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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Doctor Who: Fury from the Deep

Serial Title: Fury from the Deep
Series: 5
Episodes: 6
Doctor: Patrick Troughton
Companions: Jamie McCrimmon (Frazer Hines), Victoria Waterfield (Deborah Watling)

Synopsis:

Landing in the ocean just off the shore of England, The TARDIS crew paddle to shore in a dinghy and discover that the trick of modern-day arrival in England that had eluded the First Doctor, Ian, and Barbara for so long is now becoming rather common-place, for they’ve reached England in contemporary 1968. (No complaints from me- I much prefer this to “the near future!”) No sooner do they investigate a beach-spanning sea-pumping pipe (the Doctor producing a device which he calls a “Sonic Screwdriver” to undo the cover and get a look inside) which is giving off odd noises, and the strange and abundant foam surrounding it, then they are shot by a sniper. Fortunately, the security man for the pipeline company, their assailant, was only using tranquilizer darts, and they soon awaken as captives in the Euro Sea Gas (ESGO) refinery. Chief Robson, head of the refinery, is a paranoid and obsessed man who blames the TARDIS crew, seen tampering with the pipeline, for mysterious drops in pressure that have been plaguing the pipeline system of late, while second-in-command Harris is far less suspicious, informing the group that ESGO's lost contact with one of their sea rigs, as well. When the Doctor notes that it sounded as if something was moving within the pipes, his observation is dismissed as fanciful. Moreover, Robson is obsessed with productivity, and would not allow production to be halted, even to investigate. Robson refuses to stop the gas-flow.

Communication with the rig is briefly re-established, with the man on the other hand whispering only, and then going still. The Doctor suspects foul play, and Harris offers to show gathered evidence that the pipelines DO indeed need to be shut down for investigation. He dispatches his wife Maggie to find it, but when she does, a piece of venomous seaweed has been inserted inside the manilla folder, and stings her. After she tosses it outside, it begins to foam and bubble. Maggie, meanwhile, becomes quite ill.

Robson refuses to stop the gas-flow.

The TARDIS trio manage to break out of their cell, and overhear Baxter, a control rig chief, also opining that there is something in the pipes- and it makes a sound like a heart-beat. The men dispatch Victoria back to the safety of their cell as they explore, but she goes to explore on her own, instead. She ends up in the oxygen storeroom, where a saboteur is trying to empty all of the tanks. The mysterious figure locks her in and opens the vents... through which pour copious amounts of seaweed and foam (Note from Sarah: Seriously...one of the more edge of your seat moments ever. Pretty intense.), pulsing and moving- the Doctor and Jamie are barely able to release her in time, and when the crew come to investigate, the weed and foam are gone.

Robson refuses to stop the gas-flow.


 Harris takes the Doctor home to look at his sick wife. Meanwhile, she has other visitors- Mr. Oak and Mr. Quill, a pair of ‘maintenance men’ that look the harmless part- a tall, thin leader and a short, fat, bumbling assistant- until they open their mouths in a fearsome silent scream that drops Maggie to her knees. (Note from Sarah: AND SERIOUSLY...one of the scariest scariest moments in Doctor WHO EVER! This sequence is the first time that I have gotten why the phrase "Behind the sofa" has accompanied Doctor Who since it began. I am the one who puts the pictures in, and my stomach had a horrible thrill of terror when I had to upload even just the picture!)
I don't even want to type under this, it's too much like touching it.

Their wrists are covered, intertwined with, or possibly even made of seaweed. They slip out the back just as the Doctor and Co. arrive. Back in central control, Robson manages to solve a pressure crisis, and Van Lutyens, a consultant, tries to convince him yet again to close down pumping to investigate the ongoing malfunctions. The impeller stops, and the heartbeat sounds.

Robson refuses to stop the gas-flow.

Using a sample of the weed, the Doctor discovers that it gives off a toxic gas, and appears to be alive. It also starts overflowing the container they have- it grows rapidly. Back in central, Robson begins to spiral out of control, raging against his technicians when equipment breaks down, and Harris, Van Lutyens, and others begin to realize they may have to take control. Before they can, Harris is distracted by a crisis- his home is now full to bursting with weed and foam, and his wife is nowhere to be found! She is, in point of fact, standing on the beach, talking with Robson- or, both of their bodies are. Under the control of the weed, she walks directly into the sea.

