The Curse of Fenric

The Curse of Fenric
The Curse of Fenric Book.jpg
Season: 26
Episode: 3
Vital statistics
Air date 25 October - 15 November 1989
Written by Ian Briggs
Directed by Nicholas Mallett
Episode guide
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The Curse of Funwreck was the penultimate story of the 26th season in not-so-Great-Britain’s not-so-science fiction televisic programme Doctor Whoa, first broadcast in 1989. A total of three versions of this story exist: the 1991 video had about six minutes of extra padding, while the 2003 DVD included a 'Special Edition' version that had been chopped up to resemble a movie-length feature, with less cringe-inducing special effects, re-editing of some scenes, and twelve minutes of extra footage - in other words, more padding, yes.   One working title was The Wolves of Fenric (and before that, It's Wolf-Time!).  The bad guy Fenric does call his servants "wolves" (a strong link to Norse mythology), but Nathan-Turner felt that the "wolves" connection was not revealed until quite late in the story and wouldn't initially make sense, which is pretty fucking rich coming from that guy if you stop and think for a second.

Funwreck revealed that both Ace's joining the Doctor's travels and the way the villain during Silver Nemesis used time travel were all part of this evil entity's plan to release itself and gain revenge on the Doctor for imprisoning it in its flask. This story also revealed the Seventh Doctor's deceitful qualities and the repercussions his manipulative schemes had on people, but I haven’t seen any of those to so who cares about that right now. Removed from the script was a reference to Ace's having lost her virginity - reminder: Sabalom Glitz, ha ha.

PART ONE: Off To A Decent Start

God these chintzy opening titles just scream “80s children’s programme” y’know?  The only good part is the TARDIS in the hamster ball.  Still, the crumpled up balls of tinfoil are cool too, so BRAVO JNT.  Anyways, so some russian WWII soldiers speaking dot-matrix subtitles come ashore in some fog and the Tardis lands near an English naval base.  Surprised to be in England for once, the Doctor and Ace bluff their way onto the base (who needs psychic paper when the soldiers are this stupid?) while the soundtrack hits some Glenn Miller riffs, because Glenn Miller was literally the only form of music created and played during WWII except for a cover of "Deutschland, Deutschland über alles" sung by the SS Marching Band & Glee Club.  The Russians decide to speak in heavily Russian-accented English hoping to disguise their being Russians, or possibly because adding subtitles was just too much for the budget.  

The Professor - sorry, the Doctor and Ace barge into some guy’s office and he immediately thinks the Doctor “is an expert in this field,” because people sure were gullible during WWII, too bad they removed the word ‘gullible’ from the dictionary (and, later, the internet) in 1923.  The Russians feel evil in the air whilst a Norse ship’s prow looks like the Loch Ness Monster underwater.  A Russian finds a copy of the script on the beach but it doesn’t help so he flees the cameraman, who catches him and shoves the camera in his face.  

After chasing away an old biddy, a vicar tells the Doctor that that one guy is working in the crypt, where the Doctor finds him translating an old Viking rune inscription - how this is supposed to be helping the war effort I dunno, but there it is.  Ace tries to chat up some local girls.  Some guy in a suit hangs out inside a Nazi office (complete swastika flags and Hitler portrait) for a few seconds doing nothing really, then we cut away because no one knew how to edit Doctor Who in the 80s apparently.  The vicar mentions a Viking curse over this area, then we see a dead Russian soldier for a second and then the Doctor and Ace talk to the translating guy working on the inscriptions, then duck right the fuck back out because the Doctor wants to get in on Ace’s local girl action.  The Doctor and Ace find the script too, but it’s in Russian.  The Doctor decides to rush back to the church because nothing keeps Doctor Who more interesting than constant rushing about, right?  

