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The Curse Of Fenric
The Doctor and Ace land in England during World War II, at a secret seaside base which houses the Ultima Machine, a powerful codebreaking device. But disturbances plague the installation: Russians are trying to steal the Ultima, mysterious Viking runes are found in a church crypt, and vampiric Haemovores are rising from the ocean. The Doctor discovers his ancient foe, Fenric, has manipulated events in order to gain his freedom. And central to Fenric's schemes is none other than Ace.
By the end of Season Twenty-Five, John Nathan-Turner had been the producer of Doctor Who for eight seasons and was keen to move on to other projects. He had already obtained assurances from his superiors that he would be able to leave the programme after both Season Twenty-Three and Season Twenty-Four, only to have this promise retracted at a late stage. Nathan-Turner then decided to remain with Doctor Who for its silver anniversary season, because he was keen to oversee such a milestone. However, he was determined that this would be his swansong on the show, and indeed a number of alumni of the Doctor Who crew appeared in Silver Nemesis as a way to celebrate his lengthy tenure.
Production on Season Twenty-Five wrapped up in mid-August 1988, around which time Nathan-Turner expected his bosses to name his replacement. However, the BBC decided at a late stage to postpone one of Nathan-Turner's proposals (developed with his Doctor Who script editor, Andrew Cartmel) and then, in September, he was asked by Head of Series and Serials Peter Cregreen to stay on Doctor Who. Since his only alternative would be to quit the BBC altogether, a disspirited Nathan-Turner reluctantly agreed. On September 8th, the BBC officially confirmed that Doctor Who would continue to a twenty-sixth season.
One of the writers Nathan-Turner had been working with in his attempts to move beyond Doctor Who was Ian Briggs, who had written Dragonfire for Season Twenty-Four. In May 1988, Briggs also began discussions with Cartmel regarding a new Doctor Who storyline. Having already written a lighthearted romp, Briggs was now keen to try his hand at something more atmospheric, preferably with a period setting. His original suggestion of the 1970s was dismissed by Cartmel as being too recent. They agreed instead on the Blitz, but rather than following the obvious tack of situating the action in London, it was decided that Briggs' serial would take place along the English coast. In particular, a North West setting was appealing because it was the area in which Dracula was said to come ashore in the eponymous 1897 novel by Bram Stoker.
Briggs had an interest in the events surrounding the dawn of the computer age, and was eager to make use of this knowledge in light of the time period in which his story would be set. Most notably, Professor Judson and the Ultima machine were conceived as a parallel for Alan Turing and his bombe device. During World War II, Turing had made enormous strides in the field while designing a computer which could decrypt the enciphered communications generated by the Nazis' Enigma machine. After the war, however, Turing faced discrimination because of his homosexuality, and committed suicide soon after being subjected to hormone therapy as part of a criminal sentence. Judson's paraplegia would serve as a metaphor for Turing's persecution; it would also be very gently suggested that Judson and Commander Millington had been involved in a homosexual relationship.
The other major element of Briggs' storyline was Norse mythology and the journeys of the Vikings, inspired by a vacation to Sweden during the summer. In particular, he drew upon the legend of the vast wolf-monster Fenrir or Fenrisúlfr, who was foretold to cause the death of the chief god Odin and so was mystically bound to a great stone until the Ragnarok -- the “twilight of the gods”. Briggs contemplated titles such as “Powerplay” and “Black Rain”, but by the time the scripts were commissioned on November 9th, his storyline was called “Wolf-Time”.
Having introduced Ace in Dragonfire, Briggs was excited to contribute to a throughline Cartmel had envisioned for Season Twenty-Six, in which Ace would be forced to face up to her greatest fears. Nathan-Turner, however, was wary of the emphasis his script editor wanted to put on the companion, and was mindful of the continuity issues which had arisen due to the last-minute rescheduling of The Greatest Show In The Galaxy. Consequently, he argued for standalone serials, as opposed to the gentle linkages Cartmel had in mind. The producer also wanted to pull back on the notion of the Doctor possessing hitherto unrevealed powers, which had been hinted at during Season Twenty-Five.
