The new animated version of `Fury from the Deep` arrives with a big reputation. Word of mouth from those who saw it fifty two (!) years ago suggest it’s one of the scariest adventures but we’ve been here before. `Tomb of the Cybermen` enjoyed similar reverence until it was actually found and revealed to be nowhere near as amazing as we’d expected. Sure it was good but had a major narrative flaw that was impossible to reconcile. After struggling with `The Faceless Ones`, dipping out during the interminable scenes with Scouser Pauline Collins, I was certainly hoping for more inspiring material because however good the animation is it can’t really alter the story significantly. On the surface `Fury` fits the late Sixties model of a place under siege with a variety of characters defined more by their job than their personality. They shout and argue a lot about procedure, ignore any obvious warnings that things are going wrong allowing the Doctor to lurk in the background till he pulls a solution out of the hat early in the last episode. However what unfolds is much more interesting, that rarity of a second Doctor story that gets better as it progresses.
That being said it opens bizarrely with the Tardis landing on the water meaning the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria have to row to shore. Why? We never know. Soon they are examining a gas pipe inside which are strange noises before being shot with poisoned darts (!). What gas drilling operation would have such a security system you wonder? Of course on encountering the setting viewers in 1968 may have been anticipating a return of the gas swilling Macra whose furtive incursions this story resembles at times.
Inside the base we meet burly badger haired boss Robson who orders everyone about in a shouty manner for no particular reason but luckily he’s Victor Maddern so seems quite scary to work for. The animation for the actor is one of the best I’ve ever seen perfectly capturing his features. As ever Patrick Troughton’s expressive face also lends itself well to the process while Margaret John is another actor whose appearance is brilliantly rendered. Facial recognition throughout is really good actually. However there is something a bit odd about the bodies with everyone seeming to have longer arms than they should while movement- a perennial animation problem- is rather stiff at all times.
While there are plenty of stand up technical arguments about what to do and what not to do– largely between Robson and anyone who speaks to him- Victor Pemberton’s script gradually softens the edges by having Victoria beginning to doubt whether she wants to continue travelling with the Doctor complaining that they never visit anywhere nice. It doesn’t look as if the Sixties production teams had the idea of unseen journeys of a less frenetic nature that the Tardis crew might take. Expressed gradually across the story this comes across as a realistic development to the point where she is not sure till the last moment. There’s also the introduction of Megan Jones, the expected higher authority who seems a more human character ably portrayed by Margaret John. You could argue the last thing the story needs is another character at the mid point but her arrival coincides with an upturn in the variety of the story. Then we have the Harris’ a couple who feel to the viewer as if they have a life outside this scenario. For Mr Harris there is a believable arc as he slowly starts to assert himself when the crisis deepens yet always places concern over his wife at the forefront of his actions. He gradually becomes the leader the base needs.
The Doctor is in shadowy form throughout- it is striking just how infrequently he even raises his voice as compared to other incarnations and though the animation can’t capture every nuance you can still see how he watches and absorbs what is happening like a detective. I’ve always thought Patrick Troughton would have been a great Poirot. Jamie and Victoria’s roles never extend beyond being put in peril but even in this medium you can sense a real chemistry between the actors. June Murphy transcends the stereotype Mrs Harris could easily be while John Abineri makes the most of Van Lutyens, a Dutch advisor who is largely an expositional character that Pemberton allows some more human moments.
The story is a slow build with bits of seaweed moving, stinging Mrs Harris and seeming to be in the pipes. Foam –presumably meant to be sea foam- appears with them presumably used originally to cover up any idea that there are actors somewhere in there thrashing about waving rubber tentacles. It is with these unnamed creatures that the animation comes into its own rendering them far better than the surviving clips of the original suggest they appeared at the time. It’s even better during an extraordinary sequence when the Doctor pilots a helicopter through a number of these giant tentacles above the sea. Goodness knows how this was done in the original version- or even if it was- but it can’t have been as thrilling as it is here. There’s also the human- seaweed hybrid things. I’m not sure if they are even in the original either but they work really well in this version giving some focus to the menace as they lurch about the base during the busy climax.
The animators’ work also supports the story’s excellent sound effects which spread a touch of menace throughout dark metal passageways where the sound of a heartbeat is never far away. All the way through the animators make the story more timeless, freeing it of the confines of studio set limitations yet remaining true to what we can tell must have been inventive direction from Hugh David. “Its down there. In the darkness. In the pipeline` Waiting” says Van Lutyens at one point which sounds like the tagline for a film and perfectly describes the expectant tension the story manages to cook up. Dudley Simpson’s incidental music foreshadows his work on the programme during the Seventies and the electronic soundtrack is especially suited to this scenario. He was the first composer to give Doctor Who a unique musical identity.
Less successful on the whole are the duo of Oak and Quill whose spooky arrival at Mrs Harris’ house was a scene that helped gain the story its reputation and an example of how scary this tale was. In animated form they are a little more comedic and that moment when Quill opens his mouth to release gas is not quite as unnerving as the live action version.
Victor Pembarton was fascinated by the storytelling possibilities of the sea and once said; “I feel there’s a great deal of menace in the sea. …It’s so very big and so very wide and so very everything.” This story is essentially a re-working of an earlier radio play of his called The Slide and he would re-visit the deep again in the Seventies record `Doctor Who and the Pescatons` which also shared the method used here of defeating the enemy.
That fascination definitely comes across into the story. He chooses not to name or define these creatures beyond basic conquest and this makes a pleasant change. They do speak through their human prisoners but simply aim to conquer as much as they can. Combining big machines- Impeller is the new word we take away from this story- and an industrial strength with the slimy inhabitants of the depths is a powerful contrast and Pemberton knows what buttons to push to keep our characters in a state of peril throughout. This is probably as terrifying as the original series was able to be and it is difficult to appreciate it now in a time when we’ve seen all sorts in films and tv. You have to imagine just how potent the mix of the seaweed, Hugh David’s interesting direction and those great sound effects were back in 1968.
The one problem with the story is that the way to defeat the creatures is flagged up as early as part 2. The viewer- and perhaps the Doctor- knows that Victoria’s high pitched screams repel the seaweed yet this not acted upon till part 6. It does take some of the excitement out and means that the usual moment when you wonder just how the menace can possibly be defeated is largely absent. It is a fitting resolution though for a character who has done little else but scream since she arrived! This version of a story we’re unlikely to ever see in its original form is a superbly created record of what is clearly one of the second Doctor’s finest adventures.
P.S The animators have craftily placed a Wanted poster with a picture of The Master on it in the background but what year does that mean the story takes place in?
P.P.S. An Impeller is a real thing! It is defined as “a rotating component of a centrifugal pump that accelerates fluid outward from the centre of rotation, thus transferring energy from the motor that drives the pump to the fluid being pumped.”