The translating guy works with a German code-breaking machine and has an obvious Alan Turing moment with the suited guy who was hanging out in the Nazi office - no no, not a gay moment, but one in which he predicts that one day there will be more computing machines; it’s sad.  By the way, the Nazi office guy is one of the least convincing generals I’ve ever seen on screen, he has no sense of command at all, but considering what’s up with him in this story, maybe that casting works out for the best.  The vicar reveals to the Doctor that his grandfather has already translated to Viking inscriptions and makes them sound all scary and shit like Cthulhu’s diary or something.  

Ace watches the local girls, who call her a baby doll, swim in the sea.  The Doctor in his 8-bit sweater vest reads the translated Viking stuff about the local curse and finds it mirrored in the Russian script.  A grimacing Russian soldier almost shoots the local girls who’ve finished swimming.  The Doctor shows the translations to the translation dude while we see a drowned Russian soldier on the Norse ship prow beneath the water.  The Doctor and Ace barge into an office of women transcribing German code and meet a baby whom the Doctor speaks Bird to.  Ace hates the baby because it has her mom’s name.  The weak general barges in and says he hates the baby too.  The Doctor and Ace suddenly are barging into the Nazi office which the Doctor says is a perfect replica of the German cypher room in Berlin.  The Doctor says the general has this to help him "think like the Germans" and isn’t a suspicious thing at all, you know, just a perfect replica of something from Berlin that no Englishman had ever seen.  Now the general reads out some of the Viking translation stuff - all very atmospheric and Lovecraftian, but not as good as a solid script would be.  The Doctor and Ace find the dead Russian and then get captured by the living ones.

PART TWO: Looks Good So far, I think...

More reading of the Viking inscriptions ensue with some Twins Peaks style music overlaying the Norse ship’s prow.  The inscriptions in the church crypt begin to glow.  One of the Russian soldier’s mind is in pieces (I thought he died?) whilst the rest of the soldiers let the Doctor and Ace go; I’m not sure how that worked but anyway.  The Doctor decides more running about is needed and wants to see the inscriptions for himself again, the general tells the translator guy to use the machine to work on the viking inscriptions instead of the German codes (ignoring that translation is different from code-breaking but so it goes) and Ace and the Doctor look at the inscriptions, all in the space of like 30 seconds.  The general shows up and points his pistol at the Doctor’s nose.  

The vicar reads some stuff from the Bible to add to the apocalyptic atmosphere and the Russians, completely forgetting that they have rifles, beat up some British troops.  The weak general gives away his plan to the Doctor and Ace, something about using poisons oozing out of the wall called 'the Curse Of Fenric' on German cities to end the war; look, I have no idea where this info comes from either, but it’s what they said, so let’s just leave it at that.  One Russian feels bad about killing the British troops.  Ace says something very applicable to Classic Who, which I'll bold because it's so true: “things always look different when you’re a child.”  And to think I used to actually like this show.  

The general tells the Doctor that another part pf the plan is to let the Russians steal the code-breaking machine because it too has some wall-ooze poison inside, because the Russians won’t be allies after the war and the British are a duplicitous, untrustworthy lot.  The old biddy tells the local girls they will burn in hell, have black hearts etc. for just going goddamned swimming!  Then again, I live in a country with Texas, so I shouldn’t point fingers.  In some heavy-handed symbolism, the general poisons some caged doves with the wall-ooze for the Doctor whilst talking about using it on Dresden, and the word to make the soon-to-be-Russian-stolen code machine blow up and spill its wall-ooze poison is “love,” see just how over the top can you take things when you really try?   

An old bottle gets found while some workers seal up the room for some reason.  The local girls go swimming in their clothes to get back at the old biddy and fail to see a Russian soldier or the Norse ship’s prow underwater (in the same bit of film from last time).  A fog rolls in and the girls disappear to ominous music.   The general gives an order to burn all chess sets in the base whilst doodling the magic bottle ignored a few scenes ago; somewhere along in here he apparently just let the Doctor and Ace wander off after revealing his evil plans, which makes no sense.  The Doctor speaks Bird to the baby again and he doesn’t know if he has any family.

