually Ace’s mum. Ace hates her mum, but she helped Kathleen (her grandmother) to save her baby Audrey so that she can grow up and have Ace as her daughter. Does that make sense?
There’s a horrible moment when the Doctor betrays Ace to Fenric. Fenric threatens to kill Ace unless the Doctor kneels before him. But the Doctor tells Fenric to kill her, calling her ‘a social misfit’ and an ’emotional cripple’. This really upsets Ace since she had great faith in him and falls down to the floor.
But it was a deliberate ploy as Ace’s faith was preventing the Doctor to defeat Fenric in this game of chess. Fenric gets killed with the Ancient One, and the Doctor and Ace escape. Ace is angry and hurt, but the Doctor tries to reassure her and is really sorry for betraying her as he explains why he did it.
Despite forgiving the Doctor in the end, Ace is still emotionally torn as she didn’t realise that baby Audrey was her mum who she hates. There is a defining moment for Ace, as she dives into the water and swims, cleaning herself from her fears. She comes out refreshed with the Doctor waiting for her.
I really liked how the story ends with the Doctor and Ace continuing travelling together as they head off back to the TARDIS. The story certainly enhances and develops their character relationships. Both Sylvester and Sophie shine throughout and I continue to enjoy them through their Big Finish audios.
The DVD special features are as follows. On Disc 1, there’s the four-part version of the story. There’s also an information text commentary option to enjoy; a ‘Modelling the Dead’ featurette; a ‘Claws and Effects’ featurette and a ‘Title Sequences’ music video to enjoy with two audio options attached.
There also two audio options to enjoy. There’s a commentary with Sylvester McCoy; Sophie Aldred and Nicholas Parsons. There’s also an isolated score music-only option by Mark Ayres to watch and enjoy. There’s a photo gallery of the story; a ‘Nebula 90’ convention panel and a ‘Take Two’ item.
On Disc 2, there’s the ‘Shattering the Chains’ interview with writer Ian Briggs and a ‘Recutting the Runes’ interview with Mark Ayres on the special edition version of ‘The Curse of Fenric’. There’s a ’40th Anniversary Celebration’ music video as well as a ‘Costume Design’ interview with Ken Trew.
And of course there’s the special edition version of ‘The Curse of Fenric’ to enjoy. It’s about a 104 minutes long and it contains some new scenes and new visual effects. This special edition version of the story is dedicated to the memory of director Nicholas Mallet and producer John Nathan-Turner.
‘The Curse of Fenric’ is an intriguing and extraordinary story of ‘Doctor Who’. I enjoyed watching it. I don’t fully understand the story altogether, but it’s gripping to watch. The Haemovores are terrifying and Ace’s story was a joy to watch with her character development and relationship with the Doctor.
‘The Curse of Fenric’ rating – 8/10
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