Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Fury from the Deep

Previous viewings - one

Fury from the Deep has the distinction of being the only Season 5 story to feature a monster that didn't return. This story is all the better for that, because another outing for the weed creatures would allow this to sink into total obscurity. I know it's well-regarded, but consider its contemporaries. The Cybermen, the Yeti and the Ice Warriors all took off to varying degrees, while few people remember the weed creatures. This is now the squillionth base under siege story, and it hardly deviates from the template at all, different only because Victoria leaves in it and because it has quite a cool monster.

Okay, that was too negative. If the Hartnell era was Doctor Who's era of finding out what works and what doesn't, the Troughton era is the end of the learning process and giving viewers what's deemed to 'work' week after week, which is probably why the era never coughed up a clunker like The Web Planet. The idea behind this is sound BUT when what 'works' is monster/horror stories in hostile environments it leads me to quite a joyless era - thank goodness for Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines, whose hilarious double act makes every episode worth it. When Victoria muses over how the TARDISeers always land in trouble, it occurs to me how much I would enjoy seeing the TARDIS crew have fun for a while. Of course, Victoria has been thinking the same thing, which kind of makes the emphasis on constant peril worthwhile from a character development standpoint.

We're launched into the new story with an unusual TARDIS landing, on water. The Doctor whips out his sonic screwdriver to investigate what sounds like a heartbeat inside a pipeline. A decent enough intro. We're led from there to the North Sea base, the centre of a network of rigs used for gas pumping. The Doctor believes something is in the pipes, but Chief Robson dismisses his concerns and has the TARDISeers locked up. On audio, the guest cast come off as among the least interesting yet; there's Robson, the obligatory base commander with a screw loose, Harris, the reasonable one, and Van Lutyens, whose demeanour is somewhere between the other two. There's also Harris's wife Maggie, but we don't see much of her.

In the early episodes, the plot develops in the background while of primary concern is the loss of contact with a rig and the possible problems inside the pipes. There's too much procedure, too little character in scenes of operations in the control room, giving us little reason to care about anyone besides the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria. Overall the first episode is quite weak, with the plot having progressed little except Maggie being stung by seaweed and Victoria being trapped and overwhelmed by foam in an underwhelming cliffhanger. There's certainly a lot of tension driving the story, but its papering over quite a slow pace.

Episode 2 works similarly. The threat is effective both in conception and realisation; an expanding seaweed creature that emits a toxic gas and takes people over when it attacks them. There are no naff men in suits waving their arms around pretending to be monsters, only its catatonic victims and a lot of foam (again with the foam!). Episode 2 has that great clip of Oak and Quill, taken over the by the weed, emitting the gas from their mouths to attack Maggie Harris. It could just be that this is one of the story's best bits, but it seemed to indicate a story better than the one I had been listening to. One of the creepiest Doctor Who scenes ever.

With Robson still refusing to heed the warnings of the Doctor and his staff by turning off the gas flow through the pipes, he flips out and storms off. His mad rant reminded me of Evil Kirk in the Star Trek episode The Enemy Within, and was unintentionally hilarious. At least with him out of the way the plot could start moving; by Episode 3 still very little has happened. Seeded throughout the story however are little moments where Victoria expresses her weariness with travelling in the TARDIS. It's very cleverly done as this isn't a story you would expect Victoria to leave in; there's nobody for her to fall in love with, no cause to fight for and they're nowhere near her own time. This is about the only card the writer could have played to motivate her to leave, and it completely makes sense, even her screaming all the time works to make it more believable. I also like the way Jamie doesn't pick up on her feelings, differentiating her from him, as he isn't ready to leave yet. I'm no Victoria fan but it's some genuine, real character development rare for the era.

The Doctor, Jamie and Victoria return to the TARDIS to examine some seaweed in the Doctor's own lab (which we've never seen). It's a bit unusual for the Doctor to bring an apparently hostile creature into the TARDIS, especially in the 1960s when (if I'm not mistaken) only the Doctor and companions have ever been inside. In any case, it returns the focus back to the Doctor - at times in base under siege stories it's too much about the uninteresting staff.

I loved the Episode 3 cliffhanger, where an affected Maggie walks into the sea. It leaves a lasting haunting image of the episode.

Fortunately there is more action in the second half of the story, even though the plot still unfolds quite slowly. The base staff finally get around to investigating the impeller shaft, having switched off the gas flow, only to find out the extent to which the weed creature and its foam has enveloped the key areas of the base. The foam is a bit silly but necessary as the seaweed obviously can't be made to move on its own without looking fake, and the foam makes it look bigger and gives it a greater sense of movement. It's a base under siege in its purest form; more weed creatures growing in number and strength at a relentless pace, exciting but as for the characters I'm still not caring about them one jolt. Despite what seems to be a contemporary setting, it feels disjointed from the world we know (although perhaps that's to be expected as it's coastal) and I get little impression that there is a world beyond these rigs.

Anyway, I mentioned action - a delirious Robson, still under the influence of the creatures, escapes and kidnaps Victoria, taking her to a helicopter. The Doctor is forced to confront the creatures through Robson at one of the other rigs. The creatures have been something of a mystery until now, but in speaking their intentions rather disappointingly turn out to be pretty ordinary: to take over the planet. The Doctor and his companions manage to escape in the helicopter and return to the others. The helicopter scenes are rather long, although it's good to see some action in a rather padded six-parter.

With apparently no way to beat the creatures, the Doctor deduces (I say deduces, but it hardly takes a genius to work it out) that Victoria's screams are what has repelled the weed so far. I think the in-joke is more that Victoria is suddenly reluctant to scream so that the Doctor can record it and play it back on a loop to destroy the creatures, than the solution itself. It's a very visual climax, with the final advance of the creatures to besiege the control room, but after so many missing episodes I've learned to picture such climaxes (at least this is the last story completely missing!). Episode 6 is easily the best of the story, not only because of this, but because of Victoria's wonderful exit.

The creatures have been destroyed and as it turns out nobody has died. As the Doctor ushers his companions to return to the TARDIS, he realises without being told that Victoria doesn't want to go back with them. For once, there's plenty of time to give Victoria a decent send-off, even if she hasn't been the best companion ever (she's my least favourite Troughton era companion). It's one of the few exits to deal with the effect of the companion leaving the other companion, not just the Doctor, as Jamie tries to convince Victoria to change her mind. The next day, the Doctor and Jamie return to the TARDIS, with Victoria waving from the beach. I'm quite excited to have just the Doctor and Jamie left in the TARDIS; two's company but three's a crowd.

Horror quotient - Heavy focus on horror.
Comedy quotient - Little focus on humour. The story is even short of comedy Troughton moments. Here's hoping for more comedy in The Wheel in Space, I'm gasping for it.
Drama quotient - The drama is the horror. However as I've said I couldn't care less about the guest characters, they were either irritating or didn't leave an impression at all. Victoria seems to have chosen to stay with quite a boring bunch.

A competent production but an average story, though there are moments of quite unsettling horror. Victoria's exit aside, there isn't much to raise this from the norm.


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