Victoria finds herself longing more and more for normalcy and peace as the group waits in suspense for the weed’s next move. Van Lutyens, meanwhile, descends into the impeller shaft to investigate- he finds it full of weed and foam, but is unable to report his findings as the creature consumes him. Jamie and the Doctor follow in containment suits to ascertain his whereabouts, and barely escape in time. (An escape not aided by Mr. Oak and Mr. Quill secretly operating- or, more accurately, failing to operate, the lift platform to get them out.)

Robson refuses to stop the gas-flow.

See? He even LOOKS like the type who wouldn't stop the gas-flow.
As Robson spirals into incoherency, the Doctor catches the ear of his eminently (perhaps over-) reasonable boss, Megan Jones. She is willing to listen to his discoveries about the weed- as the heartbeat noise rises, and the weed creature begins to rise through the transparent sections of the pipe in the base, instigating a full invasion- the group can do little more than watch it shuffle through, deeper into the base. All of the rigs have fallen out of contact, the beachhead of the invasion.

The Doctor realizes that Robson is under the control of the weed, and also that pure oxygen is toxic to it. Robson is contained, but soon breaks free with an attack of the toxic gas from the weed entwining his body. (NFS: See? Maybe he WOULD have stopped the gas-flow but he couldn't because he was posessed??? Or wait...did he get possessed after he was being a jerk and not stopping the gas-flow?) Meanwhile, Oak and Quill are discovered as saboteurs, and seem to be incapacitated during a fight by the sound of Victoria’s scream.

Robson refuses to stop the gas-flow (Not that anyone asks him about it, nor is there any mention of it at this point in the story, but I am certain that he still wouldn’t, on principle).

The weed breaks through the pipe and begins to overrun the base, as Victoria is kidnapped by Robson and ferried out to the rigs via helicopter. He calls the Doctor by radio, ordering him to come alone if he wants to save Victoria. The Doctor and Jamie set out for the rig... which is flooded with foam. There, a weed-wrapped Robson refuses to stop the ga... I mean, confronts them and tries to take the Doctor as another mind-controlled slave, but he is disabled by Victoria’s scream, and the three escape. The Doctor tries to fly Robson’s helicopter back to the mainland, putting the group in more peril than they were in on the platform, but eventually is talked down into a safe landing. Meanwhile, as per public opinion poll, it is widely believed by all that, had he still been back at the base, Robson would have refused to stop the gas-flow.

The base is now under full siege from the weed, but the Doctor fights back with one of the most infamous improvised weapons in the show’s long history- the intercom system, a volume amplifier, and Victoria wielding a microphone. Her (embarrassed at first and then earnest as the weed enters the central control room itself, a flailing monstrosity of limbs and tentacles within the foam) screams drive back the creature, and it retreats into the deep. Robson and Maggie radio from the rig, having been safely released from the creature’s control. The day is saved. All is well in the refinery. (Note from Sarah: If they did a Doctor Who Lego video game, Victoria would have to have scream powers like Willie Scott in the Indy one. :-D)

But all is not well in Victoria’s troubled soul. She yearns for peace and a normal life, tired of flitting from crisis to crisis. The Harris’ host the TARDIS crew for dinner, and after the meal, Victoria takes the Doctor aside and expresses her desire to stay with them. Though saddened, the Doctor wishes her well. Jamie is devastated, but come morning, the two TARDIS Travelers depart while Victoria waves from shore, home and with a family once again.

Robson refuses to stop the gas-flow.

Review:

Fury From The Deep is two parts cliché (irrational, angry, paranoid leader in isolated outpost being attacked by monsters... that’s practically the basic synopsis of 70% of Troughton’s stories thus far) and one part horror- fortunately for the story, though, the horror is effective enough that the cliché can be overlooked. Creepy moments like the frightening (and originally censored) open-mouthed silent-scream hypnotism, or the base besieged at the end as the seaweed menace crawls up through the transparent pipes, are well done and numerous, offsetting not only the clichés, but the existence of a monster portrayed partially through soap suds. Make no mistake, however- this monster is no pushover and no joke... though its method of defeat is.

Yes, this is the infamous serial in which a female companion’s screams are actually instrumental in defeating the monster. Words fail me. Just... wrap your head around that.

The story also features yet another obnoxious, obsessed, unreasonable commander- this one to the extent that I think any future incarnations of this archetype ought to be referred to as ‘The Robson.’

