This month sees the release of Big Finish’s latest audio play Gods and Monsters which sees the Doctor and Ace face an old enemy they had thought defeated- Fenric. This is a direct sequel to the televised Curse of Fenric, long touted as a classic. Vampires from the future, the children of the wolf, monsters trapped in a bottle and Russians versus the British. What has Fenric planned this time? Here we look back at the story.
Long before new Doctor Who introduced story arcs and character development for the companions, there was a time in the dying days of the classic series that did exactly that. The seventh Doctor and Ace played by Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred respectively were on a journey that would lead them to a final battle with an ancient enemy of the Doctor’s that was using his closest friend against him in revenge. These were the days were the companion was more than a companion- she was the Doctor’s friend and partner, his confidant in ways no other companion had ever been. Ace had fears and guilt, worries and family issues and the Doctor made her confront them all to help her move on in life and become the woman she was meant to be. But Ace’s biggest problem from the minute we met her in Dragonfire was her relationship with her mother. At first she denied having a mother or a father but in Fenric all that was about to change as Ace is forced to face her past and her future.
The Doctor and Ace arrive at a secret military base during World War Two where the Doctor meets Judson, a crippled scientist working on a machine that can crack Russian codes but the machine is really a trap for the Russians who have landed a crack team on the beach to steal it for their war efforts. However we learn that it is attached to a poison that will release, killing everything and allowing Fenric to rule the dead Earth. And in the waters are vampiric Haemovores from the future, a future where the planet is so polluted that mankind will evolve into these monsters. The Doctor knew Ace was a pan of Fenric from the very start and now battle must be joined as he learns that Fenric has manipulated everyone to come to this point in time and space where his trap for the Doctor has now been sprung. Ace meets a young woman Kathleen who has a baby Audrey. It is her mother which ups the stakes for her personally as the Haemovores have emerged from the sea and converging on the camp intent on killing everyone and everything. And Fenric knows her weakness as he taunts her that she hates the woman but loves the baby. As the vampires close in, Ace is able to create her own future by packing her gran and mum into a jeep and telling them to go to a certain address. Sophie Aldred plays the entire story beautifully and her growing up is added to when she has to pretend to seduce a soldier to release the imprisoned Russians and falls for their leader Sorin. Her line to the Doctor that she isn’t a little girl anymore speaks volumes for Ace as a character and in terms of her progress over the series as a person and development. The Doctor who has manipulated her so much so far is finally losing control as adulthood kicks in and Ace and his relationship has never been as explosive until now. It is here that he must destroy her faith in him to allow the Ancient One, the head vampire from the future to kill Fenric who has now possessed Judson. There are so many super characters here from Sorin, the Russian soldier desperate to save his country who learns the gun is not always the answer to Miss Hardaker who takes in London blitz children and ends up murdered by them. Judson the crippled scientist to Commander Millington, a man that has an office identical to Hitler’s in order to get into his head. Each are complete rounded people that are sacrifices on the fire of Fenric in order to destroy the Time Lord in a simple game of chess. Last but not least is a star turn from Nicholas Parsons as Rev. Wainwright, a man of the cloth whose faith has been destroyed by the war and its atrocities. His speech about being a child is breathtaking and a highlight of the series in general not just this story. And again, he’s a complete person whose knowledge of the area and its family histories are invaluable in allowing the Doctor to piece it all together.
Writer Ian Briggs and director Nicholas Mallett together bring a visual masterpiece from ancient runes lighting up to gnarled hands stroking sunken Viking long boats under the ocean, the atmosphere is one of doom and gloom as one by one the pieces of Fenric’s plan come together. The cliffhanger to episode three in particular is cinematic as Haemovores pour from the ocean and crash the base, slaughtering everyone they meet; the skies open and a storm erupts over the base, rain slashing down as the machine completes the ancient codes releasing Fenric from his prison. The Doctor stands helpless as Fenric takes Judson’s body and gets to his feet. ‘We play the contest again- Time Lord.’ This scene has gone down in Who history as the quintessential way to end an episode and still is as powerful today. And for once, we believe the Doctor has been outwitted and the end is near. We have never met Fenric before yet we know this is an enemy that will wipe out the world to exact his revenge on the Doctor. By the climax virtually everyone is dead but in the ashes is hope for the future as the last remaining Russian and British soldiers join forces to make something good out of the carnage. But this is Ace’s story as she breaks free from being a pawn, grows up and comes to terms with who she is and where she came from. She takes a metaphorical dive into the ocean into dangerous undercurrents which she finally leaves behind her hate and self loathing and strides off arm in arm with the Doctor, her best friend. Such was the material for this story it was added into a DVD special edition where you could see it in its entirety. There really is so much to enjoy here, the characters and their arcs, Ace’s battle on a parapet with the Haemovores, the haunting graveyard mist filled scenes, the performance, brilliant direction, scary monsters in a battle to save the world as it tears itself apart in a world war. Sylvester at his best, mad military figures and scientists smashed from their pedestals of power. For a series that was supposedly on its last legs, this is a stunning piece of not only drama but television itself and still fondly remembered today so much so Big Finish commissioned a sequel, Gods and Monsters.