Another point on which Nathan-Turner was firm was that the monsters in “Wolf-Time” should not be referred to as “vampires”, which had already featured in Season Eighteen's State Of Decay. Instead, Briggs developed the idea of the Haemovores -- literally, “blood eaters”. The origin of Ingiger, the Ancient Haemovore, on a dying future Earth was inspired by the alien played by David Bowie in the 1976 film The Man Who Fell To Earth, who comes from a world ravaged by drought. The Soviet names were drawn from the works of Russian playwright Anton Chekhov: Sorin is the owner of the estate which serves as the setting of 1896's The Seagull, Prozorov is the name of the family central to 1901's The Three Sisters (in which Vershinin is a soldier), and 1904's The Cherry Orchard deals with the heirs of the Gayev family. Miss Hardaker, meanwhile, was inspired by the schoolteacher Miss Tillings in the 1965 Dennis Potter play Stand Up, Nigel Barton. (Ironically, both characters would be portrayed by the same actress: Janet Henfrey.) Briefly, the weapon hidden in the Ultima machine was an atomic bomb. Another discarded idea was a coda in which an older Ace is putting a baby to bed when she catches a glimpse of the Doctor watching over her.
Around the start of 1989, Briggs' adventure was renamed “The Wolves Of Fenric”. At this point, it was planned to be the second story made for Season Twenty-Six and designated Serial 7N. As such, it would enter production in May under director Michael Kerrigan following the completion of Battlefield, in which Nicholas Courtney would be reprising his role as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. However, in January it was discovered that Courtney would not be available for that adventure's April recording dates. Consequently, it was decided to interchange “The Wolves Of Fenric” and Battlefield in the production schedule. This meant that “The Wolves Of Fenric” was now classified as Serial 7M, and would be directed by Nicholas Mallett, who had last worked on Paradise Towers for Season Twenty-Four.
The abrupt change also meant that Briggs was faced with four fewer weeks to complete his scripts, forcing him to write the final two episodes over the span of just three weekends. Around the same time, Cartmel requested the removal of any references to Ragnarok, in order to avoid confusion with the Gods of Ragnarok who had appeared in the Season Twenty-Five finale, The Greatest Show In The Galaxy. Also deleted was a line of dialogue in part one which would have suggested that Ace was not a virgin. Indeed, the character outline which Briggs had drawn up in 1987 acknowledged that she had had sex with the space rogue Sabalom Glitz.
In the late Eighties, four-part Doctor Who stories were made as a combination of location and studio recording. In the case of “The Wolves Of Fenric”, it was planned that scenes outside the naval base, in the graveyard and on the shoreline would be completed on location between April 1st and 11th, to be followed by three days in the studio from April 25th. During pre-production, however, Mallett became convinced that “The Wolves Of Fenric” would be best served if it were made entirely on location, with the costs recovered by hiring the guest cast for a shorter period of time. Although he also wanted to make greater use of location filming in Doctor Who, Nathan-Turner was uneasy with the scope of his Mallett's plans, and only grudgingly agreed.
Coming into Season Twenty-Six, Sylvester McCoy had anticipated that this would be his final year on Doctor Who. However, he had greatly enjoyed the moodier direction that his character had taken during Season Twenty-Five, and also now enjoyed a strong bond with his costar, Sophie Aldred. Nathan-Turner was eager for McCoy to stay on for an extra year, and in early 1989 he finally succeeded in persuading the actor to agree. As such, when McCoy was contracted for Season Twenty-Six on March 13th, an option was added to cover Doctor Who's twenty-seventh season in 1990. He was also pleased by the decision to modify his costume, with designer Ken Trew introducing a darker jacket, hatband, tie and handkerchief to reflect the Seventh Doctor's evolving personality.
During rehearsals, Tomek Bork (Captain Sorin) suggested to Mallett that, for the story's opening moments, the Soviet troops should speak in Russian, in which the Polish-born actor was fluent. The director agreed, on the condition that Bork translated the dialogue himself and assisted the other actors. It was at this stage that Nathan-Turner asked Briggs to reconsider Serial 7M's title yet again. The producer was concerned that the meaning of the term “wolves” in the context of the plot came too late to avoid confusing viewers, and so Briggs proposed The Curse Of Fenric instead. Nonetheless, “The Wolves Of Fenric” would still be used on some documentation right up to the story's broadcast.
The major location for Serial 7M was the Crowborough Training Camp at Crowborough, East Sussex, which represented the Naval base. The recording, which spanned April 3rd to 8th and then concluded on the 11th, was hampered at times by unseasonably cold and snowy weather, and on other occasions by heavy rains. As a result, the ground became extremely muddy, and the prop tunnel entrance constructed by the BBC design team started to sink; Briggs also had to rewrite some of his dialogue to account for the conditions.
