My ‘proper’ # 11 in the top 50 breakdown, is the classic Pyramids of Mars, but since that’s already had it’s chance here, I’ll move on to my next choice. By the late eighties, many Who fans feared the best days of the show had been seen, and the likes of getting a story to rival those like the aforementioned, were highly unlikely….But just as the classic series chugged it’s way to it’s drawn out end, a new fire seemed to erupt from the burning embers. As a 17 year old at that time, being a Doctor Who fan was not something I admitted to too many people at that time. The Curse of Fenric is the story that proves that I was right, and ‘they’ were wrong….
Setting a Doctor Who story in the 2nd World War, was surprisingly not a common occurrence, and the production values on Fenric shows that with the right director, designer and writer, the show still had quality, and could deliver the goods. Granted, up against Coronation Street, and barely getting 4 million or so viewers, not enough people got to see that, but the thought was there. A long thought out story arc (the seeds lain right back in Dragonfire), Fenric sees the fruition of the Dorothy ‘Ace’ McShane(?) storyline, with a brilliant performance from Sophie Aldred, as the Doctor has to break her faith in him to defeat the foe….I don’t think there has ever been a better performance from both leads from that time. Even Sylvester McCoy manages to throw off the over-acting stakes here…his pain at making Ace breakdown never more apparent….Love is such a very alien concept in classic Doctor Who, especially the love of a mother or best friend, and is handled just so cleverly here.
Along with a superb ensemble cast, Fenric works so well that even today the episodes stand up well. No variety performance from Nicholas Parsons here…the pained Reverend Wainwright played so beautifully, all memories of Ken Dodd are erased. Alfred Lynch makes a suitably cold villain, almost alien like here, his character drawn in and played like all the others by Fenric. Lots of chess allegories here, the invisible villain’s ‘game’ with the Doctor, supposedly having taken centuries is quite believable here. More praise for Tomek Bork, his turn as the possessed love interest for Ace is another high point, as are the monsters, the Haemovores, and the Ancient One in particular, just superb work on such an awfully small budget….RTD’s takeaway bill must have been more.
The story is not always easy to follow, I think at times Andrew Cartmel and JNT needed to have gone over the four story-lines making up Season 26 a little more to iron out some plot holes, but either way, this season has a unique charm….and none are better or more unique than The Curse of Fenric. Well worth a rewatch. What a shame we didn’t get to see much more after….If we ever get a 12 Faces of Doctor Who season, this should be the seventh, no question….This one proved there was still a new trick or two up the old series’ sleeve. — Andy
After forty weeks of anticipation, the 50 for 50 Top Ten is here… at least it will be next week.