Review By Liam O Brien, 5 out of 5

“We hoped to return to the North Way, but the dark curse follows our dragon ship… The Wolves of Fenric shall return for their treasure, and then shall the dark evil rule eternally.”

1989. DOCTOR WHO is about to die. Competitive scheduling, shorter seasons and dodgy time slots lead to the shows cancellation one story after THE CURSE OF FENRIC. And on this evidence, its hard to see why Auntie decided to axe the show just as it was getting back on form again, following the messy Colin Baker years (to no fault of the star I must note) and McCoy’s uneven first season. This season and the year before had redeemed the show produced some gems at the same time- REMEMBRANCE OF THE DALEKS and GHOST LIGHT to name but two. The show was finally growing up a bit- the Doctor was darker and more of a background character, which leads to him being a hell of a lot more interesting that he had been before. You can’t really imagine anyone pulling off what McCoy does here- at once likeable, but beneath the surface plotting and planning all along. Teamed up with Sophie Aldred’ s Ace- possibly the most developed companion the time-lord ever had- it seemed the show was finally back on track, ready to face the nineties with a clutch of great stories and interesting premises. But all came to nothing- the cancellation means all we have are what ifs as to what the Seventh Doctor’s (probable) final season could have been like- in my opinion I had the opportunity to be the best year since Tom Bakers Weng Chiang season. It’s a shame it didn’t happen- but THE CURSE OF FENRIC shows how it all could have been.

The four-part serial kicks off with the TARDIS landing in 1940’s England, in the middle of a WW II military base. They are soon flung into all sorts of trouble- the decryption of Viking runes in a church crypt leading to vampires rising from beneath the sea, Russian soldiers on a covert mission, a reverend suffering a crisis of faith, a old Viking curse that superstitious locals only whisper about and the resurrection of an Ancient evil that the Doctor has tangled with before. . . If it all sounds rather complicated that’s because it is. But that’s not a bad thing- gone are the running up-and-down-a-corridor WHO tales of old, FENRIC presents a well told, complex tale with strong themes and characters. Writer Ian Briggs develops the character of Ace so we finally have a companion who isn’t there to scream or get in trouble for a cliffhanger (Peri! Mel! Jo! Et al). The rest of the cast, with the exception of one or two miss fires (Joanne’s Kenny and Bell are frankly, really crap as a pair of newly transformed vampires) is excellent- Nicholas Parsons, proving he can do more that ask general knowledge questions is wonderful as the Reverend questioning his beliefs. Its all so well played that its nice to have a bit of human drama with the pre requisite slow moving- yet always deadly WHO monster.

The difference FENRIC has to all the other DOCTOR WHO stories released thus far is that this two disc set presents, along with the usual excellent special features, two different versions of THE CURSE OF FENRIC. Disc one presents the original story in its four part original transmission format, while the second disc holds THE CURSE OF FENRIC: SPECIAL EDITION. Much like the STAR WARS or LORD OF THE RINGS revamps, original music composer Mark Ayres has gone back, totally re-editing the story, with new effects, music and a Dolby Digital 5.1 remix. The final result is FENRIC the way it really should have been all along. While still excellent, the original version noticeably suffers from some judicious cuts that result in the story cutting along at too fast a pace, with scenes flashing by so fast you tend to get a bit lost in it all. The special edition however, restores all the material that really makes FENRIC special- little scenes that show why this person did that later, more character development- hell it just all fits better this way. The digital grading work that has been done also ensures shots which were supposed to look like they had been shot mid lightning storm now look like they really were (compare this to the original bright sunny day with water sprinklers on) and generally the whole thing is given a lift by new SFX.

THE CURSE OF FENRIC is great WHO, deep, well scripted and wholly exciting. It works better as a movie- it can take its time, and the new format adds to the feeling that this is something truly special. Overall, both versions have there own good points- the original has the cliff-hangers and end titles music, but it all flows better in the SPECIAL EDITION. Whatever the format however, THE CURSE OF FENRIC is another example of why Sylvester McCoy is the best Doctor there is.

THE DISC: The restoration team have once again cleared up the picture, making FENRIC look like it was shot yesterday. The new effects work on the special edition is wonderful, but the icing on the cake for this package is the brilliant extras this set offers. Its rather worrying for most consumers when a DOCTOR WHO disc has better extras than the newly released THE MATRIX RELOADED, but FENRIC does, and im not complaining. Even without the now standard 45/30 minute look back at the making of this story, we get some great 10-15 minute docs that fill our appetite for WHO knowledge. RECUTTING THE RUNES is a short explanation of why and how FENRIC came to be a special edition piece, while SHATTERING THE CHAINS has writer Ian Briggs talking about dreaming up the script. Add to that costume and mask design specials, a convention interview panel with the some of the cast (sadly, no McCoy) more short films, photo galleries , clean 7th Doc title sequences, production subtitles, and a friendly, informative commentary from McCoy, Aldred and guest star Nicholas Parsons you have a set as good as anything Hollywood could cobble together. Fantastic.

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