Chapter 151. Doctor Who – The Curse of Fenric (1990)

Synopsis: A World War II military base in North Yorkshire becomes the site for a battle between good and evil. All the pieces have come together: A British officer obsessed with Nazi memorabilia; his chief adviser, the creator of a powerful code-breaking machine; a squad of Soviet soldiers led by a captain driven by destiny; a bereaved young mother, left with a baby; a race of vampiric mutants from the future; and an ancient evil waiting for the arrival of a Time Lord… and his young friend, Ace. Now, the game can begin again…

Chapter Titles

  • Prologue: Dusk
  • Chronicle I: Betrayal
  • Document I: The Wolf-time
  • Chronicle II: Dangerous Undercurrents
  • Document II: The Curse of the Flask
  • Chronicle III: Weapons within Weapons, Death within
  • Death
  • Document III: A Victorian Storyteller
  • Chronicle IV: Vampire City!
  • Document IV: The First Contest of Fenric
  • Chronicle V: Wind and Water, Earth and Fire
  • Epilogue: Dawn

Background: Ian Briggs adapts his own scripts from the 1989 serial, delivering the longest novelisation since Fury from the Deep.

Notes: The author bares the method in a prologue where he dwells on how to start the story. An unidentified woman stands on the beach signalling the Soviet submarine (we find out later who that might be). Sorin is a captain in the Red Army’s Special Missions Brigade and his mission is called ‘Operation Sea-Wolf’ (an echo of the story’s working title, The Wolves of Fenric). When the Soviet commandos reach the beach, it’s Trofimov who acts as look-out; he sees the evacuees and is reminded of his wife, Irene, who he sees dead in a vision. Sorin believes another young soldier, Petrossian, has special gifts that alert him to sounds and danger before everybody else.  

On arriving at the camp, the Doctor berates young Perkins: ‘What would happen if the Germans attacked now? We’d have to write to your mother and tell her you died in filthy boots!’ The Doctor’s forged authorisation documents from the War Office give his name as ‘Dr-‘ but the second name is smudged, while ‘Ace’ is listed as the code-name of his assistant. One of the evacuees, Jean, has cool blue eyes and blonde, tightly wound hair, while Phyllis has ‘a round, smiling face’, and her eyes are ‘a rich chestnut brown’. Ace complains that the Doctor doesn’t pay any attention to her because she’s ‘only the waitress’ (as opposed to ‘a mere mortal’ on TV). Ace goes rock climbing with the evacuees (using ropes instead of the usual ladder) and tells them she ‘gave up’ smoking after her Mum found out. Kathleen is initially nervous when the Doctor and Ace discover her baby. She tries to explain, but the Doctor reassures her: ‘Just as long as you can promise me she’s isn’t a German spy, sent to discover the secret of British nappies.’ 

The chapters are punctuated by four supporting documents, the first of which is an essay about the Viking gods, written by Millington when he was a schoolboy. A teacher’s comment at the end of the essay reads: 

Very good. An extraordinarily vivid piece of writing for a boy of only 12. It is almost as though young Millington really believes that these myths will come true one day.

The essay represents a lifelong obsession with Norse mythology that Millington carries into adulthood, unaware that this is part of Fenric’s curse. On learning from Judson about the new arrivals from ‘the War Office’, Millington assumes that they must be from Bletchley and orders that they should be killed as ‘the enemy’. He recalls an incident on the rugby pitch more than 20 years earlier:

The cold mud of a rugby pitch. The shouts and calls of adolescent young men as they ran and chased. The expression Millington saw on Judson’s face as Judson smiled across to one of the other players, a tall, blond boy with clear blue eyes and a strong body. The sharp, stabbing jealousy that surged through Millington. The black anger that filled him as he ran towards Judson. The hatred, as he drove his shoulder hard in Judson’s back. The cracking sound – the awful cracking sound – as Judson’s body bent backwards and his spine fractured. The expression in Judson’s face, an expression from hell, as he lay paralysed in the mud.

The second document tells of how a traveller from Sweden called Oslaf obtained the flask. He and his party journeyed from Constantinople, through Transylvania, their voyage blighted by black fog and mysterious deaths, before they reached the Baltic sea and were slain by pirates. The pirate leader, Hemming, seized the flask as part of their spoils, but his band of men experienced sudden and grisly deaths just like those of Oslaf’s party. Abandoning his wife, Hemming captured a beautiful villager called Ingelda, with whom he sired a daughter called Wulf-aga as she had shining eyes like a wolf. As his crew were killed off one by one, Hemming concluded that the flask he stole from Oslaf was to blame; he sent his mistress and their daughter to safety and hid the flask, before he and the last of his men were slain by the black fog.