The local girls are suddenly in the sea again with very long nails and looking a little vampire-like before they hypnotize the Russian soldier to come into the water where he’s attacked by other claw-hands and an ugly monster or something.  The old biddy dies knowing she was right - damnation for swimming!  - when the vampire local girls show up and interrupt her hymnal Victrola session as a dead Russian (I can’t say “the dead Russian” as the programme’s already confused this point before) floats in the water.  The Doctor and Ace sneak into the old biddy’s place whilst a friendly golden retriever spoils the shot by walking through the background.   The vampire girls are about to kill the vicar when the Doctor tells them to go and they do for some reason.  The general gets antsy to see the code-breaking machine finish translating the inscriptions or something, even though I thought the vicar’s granddad had already, then the magic bottle glows some more, then he’s more excited.  The Doctor says as long as they don’t translate it, things will be OK, Ace says they should have told her (something) and some long dead-historical people-monster-vampires come up out of the sea.  The Doctor Ace and the vicar suddenly barge in and try to stop the machine but can’t.

PART THREE: This Norse Ship Is Listing

Some soldier comes in and the general tells him no one is to stop the machine, but I thought no one could stop just like three seconds ago?  It’s a pretty bad follow up to the cliffhanger.  He orders for reinforcements and the soldier reminds him that he just ordered all radios be disabled and we see Perkins going at one with an ax - ‘e loves ‘is job, does our Perkins.  The general rushes out followed by the Doctor and Ace, who you’d think would try and stay behind and stop the machine’s translation but whatever.  The Doctor explains vampires while the rain on his umbrella plays havoc with the dialogue track.  The Russians flee with their dead friend from the vampi- sorry, haemovores.  The general and the translator guy argue about stuff while the Russians stand around and watch the vampires from a distance.

The vicar checks some old records and the Doctor and Ace ransack the church for clues; I have no idea why they’ve forgotten the translating machine or the evil general or the vampire girls they saw who threatened to come back for the vicar, but there’s a lot of running around yet to be done, this is a four-parter and we’re only perhaps a fifth of the way through part three.  Ace finds the magic bottle but doesn’t say so and the Vicar finds some info as the vampires rise in the graveyard now too (very Hammer Films here).  

The vampires start to break in so Ace goes to the roof to use her rope ladder (WTF) to climb down but some vampires grab her and give us a split-second panty shot if you look closely; apparently you can also see some vampire’s mask pull off his neck or something but who cares about that when there’s an Ace panty-shot in the offing, right?  The Russians show up and finally use their rifles for once and shoot the vampires but of course bullets don’t stop vampires.  The Doctor scares them off by saying something (turns out it included the names Susan, Barbara, Vicki and Steven which was a nice touch).  The vicar doesn’t seem surprised at all to see Russians, but then again he’s just seen a whole shitload of vampores.  

Ace gleefully blows up a wicked wall and vampires hate a good communist.  Ace gives the Doctor the magic bottle.  You ever notice how vampires always walk around with their claws held up at about face height, all like  “I gotta be careful, my nails are still drying!”  They do this a lot here.  Also, I’m not sure when exactly, but the local girl vampires now appear to be wearing bland 80’s clothes, not the somewhat-accurate wartime outfits they were drowned in earlier.  The general takes the books and magic bottle and the Russian commander wants to talk to him, but gets locked up.  Ace finds out the baby's mother’s hubby was kilt by this damn war.  Somehow the magic bottle is helping the machine when they just like sat it on top or something.  

Ace confronts the Doctor about always knowing what’s up but never explaining it to anyone so he overacts while telling her this Fenric thingy is pure evil from before the birth of the universe in some overly dramatic way.  Ace lures out a guard with some nonsense dialogue that would also fit well within an episode of Twin Peaks.  Lightning strikes the translator guy from the machine, the sea from the clouds and it’s raining on the vampires and the dead vicar and Fenric possess the translator’s body who calls the Doctor “Time Lord.”

PART FOUR: Gahhh, Is It Over Yet?

