The Curse of the Fatal Death.



TV For all of the humour, bad jokes and references that only a fan could get, what's amazing about The Curse of Fatal Death is that it still manages to feel like the real deal and in the dark days of the late nineties demonstrated to some of us that actually with a producer with a bit of imagination that a series could still be produced on a relatively low budget, making old style aesthetic a virtue. I suspect some money was spent to make those sets look cheap and it really works, particularly in the corridor sequence. And look thousands and thousands of Daleks half a decade before The Mill began rendering them!

What killed the original series in the end wasn't ropey effects or cheap looking sets - it was the quality of writing and the ultimate torpedoing of the spirit of fun which had been at the forefront during the golden eras. But they're all back in Steven Moffat's script which would have fitted perfectly in the Graham Williams era which much to the chagrin of the hard-scfi fans was when the show was at its most popular.

There are jokes but they're affectionate, playing on not only the general audience's assumptions about the series, but also on at the meta-level the fans assumptions of what the general audience's assumptions might be. But laced in there are references that only fans could get from calling the planet Tersurus and that this is the ninth incarnation (something that Lance Parkin apparently plays on in the final Eighth Doctor novel, The Gallifrey Chronicles, by saying that all three ninths, including REG and Mr. Eccleston are potentially canonical).

The real genius of this apparent spoof is how straight it's all played. Rowan Atkinson's portrayal is far from a parody perfectly capturing all of the elements of the good timelord, with even the fart gag rendered with a modicum of excitement and grit. Jonathan Pryce's Master isn't that far from Anthony Ainley at his most scenery chewing and Julia Swahala, bless her, totally getting that the role of the companion is to care deeply for the Doctor in a variety of ways.

The final few segments/episodes/whatever are the real tour de force though, presenting a succession of new Doctors, all of whom, with perhaps the exception of Jim Broadbent, would have been perfect Doctors demonstrating the maxim that anyone can play the Doctor in their own way. Richard E Grant notoriously hadn't seen an episode of Doctor Who before recording this and yet he's straight on point with the charisma as is Joanna Lumley proving that actually - the Doctor could be a woman.

Of course before broadcast little was really known about what to expect and there was genius in the casting of these mini-incarnations, largely casting actors who had been rumoured as appearing in the role at one point or another. But watching Hugh Grant appear was totally unexpected and he's such a joy, completely convincing as the dying man. I think Steven Moffat lists it as one of his favourite moments in all of Doctor Who and he's right, in those few a moments are a universe of promise, you can absolutely see how heroic his portrayal would be. Heartbreaking - and at the end of as I said, an apparent spoof.

I've always thought that my return to Doctor Who fandom was prompted by a trip to the exhibition in Llangolen, but it was probably this. It was Doctor Who as I remembered it being rather than the reality, filled to the brim with fun and not taking itself too seriously. I'm convinced that its success is what began the tiniest spark that led to its return and it would be a tragedy if it didn't show up on dvd at some point. Perhaps for next Red Nose Day.

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