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Fury from the Deep

story 42 | season 5 | serial rr
Paul Clarke

‘Fury From the Deep’ is another base-under-siege story, but is sufficiently distinctive in several key respects to stand out from its immediate predecessor. Firstly, nobody in it dies. Secondly, as noted in The Discontinuity Guide, it features a strong female authority figure in the shape of Megan Jones, which is very unusual during this era. Finally of course, it marks the departure of Victoria.

‘Fury From the Deep’ (which I think is a great title, incidentally) survives the transition to audio much better than ‘The Web of Fear’ does, thanks to the highly distinctive use of the heartbeat sound made by the weed creatures. We are sadly robbed of the sight of tides of foam filling the refinery, but the pulsing heartbeat is still effective. The weed is an unusual menace, but it works well, partly because we learn so little about it, and because even in the original serial as filmed, it was barely ever seen. Whereas the Yetis and the Ice Warriors worked because they were physically imposing menaces, the weed works because it is almost amorphous, attacking with the ubiquitous foam, and toxic gas. The actual weed creature itself vies with the Rills and Celation for the dubious honour of being Doctor Who’s most poorly visually represented monster, given that no episodes of the story survive. Happily, scant footage of it does exist, in the form of the behind the scenes effects sequence included on The Missing Years video in ‘The Ice Warriors’ boxed set, and to be fair it looks quite good, but most of the finest scenes in ‘Fury From the Deep’ seem to be those where little is seen; Van Lutyens’ horrified pronouncement that “It’s down there. In the darkness. In the pipeline. Waiting” at the end of episode one as the heartbeat grows steadily louder is chilling, and similarly his scream as he taken by the seaweed in the impeller shaft makes this another tense moment. The entire story is full of claustrophobic moments such as this, including Victoria trapped in the oxygen store, and Robson being taken over in his cabin as foam surges in through a vent; this may be another base under siege story, but on this occasion, the enemy can come and go at will and cannot be locked out.

In addition to this effective use of the foam and heartbeat sound effect, the menace in ‘Fury From the Deep’ is also effective from another angle, which is its ability to take over humans. For one thing, this only underscores the fact that the weed cannot be locked out of the base, since it has servants inside who help it throughout the story. It is the same principle as knowing that the Great Intelligence has someone working for it in ‘The Web of Fear’, but here the viewer knows who the traitors are and this too is used to build suspense; when the Doctor and Jamie are down the impeller shaft, and Oak and Quill are left in charge of the elevator, the viewer (or listener) is instantly aware that this means trouble. And then of course, there is that surviving censor clip of the pair of them in Maggie Harris’s bedroom. Oak and Quill work because they look unthreatening, almost comical, until they open their mouths and breathe toxic gas; I don’t think the scene is quite as terrifying as some fans would have us believe, but it is grotesquely horrible. In addition, prior to them actually doing this, the sinister incidental score makes it clear that they are a threat, and this also adds to the tension as Maggie is obviously at the mercy of these two strange men whom she has let into her house. Later, as Maggie fully succumbs to the weed’s influence and meets with Robson on the beach at the end of episode three, we get another creepy moment, as she calmly walks out into the sea. By the end of the story we find out that she survived, but at that moment she seems like a zombie, robbed of all free will, calmly and without resistance walking to her death. The weed’s sensitivity to noise, as well as being a plot device to give Victoria an important role in the resolution of her final story, also adds to the overall sinister air, because it results in the weed’s victims speaking softly; unlike the malevolent sibilant hiss of the possessed Padmasambhava in ‘The Abominable Snowmen’, this has a more subtle effect. Whilst not chilling in itself, Robson’s calm voice as he tells the Doctor to join the weed at the beginning of episode six makes it sound wholly reasonable that the Doctor should submit his free will and in some ways Robson’s quiet acceptance of what has happened to him is far more disturbing than if he had been forcefully insisting that resistance is useless. Finally, the physical effect of the weed’s influence, the fronds protruding from its victims skin, also looks rather creepy, at least based on the telesnap evidence.

One of the interesting things about the weed creatures is that we never find out much about them. We know that they have been around for some time, thanks to the Doctor’s book of naval legends, but we don’t know if they are from Earth or outer space. We also don’t know why they suddenly want to colonize. It is strongly hinted that they are not intelligent per se, but derive their intelligence from their human victims, which would explain why they were content to lurk at the bottom of the North Sea until they came into contact with the rig personnel. It is unusual to have a menace in Doctor Who about which we learn so little and could be potentially frustrating, but here it merely makes the threat more mysterious.