Wainwright visits the graves of his parents and grandparents in the churchyard. His mother died the day after he was born and her gravestone has the wrong date on it; his father died two years ago. Unlike on TV, Wainwright is a young man in his twenties. Millington reveals to the Doctor and Ace his plan to use chemical weapons to bring the war to an end: ‘A few thousand will die. But hundreds of thousands will be saved.’

The Doctor and Ace speak to an agitated Miss Hardaker about her missing evacuees and they try to persuade her not to involve the Home Guard; as soon as they leave, she calls the Home Guard anyway. The six Home Guard soldiers find the girls on the beach but fail to persuade them to go home. When their patrol strays too close to the Soviet hideout, they are killed by Sorin’s men, as witnessed from the clifftops by Sergeant Leigh (a young soldier of just 20, but already ‘hard as stone’)… and Miss Hardaker, who the young sergeant orders to return home. There, she confronts the girls, blaming them for the deaths of the men. Sorin tries to comfort Trofimov, unaware that, having himself become a father back home recently, his sergeant’s trauma comes from killing men who were someone’s sons. 

The third Document is a letter from Bram Stoker to his wife, detailing a story he heard while visiting the area about Maiden’s Point, a murdered girl and vampires living in the waters nearby. He tells his wife ‘I begin to believe that the seeds of some greater story may lie in this tragic incident.’

Miss Hardaker has her own reason for fearing the wider reputation of Maiden’s Point: When she was just 19, she became pregnant out of wedlock. Though the child died aged just two, Miss Hardaker was shunned by her neighbours and she carried the shame with her throughout her life.

The Doctor calls the monstrous army that emerges from the sea ‘homo haemovorax’ and claims that the salt water in the area is similar to human blood plasma:

Their bodies were horrifying mutations of the humans they had once been. Their skin was slimy and slightly wrinkled, like huge white slugs with legs and arms. Their eyes were swollen and bulbous, closed like a foetus in its uterus. And their mouths had turned into large suckers for draining blood. 

Some of them still had traces of human origins – vestigial ears, or a skeleton that was vaguely humanoid – and these creatures still had scraps of recent human clothing hanging off them. But those that had been waiting for a century or more were now completely changed. Instead of clothing, they had thin strands of glistening filament that hung about their bodies. Among the filaments and linked with them were old metal objects – objects that had either been discarded in the waters down the centuries or taken from the creatures’ victims. Keys, locks, coins, scissor-blades were now welded by an iridescent coral into a kind of chain mail.

The assault on the church is a lot more dramatic than was possible on telly. Ace uses her rock-climbing ropes (rather than the ladder) to scale down the church tower. Haemovores scale down the side of the tower after her and Sorin stakes one of them to death. The Doctor remembers his travelling companions as a testament of faith to repel the haemovore attack: Susan, Ian, Barbara, Vicki and Stephen [sic], Jo and Sarah-Jane. He’s surprised that Ace can hear the sound of his faith and surmises that she is slightly telepathic.

The fourth of the quoted documents is a translation by Sir William Judson, recounting the tale-within-a-tale of a game of chess between another traveller, El-DokTar, and an evil dictator called Aboo-Fenran. After 40 days of stalemate, the traveller challenged the dictator to find a solution that could defeat him. Another 40 days and nights passed and, unable to solve the impasse, Aboo-Fenrir surrendered and was trapped inside a flask. A prince mentioned in this story is said to haved journeyed ‘along the Central Way from the Furthest Island of Dhógs to the White City’, which might hold additional meaning if you consider how a person might travel via the Central Line of the London Underground from East London to BBC Television Centre.

The eyes of the bodies that Fenric possesses glow red, not green. Fenric reveals that Nurse Crane is a Soviet agent reporting to Moscow (suggesting she was the figure signalling from the beach to the Russian submarine). The Ancient One is named Ingiger and its voice is said to be part female. Vershinin and Bates both die from being shot by Millington (they survived on TV); Millington allows himself to be engulfed in flames while holding the body of Judson.

In the epilogue, having departed the TARDIS some time before, ‘Dorothée’ is reunited with the Doctor in 1887, where she reveals she has fallen in love with Sorin’s grandfather.

Cover & Illustration: Against a chessboard background, Alister Pearson brings together a Doctor with a sickly green tinge, a haemovore, Ace in her 1940s costume and various symbols – a logic diagram, some ancient runes, a Soviet red star, a Nazi Swastika and a skull-and-crossbones poison label. Inside, for the first time in years, there’s an illustration – a map, captioned ‘The Journey of the Flask’.

