Recap: Doctor Who S26 E3 "The Curse of Fenric"
The penultimate classic story goes out of its way to give us all bloomin' ginormous night terrors.
"I am the only one left now. I raise these stones to my wife, Astrid. May she forgive my sin. The day grows dark, and I sense the evil curse rising from the sea. I know now what the curse of Fenric seeks: the treasures from the Silk Lands in the east. I have heard the treasures whisper in my dreams. I have heard the magic words that will release great powers. I shall bury the treasure for ever. Tonight, I shall die, and the words die with me."
The Doctor and Ace step out of their TARDIS into a 1940's English naval base near Maiden's Point on the Northumbrian coast during World War II. Befriending the base personnel, they learn that the base, run by Commander Millington, is being used as a listening post where Dr. Judson is using his ULTIMA machinenote
to crack inscriptions written on a Viking crypt beneath the base, warning of a being called Fenric, which has attracted Millington's attention believing he can gain Fenric's power. Outside the base, the Doctor and Ace discover a covert squad of Soviet commandos, led by Captain Sorin, who are seeking to capture ULTIMA for themselves; the Doctor warns them to stay low, while Ace and Sorin become smitten with each other.
The Doctor and Ace find a glowing Oriental vase, a treasure captured by the Vikings and left in the catacombs, but it is taken by Millington when they return to the base. As Millington and Judson prepare to use ULTIMA to decipher the writings on the vase, vampire-like Haemovores begin to emerge from the sea, attack and convert the English and Soviet troops and other residents into more Haemovores. When Judson runs ULTIMA with the vase, energy strikes Judson, and he becomes infused with Fenric. Fenric begins to give orders to the Ancient One, an old Haemovore in control of the other monsters, to continue to assault anyone in their path. Ace is able to warn one of the women of the Women's Royal Naval Service, Kathleen, in time for her to escape with her newborn child, Audrey.
The Doctor reveals he has previously faced Fenric, an ancient evil since the dawn of time, besting him by challenging him at a chess problem. Arranging another chess problem in the same room where the nerve gas has been stockpiled, the Doctor is able to delay Fenric while he runs off to seek a more permanent solution. Sorin, the last remaining member of his squad, enters the room and prepares to shoot Fenric, but Fenric reveals that Sorin is one of his "wolves", having descended from the Vikings that carried the cursed vase to the English shores, and takes over his body. When Ace returns to the room, she unwittingly helps Fenric, in Sorin's body, to solve the chess problem. The Doctor arrives too late, as Fenric can no longer be stopped. Fenric orders the Ancient One to attack the Doctor, but a psychic barrier created by Ace's trust in the Doctor prevents the Ancient One from acting. The Doctor is forced to reveal to Ace that she too is one of Fenric's pawns, as it was he that created the time storm that transported her to the alien world where she met the Doctor the first time
. Furthermore, by saving Kathleen and Audrey, she has assured that the cycle remains unbroken, as Audrey will grow up to become Ace's mother whom she despises. Ace's faith shatters, causing the psychic barrier to drop, but instead of attacking the Doctor, the Ancient One grabs Fenric, pulls him into a sealed chamber and releases a lethal dose of the gas. The chamber explodes, killing them both. The Doctor pulls Ace out of the store as it explodes behind them.
The Doctor tries to explain to Ace that he didn't mean what he said, but had to break Ace's faith in him to allow the Ancient One to act. He would have done anything not to hurt Ace, but he had to save her from the curse. On the shores of Maiden's Point, Ace wonders why she cannot stop hating Audrey, her mother, even though she loved her as a baby. Ace dives into the bay, no longer frightened of the water, and surfaces, liberated. The Doctor and Ace walk off, back to the TARDIS.
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This episode provides examples of:
- '80s Hair: Two of the Haemovores' victims have this. In the 1940s.
- All There in the Manual: Like several novelisations of 1980s Doctor Who stories, the novel fleshes out several of the characters; in particular, it quite heavily implies a homosexual relationship between Millington and Judson in their backstory and feelings between the two London evacuees to an even greater degree than the TV episodes, and it reveals that Judson's nurse is a Soviet spy informing on the ULTIMA project to the Russians. It even fleshes out the prudish old woman who is billeting the evacuees, suggesting that as a younger woman she was 'ruined' after a reckless visit to Maiden's Point with a boy she knew, hence her bitterness about the subject in the present day.
- Apocalyptic Log: Most of the runes being translated by Dr. Judson tell the story of a Viking who was part of the raiding party who acquired the 'treasures' that included Fenric's resting place... and the terrible misfortunes that befell them. It ends bleakly.
