The curse of Fenric (1989)
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This is a four-part serial, first broadcast between 25th October - 15th November 1989. A brief and somewhat spoiler-ish summary of the plot: the Doctor and Ace travel back in time to the 1940s, where their discovery of some Viking runes leads to a final battle between the Doctor and one of his oldest enemies.
On the plus side:
- it's an intriguing story
- the serial is well-directed and looks fantastic, with great sets, costumes and location work and excellent special effects
- the incidental score by Mark Ayres is outstanding as usual
- there are good performances by all involved
On the minus side:
- I thought the first three episodes were brilliant, but I found myself losing interest while watching part four. I believe the problems with the final episode have to do with the plot. This is difficult to discuss without spoilers, though
And so, on to the spoilers.
After re-watching the serial, I think the problem with part four is two-fold. One problem is that we have a layered and complicated plot (and the pudding may have been over-egged here) that's been set up in the first three episodes and requires a great deal of plot resolution in part four. We have, in no particular order: the Doctor's history with Fenric and the confrontation between the two of them; the final confrontation between the British and the Russians; commander Millington's demise and the resolution of the 'final solution' plot-line; the introduction of the Ancient One and his relationship with Fenric, and the confrontation between the two of them; the demise of the Haemavores; Ace's budding sexuality and the end of her romance with Sorin; the vicar suffering the consequences of losing his faith; Ace losing her faith in the Doctor and regaining it; and the resolution of the baby plot-line. That's a great deal of plot to deal with in a 25-minute programme, and the other problem is that several plot-lines - particularly the Ancient One's story and the relationship between Fenric and the Doctor - require a fair amount of exposition. This leaves us with a final episode that has oddly little emotional impact, being so crammed with information that nothing in the story has room to unfold and breathe.
The puzzling bits - all of which have to do with the massive plot resolution exercise in part four:
- why does Ace seem genuinely sorry that she can't tell Judson / Fenric the solution to the Doctor's chess puzzle, and why does she rush back in once she's figured it out so she can blurt out the solution to the first person she encounters? (Maybe she's under the influence of her Viking heritage, though the serial never makes this clear, or perhaps she's just forgotten that Fenric is supposed to lose the game)
- why does Fenric's victory in his game against the Doctor have so little impact on anything? Shouldn't it release him from whatever that's holding him captive, or end the world, or something?
- how does the Doctor know that the Ancient One will kill Fenric once he's released from the hold that Ace's faith has over him?
- why does it matter to Fenric that Ace, Sorin and several of the others are descendants of the Vikings who brought the flask ashore? If he managed to do - whatever it was that he did - to the Vikings while he was already trapped in his flask, why couldn't he do the same to any of the current-day characters? This is especially puzzling in Ace's case, since she found the flask and carried it around in her rucksack for some time. Then again, without the need to create a Viking lineage for Ace we would have missed out on the oh-so-clever baby plot-line
- what did happen to the Vikings, anyway? (My guess is that they got caught up in the 'time storm' that Fenric used to bring back the Ancient Haemavore from the future and became the Ancient One's first victims, but this is pure speculation)
- what compelled the Haemavores to remain lurking near the wreck of the Viking ship for all those centuries? We know they're able to leave the ship and come ashore, so why didn't they do so before?
- what is the role of the Ultima machine? Decrypting the runes is apparently supposed to trigger something in it, and there seems to be a connection to Fenric's ability to possess people and to continue his game with the Doctor, but what exactly is going on is anyone's guess
- and - hell, while I'm at it - why chess? Why is it always chess in these battles of wits that span the centuries?
The first three episodes are brilliant, too bad about part four.
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