Friday, 31 October 2014

Doctor Who: The Curse of Fenric (Special Edition)

"Just because you've never been swimming..."

Yes, I know, I've done The Curse of Fenric. But that was during the Marathon, all those years ago. This is the movie format Special Edition from the DVD, and it's sufficiently different for me to do another blog post about it. It has, after all, been described by Andrew Cartmel as the definitive edition.

Ian Briggs is an extraordinary writer, and one with a great deal of thematic depth. He didn't come to Doctor Who with a genre background but, frankly, who cares? It's not much of a spoiler to say that I'm going to praise this to the skies.

The early scenes flow much better in their new order, and I'm reminded once again how the Seventh Doctor was too cool for psychic paper, calmly strolling into a top secret military base at the peak of the Second World War, casually forging the signatures of both Churchill and "C" with both hands just in time, like an uber-cool Leonardo da Vinci.

It's possible to tell the extended scenes, as the grading's a little off, but this version is so much better in terms of pacing, atmosphere and plot comprehension. This Doctor is extremely intellectual, quoting Nietzsche to the Reverend Wainwright. 

The story is full of metaphors. Maiden's Point is transparently about losing one'a virginity, and there's a clear subtext that Jean and Phyllis may have symbolically known each other in the Sapphic sense while swimming. Ace, of course, stays firmly on dry land at this point.

There is, perhaps, a more overt gay subtext for Judson and Millington but they are too bitter and ossified for such metaphors, which are broadly linked with adolescent sexuality and self-discovery.

I like the new CGI with the revelation of the inscription within the crypt. And, once again, I marvel at Millington's genocidal plans for post-war Moscow with his Fenric juice. But it all comes back to the water, with swimming a metaphor for arc; Jean and Phyllis are turned into vampires, a monster with obvious sexual connotations, and are sexually alluring in the same way as Dracula, tempting a man into the water.

The fight scenes around the church are much extended, but only provide a brief respite from the ever-present metaphor. Ace even seduces a guard to distract him, speaking entirely in the most oblique and impenetrable metaphors, discussing "undercurrents, bringing things to the surface". That's a fair description of what this story is about.

The Doctor being revealed to have trapped Fenric by means of a chess game just underlines how cerebral a story this is. We have the Ancient One as a fairly obvious ecological metaphor. We have the brilliantly handled revelations about Ace's past manipulation by Fenric. We have the equally ingenious twist of the Doctor's apparent betrayal of Ace. And always we have the subtext of the water, of the feelings beneath the surface, of sexuality, of the subconscious, of Ace's final, cleansing swim, symbolically entering adulthood.

Is this the best Doctor Who story ever?

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