DOCTOR: That’s the noise I heard on the beach.
VICTORIA: What is it, Doctor?
DOCTOR: I don’t know but we’re going to find out. Come on, Jamie. Oh Victoria, no. Not you.
VICTORIA: Why not?
DOCTOR: I think it’d be better if you stayed back in the bunk room. Please.
VICTORIA: Oh, all right.
Doctor Who never quite knew what to do with a female companion during the original run, and just as each Doctor is defined in contrast to his predecessor, the same tends to happen with the companions. So we veer back and forth between damsel-in-distress and somebody more independent and useful for pretty much the whole Classic series. The former option certainly describes Victoria, and for her entire run she has been constantly the one getting kidnapped or menaced by the monsters. And we actually have something very unusual here: a character arc for a companion that seems to have been planned right from the start, with Victoria becoming increasingly frustrated with being scared for her life all the time. Deborah Watling claimed that it had always been the plan for Victoria to leave because of this, and this is actually supported strongly by the evidence of Season 5 as a whole. She is central to her final story, and her fear becomes the thing that finally saves the day. It would have been better if Victoria had been the one to figure out what was going on, so she was really the one to save everyone, rather than being used by the Doctor to save everyone, but she remains true to her slightly problematical passive nature. It’s all terribly unenlightened, even in comparison with the most of the other 60s companions, but Victoria has actually worked well as a companion despite all that, and that’s basically because Deborah Watling made her so likeable. Well, most of the time. This is her farewell story, so let’s gloss over the annoying bits.
There are some lovely moments from Victoria here. Her embarrassment at being asked to scream is cute, and how delightfully ironic that the girl who has spent the last year with the Doctor screaming at everything fails to do so when asked, until something genuinely scares her:
PRICE: Right, ready miss? Now scream into this. Now.
VICTORIA: What, now?
PRICE: Yes, yes. There’s not a moment to lose.
VICTORIA: I can’t. It’s silly.
PRICE: No, no. Please, please, you have to.
VICTORIA: Oh, Doctor!
DOCTOR: What’s the matter, Victoria?
PRICE: She can’t scream, sir.
DOCTOR: Oh no! Oh Victoria, that’s ridiculous.
VICTORIA: Jamie, you can’t scream just like that!
Then there is the steady build up to her departure, with her frustration becoming more and more clear, which throws her into contrast with the Doctor and Jamie, and that makes us realise what a lot of fun they are, a pair of best friends throwing themselves into every adventure with glee.
VICTORIA: Doctor, why is it that we always land up in trouble?
DOCTOR: Well, Victoria, it’s the spice of life, my dear.
And that gets to the heart of why the Troughton era is working so well, and will work even better soon with a third companion who embraces the adventuring: the combination of the Doctor’s childish excitement and enthusiasm, and Troughton’s ability to sell the fear as well. That’s not a particularly easy job here. On the one hand, this seems like a straightforward example of making the everyday scary, but we’re talking about seaweed here. This is not an everyday thing that already has overtones of fear: shadows, creepy statues, the advancement of science into the replacement of body parts, shop window dummies that play on the uncanny valley. No, seaweed. That could have easily fallen flat. But Troughton and everyone else ramps up the fear factor so well that it works, helped by ominous little lines like, “it’s down there, in the darkness, in the pipeline, waiting.” This approach starts to wear thin as the story progresses, and eventually we get the slightly cheesy and nonsensical, “it’s begun, the battle of the giants.” That is a symptom of not having quite enough plot to stretch across six episodes, and Robson constantly being an idiot in order to prevent any useful action against the threat does wear a bit thin. Also, the useless/unhinged base controller has been done to death at this point.
But, as far as we can tell from what remains of Fury from the Deep, it does seem to have been a triumph of style over substance. The moment where Oak and Quill attack Maggie is stunningly creepy, but I can’t help suspecting that we already have the stand-out moment of the whole story right there, and nothing else is going to live up to it if Fury ever returns to the archives. Having said that, the cliffhanger at the end of episode 3 is one of the most exciting and disturbing of the Sixties, with Maggie walking out to sea until she is completely submerged, so Oak and Quill do not provide the only moment of awesome in the story.
And after all the scariness, Fury from the Deep turns out to be something quite different from the rest of Season 5, or indeed the rest of Doctor Who up until this point. It is a complete triumph for the Doctor, probably with nobody dying at all (this is not entirely clear, because Robson asphyxiates a guard by placing his weed-infected hand over his victim’s mouth – whether he kills him or merely renders him unconscious is unclear, although the end of the story would seem to suggest that everybody returns to normal with no casualties), and a companion departure handled in a more thoughtful way than just about any other for the whole run of the Classic series. Jamie’s distress at losing Victoria, hinting at a frustrated attraction, is handled astonishingly well for the time, and the Doctor does something he never does, hangs around for a while and stays for dinner with the Harrises, just to make sure Victoria is ok and happy with her decision.
