TV reviews

Doctor Who – ‘Fury From The Deep’ – DVD Review

In 1964, an up-and-coming writer – Victor Pemberton – sent a story pitch to the production team of the BBC’s new science fiction series, Doctor Who. In it, the Doctor and his companions were to have faced off against a sentient mud, intent on invading London; the storyline was felt not to be suitable for the show, and so it was rejected.

However, Pemberton had also submitted the idea – sans Doctor, TARDIS, etc. – to BBC Radio, where it was formally commissioned in 1965 as a seven-part radio serial, called The Slide. The finished programme was broadcast across consecutive Sunday evenings in February and March 1966, and told the story of a coastal New Town in Kent – Redlow – under assault from a living mud; the hero of the piece was portrayed by Roger Delgado, who later came to be known as the Master, opposite Jon Pertwee’s incarnation of the Time Lord.

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The following year, Pemberton was working briefly as story editor on Doctor Who, and the programme’s then-producer had previously been involved in commissioning Pemberton to write The Slide for the BBC’s Light Programme. When he proposed adapting The Slide into a Doctor Who adventure, the show’s producer agreed, having been impressed by the original radio serial, and so Pemberton set to work crafting a six-part story, initially entitled ‘The Colony Of Devils’; it was later renamed ‘Fury From The Deep’, and broadcast on BBC 1 in March and April 1968.

‘Fury From The Deep’ had a few claims to fame, such as the director – Hugh David – having originally been considered way back in 1963 to play the show’s lead character; William Hartnell was ultimately cast in the role of the Doctor, and the rest – appropriately for a show about time travel – is history. The story also saw the very first appearance of the infamous Sonic Screwdriver, and the fifth instalment had marked the series’ 200th episode. Interestingly, a virtue was also made out of the cliche of the screaming companion.

Sadly, all the master tapes and film copies of ‘Fury From The Deep’ were disposed of in the mid-1970s, when it was felt the potential for repeat screenings and overseas sales had been exhausted. Thankfully, home recordings of the audio survived, and these tapes have formed the basis of a newly-animated version of the story, which has come to DVD and Blu-ray. After being lost for nearly five decades, the original version of ‘Fury From The Deep’ has yet to resurface, but we at least have the chance to see it reimagined.

It would be fair to describe it that way, rather than being a recreation, as it follows the template as laid out by earlier animated releases in the range, such as ‘The Macra Terror’ and ‘The Faceless Ones’, by aiming for a far more dynamic visual style, rather than a shot-for-shot replica of what was seen on screen; this approach has caused some controversy amongst some fans, who feel that it should be just a slavish copy of what was broadcast. However, a separate recreation using surviving clips, visual material and CGI is included as a part of the set.

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A whole new animation team has produced ‘Fury From The Deep’, no doubt due to the significant demands required by putting together this year’s other releases of ‘The Faceless Ones’ and ‘The Power Of The Daleks’ Special Edition. Here, Big Finish Creative has taken the lead, marshalling groups of animators based in the UK, Australia, India and the USA, with trying to deliver the whole project to a tight schedule further complicated by the Coronavirus pandemic; to actually get it finished at all is remarkable enough, let alone ensuring that it was done to such a relatively high standard.

There are a few gripes, such as some of the characters’ limbs at times seeming unnaturally long or awkwardly positioned; the poses also jump at times between one shot and the next, meaning that the overall visual continuity is not as tight as it could be. In a rather nice bit of continuity between different animations, however, ‘Fury From The Deep’ does establish a running joke first started in ‘The Faceless Ones’, by utilising an Easter egg introduced by the previous animation team in that earlier release, which does demonstrate a great deal of care and attention.

Some of the creative choices made here may well rankle with some of the ‘old guard’ fans, particularly in the final episode, where an action sequence originally played for laughs has an upgrade to a more serious, dramatic rendering, by turning it into a desperate escape from an onslaught, rather than just a bit of comic business for Patrick Troughton. Both colour and black and white versions of the animation are included in the three-disc set, but unlike in some of the earlier releases, the monochrome version actually works best here, feeling more claustrophobic and tense than the full colour rendering.

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One of the big problems of revisiting something made more than half a century ago is that the passage of time has sadly robbed us of so many of the key players – Patrick Troughton passed away at an American Doctor Who convention back in March 1987, with director Hugh David dying in September of the same year; we lost writer Victor Pemberton and actress Deborah Watling – who made her swan song as companion Victoria Waterfield here – in 2017. A number of the story’s supporting cast and production team are also no longer with us, the list growing with each passing year.

Thankfully, some of their voices are still able to be heard, all thanks to tape recordings of interviews made over the years, along with videos taken at conventions and events; it does mean a number of these absent friends have still been able to make a contribution, whether it be standalone excerpts, as part of commentary tracks, or by inclusion in featurettes. In fact, we can feel incredibly spoiled that an entire three discs of material have been put together, which is fantastic coverage for a still-missing piece of archive TV.

The undisputed highlight of the whole set is The Cruel Sea – Surviving Fury From The Deep, a ‘making-of’ documentary, which is far better than we have any right to expect, as most DVDs of TV shows would be happy throwing together a load of rather dry ‘talking heads’, filmed in a studio. Here, director Chris Chapman takes some surviving cast and crew members back to original filming locations, such as the Red Sands Sea Forts, former World War II defence installations, now sitting derelict in the mouth of the Thames Estuary.

These Sea Forts allow for some rather dramatic aerial shots, and these make the whole production look and feel up to a standard which would most definitely not look out of place on television. Chapman’s work on the Doctor Who DVD and Blu-ray range across the years has been exceptional, and he delivers another blinder here; the cost of the release is very nearly justified solely by the contributions of the eccentric helicopter pilot ‘Mad’ Mike Smith, with anecdotes of eating broken glass and swinging from chandeliers providing much amusement and entertainment value.

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All the existing footage from ‘Fury From The Deep’ – lasting for little more than a few minutes in total – is included here, along with previously unseen mute film trims, giving a rare glimpse at life on set when making 1960s Doctor Who. One lovely bonus comes with all seven episodes of Pemberton’s The Slide being on the set, letting us see just how much the story was changed in translation from radio to TV; it is also a wonderful snapshot of a very traditional, bygone BBC, with lots of plummy-voiced actors all doing their best ‘Received Pronunciation’ turns for the wireless.

Another jam-packed set, doing Patrick Troughton proud in his centenary year. Just like when Jaws made you question if it was safe to go back in the water, ‘Fury From The Deep’ may well make you look at seaweed in a rather different light the next time you go down to the shore for a paddle. Time (Lord) and tide waits for no man, after all…

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