“Yes, I know that three babies, the secret of life, and the disarm button for the world’s accidentally-activated nuclear arsenal have fallen into the pipeline... but DON’T SHUT DOWN THE GAS FLOW!!!! I’ve got a perfect record, the gas has never been turned off! Don’t you DARE turn off the gasflow! I will kill your wife and children if you turn off the gasflow! The gasflow IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN LIFE!!!! YEEEEAAAARRRRRRGGGGG!”

And yeah, that last bit was the Howard Dean scream. He’s that manic and insane, I swear.

Still, everything to this point probably makes it sounds like I consider it an eye-rolling, silly story, right? No, not at all. It has its goofy elements, but, as mentioned in the intro, it has a lot going for it, too. A very fun helicopter piloting sequence (and a fantastic payoff to the Doctor’s helicopter interest in Enemy of the World) that would have been a blast to see in video, the very first appearance of the sonic screwdriver (used here to... unscrew screws! Astounding! Possibly the only time it was actually used to do so!), in this incarnation a small penlight-like device, plus the first truly motivated-feeling companion departure. (Note from Sarah: I believe when he pulled the sonic out we all kind of gasped and then rewound it just to make sure...yeah...we're those people.)

That latter is Victoria. She has some great moments here, from her attack in the Co2 room (featuring a fantastic gimmick- her screams, from the central ventilation room, carry through all the air ducts, making determining the direction of their source nearly impossible- leaving the others to frantically search for her as her attacker advances implacably) to her very real and genuine feeling of embarrassment at being asked to scream on cue (“I can’t do it! I can’t just... scream!”) And in this case, her departure is prefigured all throughout the serial, as she laments the constant danger never seeming to end with the Doctor, wishes for a quieter life, and moves close to a breakdown in the high-stress life of a companion. Okay, so this is only built up through one serial, and not through several, as would be ideal. Still... it’s a far site better than Ian and Barbara’s motivation (getting home- forgotten about for two seasons, then suddenly reappearing as if we were seeing Marco Polo-era Ian and Barbara in the last five minutes of The Chase), Vicki’s (sweet but sudden), Steven (instantaneous with no motivation whatsoever- and so abrupt and unbelievable as to leave you dizzy), or Ben and Polly’s (sudden opportunity just seized with no inkling of its coming, much like Ian and Barbara). Not to mention Susan and Dodo, who had no choice in the matter! For once, a companion’s departure is prefigured, prepared, motivated, decided on, agonized over, and given its fair due as the real motivations of a real person. This is unique thus far, and a quick glimpse ahead suggests it’ll be unique for the entire black and white era- neither Jamie, nor Zoe, nor even 4th-Doctor companion Sarah Jane will have any such lead-up, either. I’d find out if the 3rd Doctor companions like Jo Grant do... but I’d like to keep some surprises in store for myself, thanks.

Jamie and the Doctor... well... it’s funny, because I have written in my outline notes “strength of jamie and doctor’s roles?” At present, the question mark seems more than appropriate, because not much about their actions really stands out to me aside from the aforementioned helicopter scene, the insertion into the offshore platform, and a great early comedy bit about escape attempts in which the Doctor and Jamie are trying to climb through one of those 50s-detective-office ‘narrow horizontal window above the door’ frames while Victoria insists on picking the lock with a hairpin... culminating in much difficulty, bruising, and a quick haul-back-in on Jamie’s part that leaves him stuck, dangling halfway out as a pair of oblivious potential observes pass by down below- a position he’s still in when Victoria walks out the now-unlocked door replacing her hairpin. Still, it’s not all humor for Jamie- Frazer Hines always said that he played Jamie as if Jamie had fallen in love with Victoria- his inconsolable nature at the end of Fury from the Deep is all the more piteous because of it.

Maggie, the cliché's wife.
The villain of the piece, alternately foam and seaweed, is not wholly menacing- save for some excellent and cool puppeteering work in the final chapter- but it takes a backseat to its seaweed-wrapped, hypnotized human minions, who are truly eerie and grotesque with the aforementioned silent scream. When the sympathetic scientist’s wife joined their legions and walked calmly into the sea, I was genuinely afraid of a modern-Who body count- but fortunately a happy ending prevailed with husband and wife reunited. (Note from Sarah: On and interesting note, I was perusing another blog that was reviewing this same Serial and he/she made notation that Harris and Maggie are the first ever married couple in Doctor Who....I don't remember enough to back this up though.)