I was tempted to point out that we get a companion departure and a new “companion” here, with the introduction of something that will accompany the Doctor on most of his travels: the sonic screwdriver. But the sonic as we know it doesn’t really debut at all here. It is just a clever bit of foreshadowing of the sonic solution to the seaweed problem, and at this stage it’s just what it says on the tin. A screwdriver. When the Pertwee era rolls round it will start to become his magic wand, but we’re not there yet, and (unlike a lot of Doctor Who stories) this is not about magic. It is about the simple mundane concern of the loss of a friend who no longer fits in with the life she has been leading. It is human, everyday and normal, and beautiful. RP
The view from across the pond:
It’s hard to write about the missing stories since most of us have never seen them at all, while only a small handful would have watched during that first broadcast, oh so long ago. And watching isn’t the only problem; remembering the story clearly 50 years later, well, that’s a challenge. Although I get the impression that one story would be fairly easy to recall: Fury from the Deep. No, not because it’s the only Pat Troughton story whose title does not start with The, but because it was a seriously interesting and creepy story.
When I was an avid Target Books collector I recall reading the announcement of the book version. Supposedly, Victor Pemberton wrote the book which was far longer than any of the other Target books. (I’m fuzzy on the source of my recollection). Apparently the publisher wanted the book cut down to make it more like all the other Target novelizations, but they could not find a word to cut, so tight was the story. And that speaks volumes about the story.
First off, Pemberton must have summoned up something from deep in our collective memory, not unlike one of my favorite horror writers, H. P. Lovecraft. The creatures from the depths of the ocean automatically instill a sense of fear because we can’t see them; we know they are there, below us, but lurking in the dark. For Doctor Who, that is a perfect place to find a story. One wonders if the ancient book of legends that the Doctor looks at with Victoria, might not include some other Lovecraftian horrors. The seaweed creature is another of my favorites too because, again, the Doctor cannot talk his way out of a tight spot. Another creature of instinct, all the Doctor can do is find a way to protect the base and drive the creature away. And Troughton’s era is chock full of bases-under-siege by strange creatures and this one is an especially frightening one for just that reason!
Now, fear factor aside, it was around this time that the BBC must have become familiar with foam. Presumably someone had a eureka moment while bathing! The Seeds of Death and Fury from the Deep both use foam to their advantage to create an otherworldly threat. An old axiom of mine is that it’s a terrible mistake not to utilize the resources one has at hand, and foam made a surprisingly effective tool. Never has a bubble bath seemed more ominous. Along those same lines, bad teeth and foul breath are not costly on the production team, as they are frequently naturally occurring, so having Mr. Quill and Mr. Oak wander the base as seaweed-possessed zombies who emit gas from their mouths is remarkably disturbing. There is very little footage available from this episode but there is a scene of the two of them emitting a gas to knock out one of the base inhabitants and it is grotesque to watch. Oak’s mouth is lined, and nearly toothless; his face exudes happiness even as he commits the deed. Quill, a tall, lanky man opens his eyes as freakishly wide as his mouth, his teeth as ghoulish as the act he is performing. Yes, I think “grotesque” is the right word for it. It’s an incredible performance since neither man says a word during the entire scene.
Ironically this story, for all its Lovecraftian horror and freakish base inhabitants, has no deaths. It’s a rarity in classic Who, but has achieved a certain notoriety in that regard. Still, it all proves too much for Victoria who decides to leave the TARDIS and stay with random strangers who she just met for this one adventure. Let’s be honest, it probably comes down to the realization that her screams were so embarrassing, they could actually scare a seaweed creature into submission. That can’t be a comfortable realization. It must be like finding out your body odor was enough to drive off a vampire! You’d be reluctant to ever step foot outside again for fear that others would think the same thing.
I’d be remiss in my duty if I did not say one last thing about this story. It’s the first time anyone ever got to see the sonic screwdriver. The Fifth Doctor once pointed out that it’s like an old friend for many of us. The fact that we can’t see its first appearance is a loss that is hard to bear. Maybe one day we’ll be lucky and this one will resurface. It could be like finding an ancient relic that unlocks a universe of wonders. That, or it turns us all into seaweed possessed zombies. Although some days, I wonder if we would know the difference? ML
Read next in the Junkyard… The Wheel in Space