The Curse of Fenric

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154[1]The Curse of Fenric
Doctor Who serial
Curse of Fenric.jpg
Haemovore converts prepare to feast
Directed byNicholas Mallett
John Nathan-Turner (uncredited)
Written byIan Briggs
Script editorAndrew Cartmel
Produced byJohn Nathan-Turner
Incidental music composerMark Ayres
Production code7M
SeriesSeason 26
Running time4 episodes, 25 minutes each
First broadcast25 October 1989 (1989-10-25)
Last broadcast15 November 1989 (1989-11-15)
← Preceded by
Ghost Light
Followed by →
List of Doctor Who episodes (1963–1989)

The Curse of Fenric is the third serial of the 26th season of the British science-fiction television series Doctor Who, which was first broadcast in four weekly parts on BBC1 from 25 October to 15 November 1989.

In the serial, the ancient evil force Fenric uses the vampiric Haemovores, the descendants of humanity from the future, to attack a World War II naval base in England and orders them to destroy life on Earth by poisoning it with chemicals.

Unusually, two further versions of this story exist: the 1991 video release incorporated about six minutes of extra material into the original narrative, and the 2003 DVD included a 'Special Edition' edited into a single movie-length feature, with new special effects, re-editing of some scenes, and 12 minutes of unbroadcast footage.


The Seventh Doctor and Ace arrive at a British naval installation near Maiden's Point on the Northumberland coast during World War II. Befriending the base personnel, they learn that the base, run by Commander Millington, is being used as a listening post to intercept and translate German coded messages using the Ultima supercomputer and to stockpile a supply of a lethal nerve gas. Meanwhile, wheelchair-user Dr. Judson has also been using Ultima to help decipher Viking runes found in catacombs beneath the base, warning of a being called Fenric, which has attracted Millington's attention, he believing that he can gain Fenric's power. Outside the base, the Doctor and Ace discover a covert squad of Soviet commandos, led by Captain Sorin, who are seeking to capture Ultima; the Doctor warns them to lie low, while Ace and Sorin become smitten with each other.

A Haemovore, as shown at the Doctor Who Experience

The Doctor and Ace find a glowing oriental vase, a treasure captured by the Vikings and left in the catacombs, but it is taken by Millington when they return to the base. As Millington and Judson prepare to use Ultima to decipher the writings on the vase, vampire-like Haemovores begin to emerge from the sea, attack and convert the English and Soviet troops and other residents into more Haemovores. When Judson runs Ultima with the vase, energy strikes him and he becomes infused with Fenric. Fenric begins to give orders to the Ancient One, an old Haemovore in control of the other monsters, to continue to assault anyone in their path and to destroy all humans by poisoning the Earth with chemicals at the installation. Ace is able to warn one of the WRNS, Kathleen, in time for her to escape with her newborn child, Audrey.

The Doctor reveals he has faced Fenric, an ancient evil since the dawn of time, besting him by challenging him at a chess problem. Arranging another chess problem in the same room where the nerve gas has been stockpiled, the Doctor is able to delay Fenric, while he runs off to seek a more permanent solution. Sorin, the last remaining member of his squad, enters the room and prepares to shoot Fenric, but Fenric reveals that Sorin is one of his "wolves", having descended from the Vikings that carried the cursed vase to the English shores and takes over his body. When Ace returns to the room, she unwittingly helps Fenric, in Sorin's body, to solve the chess problem. The Doctor arrives too late, as Fenric can no longer be stopped. Fenric orders the Ancient One to attack the Doctor but a psychic barrier created by Ace's trust in the Doctor prevents the Ancient One from acting. The Doctor is forced to reveal to Ace that she too is one of Fenric's pawns, as it was he that created the time storm that transported her to the alien colony Iceworld. Furthermore, by saving Kathleen and Audrey, she has assured that the cycle remain unbroken, as Audrey will grow up to become Ace's mother whom she despises. Ace's faith is shattered, causing the psychic barrier to drop but, instead of attacking the Doctor, the Ancient One grabs Fenric, pulls him into a sealed chamber and releases a lethal dose of the gas. The chamber explodes, killing them both. As the Doctor and Ace recover along the shore, Ace takes a moment to contemplate why she hates her mother and to celebrate overcoming her irrational fear of the water, before she and the Doctor return to the TARDIS.