The supporting cast is generally pretty good in ‘Fury From the Deep’, although only a handful of the supporting characters really stand out. The Harrises are rather wet, and the Chief and Perkins are fairly forgettable, but Robson, Van Lutyens and Megan Jones are memorably well portrayed. Robson is the first of only two examples of an unstable base commander, supposedly a recurring feature during the Troughton era. Against the advice of his staff and all common sense, he repeatedly refuses to turn off the gas because he’s afraid of ruining his reputation. As the Doctor suggests, in this regard he comes across as a rather silly man, and he’s so bad tempered that he must be a nightmare to work for. The Chief notes that under normal situations he is excellent at his job, but as Van Lutyens retorts, “these are not normal circumstances”. Nevertheless, his descent into paranoia and breakdown is rather rapid even given the circumstances and he’s obviously got a chip on his shoulder when it comes to taking advice from Harris or Van Lutyens. Since Megan Jones does not seem like the sort of person to hand out jobs to her friends if she doesn’t genuinely think they are suited to the task however, this rather suggests that he has his good points. Indeed, this is hinted at early on when to Van Lutyens’ disbelief he manages to reduce the gas pressure and avert an explosion, suggesting that he does, as he claims, know every nut and bolt of the rigs and refinery. At the end of the story, with the weed gone, he also seems far more laid back than he did at the start and seems genuinely popular with his staff. Regardless of the character’s merits, Victor Maddern acts the part very convincingly, especially during the scenes with Megan Jones when his old friend comforts the tormented controller. He’s also very good during the scenes when Robson takes Victoria hostage, and later confronts the Doctor on the rig, conveying quiet menace and avoiding going over the top.

John Abineri, fully equipped with the most convincing foreign accent in Doctor Who to date, superbly portrays Van Lutyens. The character’s frustration with the stubborn Robson and his determination to deal with the crisis both come across well, and his ill-fated investigation of the base of the impeller demonstrates that he isn’t afraid to face the threat of the weed head on. He’s essentially rather likeable, attempting to be diplomatic with Robson, but otherwise seeming to easily earn the respect of Harris, the Chief, and even the Doctor. In much the same vein, Megan Jones is portrayed as a sensible authority figure, which is rather unusual in Doctor Who, as typified by the fact that she listens to the Doctor and quickly learns to trust him. The fact that she is female is, as noted, even more unusual for this era.

Unusually, I find that the Doctor benefits here from being able to get to the TARDIS half way through, when he examines a sample of the weed. Very often, the Doctor is separated from the TARDIS to stop him from being able to escape; the fact that he can reach it here emphasizes the fact that he doesn’t matter whether he can escape or not, because he won’t whilst people are in danger. Troughton is particularly good at conveying a feeling of quiet strength and compassion, and he’s never more striking as the Doctor than when he’s wearing a quiet frown and determining how to defeat whatever threat he’s facing. His gentle handling of Victoria’s desire to leave is also thoroughly endearing. But Troughton also portrays the other aspects of the Doctor well, for example his alarm as he and Jamie are confronted by the rising tide of foam in the impeller shaft, and his obvious glee, even on audio, at getting the chance to pilot a helicopter. Jamie gets to show a more sensitive side than usual, as he is obviously heart-broken by Victoria’s desire to leave. His touching concern for her is demonstrated earlier too, when he finds her unconscious after Oak and Quill have dragged her away. His despondency as he and the Doctor wave goodbye to her on the TARDIS scanner always makes me wonder exactly how much he likes her…

Victoria’s departure is very well handled. Having been repeatedly frightened during her travels in the TARDIS, especially when Varga kidnapped and bullied her, and after being held hostage by a possessed Professor Travers and a Yeti, her utter weariness at being afraid is thoroughly convincing. It is signposted throughout the story, as she bemoans the fact that the TARDIS always lands in trouble, and it makes for a much smoother departure than, for example, Ben and Polly’s abrupt spur-of-the-moment decision. Appropriately, she gets an important role in her final story, as her screams are the solution to the problem of the noise-sensitive weed, which is a nice touch given that she hasn’t really been of much help to the Doctor during the past two stories. I rather like the fact that after Victoria tells the Doctor and Jamie that she is staying with the Harrises they both stay overnight to say a proper farewell. Companion departures are generally rather hurried affairs, and it’s quite nice that, for a change, one of them gets to really say goodbye. And the Doctor quietly telling Jamie that he was fond of her too carries just as much emotion as Jamie’s more obvious unhappiness.

Overall then, ‘Fury From the Deep’ is a great monster story, and a fine departure story for Victoria. It is an effective production and a fitting end to one of Doctor Who’s finest seasons. But unfortunately, ‘The Wheel in Space’ actually ends the season…