On April 12th and 13th, Mallett's team travelled to St Lawrence's Church in Hawkhurst, Kent, which posed as St Jude's and its graveyard. It had been a struggle to locate a church with both a bell tower and a flat roof which could support the cast and crew. In the end, advertisements were placed in newspapers asking for the public's assistance, and an historian had recommended St Lawrence's. Three more Hawkhurst locations were also used for The Curse Of Fenric. On the 14th, the cell area where Fenric's flask unearthed itself was in Bedgebury Lower School. Then, on the 15th, Miss Hardaker's cottage was a private home called Roses Farm, and the mine shaft was actually an old British Rail tunnel on Yew Tree Farm. At this last location, Nathan-Turner invited McCoy's sons, Sam and Joe Kent-Smith, to play two of the Haemovores while they and their mother were visiting.
Finally, Maidens' Point was actually Lulworth Cove, near West Lulworth in Dorset. Mallett filmed there from April 18th to 20th, with Nathan-Turner directing the underwater photography with a second unit on the last day. Ironically, the recording of the Haemovores' rise from the water on the 19th was beset by the same problem which had afflicted a similar scene in 1972's The Sea Devils, as the costumes trapped air and became difficult to submerge. Ultimately, the Haemovore actors were given rocks to which they could cling, in order to keep themselves underwater.
In post-production, Mallett was distressed to learn that one of the videotapes from the April 7th recording at Crowborough had been reused the following day, with all of the footage wiped as a result. In particular, this meant that he had lost various close-up and insert shots from the climactic confrontation between Fenric and the Ancient Haemovore. With no option to restage the affected material, Mallett had to compose the scene using mostly wider-angled shots. As a result, some of the Ancient Haemovore's dialogue was dropped, as was a shot which suggested that only Ingiger's remains were left behind in the gas chamber, implying that Fenric had contrived a way to escape.
After the first edits were compiled, The Curse Of Fenric was found to exceed its allotted twenty-five-minute time slot in spectacular fashion, with episode four especially overlong. Indeed, consideration was given to reediting Serial 7M as a five-part story, but the total overrun of about twelve minutes was not sufficient to warrant another installment, and Briggs was concerned about the effect this would have on the adventure's pace. Amongst the most drastic trims Mallett was forced to make were a scene of soldiers staking Haemovores on the roof of St Jude's from episode three, and more of the exchange between the Doctor and the Ancient Haemovore from episode four.
The Curse Of Fenric was originally planned to be the second story of Season Twenty-Six after Battlefield. However, given the adventure's atmospheric content, Nathan-Turner decided that it should air around Hallowe'en; given the season's start on September 6th, this necessitated that it be moved back one slot, to follow Ghost Light. The new broadcast order had been decided by June. Unfortunately, this did mean that the line of dialogue concerning the spooky old house which Ace burned down -- which was intended to inspire the Doctor's decision to bring Ace to investigate the mansion known as Gabriel Chase in Ghost Light -- was now rendered somewhat incongruous.
The Curse Of Fenric was the final Doctor Who work for both Nicholas Mallett and Ian Briggs. Mallett went on to direct episodes of Children's Ward, The Bill and Take The High Road; he passed away on January 30th, 1997. Briggs' later writing credits included Casualty and The Bill, before his career moved into theatre management, arts marketing and independent film production. Briggs also authored two acclaimed novelisations of his Doctor Who stories, and was asked to write the fourth novel for Virgin Publishing's Doctor Who: The New Adventures range, bringing the opening Timewyrm cycle to its conclusion. When this did not come to pass, the slot was instead taken by Timewyrm: Revelation, by future Doctor Who screenwriter Paul Cornell. Briggs did later contribute a story to the anthology Doctor Who: Short Trips: Defining Patterns, published by Big Finish Productions in 2008.
After the weak viewing figures for Seasons Twenty-Three and Twenty-Four, the Doctor Who production team had been encouraged when Season Twenty-Five demonstrated some positive ratings momentum, despite the fact that the programme was still scheduled opposite the enormously popular soap opera Coronation Street. Sadly, Season Twenty-Six premiered to historically small audiences, and the needle climbed only marginally over the following weeks. Nathan-Turner made the unusual decision to “relaunch” the season at its halfway mark, holding a press screening for the first episodes of The Curse Of Fenric and the season finale, Survival, on October 19th. However, the impact was minimal, and the four episodes of The Curse Of Fenric would become the only first-run Doctor Who broadcasts to slide so far down the ratings tables that their chart placements are unknown.
|Updated 4th August 2015|
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