Final Analysis: Back in the mid-1960s, the joke behind the Meddling Monk was that he was the sort of character who would deposit a small sum into a bank and then travel forward in time to collect the interest. In 1979 we had Scaroth, last of the Jagaroth, trying to pull off a similar stunt by influencing history to fund his time travel experiments in the 20th century. It was also the driving force behind this story on TV, an ancient evil manipulating individual family lines to ensure they all converge at one point in space and time. In retelling his adventure as a novel, Ian Briggs creates a multi-faceted tale that slowly pushes all the pieces onto the board and shows how they came to be part of Fenric’s trap. That the backstory is presented as a series of documents allows the reader to decide if any of them might be a reliable source: The Doctor really did trap an ancient evil in a flask because it couldn’t grasp that he was cheating at chess, or the scene is just symbolic of whatever it was that happened; Millington’s childhood obsession with Norse mythology was symptomatic of the curse, or just another facet of his obsessive guilt over the crippling attack on Judson; maybe the flask caused the deaths that followed the parties of Oslaf and Hemming, or perhaps they just lived in bloody times; and maybe Bram Stoker was driven by the legends that fuel this story to write one of his own, rather than Ian Briggs taking his inspiration from Stoker…

In the entire history of the Target books, few could be described as being sexually charged. Companions arrive and depart with dispassionate regularity and even the ones tempted by a promise of romance remain largely chaste. The first hints of sexual desires introduced by Ben Aaronovich in Remembrance of the Daleks are continued here. The subtlety of a bay called ‘Maiden’s Point’ is underlined when Ace appears to admit to her new evacuee friends that, like them, she’s not a virgin (even if it’s just a case of teenage bragging to fit in), but then there’s the revelation that Miss Hardaker also has a secret past. The undercurrents that engulf Ace at the end are said to represent ‘laughter, lechery and animal passion. A whorehouse of enjoyment’. Despite this, Ace’s seduction of young Sergeant Leigh is about as awkward as it was on TV and, frankly, the resolution is unpleasant:

‘Too hot,’ murmured Ace. ‘Clothes sticking to me, sticking to my skin, hot, damp…’

‘If they’re too sticky, you know what to do.’

… his cries of ‘You promised’ suggest he feels led on, more than just led away.

There’s also a subtext of sexual tension from Millington towards Judson, who he clearly found compelling when they were schoolboys; as an adult, Millington has no love for women, complaining that they even ‘smelled different’, which adds a little to his dismissal of Ace with ‘no girls’!

Sexual subtexts are all part and parcel of the horror genre, and while this remains teen-friendly, it’s clearly aimed at an older audience than, say, Doctor Who and the Brain of Morbius. Infamously, the disintegration of the Haemovore Jean and Phyllis was shown on children’s TV in a behind-the-scenes feature but cut from the actual broadcast episode. Here, we can enjoy the moment in all its gory glory. The most graphic passage, however, comes during the assault on the church, when Sorin employs a stake to destroy one of the monstrous attackers:

The haemovore gave out a terrible, tortured cry that seemed to tear through the universe. Sorin pushed down on the stake with all his strength, driving it through the haemovore’s body until he felt it hit the slates beneath. The horrible, bloated face of the creature began to twist and change. The skin started to wrinkle and pull back on to the bones as though the creature were growing older by a hundred years every minute. The fleshy lips turned thin and dry and began to crack; the haemovore’s whole skeleton began to show through the thin membrane. Then the skin started to smoke and peel away. The creature’s cry slowly died away as all its flesh disappeared in smoke. Soon, all that was left was a smoking skeleton lying in a pool of slime and a charred wooden stake planted between two ribs.

As I noted just a few chapters ago, Remembrance of the Daleks is often cited by fans as the moment of conception for the New Adventures, but this story informs the tone of that range just as much. It’s a story as much about the companion as the villain, where sex and sexuality are acknowledged as something that actually exists and where the Doctor is manipulating people and events like a Grand Master chessplayer.

Chapter 137. Doctor Who – Dragonfire (1989)

Synopsis: On a cold, distant planet lies the trading post known as Iceworld. Below the surface, the imprisoned criminal Kane hires mercenaries to find the key to his freedom. Deeper still, in the catacombs below Iceworld, lives a dragon, the guardian to a powerful crystal – the Dragonfire. While the Doctor joins his old acquaintance Glitz on a quest for the crystal, Mel makes a new friend called Ace – and gets a close encounter with the dragon!

