Log in

No account? Create an account
04 September 2017 @ 08:15 pm
The Randomiser: The Curse of Fenric  
The Curse of Fenric is, probably correctly, considered one of the best seventh Doctor stories. However I've always felt vaguely dissatisfied with it. There was much talk at the time about how much of the story ended up on the cutting room floor, so we opted to watch the extended version which restored a great deal of this lost material. I'm not sure that really helped. Its flaws, which are the flaws of many of the stories overseen by Andrew Cartmel, are not really addressed by the additional scenes.

I feel like I'm being churlish because I do like the story and the Cartmel era a lot. Maybe it is just that Curse of Fenric comes in for so much praise that it makes me feel contrary. We have the single most unconvincing seduction scene I have ever seen in visual media. The villain destroys all his henchmen for no readily apparent reason, in fact a number of events take place because the plot requires them to and not because they actually make sense (e.g., Kathleen Dudman being left behind after the evacuation of the base). It's been said that Cartmel was deliberately trying to evoke some of the stuff that was happening in comics at the time and I do wonder if this sensibility explains why so many of the scenes are cut short to a ridiculous extent: the Doctor and Ace show up, they exchange three or four entirely to the point remarks with someone in the scene and then they leave. I think a comic would start such scenes in media res (though I can't really see why the show could not do this). In the first episode, in particular, it's like the two of them just keep popping up places and then dashing off. Ace forms strong emotional attachments (to the Baby, to Sorin) apparently out of the blue. It doesn't help that a lot of the dialogue is... a bit not good (see unconvincing seduction scene). The extended version makes a great deal, in the dialogue, that "undercurrants" is a theme. This doesn't actually help any character sound like a real person actually talking the way real people do.

On the plus side, it has a lot of cool ideas and visuals. The idea of the curse of Fenric descending through the generations in this isolated location is revealed well. In fact, in general, the back story and the way all the various elements tie together is done well (which may be an advantage of the extended version) and actually makes sense. Nicholas Parsons is unexpectedly excellent as Wainwright, making the most of a part written with considerable nuance - and in fact interesting stuff is done in general with the various characters wrestling with their consciences over their behaviour and the behaviour of their "side" in the war. The Timey-wimeyness with the baby, while a bit heavy-handed is an interesting idea. Given the budget, the production both looks and sounds impressive.

I prefer Rememberance of the Daleks, both because it is playing to the fans and because it seems to be having more fun. The Curse of Fenric takes itself more seriously and is trying to do more with its various themes, but while I can admire its ambition and its earnestness, and admire how well it manages to pull everything off, it is still not quite good enough to make me warm to it.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/463900.html.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on September 5th, 2017 06:42 pm (UTC)
I think the main advantage of the extended version (aside from improving the changeable weather with CGI) isn't the amount or content of the extra material, it's giving the story time to breathe, particularly in the first half, making scenes longer, slowing the editing and building atmosphere.

Ace forms strong emotional attachments (to the Baby, to Sorin) apparently out of the blue.

She actually did this a lot, although this is particularly noticeable here. New Ace from the novels has conditioned us (well, me) to think of Ace as an aggresive loner, but that isn't how the TV programme's Ace comes across.

My problem with the story isn't anything you've pointed out, but its politics. I think it's fair to say that most of the Cartmel era team were somewhat to my left (although parrot_knight once told me that JNT was a Tory and a monarchist), but this is the only story where it really affects my enjoyment. I think it's far too uncritical of the Soviet Union which was every bit as brutal as the Third Reich. I know, Sorin is just one soldier, not supposed to represent a whole regime... except the only reason he survives as long as he does is his support for said brutal regime. Imagine a story where Ace falls in love with a young Wehrmacht soldier who has faith in the Fatherland... ugh. The pacifist subtext doesn't help either; if more Allied soldiers had decided that the war was a game played by politicians with no moral content, then my family would all have been gassed. Actually, a lot of my family did fight, and I dislike the implication that they were manipulated into doing something shameful because of 'false consciousness.'

It's a shame, because visually it's very strong and feels very modern. I have still listed it as one of the ten original series stories new fans should watch (in a blog post I haven't posted yet because I'm trying to sell it), but it does irritate me and that's probably why I don't watch it very often, particularly compared with stories like Remembrance and Ghost Light.
louisedennis: Who:Sevenlouisedennis on September 6th, 2017 10:50 am (UTC)
Hmm... I've always read the business with Sorin as a reflection of the idea that good people with strong ideals can end up supporting vile regimes, or perhaps that lofty ideals are not of themselves sufficient to guarantee the establishment of a just system (given the viewer has the advantage of hindsight where the Soviet Union is concerned) - but I could well be reading something into the text that isn't actually there.