One of the benefits of watching Doctor Who stories out of order is that sometimes the lack of context improves the story you’re watching. At the distant end of Season Five, Fury from the Deep can come off as just the latest in a long line of base under siege stories. Younger audience members watching at the time probably didn’t care, but I like to think the intelligent fourteen year olds in lounge rooms everywhere cottoned on quickly after Episode One and, having clocked this week’s base and its truculent commander, worked out that they could come back around Episode Four, by which time the monsters would have arrived and the supporting cast whittled down to a few gamey survivors. Freed from its familiar stablemates, though, Fury is as engaging a monster fest as the series has presented.
It’s also, for most of us, an audio only experience. Luckily, it’s a story which translates to audio well, because its source material was a radio serial (The Slide, also by writer Victor Pemberton). This means it has peculiarly audio-friendly dialogue, like (to choose just one example) the bit where Victoria (Deborah Watling) picks the lock of a door to aid an escape and Jamie (Frazer Hines) says, “Pick a lock with a hair pin? Don’t be daft!” thereby negating the need for any added narration. It also features various audio elements which add to both the tone and plot of the thing: the thumping heartbeat of the weed creature, Dudley Simpson’s playful but sinister music, and an audio-based plot solution, when Victoria’s screams prove instrumental, not to say meta-textual, in defeating the rampaging sea weed creature.
All this makes for a satisfyingly complete adventure for the ears, but of course, I’d love to see the actual episodes themselves. I’d love to see the weed creature attack the base, the Doctor (Patrick Troughton) erratically flying that helicopter and any number of the story’s tantalizingly pictureless action set pieces. But the pictures would also be useful to add some nuance to on some of the um… unusual characters who populate this standard Season Five scientific complex by-the-sea.
The boss of this week’s monster infested base is Robson (Victor Maddern). He’s spectacularly unsuited to running a large industrial operation, but that never stopped anyone else in Season Five. Everyone around Robson tells him there’s something blocking the pipes and that he should shut down the gas flow and take a look, but he refuses because, um, male ego or something. His favourite mode of communication is the angry shout and he regularly loses his rag at his staff like he’s been to the Steve Jobs school of personnel management. Supporting characters talk in hushed tones about the four year stretch he once spent out on a rig, but everyone’s too polite to add, “and that’s what sent him batshit crazy.” If we could see the episodes themselves, I like to think we’d see actors in question shooting meaningful glances at each other, while quietly sidling towards the nearest exit.
Robson is particularly cranky at 2IC Harris (Roy Spencer) for being exactly the sort of smarmy Oxbridge type who hasn’t spent four years on a rig and has therefore avoided significant mental trauma. Harris’s main characteristic is a constant concern for his wife, Mrs Harris (June Murphy). She is having a bad day, having been stung by some vicious seaweed, asphyxiated by two men with bad breath and compelled to walk into the sea. They are the sort of sickly devoted couple who can’t get enough of calling each other “darling” and “love”. Some sample dialogue:
MAGGIE: Darling, you couldn’t even boil an egg.
HARRIS: You shouldn’t have married a scientist then. (She gasps suddenly, ill from that nasty seaweed) Maggie!
MAGGIE: Darling! Darling! Darling!
Now if only we had the pictures, not only could see whether the two actors managed to sell all this matinee-movie dialogue with some pathos, but also whether Harris takes offence at the suggestion that a scientist of his education is unable to boil water, which if not covered in first form science you would have thought would be on the curriculum at Oxbridge.
What about Van Lutyens, played by soon to be Who stalwart John Abineri? We can imagine the sternness he would have brought to the character, having seen him be grim and misguided in The Ambassadors of Death and green and in a misguided costume in The Power of Kroll. Here, he plays an expert adviser who is from Europe and so not to be trusted. The telesnaps tell us he’s wearing a sports jacket and turtleneck combo which makes him look very louche like he might walk off set and into a jazz club, lighting a cigarette filled with a different sort of mind-altering weed.
No wonder Robson’s suspicious of his unhelpfully sensible suggestions such as, “turn off the gas and see what’s blocking the pipes.” I can imagine how may looks of Dutch exasperation we would have got from Van Lutyens, but I’d also love to see how he steals the Episode Two cliffhanger with a line which should really be Troughton’s: “It’s down there, in the darkness, in the pipeline, waiting.” Surely Abineri would have furrowed that magnificent brow of his to add maximum foreboding to that line.
I’m also keen to see board director Megan Jones (Margaret John) and her hapless adjutant Perkins (Brian Cullingford). Jones is your standard corporate headkicker who gets to say things like, “Now, pull yourself together man!” and generally stride around being the late-arriving voice of scepticism. But it’s Perkins’ frightened little face I want to see most. I bet it’s full of unrequited love for Jones, whom he follows around like a lost toddler. There’s a bit where Jones, always the business, chides him for looking so worried (“Don’t look so worried, man. You might as well go home!”) and then there’s a pause before Jones is forced to apologise, presumably for hurting Perkins’ feelings. Did his face crumple into dismay? Did he pout with injured pride? We must know.
Finally, there’s a pivotal moment for Victoria and Jamie. Victoria has been mooching around all story, wondering if she can keep doing all this (and who can blame her? She spends the whole story being kidnapped or wailing in terror). Jamie tries to convince her to keep travelling with him and the Doctor and ends his entreaties with a kiss. But what sort of kiss is this? Platonic or achingly romantic? Longing or merely fond? The telesnaps missed this moment, so until someone finds the episode down the back of a BBC cupboard or something, we’ll never know.
It’s like Inferno, in many ways. There’s a stubborn base commander, ignoring the advice of the experts around him. A young couple in love and um, pipes everywhere. And the threat, although never entirely made clear, seems to spring from nature itself, a response to humanity’s exploitation of the earth’s natural resources.
But unlike Inferno, the defeat of the weed creature (creatures? The script isn’t quite sure) has a restorative effect on everything around it. Everyone infected by the thing just wipes the patches of foam of themselves and is fine. It’s Steven Moffat’s “everybody lives!” forty years or so early. And Robson seems to come out of the affair in much better humour than when it started, even taking dinner with loved-up upstart Harris. Sure, that stint on the oil rig sent him crackers, but being possessed by a sinister vegetable has done him the world of good.
The cost of all this happily-ever-after is that Victoria decides to stay behind (much to the disappointment of intelligent 14 year olds everywhere) and not be traumatised on a daily basis. Her last scenes are on that grim grey beach, waving the Doctor and Jamie goodbye. It’s a touching goodbye, but also a silent one; no handy exposition here. It’s the part of this audio friendly adventure which needs no words, but needs its accompanying pictures the most.
LINK TO The Space Pirates: the second Doctor and Jamie, of course.
NEXT TIME: O tempora, o mores! It’s time we dropped in on The Romans.