Doctor Who and The Fury From the Deep
By Victor Pemberton
Transmitted from 16 March to 20 April 1968
Landing in the North Sea of England of the near future, the TARDIS crew find themselves witness to a mystery. A massive drilling rig is drawing gas from the sea… and something else as well. From the first moment that the Doctor encounters the pipeline, he realizes that something else is inside it, something living… and deadly.
The Fury From the Deep is one of the many Doctor Who adventures from the 1960’s that is missing in its entirety. In this case, only random clips, still images, behind the scenes footage and the audio track exist. In preparing to review this story, I listened to the ancient audio version with Tom Baker providing much-needed narration where the action was unclear. This provided an unusual opportunity as Baker played the narrator as the Fourth Doctor looking back on his old adventure. Offering up longings for his playful second persona and fondness for his companions long gone, this added an extra dramatic element to the story, even if it often seemed that Baker was attempting to steal the spotlight from his predecessor.
Traveling by inflatable dingy, the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria arrive on a beach full of sea foam. They playfully mess about in the foam (due to the nature of Troughton and Hines, I wonder if that was an impromptu event) before finding the pipeline embedded in the sand. Using a device called the sonic screwdriver, the Doctor examines the pipeline and finds something very troubling. There’s something inside the pipes, something with an eerie pulse, something alive.
Throughout The Fury From the Deep, Victoria signposts her eventual departure from the TARDIS, bemoaning their dangerous lifestyle and endless encounters with monsters and madmen. Jamie takes it all in stride, but it is clear that Victoria is shaken and ready to lead a normal life. We may take this for granted as this sort of thing happened all the time in the Classic Doctor Who (Turlough, Tegan and Nyssa all left to explore their own destinies), but given that most of the modern companions view their travels in the TARDIS as a near-addictive experience which normal life cannot compete with, it speaks to the integrity and sophistication of the old scripts.
The plot of The Fury From the Deep is similar to many many other Doctor Who stories such as the Moonbase, Ice Warriors, Inferno, etc. A very important enterprise run by a skeleton crew is facing grave difficulties, yet the management refuse to acknowledge it and almost immediately place the blame at the Doctor’s feet as he had just arrived. In this case, the operation involves deriving gas from the sea floor and the man in charge, Robson, is a maniacal man in a remarkable repeating nervous breakdown state. Robson is challenged by the more down-to-Earth Frank Harris, who has been carefully tracking steady drops in pressure that threaten the entire operation. Unfortunately, he cannot find his research and his chief recommendation is to stop the pipes immediately and investigate what is causing the interference, something that Robson will not entertain.
A pair of strange devilish men dressed all in white, Mr. Oak and Mr. Quill, are hard at work removing anyone who seeks to investigate the blockage in the pipes and attack Harris’ wife Maggie before she can deliver the much-needed research to her husband. Maggie has already been infected by the properties of seaweed strangely left inside the research notes, leaving her especially weak to attack. Maggie survives the assault of Oak and Quill, but is clearly unsettled and altered by the experience.
Oak and Quill are by far two of the creepiest characters to ever appear in Doctor Who. Looking very inhuman, their behavior is that of killer mimes (yikes… hopefully Moffat won’t steal that). The fact that so much of this story is a mystery adds to the horror and tension as the nature of the creature in the pipes and its relation to Oak and Quill is subtly laid out.
Investigating a sample of seaweed in the TARDIS, the Doctor surmises that they are dealing with a very old creature, one that has appeared throughout human history, often as a mythological monstrosity. It’s a lovely touch, something that the new series needs to consider more as a way to lend some credence to the ‘monster of the week’ rather than having it be some bloke in a rubber suit.
As the other rigs fall silent, it becomes clear that the creature interfering with the operation is sentient and an assault is underway. The Doctor seizes control as Robson loses his mind and is then infected by seaweed pumped into his room by Oak and Quill. In a dazed state, Maggie Harris wanders into the sea in answer to an alien heartbeat. The rigging crew are being overcome by the seaweed creature, losing their will to its hive mind that wants nothing less than total domination (another story element that comes up again and again in classic Who).
