Set during World War II, The Curse of Fenric opens with a squad of Soviet commandos landing on the English Coast near a naval base. We don’t know their intentions right away but they switch to English as soon as they come ashore. Meanwhile, The Doctor and Ace arrive in the TARDIS and walk on base. They’ve traveled together for a while since Remembrance of the Daleks. The Time Lord has an air of authority about him and isn’t challenged until after he gets a chance to forge a letter signed by the Head of the Secret Service and the Prime Minister granting him access.
At the base is the ULTIMA machine, a giant computer that takes up a whole wall and is used to decipher German radio transmissions. The Doctor and Ace quickly acquaint themselves with Dr. Judson, who is running ULTIMA under Commander Millington. They soon learn there’s something more happening than just the war effort.
While searching for clues on the beach, the Doctor and Ace are nearly captured by the Soviet soldiers. The Time Lord reveals he knows why the Soviets are here, and that something is killing them one by one. If the soldiers let him and Ace go, they can investigate further and get to the bottom of the mystery.
It seems everywhere the Doctor and Ace go in the village, people are talking about the Viking myths. Most of the villagers are descendants of the Viking settlers, and there are rumors of treasures buried beneath the church. In his spare time, Dr. Judson studies the Viking runes in the crypts and uses ULTIMA to translate them. Commander Millington seems just as obsessed. It doesn’t take long before the Doctor realizes the Vikings were in fact talking about a curse.
I realized as I was watching this that this story is a slow burn. Normally the cliffhanger endings of each part are strong enough to make me want to watch the next part, but the first cliffhanger after part one seemed pretty weak compared to the others I’ve seen. At least by the end of part three all the pieces were in place and the game could begin in earnest.
One of the things I really liked about this story was the focus on faith. The aliens, Haemovores, are treated just like vampires, except for the aversion to sunlight. The only defense against them is faith. It doesn’t have to be capital F faith in a deity or organized religion, it just has to be strong. For the Doctor, his faith in his companions is powerful enough to drive the Haemovores away from the church. For the Captain of the Soviet soldiers, his faith in his government is strong enough to allow him to escape and return to the base. And for Ace, it’s her faith in the Doctor and that he’ll save the day no matter the odds that prevents the leader of the Haemovores from killing her.
The Curse of Fenric is the second to last Seventh Doctor serial, and the second to last story for Classic Who, unless you count the television movie Doctor Who (1996). Together with Remembrance of the Daleks, it falls into a category of late Classic Who stories that could be from the modern series. Like the Moffat series viewers are familiar with, this story references a few plot points from Ace’s arc as it gives her some serious character growth. The Doctor is at the most manipulative we’ve seen him. Ace is left in the dark for much of the story as the Time Lord refuses to share more than the bare minimum of information. Though it was necessary in the end, his breaking of Ace is hard to watch.