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12 December 2014

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 711: The Curse of Fenric, Episode Two

Dear diary,

I don’t know what’s wrong with me this week, but I’m completely lost with this story! I mean… I know where it’s all building, as I said yesterday, and I’m enjoying it on the whole… but I’m struggling to keep up with it! Everything is moving very fast, with characters darting from one location to another, sometimes only remaining there for the duration of a very brief scene, before heading off to the next place. The Doctor is especially bad as a culprit of this, and I’ve very quickly lost track of everything. Is it just me? It’s not a particularly complex story, but it’s at a pace I’m simply not used to seeing from Doctor Who!

Still, as I’ve said, I’m enjoying the story irregardless of my ability to follow it. There’s just so much atmosphere to The Curse of Fenric, isn’t there? Something about the way the mist rolls in while Phyliss and Jean go for their swim sums up the entire story so perfectly, and it’s the first time in a while that I’ve been able to claim that it’s the kind of thing that would have taken a hold of my imagination as a child and hooked me right in to the programme. It continues to get better from there - when we next see them, having ended their previous scene on a shot of the empty water, it takes a moment to really register what’s happened. Have they been zombified? Are they simply okay? It’s not for a good few seconds that it hits you that their fingers and nails have grown long and spindly, and that they’re pale and drained of blood. They then tempt the Russian soldier in to the water, and watch on as the hands emerge from the water to drag him down. Later on in the episode, when those same creatures come marching from the sea, I always remember a note in the About Time books that makes reference to the fact that this is the late-1980s version of ‘monster emerges from water’, citing Full Circle’ and ‘The Sea Devils’ as earlier examples in the programme. It’s *such a great shot, though, isn’t it? And I think this may be the best example of it yet.

The thing I’m enjoying most about this episode has nothing to do with the effects or the eerie atmosphere, but is relevant to something I read recently. During Series Eight, I read a comment online regarding Frank Skinner’s appearance in Mummy on the Orient Express. Someone complained that it was ‘pushing stunt-casting to the same levels we got under John Nathan-Turner’, and suggested that it was bad for the show, citing ‘Beryl Reid, Ken Dodd, Nicholas Parsons, and Hale & Pace’ as examples. Now, I spoke about Beryl Reid’s casting during Earthshock and concluded that actually she probably wan’t quite right for the role. I also discussed Ken Dodd during Delta and the Bannermen, and decided that he was absolutely perfect for the part - and looking back he’s probably my favourite thing about that entire season; I still love the way he’s shot in the back as he tries to get away!

But I sincerely doubt I’m alone in saying that Nicholas Parsons in this story completely justifies the practice of casting well known ‘names’ for the show. He’s most well known for hosting Sale of the Century or for charing Just a Minute, and that’s often brought up when people take a pot shot at him taking on a dramatic role in this story, but he’s frankly wonderful as the vicar here. His performance is honestly one of the best that a guest actor has ever given to the programme, and I could quite happily spend time just watching him. I’ll admit that it doesn’t always work - again, Beryl Reid, I’m looking at you - but surely this is the ultimate example that just because you cast someone who’s mostly known for ‘light entertainment’, it doesn’t mean that they’re not right for Doctor Who, also?

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