This might be contentious, but I tend to avoid missing episodes. Television is, after all, a visual medium and to listen to an audio recording whilst squinting at still images doesn’t do the original work justice. Also, linking narration or title cards are all well and good but they don’t make The Feast of Steven or The Celestial Toymaker any less noisy or chaotic. I’ve dabbled with the Loose Cannon reconstructions for some of the missing episodes but, lovingly and painstakingly crafted though they are, they still don’t quite match up.
I guess I’m always going to be holding out hope that one day soon, 92 film cans will find their way to the front door of BBC Enterprises. Thankfully the flourishing range of animated reconstructions, which this month adds Fury from the Deep, is the most engaging way that I’ve found to experience lost stories. They’ll certainly keep me going until Philip Morris empties his attic…
Personally, the loss of Fury from the Deep is a bit of a stinger for me. No pun intended. It’s only one of two Doctor Who stories filmed near where I live in Margate. (The second is The Mind of Evil, filmed at Manston airfield) I’ve spent many hours walking alongside those beautiful white cliffs at Botany Bay, retracing the footsteps of Patrick Troughton, Frazer Hines and Deborah Watling. I don’t know about you, but I always get a little frisson of excitement when visiting a Doctor Who filming location. It’s even more exciting when you’re able to experience the story itself and actually see your favourite characters trample over one of your local beaches, and introduce the sonic screwdriver! Oh well.
It’s especially frustrating because Fury from the Deep has long been considered a classic base-under-siege story, full of atmosphere, genuinely chilling imagery and a final two episodes which are full of the breath-taking action sequences you’d normally expect from the Pertwee era. On watching this new reconstruction, it mostly earns that reputation. After an audacious TARDIS landing and a rubber dinghy ride we’re soon on familiar ground as the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria arrive on the Kent coast where something rather unpleasant is lurking in the pipes at the local Euro Sea Gas facility.
However, because this is a tried-and-tested Doctor Who format by this point, there are large stretches where the plot starts to sag under the weight of the six-part runtime. To his credit, Victor Pemberton wisely fills each episode with incident – the terrifying visit by Messrs Oak and Quill, Mrs Harris’ chilling seaside stroll, the foaming bedroom – but these set-pieces don’t distract from the fact that large chunks of each episode involve various characters rehashing the same arguments with the belligerent Robson.
As well as the foam, Euro Sea Gas is full to the brim with stock base-under-siege archetypes, although pleasingly Pemberton gives them more texture than characters in similar stories – there’s Roy Spencer as Harris, the meek second-in-command, worried about his wife as much as he is about annoying his boss. There’s John Abineri, terrific as the enigmatic, slightly manipulative Van Lutyens, an external expert who’s arrived to check up on the facility. Then there’s Robson himself, the archetypal suspicious senior authority figure. And yet, in Pemberton’s writing and Victor Maddern’s performance, there is a fascinating portrayal of the psychological damage done by years of isolation whilst working on the rigs.
Robson is an uncaring, bolshy boss because he’s forgotten how to interact with real people. His ordeal will go some way to reconnecting him with his humanity. There’s real motivation and character arcs mapped out for a lot of the characters here, in a way that you don’t always get with similar stories of the era. Robson’s boss Megan Jones, played with a good deal of steely efficiency by Margaret John really livens up the final third of the story. Between the whimpering, ailing Mrs Bennett and the whimpering, screaming Victoria Waterfield, women aren’t served particularly well in this story, so it’s a relief to see a woman taking charge of the base as the story heads towards the barnstorming conclusion.
And speaking of Victoria, she gets an atypical companion exit in the sense that it’s telegraphed from the opening episode. No last-minute weddings, space coronations or airport departures here. Poor Victoria’s grown tired of the constant threat of death that comes with travelling in the TARDIS and decides it’s time to settle down on Earth. Whilst it’s almost undercut by the daftness of her screams defeating the seaweed, her departure is a moving moment and Pemberton’s script allows the time to deal with the departure in a manner befitting both the characters and the actors themselves.
