The Curse of Fenric

The Seventh Doctor and Ace battle an ancient enemy from way back in the Doctor's dark past in this popular and critically acclaimed story, making its DVD appearance in two previously unreleased versions to mark the show's fortieth anniversary...

'The Curse of Fenric' was originally released on VHS in 1991, in an extended four-part version of the story. For the fortieth anniversary it was decided to release two completely different versions from that which had previously been available. The first would be the original four part transmission version and the second would be a brand-new, movie-format extended edit with a full Dolby Digital 5.1 sound remix. The movie format had always been director Nick Mallett's vision for an extended version of the story and he and the story's composer, the Restorations Team's own audio expert Mark Ayres, had planned out this version before Nick's untimely death in 1997. This new version would contain around five minutes more material than the extended VHS release, a total of around twelve minutes more material than the transmitted version. Apart from staying true to the director's vision, the movie-format gives the story added sales potential as a movie in its own right, whereas four episodes of widely disparate length are not suitable for television sales.

The approach to this package was to leave the transmitted version effectively untouched, apart from the usual attention to cleaning up tape dropouts etc, but to have a free hand to change anything in the new movie edit as required. Mark Ayres was responsible for editing the new version from the notes Nick and he had made in the nineties.

One of the big problems faced during the shoot was that the weather was completely unpredictable, as can be seen from the original transmission version. The scene with the girls bathing in the sea was supposed to have taken place on a hot, sunny day, whereas in fact it was a very cold day. Conversely, the storm that hits the camp in the last episode was shot in a mixture of bright sunlight and blue skies, and a real rainstorm. Not surprisingly, this disparity sticks out like a sore thumb, with the weather changing dramatically even from shot to shot. In order to try to overcome this, it was decided to give the entire show an aggressive colour grade, bringing up the heat and colour on the 'hot' day and taking it down to a dull, grey feel during the storm. The grade was undertaken by Dave Hawley and took a full day to complete.

New CGI effect adds life to the burning of the runes.Several effects are being revisited for the movie version. The scene in which the runes appear to burn out of the stone was originally supposed to have been done via a practical visual effect, by cutting letters into a wooden board, laying pyro cord into the letters and skimming a thin layer of plaster over the top - the pyro cord would then burn out through the plaster and give the appearance of the runes burning out of the stonework. However, although tests in the BBC Visual Effects workshop had proved successful, the use of the effect on location proved less so, with so much smoke being generated that it obscured the prop. This meant that the sequence had to be realised by video effects instead. It has been re-animated on Illusion by Ian Simpson, adding glow, light effects and falling sparks.

When Judson first stands up under Fenric's control, his eyes are supposed to glow green - a practical effect realised on location by illuminating contact lenses with ultraviolet light. Whilst this technique worked very well when Sorin is first possessed later on in the story, it did not work properly on the contacts worn by Dinsdale Landen. CGI has been used to enhance the glow in this shot. Whilst on the subject of eyes, the best shot of the Doctor closing Miss Hardaker's eyes was not used in 1989 because the actress closes her eyes fractionally before the Doctor places his hand over them. Her eyes have now been left open via some CGI work, enabling the preferred shot to be used.

The lightning strikes, provided by video effects animations originally, were remade. Glow and interactive lighting was used to help them blend into the picture.  Some lightning flashes have been added to the exterior location shots during the storm to try to match them with the flashes that appear through the windows on the interior scenes. The Ancient Haemovore's rise out of the sea has been augmented with additional lightning and glow effects.

The bodies of Jean and Phyllis were supposed to melt away and decay using physical effects, but the location effects didn't work satisfactorily. Of the three shots used, two were simply stills and the third was a short piece of live action showing the skulls falling in on themselves. The two stills have now been digitally animated to add a slow collapse and some smoke.

Fenric's flask pushing through the brickwork has been slightly reworked to add a more diffuse, pulsating green glow.

One sequence which made little sense originally was when Ace triggers the booby-trap gas grenade on the chess board. Although the Doctor places a wastepaper basket over the grenade, the green toxic gas is very much present for the rest of the scene but does not harm either the Doctor or Ace, despite it being shown to have been lethal to the soldiers in a preceding scene. Using secondary colour correction, the green colour now fades from the gas a couple of seconds after the Doctor places the basket onto the grenade, giving the impression that the toxicity has faded once the gas has been removed from its source.

Two instances of microphones and one of a scuba diver inadvertantly appearing in shot have been removed digitally, as was a very human finger that appeared for a couple of frames when a Haemovore was supposed to be pushing open a door...

Digital rain has been added to some shots in the battle scenes to improve the shot-to-shot matching of the weather conditions.

A commentary was recorded for the four-part version, with stars Sylvester McCoy, a very pregnant Sophie Aldred, and guest star Nicholas Parsons.

Sophie Aldred, Sylvester McCoy and Nicholas Parsons

The intention had been to record a more technically-biased commentary for the Special Edition, but unfortunately equipment problems and the sheer scale of the 5.1 remix and rescoring of the music pushed back the sound dub so far that it was not possible to record the commentary. The participants were likely to have been Mark Ayres, writer Ian Briggs, script editor Andrew Cartmel, visual effects designer Graham Brown and visual effects assistant Mike Tucker. Many of the points they might have raised in the commentary are covered in the various featurettes on the disc however.

Other extras include

On Disc One:-

On Disc Two:-

After the release of the disc, a number of people asked about two lines of dialogue missing from the very end of the Special Edition. Mark Ayres explains what happened...

"Dialogue-wise, two lines are in fact missing from the end of the "movie version". In the original tx, Ace emerges from the sea and she and the Doctor walk towards the "Dangerous Undercurrents" sign. "Dangerous Undercurrents, Doctor?" she asks. "Not any more" replies the Doctor, "Niet".

This was a complicated one. Firstly, these lines are not on the 71 edits - it was an overdub. Problem is, we didn't have the time (or budget, really) for an overdub session, and the original overdub tapes are lost, so I'd have had to use the original mix at that point - this would have mucked up the new dub right at the end. So I decided to leave the lines out. I really felt that with Ace saying "I'm not scared anymore", followed by the Doctor and Ace looking at the "Dangerous Undercurrents" sign and the Doctor saying "Niet", that the point was made. The fact that the flashback sequence in the final confrontation with Fenric-Sorin has been restored also hammered home the "undercurrents" theme. If I'd noticed the missing lines earlier, we could have recorded them at the commentary session. But I didn't.

I don't think those lines are any great loss...and this is a new version with many other differences - large and small! I should also point out that neither version bears much relation to the original script at that point...

Copyright Steve Roberts, 18 September 2003