A few chapters back, I mentioned how, from the fall of 1993 on, I didn’t go out and play in Athens GA as much as I should have. But I’d been living in Athens for four years at that point, and I went out and played as often as possible before (a) I started making calamitously stupid decisions about my living arrangements and my future and (b) American television finally started making shows that I really wanted to watch again. And because I’d largely stopped spending whacking great chunks of my time watching and rewatching and absorbing Doctor Who – I didn’t even have a television for a year there – I didn’t get incredibly familiar with “The Curse of Fenric.” I saw it once and maybe twice, enough to say “Wow, that was really, really good,” but then I had records to buy and bands to see and girls to chase.
And so, a few years later, sometime after the wrong chase and the calamitously stupid decision, I found myself going out far, far less and had more time to fall back in love with Doctor Who. “The Curse of Fenric” was released on VHS in a special edition extended by six minutes and I watched and rewatched and absorbed it. “Fenric” was what I showed people who had once enjoyed Who when Tom Baker was the Doctor but lamented how silly and/or stupid it got in the eighties. With maybe one exception, everybody who saw it with me agreed that dang, this truly was really, really good.
But then time moved on and formats changed and I still wish I’d have transferred that extended VHS to a DVD-R, because the officially-released DVD doesn’t have that. It has the as-broadcast four-part version, which I hadn’t seen in many years, and an even-more-extended movie with twelve minutes of additional material. So in 2006, when my older kids and I got to this story, I didn’t want to watch it as a movie, I wanted to see it in four parts. And knock me down, but the broadcast version of “Fenric” was borderline incoherent. Hot on the heels of “Ghost Light,” which the children hated, here’s another story which left them baffled and confused and mostly indignant that the show they loved had become such an impenetrable mess. It felt like those six minutes they cut for broadcast were pretty critical to anything and everything making sense.
Lesson learned. Tonight, we showed our son the movie version.
Our kid still doesn’t have anything nice to say about “Ghost Light,” but he liked this one and it gave him another great behind-the-sofa moment when the evacuee girls go swimming and something underwater is about to get them. It’s as technically flawed as everything else from the era – only the veterans among the guest stars, including Dinsdale Landen as a 1940s scientist and Janet Henfrey as a stuck-up old crone, know how to project their voices toward the microphones – and the script desperately needed less of Sylvester McCoy being otherworldly and mysterious and more of him providing the backstory directly instead of yammering on about “EVILevilsincethedawnoftime.” But the music is by leagues the best of its era, the director did one of the best location shoots in the whole of the series, and there’s an awesome performance by Nicholas Parsons, who was apparently a game show host of all things, as a vicar who’s lost his faith in God.
I like how this story is so full of gloom and foreboding. We were later getting back than planned, and the sun went down about a third of the way into the story. It’s a good one to watch in the evening with the lights out. Sure, it may work even better on an October night with the first winter chills blowing through, but even in a miserably hot July, “Fenric” is a very moody and effective story when seen in full.