Doctor Who And The Vampires of Bletchley Park, the story better known by its proper title The Curse of Fenric, is something of a return to form for the show after all the mediocrity & fanwankery of the unholy trinity of Saward, Levine & JNT.
By 1989 Doctor Who was a shadow of it’s former self and had, to my mind at least, become the one thing it had always protested it wasn’t – a kids’ show. The episodes produced during the Cartmel Era, as the final years of the show should properly be labelled – JNT was only nominally in charge, arguably burnt out by the trials of The Trial – should really have been shown at half four in the afternoon instead of seven o’clock at night. And as a result of the juvenile tone of those shows, this is one of only two productions from McCoy’s time in the role – Remembrance of the Daleks being the other – that I actually rate at all.
Fenric is a curious tale of Gods and Monsters and Faith and Evil From The Dawn Of Time and all that jazz. It’s probably the one Cartmel show that comes closest to the default setting for Who, but by this time what should be the seldom deviated from norm has become the rarity in among all the live-action-comic-book style shenanigans of the Grand Master of Galactic Chess and the Moody BBC Teen who wouldn’t be out of place in Eastenders. The plot is yer standard BUS with the spin of vampires attacking a naval base during WW2, staffed by two blokes with an unhealthy obsession with Viking Folklore who I never realised were a gay couple until fairly recently. And then there’s a whole load of stuff about Computers, Faith, Sex, Alan Turing, the Enigma Machine and the Doctor & Fenric as God & The Devil getting all Seventh Seal as they fight over Ace’s soul.
And it’s the viking folklore bit that give the story it’s unique feel and the first decent bash at something properly atmospheric in ages. I don’t know bugger all about Ragnarok or the broods of serpents that spew their venom over the roots of The Great Ash Tree and I don’t need to. The hallmark of a tale well told is that it engages you and holds your interest, sweeping you up in the action of the forward trajectory of its plot as it hurtles towards its resolution.
I’d rather have an energetic, atmospheric, entertaining and engaging story with plot holes than a serious, sensible, dramatically dull turd of an affair that has a watertight narrative. Fenric works, and that’s both a reason to celebrate and all that really matters, because its the first story to work like a Doctor Who story should in a very long time. It’s also one of the few stories that I think could benefit from having a couple more episodes, and I really think it would work better as a six-parter like we used to get in the old days before JNT.
That’s why I edited this from the Movie Edit on the DVD and not the episodic version, which always felt incredibly rushed, and no wonder as it’s trying to pack far too much material into two too few episodes. Overall, The Curse of Fenric is the second best story since The Caves of Androzani, mainly due to the fact that, despite a momentary fumble at Second Base the story is heading for a home run right up until the climax when it trips itself up and crashes halfway to Home Plate. But more of that when we get there.
Before I started the edit, I knew there were two main things I wanted to do. The first was to de-emphasise all that bollocks with Ace and her bloody Mum. For one thing, whining teenagers aren’t anywhere near as entertaining as Vampire Monsters From Beneath The Sea and for another that Ace really needs to get over herself, this is science fantasy, not soap opera. So we lose the infamous “Super Ted” scene as well as a few others to keep the focus firmly on the monsters without diminishing the significance of the Mommy Audrey part of the story that will still come into play at the climax.
The other, and much more important thing I wanted to fix was the fundamental error of having the Doctor destroying Ace’s faith in him. Sorry, but to my mind that’s a complete betrayal of the character and utterly, totally wrong. That is the real Curse of Fenric, a great story not ruined, but certainly forever diminished by, the wrong ending. And why was it the wrong ending? Because it was totally unnecessary and no other Doctor would have done what they have the McCoy Doctor do here to defeat the villain.
What was to stop the Doctor physically attacking Fenric and shoving him into the gas chamber himself, with Ace’s help? Why wait for the Ancient Haemovore to do it? Not only that, once inside the chamber, the Doctor could have set off the gas himself. Fenric would have gone wherever Evil From The Dawn Of Time goes when it’s human host body has been destroyed and the Doctor would have walked back out of the chamber unharmed, because Fenric is in a human body and the Doctor’s not human. The reason Dr McCoy doesn’t do that is, of course, because this isn’t a regeneration story, but it’s to the eternal shame of Cartmel, Briggs and Nathan-Turner that such a fundamental betrayal of who the Doctor is was allowed on screen.
So in this version, it’s the realisation that Baby Audrey is Mommy Audrey that sends Ace over the edge, allowing the Haemovore to attack and kill Fenric. That, to me, is how it should have ended if the Doctor wasn’t going to do the job himself, making Fenric the agent of his own demise, and, in this Fan Edit, it does end that way. Instead of crashing and burning on the last corner of the last lap, this story finally makes it across the finishing line the way it should. Thanks to the wonders of fan editing, the curse on The Curse of Fenric has finally been broken.