The Doctor chants the names of his former companions to ward off the Haemovores. Most of the names he chants are inaudible, but a few can be made out, including Susan, Barbara, Vicki and Steven, all companions of the First Doctor.[2] Ace mentions an old house in Perivale. This was originally intended as a foreshadowing of Ghost Light; the resequencing of the broadcast schedule, however, altered it into an apparent reference to a past story.[2] Similarly, the Doctor's new wardrobe for season 26 was hidden throughout part one by a long duffel coat, setting up a dramatic revelation when he removed the coat.[2] Sylvester McCoy, however, has stated that he was given the coat to shelter from the cold weather on location, and was permitted to retain it on-screen.[3][4]



Writer Ian Briggs based the character of Dr Judson on Alan Turing. In an interview for the DVD release of this story, Briggs said that since at that time it was not considered appropriate to depict a character's struggle with homosexuality in a family programme, he transformed Turing's frustration at being unable to express his true sexual identity into Judson's frustration at being disabled. In the same interview, Briggs stated that he intended to suggest that both Judson and Millington were gay and had a shared past, although this was not realised in the finished programme.

This story was originally going to be titled The Wolves of Fenric (and before that, Wolf-Time). Fenric does refer to his servants as his "wolves" (and wolves play a strong role in Norse mythology, especially the monster Fenrir). However, Nathan-Turner felt that as the "wolves" connection was not revealed until quite late in the story, the title would not initially make sense to the audience.[citation needed]

Although there are several references in the story to the Norse belief in a final battle at the end of the world, the word Ragnarok was removed from the script to avoid confusion with the Gods of Ragnarok from the previous season's The Greatest Show in the Galaxy.

This story is the second in what some have called the "Ace Trilogy", a three-story arc that explores elements of Ace's past before she met the Doctor. This was not an intentional trilogy, since Fenric was originally intended to start the season. Fenric was moved to third in the season because its horror themes were seen as more fitting for airing in October.[2]


The Curse of Fenric was originally to have been shot, as with most Doctor Who serials, as a mixture of studio interiors and location exteriors. However, after reading the script, director Nicholas Mallett persuaded producer John Nathan-Turner that given the settings involved, the serial could be made more effective and realistic by shooting the entire production on location, to which Nathan-Turner eventually agreed.[citation needed] Shooting on the serial went over-length to such a degree that consideration was briefly given to editing the story into five rather than four episodes. However, Ian Briggs strongly opposed this, feeling that the narrative flow would be badly disrupted.

The exact setting of the story is disputed as either Northumberland[5] or near Whitby, North Yorkshire,[6] although Reverend Wainwright's mention of Dracula coming ashore there indicates the latter. The scenes set in the fictional location of Maiden's Point were shot on location at Lulworth Cove in Dorset.[7] The production also visited Kent and filmed at Lillesden Manor which doubled as the laboratory under the church, Roses Farm in Hawkhurst, which doubled as Mrs Hardaker's Cottage and St Lawrence Church in Hawkhurst which doubled as St Judd's Church.[8]

Cast notes[edit]

  • Marek Anton, who played the Destroyer in the first story of the season Battlefield, is the Russian soldier Vershinin.
  • The infant Audrey was the son of the proprietors of the Bush Hotel on Shepherd's Bush Green, familiar to the production team as it was near the Doctor Who offices.[9]
  • This serial features guest appearances from Dinsdale Landen as Dr Judson and Nicholas Parsons as Reverend Wainwright. See also list of guest appearances in Doctor Who.
  • Two of the Haemovores in this story are played by Sylvester McCoy's sons: Sam and Joe Kent-Smith.
  • Anne Reid returned to Doctor Who as a Plasmavore named Florence Finnegan in the Tenth Doctor episode "Smith and Jones".
  • Actress Janet Henfrey was a schoolfriend of Sophie Aldred's mother. Her character of Miss Hardaker in this serial was modelled on the part she played, again as a school teacher, in two Dennis Potter dramas: Stand Up, Nigel Barton (1965) and The Singing Detective (1986). Henfrey returned to the series as Mrs. Pitt in the Twelfth Doctor episode "Mummy on the Orient Express".
  • Sylvia Syms was originally offered the part of Miss Hardaker but played the character Mrs Pritchard in another story of the season, Ghost Light.