The struggle to retain individuality while maintaining a place in society seems to be an ongoing theme throughout Doctor Who in its early years. Many of the threats that the Doctor and his companions face are driven by a need to control others, making their will a shared one. This goes beyond empire building or conquering lands, it’s a battle for absolute control. This makes many of these stories more meaningful as the Doctor is very much an isolationist in his own way and forever combating homogeny and uniformity.
In their way, the Cybermen are boogiemen who take people away in the middle of the night to alter them into empty robotic zombies. The Macra Terror was a tale entirely built on conformity. The Abominable Snowmen and The Web of Fear both featured attempts to entirely take over the minds of others. Both the Underwater Menace and Enemy of the World dealt with madmen who were so dominated by a need tp control the world that if they could not have it, no one would.
In the case of The Fury From the Deep, the seaweed creature is more terrifying as it is without a voice through much of the adventure… until Robson becomes its monstrous mouth-piece and spouts the usual ‘your people are doomed’ nonsense common in 1950’s pulps. The story loses something when the monster gains a voice and it’s from that point that the Doctor lashes together a solution cleverly using the pipeline itself as a conduit transmitting a soundwave dispersing the creature’s mass.
The fact that the sound itself is Victoria’s amplified scream always struck me as an in-joke as she was quite the screamer, even by classic Doctor Who standards.
I have always adored Patrick Troughton’s Doctor. He has been called the finest actor to play the part by nearly everyone involved in the series past and present and he possesses an unusually wide range for a TV performance. In parts, the Doctor can be childish and playful while other moments he displays a startling intelligence and cunning that reveals his inner nature. I have respect for just about all of the classic Doctors, but I count the second as one of the finest due to his many faceted persona.
In this story, Troughton gets to be comical, clever and brave as well as delicately sincere in his emotional farewell to Victoria.
Fury from the Deep is a gripping suspenseful adventure that is somewhat let down by the six part format that stretches the drama far too thinly. It seems that characters are left with little to do but run about spouting the same lines for ages, seeking answers that they clearly should have gotten long ago. If I heard poor Frank Harris try to explain to Robson that his wife was ill one more time, for instance, I thought I would lose my mind. The character of Frank Harris starts off as a empathetic one but gradually transforms into a one note shell, endlessly saying the same things.
Despite the set backs, the story was a hit with viewers due in part to the tension-filled mood, the psychological horror of characters like Oak and Quill and of course the Weed Monster, the latest in a series of nightmarish threats that the Doctor would subdue with a device lashed together at the last moment. A relic of the 1968 ‘monster series,’ this story has all the hallmarks of what we have seen before, but like the other stories in that series, these elements are all done very well. Troughton’s energy keeps the plot pumping along and the guest cast is unusually strong.
Directed by Hugh David (who had previously worked on The Highlanders, the serial that introduced the character of Jamie McCrimmon), Fury from the Deep is very stylishly attractive and uses several brilliant effects that make even the few surviving clips impressive.
The departure of Victoria was the latest in a series of farewells, but it is quite poignant as she and Jamie really fancied each other in an awkward way. Jamie, being a young lad from the highlands of Scotland, regularly wound Victoria up, her being a posh lady. But it was clear that he cared deeply for her and sought to protect her out of a not entirely understood affection. Jamie’s boy-like charm and behavior often masked his rather heroic personality, something that Victoria often took for granted but seems to suddenly recognize once they attempt to say goodbye. As the scene exists only in audio with limited visual stills, you may think that I’m reading a lot into this, but it’s definitely there.
Leaving Victoria behind to lead a new life, the Doctor and Jamie enter the TARDIS to embark on a new adventure, but neither of them is entirely in the usual mood of rollicking devil-may-care excitement. Somberly, the TARDIS dematerializes for another time, another place.
There’s a lot to like in this story, but given that one has to brave an all-audio experience or read the author’s novelized version to see it… that’s asking a lot. Of all the classic missing stories, I count Fury From the Deep as among one of the many that I hope turn up some day. And given recent findings… maybe I’ll get my wish.
Recommended (reminder: I do not get referral fees from any purchases made from links on my blog)