Aired 25 October – 15 November 1989
‘The Curse of Fenric’ often finds itself in the discussion for best story of the classic era of Doctor Who, the perfect blend of script editor Andrew Cartmel’s plan to reinvigorate the mysterious nature of the Doctor while fully developing and exploring the companion by his side. Without even considering the actual plot, it’s clear that Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred have an immense camaraderie, and the relationship that draws parallels to a father and daughter comes alive wonderfully. Indeed, this is perhaps the most grounded relationship within the classic series, the Doctor encouraging Ace to observe and reach conclusions by herself while still being ever mindful of her propensity for jumping into situations head first and Ace trying to earn the respect of the Doctor while still trying to discover herself. Of course, ‘The Curse of Fenric’ is the definitive Ace tale, and never before has a companion developed so much and been so hurt in such a short period of time.
‘The Curse of Fenric’ deals with surprisingly mature themes for a family programme, with Ace’s intimations about being able to use her femininity to her advantage and the metaphorical swimming at Maiden’s Point as strict religious and social values fight against repressed urges proving that even sexual notions are fair to discuss. Yet while this is quite suggestive and lends a sense of realism to proceedings, Ace coming upon an infantile version of her mother forms a much stronger emotional backbone for the story, forcing Ace to confront her pent-up animosity towards her mother while also tasking her with an immense responsibility to safeguard the baby as she fights through conflicted feelings. Simultaneously, the serial develops the Doctor more subtly, suggesting that he continues to bring Ace to certain locations at certain times to allow her to mature by coming to terms with her past. As he demands that Ace break her implicit faith in him while she tries to break a lifetime of hatred for her mother, the Doctor seemingly postponed his ultimate confrontation with Fenric until the circumstances suited his needs, noticing hints that Fenric was toying with him since first meeting Ace on Iceworld but playing his own version of the game in the interim.
The story works on more than a personal level, though, as the Doctor’s spirit of adventure and freedom stands in direct contrast to Fenric’s mantra of cyclical predestination and forms an excellent central conflict as the constant warfare of mankind wears on around it. Indeed, the political nature of war and the hope lost as a result are both dealt with cleverly and overtly, further grounding the fantastic events with a helpless realism. In the end, it’s difficult to find many flaws with ‘The Curse of Fenric’ other than some of its core ideas becoming somewhat heavy-handed as the serial progress. However, this is the definitive version of the Seventh Doctor and Ace with all of their heroic and flawed aspects brazenly on display. ‘The Curse of Fenric’ is a fantastic tale drenched in emotion and atmosphere which proves that Doctor Who as a concept and a franchise still had plenty of ingenuity and life in it even as its time of cancellation drew ever nearer.