In the making-of documentary, Deborah Watling (in archive footage) talks of how her, Troughton and Hines felt like a family unit and you get a real sense of that in the touching heart to heart Victoria has with the Doctor and her heartbreaking chat with Jamie in the garden. Whilst this is one of the few Doctor Who stories where everybody lives, there’s still a tremendous sense of melancholy in the story’s closing moments as the Doctor and Jamie sadly row back to the TARDIS. It’s testament to the artists and animators at Digitoonz that all of that still comes through in this reconstruction.
The art style of Fury is a marked improvement on the previous releases and captures the likenesses of our leads and supporting characters in an evocative way that befits the actors and the medium. What’s enjoyable about these recent animated reconstructions is how they give us an idea of what Doctor Who would have looked like as a full colour 1960’s cartoon series. I’m not sure if this is a deliberate move or one necessitated by the small budgets afforded to the team, but it mostly works.
There are some drawbacks though, the climactic sequence of repelling the seaweed in the control room loses the frenetic energy of the surviving footage. Similarly, Mr. Oak and Mr. Quill aren’t nearly as horrifying and other-worldly as they are in the original unnerving sequence (possibly the most terrifying moment in all of Doctor Who?) with Mrs. Harris. Whilst the facial animations are an improvement on The Faceless Ones and The Macra Terror it struggles to properly replicate Bill Burridge’s unique physicality. As a result, this reconstruction occasionally lacks an atmosphere, which is a real shame.
It’s possibly an issue with framing. Are base-under-siege stories better suited to grainy black and white 16mm film than they are pin sharp colour animation? The 16:9 format aspect ratio means more of the frame to fill, and whilst the design of the ESG facility achieves more than they could have realistically done in 1968, it often leaves empty space. Claustrophobia is a big part of what makes those types of story so compelling and the cavernous impeller room doesn’t feel quite as gloomily atmospheric as it may have done on original broadcast.
Minor quibbles perhaps, especially as the alternative is popping on a narrated soundtrack and squinting at telesnaps (there’s a 141 minute reconstruction cut of the story included too if that’s your bag). It’s not perfect, but chances are that was the original to be returned to us in a few years time, we’d find that it wasn’t perfect either. Look at The Web of Fear.
“Not enough time, not enough money” is a constant refrain on Doctor Who making-of documentaries, and I’m sure that the same was true for the production of this animation. The love for the source material and the creativity shines through the shortcomings. Much like in the 1960s, some magic has been conjured up from little money and a difficult situation (though classic Who thankfully avoided a global pandemic). You couldn’t ask for a finer tribute to the Troughton era than that.
As with previous animated releases, this is a three-disc set with a whole host of additional material. The cruellest of which is the beautiful remastered film footage of the climactic control room battle, giving us a brief insight into just how great 1960s Doctor Who looks on Blu-ray. Hopefully the 1st and 2nd Doctors will join The Collection in due course. On a positive note, however, the surviving Fury footage does emphasise how the monsters and, specifically, Robson’s transformation is much better served by the flexibility of animation. In the brief surviving clip from episode five, Victor Maddern’s costume and make-up look more like a shabby scarecrow than terrifying seaweed creature.
Also included are all seven episodes of Victor Pemberton’s radio drama The Slide, which formed the basis of Fury from the Deep – pitting Roger Delgado’s Josef Gomez against sentient mud, rather than seaweed.
The highlight of the set is The Cruel Sea – Surviving Fury from the Deep, a hugely entertaining and insightful making-of documentary filmed at Botany Bay and the Redsands Sea Fort. It reunites Frazer Hines, Michael E. Briant, Margot Hayhoe and the utterly fascinating helicopter pilot ‘Mad’ Mike Smith. Seriously, I’d watch a whole documentary about Smith’s exploits – swinging from chandeliers at the Botany Bay hotel, flying his helicopter between the legs of the sea fort (“…just like driving a car”), he’s a proper character.
We’ve come a long way from the static, solo interviews from the early days of the DVD range and The Cruel Sea really benefits from having all the interviewees on location together. There’s a real warmth between them all, like old friends reuniting after a long time. I’m sure some of the stories have been told before in Doctor Who Magazine and at conventions, but there is a sense that returning to the locations unlocks long-forgotten memories and hilarious new anecdotes in the team. It’s a truly wonderful little documentary which will no doubt increase the number of Doctor Who fans making pilgrimages to Margate. I’ll see you there!