24
Sep 11

Time Reconsidered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Who Eps: #16 THE CURSE OF FENRIC

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or “it’s warm — BLOOD warm!

… being a show-by-show TARDIS-esque (ie in effect random) exploration of Doctor Who Soup to Nuts, begun at LJ’s diggerdydum community, and crossposted at FT.

Right, 1989’s near-eve of cancellation, in which Eeevil McRe-Incarnate Fenric plays games with the bloodlines of all (local amateur) history until a rematch with the Doctor goes AWRY, but at WHAT COST to TRUST? A hyper-timely-wimely ketchup this, given actual current Nu-Who (apparently: I’m writing this up before I watch last week’s) (and after I watched this week’s). And also anyway an epochal, prescient, witty and fascinatingly and unexpectedly complex and emotionally provocative ep, say some (others: “it’s incomprehensible c0ck”). On hand PLOOS it has Vikings, vampires, vicars (well, Nicholas Parsons as a vicar), cosmic chess, companionly fambly biz, WW2-era computers, code-busting Bletchley Park rehoused near legendary Gothavore bathing spot Whitby, un CURSE LOCALE and AMAZING SOVIET LOVE INTEREST <---- :o :o :o :o On side (so-called) MEEEN00S = Ms Dorothy Gale "Ace" McShane; SIR SYLVESTRE McGURNSALOT; fx budget of 15 and one quarter pee. And so, since the plot claims to untangle itself by working backwards, backwardsly let us trip and troll through these claims

i: emotionally provocative — i refer readers to this ancient post, and the claim that grown-up emotional complexity was only achieved in Nu-Who. Well, NOT SO, and yet — in another more accurate sense — WAY SO. The ambition of the tangle here — of Ace not only decoy-acting but then getting somewhat slightly horny-broody for/with IVAN SORIN THE SECCHSY and TOO-SOON-DEAD RED (or was this horniness a routine Ace feature?) plus the double loop of her being manipulated (along with everyone else) by McGurnsalot and her aw-so-cuet encounter with her estranged (and unrecognised till too late) mum as a babby — is leagues ahead of the competence of anyone present to realise it, apparently. BUT it’s a strong enough concept, however badly executed, to sit there waiting to be done properly thru all the long sad dusty and yet pre-dusty years of CANCEL.

ii: fascinatingly and unexpectedly complex — see above, re the concept of ruthless ep-long Doctorly untrustworthiness in a good-ish cause (saving the world; being cruel to Ace); the plot as a kind of chess problem for the viewer to solve retroactively (and in my case unsuccessfully: this show was made in the age of video but was it yet the age of being aware that a show could be rewatched multiple times and decoded? Certainly I did not watch with this in mind, and as a consequence think I missed a lot ofr what was going on. viz I assumed the Soviet soldiers were Scands (ie modern vikings) for half the show (tbf their accents were fkn drettful). Actually there are a lot of forces being moved around: three rival armies, no less, and the Doctor and Ace provisionally in allegiance with all of them at some point (when the Doctor was even in allegiance with Ace).

iii: witty = characters that are somewhat topsytuvy: a Good and Brave Red vs a WW2 Brit who works in a replica of Hitler’s office, and — when that turns out to be a bit of a misdirect — helps re-embody FENRIC himself, who fashions bloodlines to make the world evil; the narrowly dogmatic landlady who is QUITE RIGHT THAT SWIMMING IS DANGEROUS and will send maidens to hell (the hell of being goths with long fingy-nails); the namby-pamby am.historican vicar who delivers a trite biblical text which reveals as KORREKT MILITARY SCIENCE in terms of the narrative (the codeword is love and the cure is faith); and the Oldest AND UGLIEST Haemovore who sacrifices himself (and i think the rise of his entire race to earth-prominence) to off Fenric. And poor old Ace discovering that her being helpful and trusting is a catastrophe, planwise.

iv: prescient (see ii re multiple video-rewatch as a modality); see i re McGurnsalot the ice-cold manipulator (and hence hullo Matt…)

v: epochal… is this true? Does it in fact signal the shift to the idea of Nu-Who, right there on the eve of the “Michael “Fenric” Grade shut-down. Is it the nearly botched birth of a nu-concept, a decision to go for grown-up and morally shaded, with approximately none of the tradecraft machineries required to achieve this, actorly especially? Not to mention a long-game time-villain story salted with jigsaw-piece elements from all the ages.

vi: syl and dotty are, i’m afraid, lifelong contrarian tho i be, quite hard work to watch. Sophie Aldred is, I’m told, incredibly charismatic in person, the obvious star of any room she’s in IRL: and it’s true to say and fair to say she has terrible script-material to work with (brilliant bolshy teen nerd misfit who is koolest in skool, and — more to the point — out of it)… the grisly attempt at a seduction scene (ok, it’s VERY FUNNY and i LARFED, but it is funny for cheeky daring in the face of eddie-the-eagle technique i ph34r)

vii: fess-up time, I watched this a bit tired and distracted just the once, and despite 14 pages of notes, think i missed a lot of the most relevant material (hence clue: it was HARDLY EVER THE DIALOGUE!!): and this is my first ever propah ep-length encounter with Ace or McGurnsalot, and so i have no previous work of theirs to compare them to (except that SM plays Lt Birdie Bowers in the TV version of The Last Place on Earth, the Scott of the Antarctic story) (which is kinda no help in any direction). And my Tardis-esque jumping-about-the-broadcast-order approach is unhelpful here too: I felt (after I had dispatched it back to LoveFilm) that there’s been a conscious effort to work in elements from the adventure-feel of EVERY Doctor. I can check off Pertwee/ Troughton (sea-beasts and the military), Hartnell (historicals), and Davison (raveled moebius time-conundra): but I feel less confident summarising the Bakers (let alone Whiggy McGurnsalittle), to check them off too.

All in all, I strongly felt I did not get out of this all I could — but equally felt no huge impulsion to rewatch particularly soon.

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