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Recap / Doctor Who: The Curse of Fatal Death

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He's difficult to get rid of — when he's not the direct cause of his own ridding. Repeatedly. Or hers.

The One With… Mr. Bean.

Also, the one that predicted a female Thirteenth Doctor eighteen years before it happened for real.

"The Curse of Fatal Death" is a 1999 Doctor Who Affectionate Parody, produced by The BBC for Red Nose Day between the 1996 TV movie and 2005 revival. It was written by Steven Moffat, who would later be head writer and executive producer of Doctor Who between 2010 and 2017.


The Ninth Doctor (Rowan Atkinson) contacts the Master (Jonathan Pryce), wanting to meet him on the planet Terserus. The Doctor reveals that he's planning to retire and is engaged to his companion Emma (Julia Sawalha), after which things get... kinda weird. And then the Daleks get involved, aligned with the Master but with their own goals as well. When the Doctor and Emma are captured, he's killed several times and rapidly cycles through being Richard E. Grant, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant, and finally Joanna Lumley... who decides she'd actually rather shag the Master than fight him.

The comedy special is notable for offering an early glimpse into concepts that Steven Moffat would later bring into Doctor Who proper, once he became the series' showrunner. These include the Doctor marrying a companion, Time Lords regenerating as a different gender, the Master getting stuck in sewers with Daleks, Emma's outfit (a version of which was seen on companion Amy Pond later on), extremely complicated time travel schemes, and the good ship Doctor×Master.

Originally broadcast in four short parts, the BBC released a two-part version on VHS which, aside from the Comic Relief mentions, resembles any other Doctor Who release from around that point.

A tie-in work, "Who's After Your Cash" was printed in The Mirror Official Comic Relief Newspaper issued by The Mirror on Comic Relief Day. Written by Rowan Atkinson, it was a letter by the Ninth Doctor urging readers to watch "The Curse of Fatal Death". The short is free to watch on Comic Relief's official YouTube channel. The night itself also complemented the special with promotional links, topped off with a short message to the audience from Atkinson's Ninth Doctor; these extras have been unofficially uploaded online.


"The Curse of Fatal Death" provides these examples, which we'll explain later:

  • A-Cup Angst: The Master tries to inspire this in Emma, asserting that his "Dalek bumps" are "quite firm".
    Emma: What are you trying to say?!
    The Master: [mockingly] Oh. Nothing.
  • Affably Evil: The Master is surprisingly polite and understanding throughout the story, perhaps to set up the ending twist.
  • Affectionate Parody: It's pretty much a send-up of the most common Doctor Who tropes.
  • Air-Vent Passageway: The Ninth Doctor describes his companion as being "more exciting than an escape up a ventilation shaft."
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: The Thirteenth Doctor.
  • BBC Quarry: One of the reasons the Doctor is planning retirement from saving the known universe on a weekly basis? He's tired of endlessly running around those rock quarries.
  • Bestiality Is Depraved: The Master's 312 year trek out of the sewers involved him having only dung slugs for food, "and the occasional company on those long, lonely nights."
  • Big Heroic Run: In a parody of the classic series habit of running through corridors, the Ninth Doctor and his companion spend a good long while running through the same exact corridor over and over.
  • Bizarre Alien Senses: Only the Daleks would join the Master on his quest for revenge, since the Daleks have no noses (and he'd just escaped from a sewer).
  • Bond Villain Stupidity: The Daleks' chase with the Doctor and Emma end with them surrounding the two, screaming "Exterminate!" The next scene shows the Doctor and Emma in the Daleks' custody, tied to a chair. Emma lampshades it, only to be told, "I will explain later."
  • Cannot Talk to Women: The Eleventh Doctor. Humorously, the Master's "etheric beam locators" get the same response out of him.
  • Canon Discontinuity: Obviously, but the Doctor Who Expanded Universe indicates that the Tersurons existed and really did communicate that way.
  • Canon Immigrant: The Curse of Fatal Death has since been referenced several times within the Doctor Who Expanded Universe, with the novels The Gallifrey Chronicles and The Tomorrow Windows both explicitly referencing the Atkinson Doctor as a canonical incarnation, while The Bekdel Test Big Finish Doctor Who audio play has Missy reference spending a long time climbing through the sewers of Tersurus.
  • Casting Gag: All the actors who played the Doctor in this parody had at some point been considered for the actual role. Yes, including Joanna Lumley.note  (Richard E. Grant would go on to play the character in Scream of the Shalka, a story that was initially conceived as canon and only declared Canon Discontinuity during its production.) Plus, Jonathan Pryce was among those considered to play the Master in the TV Movie.
  • Deadly Deferred Conversation: The Twelfth Doctor's last words to Emma are, "I'll explain later." This being the tail end of a Running Gag where something ridiculous happens and the Doctor goes, "I'll explain later."

 
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I'll Explain Later

The Doctor regenerates into a new feminine form their fiancée Emma sadly loses interest, their old foe the Master however is intrigued.

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