Doctor Who story 158 – The Curse of Fenric
“The Curse of Fenric” seems to be the hinge on which the McCoy era pivots. In this story we learn that the Doctor has been manipulated since his regeneration (or at least since “Dragonfire”). An ancient evil, a force of chaos, has been playing a game with the Doctor. Apparently they had been in conflict once before (just off screen, it would seem), and now this ancient evil has been laying the groundwork for a rematch. Ace was a pawn in this, although she never realized it.
So, in a way, reading the McCoy era up to this point as a deconstruction of previous versions of Doctor Who is somewhat relevant. We were supposed to see the Doctor redefined before our eyes. We were meant to see a build-up to the Doctor as a grand manipulator. We were meant to see him in a new, god-like light. It hasn’t just been Doctor Who deconstructed, it has been the Doctor deconstructed. “The Curse of Fenric” sees a conclusion to a character arc that re-defined the Doctor and the beginning of an arc about Ace. “Ghost Light” is problematic, then, as it also deals in equal parts with deconstructing Doctor Who and exploring the development of Ace. Where, exactly, does “Ghost Light” fit best in this progression? On some level, I think I prefer a viewing order with “Fenric” first and “Ghost Light” second. This is out of broadcast order, but there is more satisfaction with having Ace meet her grandmother in “Fenric,” revisiting a traumatic event from her childhood in “Ghost Light,” and returning to Perivale during her personal timeline in “Survival.” This order also traces a type of feminine awakening in Ace, moving her from a semi-childish mentality to womanhood. (Which is a subtext in “Fenric” and more overt in “Ghost Light.”) Symbolically, these follow Ace as a developing character.
In addition to these character arcs ending and beginning, “Fenric” also invokes the cosmic chess trope by layering it on top of a story about human war. The Doctor and Fenric are playing a game, Ace and the haemovores are pawns and all of time is the board, just as the British, German, and Russian generals are playing a game of war with soldiers and civilians as pawns. Interestingly, British intelligence has developed a trap for the Russians that is reflected in the trap Fenric has laid for the Doctor. The layering of themes in this story is fascinating and it has surprising depth. Such a shame it has gone out of print on DVD here in the U.S. Maybe it will be up for a Revisitation release soon.