Everybody Lives. Bet you’re used to that with 21st century Doctor Who, eh? Recent tales ensure that its supporting characters still manage to live in some shape or form – although an existence in a computer hard drive isn’t what I’d call a happy ending.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Indeed, despite the lack of final death, stories like The Empty Child and the Library two-parters stand as some of the best Doctor Who stories around. Also, they both manage to terrify kids with images of heads mutating into gas masks and luckless expedition members getting stripped to the bone.
This isn’t something new, though. Back in the creaky days of 1968, Doctor Who managed to scare the little ‘uns while still not killing any of the supporting characters off. I am, of course, talking about Fury From The Deep, another in a line of Troughton classics that combines a scary monster and a base under siege.
Oddly, I thought I would have got bored of this. Only one out of the Season Five stories doesn’t conform to this ideal, but when the quality of stories is so high, who cares? This time, Fury From The Deep looks to killer seaweed for inspiration. It again proves that The Doctor really should stop landing on the beach. No good comes from this, having already been hijacked whilst planning a holiday in sunny Oz. We’re back in Blighty this time around, which means that it’s as warm as a cold shower in the Antarctic. Naturally, the trio of travellers are stunned and captured, before being thrown into a terrifying adventure of mistrust and claustrophobia.
Boy, does this tale have more than its fair share of claustrophobic and unpleasant scenes. None of the serial exists in its entirety, which means yet again that I’m playing guessing games with reconstructed screengrabs and soundtracks. As a small crumb of compensation, there is a small amount of creepy clips available – the ones that the Australian censors thought were too scary for transmission. This is great news for two reasons. One, it gives hope that maybe, just maybe, the remainder of the episodes could well still be out there somewhere (lurking in some musty church crypt, no doubt).
The other is that the clips are electrifying. The most obvious case of this is Fury From The Deep’s very own Little and Large, Mr Oak and Mr Quill overpowering poor Maggie Harris with a chronic case of bad breath. It’s a highly disturbing scene. The concept alone of the two men overpowering a helpless woman is terrible enough, but Hugh David takes this claustrophobia to a whole new level. The slow zoom-in into Quill’s terrifying face then dissolves into a rapid series of cross fades between the two open mouths and Maggie writhing in terror. To cap it all, there’s that unusual synthesised score from Dudley Simpson chiming away in the background. Altogether, a good contender for the Creepiest Doctor Who Scene.
Mind you, there are lots of other shocks to encounter. There’s Van Lutyens splashing around in foam and being dragged off by giant seaweed. Controller Robson being possessed by the entity (too bad that the scene of him trapped in his cabin while the weed attacks doesn’t exist). And the final climatic showdown in which Victoria’s amplified screams are used to defeat the weed once and for all. From the looks of things, director Hugh David does a fantastic job in bringing all these horrors from the page to the screen.
The Base Under Siege motif does mean that the usual sort of characters crop up. Again, there’s the harassed boss. The put-upon number two. The expert that no one listens to. Even if a slight feeling of déjà vu is starting to creep in, at least there are slight differences. Take Robson, the Controller, a man who evidently couldn’t even control an OAP’s day out to the beach. I fear for Megan Jones or whoever it was that hired Robson. In fact, it’s a surprise that the country doesn’t explode from gas leakage, given that Robson’s grip on sanity is shaky, to say the least.
That said, Robson’s fragile state of mind is at least a progression from Clent’s earlier panic in The Ice Warriors. Obstinate. Arrogant. Deluded. Three good ways to describe both men, but Robson takes these personality traits to lofty extremes. He dismisses the advice of Robson and Van Lutyens, passing them off as over-educated grannies. He’s given to shouting at the top of his voice instead of reacting to the situation in a cool, collected manner. Even when the rest of the base takes umbrage with his slightly unorthodox style of management, he reacts with befuddled delusion. Robson clearly left the Anger Management Counselling off his CV.
Victor Maddern is very good though as the unbalanced controller, and does a fine job when Robson’s possessed by the weed. In a striking contrast to his earlier loud tantrums, the possessed Robson is distant and aloof. It’s a very convincing turnaround from Maddern, and results in one of the most effective cliffhangers when the similarly possessed Maggie does a fully clothed impression of Reginald Perrin at the end of Episode Three.
All of the guest cast are good, with plaudits going to John Abineri as the unflappable Van Lutyens (just don’t put him in foam, though), June Murphy as Maggie and a pre-Idiot’s Lantern Margaret John as Megan, the hard-faced boss who’s blinded by order and red tape.
The terror factor aside, the most notable element of Fury From The Deep is Victoria’s teary goodbye. She has finally had enough after being terrorised by Cybermen, Daleks, Yeti, Ice Warriors and Ronseal-ed dictators. In the end, the sight of a lump of seaweed proves to be too much for the quaking lass – let’s hope that her new ‘parents’ never took her down for a jaunt to the beach in the summer.
Because Victoria has gelled well with The Doctor and Jamie, this results in probably the best companion departure up to Season Five. Whereas Dodo, Ben and Polly were unceremoniously booted off from the show, Fury From The Deep revolves around Victoria’s impending departure.
She asks The Doctor at one point why they can’t go somewhere nice and why they always end up facing evil foes time and time again. The Doctor, tellingly, evades the question, and from that point on, realises that he’s losing another companion. Before Victoria says anything, The Doctor kindly asks her if she wants to stay on Earth with the Harrises. In a way, this is the bookend of the scene in The Tomb Of The Cybermen in which The Doctor asked Victoria if she was happy. The rollercoaster ride of aliens and menace has, in the end, proven to be too much for Victoria, and it’s that same compassion of The Doctor’s that allows her a quiet, guilt-free exit.
Jamie’s reaction to this is actually quite touching – he even pleads with Victoria to change her mind, only to no avail. He’s struck up a close rapport with Victoria, and is evidently gutted to be leaving her behind. But then, The Doctor’s last line of “I was fond of her too Jamie” shows that the Time Lord, too, has grown attached to Victoria.
A great ending to another great story – it just shows that while Doctor Who specialised in producing small screen horror tales, it hadn’t lost its heart.
* More memorable small-screen horror is discussed in my comprehensive guides to 1970s Doctor Who!
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