Doctor Who: The Curse of Fatal Death is a Doctor Who special made for the Red Nose Day charity telethon in the United Kingdom, and was originally broadcast in four parts on BBC One on 12 March 1999 under the title Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death. Later home video releases are formatted as two parts and drop the "and" in the title. It follows in a long tradition of popular British television programmes producing short, light-hearted specials for such telethon events.
It has a special status amongst Doctor Who-themed charity productions. It has twice been featured on the cover of Doctor Who Magazine - an unusual feat even for a regular episode of the programme. It is the only parodic story to be covered by "DWM Archives", a section of DWM normally reserved for discussion of past episodes of the regular series. Similarly, it is the only parody to be given an extensive behind-the-scenes article on the BBC official website, and its own video release through BBC Video. It is also the only BBC-commissioned live-actionDoctor Who production between the Doctor Who television movie and "Rose".
Finally, it serves as a production bridge - if not a narrative bridge - between the 1963 and 2005 versions of the programme. Most notable amongst the many connections between "old" and "new" versions is the fact that it showcases the first televised Doctor Who script by Steven Moffat, the first post-production work of The Mill on the programme, the only time a woman produced an episode of the programme between Verity Lambert and Susie Liggat, and the final performance by the longest-serving Dalek vocal artist, Roy Skelton. Executive Producer Richard Curtis would later write the 2010 episode "Vincent and the Doctor". Richard E. Grant, who plays the alternative Tenth Doctor would later appear on the actual show, as the main antagonist of the seventh series, the Great Intelligence, after performing the voice of another version of the Ninth Doctor in an animated webcast serial Scream of the Shalka.
A parody of the original series, Curse begins with the Master gloating over his latest scheme to destroy his nemesis. However, instead of only spying on the Doctor and his companion Emma, he is actually in communication with them, so they hear his plans. The Doctor invites his old foe to meet him at an old castle on the planet Tersurus. The planet is in ruins, and was the home of a now-extinct race of supremely-enlightened beings shunned by all because they used flatulence as their means of communication. They all died when they discovered fire.
The Master appears, gloating that he travelled a century back in time, and persuaded the architect of the castle to put in a secret death trap. The Doctor had anticipated this and travelled further back, persuading the same architect to sabotage the trap. The Master had also anticipated this, and arranged for an additional trap - with identical results because the Doctor had likewise anticipated his move. The Doctor informs the Master, having calculated that he "has saved every planet in the known universe a minimum of 27 times", and having grown tired of battles with aliens and "the endless gravel quarries", that he is retiring, having found a Companion - Emma - with whom he has fallen in love. The Master springs yet another trap; a trap door under the Doctor's feet leading to the vast sewers of Tersurus, which he intends to suggest to the architect after going back in time again and buying him an expensive dinner. However, the Doctor had already bought the architect that dinner, so when the Master pulls the lever the trap door opens beneath him instead.
Seconds later, as the Doctor and Emma start to leave, the Master bursts in. Having taken him 312 years to crawl out, he emerges as an old man covered in sewage. Using his TARDIS to return to the present, he has brought allies - the Daleks (who, lacking noses, are the only race that will have anything to do with him). Additionally, he has been enhanced by superior Dalek technology, a Dalek SuctionCup Hand. To the Master's dismay he can not answer when Emma asks him what the suction cup is for. The Master throws himself at the Doctor but falls into the sewers again, and immediately bursts in again, another 312 years older. The Daleks give chase to the Doctor, knocking the Master once more into the sewers. Having spent a total of 936 years in the sewers with only snails for food, companionship, and romance, he returns using a zimmer frame and is easily outpaced by the slow moving Daleks.
Emma and the Doctor, trying to escape, are captured when they run into a room full of Daleks. Rather than being exterminated immediately, they are tied to chairs aboard the Dalek ship. (Why the legless Daleks would have chairs, as well as leave the Doctor and Emma alive, is something they "will explain later".) The Master, now young again, exclaims that he has been enhanced with Dalek technology again - rejuvenating him and adding "Dalek bumps" attached to his chest. To make things worse the Doctor makes several comments, alluding to the "Dalek bumps" as breasts. In return for his enhancement, the Master intends to give the Daleks a weapon of vast power - the Zektronic energy beam - a weapon that would "allow the Daleks to conquer the universe in a matter of minutes"... by means that will be explained later.