The other characters fell into the standard who cliché roles associated with a Robson; the helpful, Doctor-aiding underling, the superior or peer who is still on the Robson’s side but acts as conscience, trying to talk sense into him, until the end, and the eventual overriding and eminently reasonable superior who also heeds the Doctor, at long last silencing the Robson’s ravings. In this case, it simply all plays out with the literal trope-naming Robson. And all the rest are, of course, cardboard cutouts. From Moonbase to Enemy of the World to Ice Warriors, when is Who going to learn that we don’t want to be introduced to the entire operations staff of a lonely facility and won’t invest in learning their individual foibles and quirks- we’ll only care if there are three or less people to track. Any more, and it feels like an “Assignment: Earth” style backdoor pilot attempt (A Star Trek reference, if that wasn’t obvious) to launch a new show or something, since a cast of supporting characters that big exist either to die off, or to have a new show dedicated to them. Yet, once again, we’re introduced here to a half-dozen command-staff officers and their irritable commander... and thus end up only focusing on the irritable commander and the two most dominant personalities among the supporting, with all of the others blending into the background.

Was that a rant? Weird. No idea where that came from. I must have unresolved issues...

The censor clips really are crucial to this episode. Almost all of them are not gory or violent, but grotesque by implication or ‘vibe.’ I’m reminded of an episode of Whose Line Is It Anyway, in which Colin Mocherie coined the term “Futbucket” as an example of a word that sounds disgusting or obscene, but is simply a nonsense word that means nothing and is related to nothing. It just gives off that feel. Similarly, thrashing foam, creepy wide-eyed, open-mouthed stares and screams, a technician being carried away by the foam... none of these are truly grotesque, or even disturbing for any definable reason- but they disturb anyway, and their copious placement helps to not only give us a good sense of context and action in amongst the reconstruction stills (with the reconstruction, voiced by Deborah Watling, who plays Victoria, being relatively unremarkable otherwise), but also works to unsettle the viewer and accentuate the horrific aspects of the horror/suspense story, as the attention-grabbing video portions are also the most disturbing images- video horror interspersed at random, like a slow-motion jump scare, into the tense-but-tranquil slideshow, these clips of creepy, disturbing, or vaguely grotesque imagery pop out and go “Boo!” at all the right moments, making the serial almost more effective than if the whole thing was video. Now if only we had that sequence with the seaweed coming up the transparent pipe as everyone stands by helplessly to do anything about it...

And that’s it in a nutshell; the irritating banality of the base-under-siege cliché that practically epitomizes the second Doctor’s era juxtaposed with the surprisingly effective and disturbing horror-show imagery to create something neither rote and repetitive, nor Lovecraftian and terrifying- but something in the middle... entirely better than it deserves to be from its repetitious base-under-attack plotline, but entirely too bogged down by that self-same “Been there, done that”-ness to reach the true horror and tension levels that its effectively cinematographed invasion scenes deserve. It’s the slow, lurking kind of horror, like the original Alien movie, or the motion-detector sequences in the superior sequel Aliens- that of knowing that the menace is there, outside, somewhere... that it WILL get in, that it’s only a matter of time, that fools all about you don’t see the danger, and that it’s coming... coming... for you.

Great moments:

So, SO many. The screams. The seaweed attack. The seaweed through the transparent pipe. Victoria’s echoes of jeopardy. Sonic screwdriver! Non-traditional TARDIS landing. Victoria's forced scream performance-anxiety bit. The helicopter escape. The escaping-the-store-room gag. Yes, there’s a lot of mediocrity surrounding these gems, but...

Rating:

The actual faces we were making while watching this serial.
...The balance falls slightly to the positive for those effective horror moments, rendering 3 out of 5 Electrified Cybermats for the Frankenstein monster of retread and inspiration that is Fury from the Deep, and the competent but by-the-numbers fan Youtube reconstructions scores the same. It’s not as skippable as the accusations of banality would seem to imply, but to get to the truly excellent 5 out of 5 content within, you have to suffer through a lot of overly-familiar, seen it before, utterly aggravating Robson 0 out of 5 content. Perhaps watching the first chapter, then skipping to #4-onwards, would be the best technique (were it not for the fact that great moments are likely studded all throughout 2 and 3 as well). If the two halves could be distilled, the horror half would rank among the Second Doctor’s- and B&W Who’s- best, while the other half could be as lost as this entire serial is, and no one would shed a tear. But as the two are inseperably mixed, do yourself a favor and track down this reconstruction; you won't be sorry you did!



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