Chapter Titles

Numbered One to Sixteen.

Background: Ian Briggs adapts his own scripts from the 1987 serial, completing the stories from Season 24. This is the first (and indeed only) time that a season’s stories have been novelised in order of transmission. 

Notes: Glitz’s former crew consists of four men and two women (one of whom is called Winterbottom). Chapter Two sees the Doctor and Mel inside the TARDIS. Mel is exercising, standing on her head, and the Doctor deliberately steers the TARDIS to knock her off balance. The Doctor pays Glitz’s bill at the Refreshment Bar. Ace’s boss is named Eisenstein (not Anderson). The small furry creature is an ambassador called Erick. A deleted scene in which the Doctor frees Glitz from a collapsed tunnel is reinstated. Glitz then deliberately gives the Doctor the slip to hunt for the treasure alone. He finds the Ice Garden and realises it’s a very out-of-date planetarium, featuring slightly distorted constellations like ‘the Great Lever, the Old Man, and the Waterfall’. The Doctor sees a ledge after 15 feet down the ice cliff, which is why he ends up hanging from his brolly (it does make more sense than it did on telly). The ‘dragon’ is ‘tall and skeletal, with greyish-white membranes instead of skin’. It had a ‘large bony skull on top of a long neck’ and its skeleton is visible beneath its skin. 

Mel challenges Ace’s plan to scale the ice cliff using her compact ladder, forcing Ace to confess she’s never actually used it, but has seen people do the same thing on TV. As they climb down the ladder, one of the nitro-9 canisters leaks and nearly knocks Ace out. Glitz’s ship, The  Nosferatu is a Nightcruiser Pacific, a model of craft once popular with business types. The lost urchin is a ‘Star Child’ called Stellar. Her best friend is ‘Milli-mind’, her teddy bear is simply ‘Ted’  and she enjoys popular culture, being able to recognise some of the celebrities visiting Iceworld, including a TV personality, a pop star, a woman who’s a ‘brilliant scientist’ and a woman who looks like the one her father now lives with. Her mother has brought a number of outfit changes with her.

Glitz often has trouble with ‘feminists’ – usually because they’re right and he’s wrong. Five hundred other craft are destroyed along with the Nosferatu. Ace explains to Mel that the ‘Ace 4 Wayne’ graffiti on a wall near her quarters is a dedication to her toy dog. Kane waits in Ace’s quarters, hiding inside her fridge. Mel adds a few words of explanation to her out-of-the-blue decision to leave the TARDIS: ‘I don’t belong here. I’m not a traveller, like you. I need somewhere I feel I can belong.’

Cover & Illustration: Another amazing piece of work from Alister Pearson, who really pushes the boat out on these Seventh Doctor covers. Against a backdrop of the ice cliff we see Ace and the Doctor (holding his question-mark umbrella) either side of the Dragonfire crystal, within which is the melting face of Kane. Ian Briggs directed Pearson not to include the Biomechanoid from the TV episodes on the cover as he had described the creature differently in the text.

In the ice is carved a phrase from the book, ‘ACE 4 WAYNE’, which also appears inside as an illustration, our first for a very long time. Also etched into the ice is ‘AH’, a tribute to fan Andy Holding, and ‘TH’, who is Andy’s friend (and mine) Toby Hadoke.

Final Analysis: Another solid adaptation that enhances the TV original and even though this introduces Ace, Mel doesn’t get completely abandoned as has often been the case for departing companions. Briggs also seems to understand this Doctor very well indeed, as the introduction to the final chapter shows.

In the TARDIS Console Room, the Doctor was busy checking the stabiliser settings at the control console. Mel watched him. She liked this new incarnation. He was still a bit grumpy at times, and occasionally he behaved like a fool, but he cared deeply about people – all people, not just his friends. 

‘Well, I suppose it’s time,’ she said…

The Biomechanoid is elevated, as we might expect, into something a little more elegant than it appeared on TV, but what’s surprising is how our sympathies are diverted to the two ‘ANT hunters’; with Bazin injured after being attacked by the dragon, McLuhan takes care of him, determined to finish their mission before they both die. And of course, we meet Ace and here, her creator takes the opportunity to make her a little more fallible, very defensive and quick to jump to conclusions – and as Mel discovers, she’s rather too keen to rush into danger. It’s a shame they never got more stories together on TV as Ace’s youth also informs Mel’s character, the (slightly) older woman seeing something of herself in the brash teen.