Broadcast and reception[edit]

EpisodeTitleRun timeOriginal air dateUK viewers
(millions) [10]
1"Part One"24:2325 October 1989 (1989-10-25)4.3
2"Part Two"24:091 November 1989 (1989-11-01)4.0
3"Part Three"24:118 November 1989 (1989-11-08)4.0
4"Part Four"24:1615 November 1989 (1989-11-15)4.2

Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping described the serial as "something special" with "many magical scenes" in The Discontinuity Guide (1995)."[11] In The Television Companion (1998), David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker praised the direction and horror.[12] In 2012, Mark Braxton of Radio Times awarded it four stars out of five. He wrote that there was "much to enjoy and admire" and suggested it as an influence on the revived Doctor Who in terms of companions. However, he felt that it was "as if three scripts have been rewritten as one", considering the plot was too convoluted and observing that the special effects were "a mixed bag".[13] Christopher Bahn, reviewing the serial for The A.V. Club, also commented on its influence on the modern series, but felt it hadn't "aged well visually" and "often looks cheap and feels cheesy, but the way it takes chances and stretches the boundaries of what Doctor Who was about is admirable, even if that might have been too-little-too-late for a show that would be off the air in two months." He also believed it "starts strongly and has some terrific moments, but gets convoluted and confusing toward the finale." He criticised the "less-than-graceful dialogue" and special effects, and felt that Fenric and the Haemavores lacked sufficient background.[14]

Commercial releases[edit]

In print[edit]

The Curse of Fenric
AuthorIan Briggs
Cover artistAlister Pearson
SeriesDoctor Who book:
Target novelisations
Release number
PublisherTarget Books
Publication date
15 November 1990

A novelisation of this serial, written by Ian Briggs, was published by Target Books in November 1990. The novel features additional character information absent from the serial and an epilogue featuring an older Ace after she has left the Doctor. This formed part of the basis for Ace's departure in Kate Orman's Virgin New Adventures novel Set Piece, where she chooses to stay in Paris to monitor a time rift and at some point has a relationship with one of Captain Sorin's ancestors.

Home media[edit]

The Curse of Fenric was released on VHS in 1991. The release included about six minutes' worth of the extra scenes. This story was released on DVD in the United Kingdom in October 2003 in a two-disc set as part of the Doctor Who 40th Anniversary Celebration releases. This consisted of the original four broadcast episodes, with an additional DVD commentary recorded by Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred and Nicholas Parsons, plus a 'Special Edition' edited into one movie-length adventure including 12 minutes of unbroadcast material. This version has reworked special effects and music arranged by Mark Ayres based on notes written up by himself and the late Nicholas Mallett; it also sees several scenes re-edited to produce a more coherent narrative. This serial was also released as part of the Doctor Who DVD Files in issue 39 on 30 June 2010.

Soundtrack release[edit]

Doctor Who: The Curse of Fenric
Soundtrack album by
LabelSilva Screen
Mark Ayres chronology
Myths and Other Legends
Doctor Who: The Curse of Fenric
Doctor Who: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy
Doctor Who soundtrack chronology
The Doctor Who 25th Anniversary Album
Doctor Who: The Curse of Fenric
Doctor Who: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy

Mark Ayres's music from this story was released on CD in 1991 by Silva Screen Records.[15][16][17]

Track listing[edit]

All tracks are written by Mark Ayres, except where noted.