When the Doctor tells the Daleks they'll have to share the universe "with the beard and the bosoms over there", they inform the Doctor that they plan to exterminate the Master after he has assisted them. The Doctor uses the Tersuran language (farting) to warn his fellow Time Lord, undetected by the Daleks, who don't have noses. The Master helps the Doctor and Emma to escape, but not before the Doctor is fatally injured by the Daleks. He tells Emma (in Tersuran, which the Master translates) that he loves her, then dies. The Master notes that "this is only his ninth body", upon which the Doctor regenerates into a handsome and sexually eager new Doctor (Richard E. Grant). Forced to fix the Dalek weapon, so that it won't explode and implode after it was damaged by the Daleks firing earlier, he is electrocuted and becomes a shy, middle-aged and overweight Doctor (Jim Broadbent). Another accident results in a handsome, smooth-mannered Doctor (Hugh Grant), but this Doctor is also accidentally killed while fixing the weapon.
Time Lords can regenerate twelve times, but the weapon's energy prevents his twelfth regeneration, so it seems the Doctor is permanently dead. The Master vows to live a life of heroism in honour of his fallen foe's memory, as do the Daleks.
But (perhaps through the will of the universe itself) the Doctor does regenerate yet again, only this time as a woman (Joanna Lumley). Emma is deeply disappointed, pointing out quite literally that "You're just not the man I fell in love with." The Master, however, is quite smitten with this new Doctor, who notices the sonic screwdriver has "three settings!" The story ends with them walking off together.
This story is connected to a number of others by virtue of its narrative and its production elements. Many of the story's actors also have other connections to the programme, although most of these connections take the form of various actors almost getting a role in the main production.
The title sequence is the same as used during most of the Tom Baker era of Doctor Who, albeit edited to remove Tom Baker's face.
The opening image of the TARDIS flying through space as the Master watches was taken from the beginning of the Doctor Who TV movie.
Steven Moffat, best known at the time for the children's drama series Press Gang (which starred Julia Sawalha), was well known as a fan of Doctor Who and included many small continuity references in his script. He subsequently wrote several episodes for the series proper since its revival in 2005, starting with the two-part serial The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, and in 2010 became the programme's head writer and executive producer.
The title "Curse of Fatal Death" is a tautology (it being impossible to have a death that is not fatal), which parodies the sometimes melodramatic and tautological titles of the original series (an example being the 1976 serial The Deadly Assassin).
The TARDIS console room and three of the Daleks used in the production were sourced from the people who made the Doctor Who fan production Devious. The console motor performed perfectly during rehearsal but gave a few problems during the final takes. A copy of the Doctor's 500-Year Diary was placed on the console and red or green lights were used to illuminate the walls when the set was used for, respectively, the Doctor or the Master.
This is the lone example of a BBC-only production prior to 2005 in which the TARDIS interior appears to be lit when viewed from the exterior. This continues a tradition begun in the 1996 television movie, and is common practice in the 2005 series. The visual effect was first seen in the film Dr. Who and the Daleks.
The exterior TARDIS prop was the same Mark II fibreglass version used in the 1980s and in the 30th-anniversary story Dimensions in Time; Curse was the last time the prop would be used.
Hugh Grant was offered the role of the Doctor again ahead of Christopher Eccleston, and later said publicly that he regretted dismissing it without much thought when he saw how good the series was – and that he was hoping to play a villain in the ongoing programme instead.
When originally broadcast, the title of the story was Doctor Who: The Curse of Fatal Death. The four episodes were later re-edited into a two-part story that was released to home video a few months following broadcast, with the proceeds again donated to Comic Relief. The opening credits were remade to include Rowan Atkinson's face. In the VHS release, the title was simply reduced to The Curse of Fatal Death.
The serial was rebroadcast twice on UK Gold during their 40th anniversary marathon in 2003. Used as a five-minute "pause" between fan-chosen episodes of the classic era, it returned to its original title and four-episode format.
The Curse of Fatal Death has been released digitally via iTunes (UK store only) and is available on the Red Nose Day channel on YouTube.
There have not been any plans to bring Doctor Who: The Curse of Fatal Death out on DVD, however BBC Worldwide have said when all the classic series DVDs have been released it may be.