The mother sings to her baby and we cut right back to the Doctor with Fenric, who throws some loose paper about the room.   The Russians attack for some reason, disrupting the firing squad execution of the Doctor, Ace and the Russian commander while Fenric talks to his vampires; sometimes it’s raining, sometimes it’s not by the way.  The general spouts some more prophecy nonsense over the chess set in his Nazi office.  The Doctor does about the same and Fenric has his vampires go get him - all this cutting back and forth in the space of like one minute!  Exciting telly by editing rather than scripting or logic in other words, it’s a lazy trend.  Also, these local girl vampires look like lazy goths at a local pub rather than proper vampire monsters, but anyway.  The chess set was rigged to blow poison then up for some reason.  

Fenric talks to some fish guy the vampire girls brought up and for once, “a person in a fish-person costume on Doctor Who” doesn’t turn out as badly as you'd think; shamefully, he doesn’t bring a lot to the story or even have much to do.  The Russians make some grenades with what I guess is some of the wall-ooze poison and kill some soldiers you can see are still breathing, but where did they get the poison from?   It’s still raining except when it’s not and the Russians decide to destroy the code machine because it must be the cause of all this.  Fenric introduces the general to his venom-spewing ‘great serpent,’ nudge nudge.  Ace shares a touching moment of connection with the communist.  The Doctor rushes to set up a chess set while we cut furiously amongst vampire attacks and thunder and Ace being philosophical near the baby.  Like 80% of the soundtrack is now composed of synthetic brassy “Bwah-bwah, bwah bwah Bwah-bwah!” nonsense that’s really starting to get on my nerves, c’mon guys, it’s not funny anymore.  

Ace helps the baby and her mom escape.  Fenric’s serpent kills all the vampires for some reason while the Doctor and Fenric play chess.  Then suddenly the Doctor is talking to the serpent elsewhere about its being from the future, Ace is barging in talk to Fenric whose body is failing - this stuff makes no fucking sense, there’s no logical follow through from one scene to the next, it’s like Moffat wrote it right before The Wedding of River Song.  A British soldier and a Russian soldier shoot the general and ask "war, what is it good for?" and decide "absolutely nothing," which is very deep for a children’s programme I’ll grant you.  Then Fenric is in a Russian body and somehow wins knowing the pawns fight together (I don’t think chess works that way but whatever) and a lightning bolt sets the chessboard on fire.  

The serpent or fish-person shows up while Fenric explains that the baby Ace saved was her mother from the past; I don’t know why Fenric knows or cares about that but whatever.  The Doctor fakes out Fenric by telling him to kill Ace, Fenric says he’s been here all along since that awful episode when the Doctor first picked up Ace, but at least that explains how she got to that Ice World.  The Doctor says he saw the evil in her and says some other mean stuff to her and blah blah blah until the serpent forces Fenric into the gas chamber and gases them both; OK, I forgot about that, I guess the fish-person did have something to add to the story: deus ex machina.  

The Doctor escapes with Ace and, like in The God Complex, explains he said all that bad stuff to make her lose her faith in him.  At the beach the music goes all new-age and the Doctor helps Ace get over her hatred for her mother by going for a swim, “dangerous undercurrents” my ass.

The End

Overall, this story does have some good apocalyptic atmosphere at the beginning, the translating dude actor does a decent job of switching roles to Fenric (before he died like five minutes later), but it's all ultimately a bit spoilt by lots of unnecessary running about.  This story could have been compressed into a kick-ass two-parter if they had dropped the general, the Russians who did squat-all for like two episodes other than provide padding, most if not all of the vampires, and the fish-person but there you go.  However, one always has to keep in mind when this was made, we simply must celebrate it when any goddamn thing goes right during JNT’s run of the show, because such moments came so rarely.

Silly Phandifur says this about The Crust Of Fernic at one point: "We could stop here. A Freudian vampire story about historical progress that positions sexual liberation as the solution to war would be sufficient to rank this story among the classics. But astonishingly, it goes further." No, let's not go any further, let's stop right there.