1."Introduction: "Doctor Who"" (Ron Grainer arr. Keff McCulloch) 
2."The Boats" 
3."Beach-Head and Rat-Trap" 
4."Sealed Orders" 
5."Eyes Watching" 
6."Commander Millington" 
7."Viking Graves" 
8."Maiden's Point" 
9."The Translations" 
10."Audrey and Millington's Office" 
11."The Curse of Fenric" 
12."High Stakes" 
13."The Crypt" 
14."The Ambush" 
15."The Well of Vergelmir" 
16."The Ultima Machine" 
17."Dangerous Undercurrents" 
18."The Seduction of Prozorov" 
19."Half-Time Score" 
20."Exit Miss Hardaker/The Vicar and the Vampires" 
21."Stop the Machine!" 
22."The Haemovores" 
23."The Battle for St. Jude's" 
24."The Mineshaft" 
25."Sealing the Hatch" 
26."House Guests" 
27."The Telegram" 
28."Evil from the Dawn of Time" 
29."The Storm Breaks" 
30."Ancient Enemies" 
31."Shadow Dimensions" 
32."Chemical Grenade" 
33."The Great Serpent" 
34."Pawns in the Game" 
35."Kathleen's Escape" 
36."The Wolves of Fenric" 
37."Black Wins, Time Lord!" 
38."The Final Battle" 
39."Epilogue: "Doctor Who"" (Ron Grainer arr. Keff McCulloch) 


  1. ^ From the Doctor Who Magazine series overview, in issue 407 (pp26-29). The Discontinuity Guide, which counts the four segments of The Trial of a Time Lord as four separate stories and also counts the unbroadcast serial Shada, lists this story as number 158. Region 1 DVD releases follow The Discontinuity Guide numbering system.
  2. ^ a b c d The Curse of Fenric with Information Text (DVD). The Curse of Fenric DVD: BBC Worldwide. 2003.
  3. ^ Sylvester McCoy (2007). Doctor Who: Endgame (DVD). Survival DVD: BBC Worldwide.
  4. ^ Sylvester McCoy (2020). Behind the Sofa (The Curse of Fenric) (Blu-Ray). Doctor Who The Collection: Season 26: BBC Studios.CS1 maint: location (link)
  5. ^ Howe, David J.; Walker, Stephen James (1998). "The Curse of Fenric". Doctor Who: The Television Companion. London: BBC Worldwide. p. 532. ISBN 0-563-40588-0.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  6. ^ Cornell, Paul; Day, Martin; Topping, Keith (1995). "158 'The Curse of Fenric'". Doctor Who: The Discontinuity Guide. London: Doctor Who Books. p. 355. ISBN 0-426-20442-5.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  7. ^ Howe, David J.; Walker, Stephen James (1998). "The Curse of Fenric (7M)". Doctor Who The Handbook - The Seventh Doctor. London: Doctor Who Books. p. 101. ISBN 0-426-20527-8.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  8. ^ Kent Film Office. "Kent Film Office The Curse of Fenric Article".
  9. ^ BBC - Doctor Who - New Years Day
  10. ^ "Ratings Guide". Doctor Who News. Retrieved 28 May 2017.
  11. ^ Cornell, Paul; Day, Martin; Topping, Keith (1995). "The Curse of Fenric". The Discontinuity Guide. London: Virgin Books. ISBN 0-426-20442-5.
  12. ^ Howe, David J & Walker, Stephen James (1998). Doctor Who: The Television Companion (1st ed.). London: BBC Books. ISBN 978-0-563-40588-7.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  13. ^ Braxton, Mark (22 October 2012). "Doctor Who: The Curse of Fenric". Radio Times. Retrieved 20 October 2013.
  14. ^ Bahn, Christopher (19 February 2012). "The Curse of Fenric". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 20 October 2013.
  15. ^ Doctor Who: The Curse of Fenric (CD Booklet). Silva Screen. 1991. FILMCD 087.
  16. ^ Ayres, Mark. "Mark Ayres - Doctor Who Incidental Music". Archived from the original on 15 September 2008. Retrieved 5 October 2008.
  17. ^ "Millennium Effect". Retrieved 5 October 2008.

External links[edit]

Target novelisation[edit]