- Bavarian Fire Drill: The Doctor wanders onto a secret naval base, bypassing a patrol holding them at gunpoint by barking orders and nitpicking about uniform cleanliness, breezing into an office and proceeding to write his own letter from the War Office, which he promptly hands over to yet more soldiers as proof of his right to be there.
- Break Her Heart To Save Her: Or rather, Break Her Heart To Save The World, which doesn't make it any less painful.
- Call Back: To "Dragonfire" and "Silver Nemesis", it is revealed Fenric was manipulating these events.
- The Doctor mentions his companions so his faith in them will hold back the Haemovores.
- The Chessmaster: The Doctor, to the point where even Ace is frustrated by his scheming.
- In Part 4, he and Fenric become literal Chessmasters.
- Contrast with the fact that the events of this episode are because Fenric wasn't actually a Master of Chess when they first met
- For all we know, neither was the Doctor. His winning move (getting the other side's pawn to turn against him) is blatantly illegal.
- Clap Your Hands If You Believe: Played straight, then horribly subverted with Reverend Wainwright's death.
- Cthulhumanoid: The Ancient One
- Culture Clash: Kathleen is insulted when Ace (being from The Eighties) assumes that she wasn't married, despite her having a child.
- Death Notification: Kathleen gets a telegram notifying her of her husband's death.
- Demonic Possession: How Fenric manifests.
- Dies Wide Open: Those the Haemovores kill.
- Dirty Communists: Averted. At first, it seems the Russians are an antagonist force, what with them performing a covert mission in England, and attacking Royal Marines, and holding up the Doctor and Ace at gunpoint. As the story develops, we gain more sympathy for them, they become protagonists and the Royal Marines end up as antagonistic Mooks until they join forces.
- Eldritch Abomination: Fenric is supposed to have been something from the dawn of time, possibly even earlier.
- Evil Cripple: Subverted with Judson. Once Fenric takes him over he loses his disability.
- Evil Is Not a Toy: Commander Millington hopes to work with Fenric.
- Exposition of Immortality: Fenric makes a speech about how long he's been trapped in the bottle since El-Doktar confounded him with the "contest of traps." The Haemovores are all dressed in period costume appropriate to the time period they became Haemovores in. Ingiger (the Ancient One) is a double subversion of this; it was brought back in time thousands of years by Fenric and has subsequently lived for a thousand years since following the flask to Maiden's Point from the Orient.
- Fingerless Gloves: Judson wears them.
- Genius Cripple: Dr. Judson. Overlaps with Homoerotic Subtext in the novelization—when they were schoolboys, Millington had a thing for Judson, and one day at rugby practice, he injured his crush in a jealous rage.
- Heel-Face Turn: The Ancient One agrees to help the Doctor after realizing that Fenric was using him.
- Heroic Sacrifice: The Ancient One uses the poison to kill the body Fenric is using and itself.
- Homoerotic Subtext: Between Millington and Judson, and Jean and Phyllis; the novelisation fleshes out on both couples, but even in the episodes proper there's still plenty of implications. Millington and Judson are played at least in part as an estranged couple forced to work together long after the relationship ended badly, and Jean and Phyllis, once converted to vampires, suggest that they were 'cursed' from birth, a reference both to their status as Fenric's wolves but also to attitudes towards homosexuality viewing it as an affliction or burden.
- Grand Theft Me: Fenric. Takes over Millington's body, then Judson's, then Sorin's.
- The Grotesque: The Ancient One, the head Haemovore.
- Holy Burns Evil: Haemovores can be repelled by faith itself. The Doctor repels them by repeating the names of all his companions, the fervently Communist Sorin repels them with a red star badge from his uniform, and Reverend Wainwright sadly fails to repel one using a bible, as the horrors of World War II destroyed his faith.
- I Have Many Names: Fenric, according to The Doctor.
- Instant Runes: They appear in the church as Judson reads the translation.
- Kill 'em All: Because it's not Doctor Who if the bodies aren't piling up.
- Kneel Before Zod
Fenric: The choice is yours, Time Lord. I shall kill you anyway, but if you would like the girl to live... kneel before me.
Ace: I believe in you, Professor.
Fenric: Kneel if you want the girl to live!
- Immune to Bullets: Bullets slow the Haemovores down, but can't kill them.
- It Won't Turn Off: The ULTIMA machine.
- Large Ham: Jean and Phyllis are two juicy slices of utter ham.
- Last of His Kind: In the far future, pollution destroys all life on Earth except for the Ancient One.
- Luke, I Am Your Father: Ace realises that Kathleen is her grandmother and the baby is her mother.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Ace twice gives the villains the key piece of information they need to advance the plot. Also applies to the Doctor, as his determination to keep Ace out of the way and thus in the dark (for her own safety) is what led to her not realizing what was going on, and accidentally helping the villains out of a genuine desire to guard the Doctor's back.
- Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot: Or rather, Alien-Viking-Fish-Vampires.
- Not Even Bothering with the Accent: The story is set in and around a military base in northern England but most of the cast make no effort to sound northern; possibly justified as below, in that most of the action is set at a military base which wouldn't necessarily be populated by people from the local area. Jean and Phyllis in the script are also supposed to lose their London accents after they get vampirised but on screen they continue to sound as if they've just come from the set of Grange Hill.
- Not Using the Z Word: The Doctor states that the Haemovores are not 'vampires'. Anyone to refer to them as such is immediately corrected.
- Offscreen Moment of Awesome: The Doctor tricking Fenric and sealing him in the Shadow Dimension.
- Ominous Fog
- One Steve Limit: The author was not allowed to mention Ragnarok (though it would have been entirely appropriate given the Norse theme), in case audiences thought there was a connection with the Gods of Ragnarok in "The Greatest Show In The Galaxy".
- Oop North: Meant to be set in northern England, although few, if any, of the guest cast try to sound northern. Faintly justified in that it's mostly set on a naval base during World War II; plenty of possibility for none of the sailors and marines stationed there to be from the local area. A lot of the characters aren't locals - Millington, Judson; even the Reverend Wainwright's distinctly non-Northern accent could be explained by him having gone to public school and learning to speak proper, like.
- Our Vampires Are Different: Besides acting more like zombies than vampires, Haemovores can be blocked by a psychic barrier created by one's faith.
- Out of Order: This was intended to be shown before "Ghost Light", so that Ace telling Kathleen about her fear of haunted houses would have been foreshadowing.
- Poor Communication Kills: The Doctor's habit of not telling anyone else what's going on comes back to bite him big time.
- The Radio Dies First: Enforced.
- Red Eyes, Take Warning: The eyes of every person Fenric takes over turn red.
- The Reveal: That the baby is Ace's Mother.
- Shoot the Dog / Break Her Heart To Save Her / "The Reason You Suck" Speech: The Doctor tells Fenric that he only took Ace in because he knew Fenric's curse was inside her, all while insulting Ace and making her cry. He had a good reason, but ouch.
- Shown Their Work: 1940s computing is surprisingly accurately shown, and so are most of the details of period cryptanalysis. German cryptography really did depend on rotors, as shown, and the rotor diagram on Judson's blackboard is extremely simple but essentially accurate. On the other hand, translation of an ancient script is not "decryption", and the Prisoner's Dilemma name-checked by the Doctor and Judson in part 1 is not an algorithm but a well-known problem in game theory.
- Smart Ball: It seems that before she was expelled from school, Ace paid keen attention to her computer science lessons.
- Stuff Blowing Up: Exploding chess sets.
- The Scottish Trope: "Let the chains of Fenric shatter."
- Sealed Evil in a Can
- Shout-Out: Kathleen cries out "Where shall I go, what shall I do?!"
- Stable Time Loop: Ace causes her own existence by sending her mother and grandmother to London.
- Switch to English: The Russian soldiers' first scene has them speaking Russian with subtitles, then their leader says "From now on, we speak only English", and they do.
- Technicolor Toxin: The poison used is green.
- Temporary Love Interest: Sorin is Ace's love interest for about...30 minutes.
- Those Two Girls: Jean and Phyllis. They don't really do much, at least not while they're alive.
- Three-Month-Old Newborn: Audrey (who is played by a baby BOY)
- To Know Him, I Must Become Him: Millington has his office decorated with Nazi emblems and furnishings as a means towards this trope.
- Too Dumb to Live: Both the British and Soviet forces know that Haemovores are running around the area and killing people. Clearly, the logical thing to do is start attacking each other. In defence of the British, they're commanded by Millington, who is quite quite mad, and the Soviets are merely defending themselves.
- Underwater Ruins: An ancient Viking ship sucks Viking descendants down into the water, killing them and turning them into Haemovores when the curse activates.
- Values Dissonance: In-Universe; Kathleen mentions "Frank" and Ace asks if that's her boyfriend. Kathleen is slightly insulted by the implication that she might have had a child out of wedlock, but Ace really didn't mean anything bad; it just wouldn't have been a big deal to her.
- Viral Transformation
- The Virus
- "Well Done, Son!" Guy: The reason Ace reacts so strongly to the Doctor's feigned rejection.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Ace lets the Doctor have it (several times) for concealing vital plot-related information from her. In particular after she accidentally tells Judson how to release Fenric.
- World War II: Russian soldiers! The ENIGMA machine! Military bases! Nazis are absent, though.
- However there is a massive portrait of Hitler in Millington's office.
- The X of Y
- You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Fenric is big on this trope; the moment he no longer requires the services of his army of Haemovores, he orders their destruction.