Thursday, 1 February 2018
Inspirations - Fury From The Deep
Fury From The Deep is the sole writer contribution to the programme by one-time script editor Victor Pemberton. That's for the TV series at least, as he contributed the story for the first ever Doctor Who audio adventure - "The Pescatons", which was released on vinyl in July 1976. The record actually revisits some of the themes and images from this story, which in turn derived a lot from one of his earlier works. As you will recall, Pemberton script edited Tomb of the Cybermen, and declined the chance to take on the role full time when Peter Bryant was promoted to the producership.
Before we get to the story itself, we ought to mention something which played a prominent role in the Troughton era. Long before Barry Letts championed Colour Separation Overlay - which only worked with colour TV - one of the principle weapons in the VFX Department's arsenal was the BBC foam machine. It had humble beginnings - spurting out of the chest units of dying Cybermen - but began to gain prominence in The Abominable Snowmen, where it was used to realise the spreading Great Intelligence. It was back for the second Yeti story - representing the Intelligence once more as it filled Underground tunnels and smashed its way into the Goodge Street Fortress. It really comes to the fore here, as the monsters for this story are seldom seen, tending to lurk amidst huge quantities of sea spume. This story opens with the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria having a play-fight in the foam, once they have landed the TARDIS on the surface of the sea and rowed to shore in a dinghy.
Frankly, it is one of the most bizarre arrivals for the TARDIS crew into any adventure, before or since.
Season Five has so far been mostly full of various monsters, laying siege to various bases. This story goes with the flow. As with previous base-under-siege stories, we are presented with a commander / controller who seems entirely unsuited to the responsibilities of the role. Only Hobson of the Moonbase strikes us as having been the best person for that job. Here we have his near name-sake - Robson - cracking under the pressure. That's gas pressure, as he runs a North Sea gas refinery. The refinery and its outlying drilling rigs have awakened a hostile form of intelligent seaweed from the depths of the ocean. This weed is some form of gestalt, establishing a nerve centre on one of the rigs before moving along the pipelines to infect the refinery personnel. Victims are taken over mentally and physically - able to live under the water.
Viewers watching this in 1967 who were regular listeners to BBC radio drama might have spotted similarities to a six part series broadcast the previous year. This was The Slide, and it was written by Victor Pemberton...
The Slide features a sort of intelligent mud instead of seaweed, but a lot of what happens in it mirrors what happens in Fury From The Deep. Pemberton had first intended it to be a Doctor Who story, submitting it for the show's consideration back in 1964. Then story editor David Whitaker had rejected it. Pemberton then redrafted it for the radio, minus the TARDIS and its crew. The star was Roger Delgado, the future Master, and it also featured another future Time Lord in Maurice Denham (Azmael, in The Twin Dilemma) as a politician. Delgado plays a scientist who tries to warn the authorities about the mud menace, so he is playing the Doctor's role. The mud can take over people's minds once it infects them. This story features a pair of engineers who are under the mental control of the weed - Mr Oak and Mr Quill. The director, Hugh David (once considered for the role of the Doctor back in 1963 you'll recall), elects to present them as a sort of diabolical Laurel & Hardy by going for a tall thin one and a shorter big-boned one. Pemberton always insisted that they would have been perfect for a spin-off series on their own but, to be brutally honest, their potential for on-going gas-fitting larks would have been extremely limited.
The story title Fury From The Deep was the first one not to have the word "The" at the beginning, since individual episode titles were dropped. Pemberton wanted to call it "The Colony of Devils", but the prudish BBC objected to the last word.
Stories set in or around the sea continue to be a bit of a rarity for Doctor Who. During the William Hartnell period we were introduced to the fishy Aridians, but they had named themselves with great foresight as they lived in a desert. Oceans were always going to be a bit of a stretch in the confines of a small BBC studio. It was only when more location filming became common that the series could go to the real seaside. Troughton had visited Atlantis in only his third outing, but The Underwater Menace had proved to be a bit of a disaster. The Enemy of the World opens at the beach, allowing us the priceless sight of Troughton's Doctor cavorting in the sea in his long johns, but the story quickly moved away to drier locales. Very few later stories are set primarily in or beside the ocean. The Sea Devils is the obvious big one, but that mainly worked well due to the co-operation of the Royal Navy, and both its star and his producer had been in the Senior Service during the war.
People have always been fascinated by the mysteries of the deep. This is touched upon in the story as we see that the Doctor has a book about myths and legends on the TARDIS, which includes tales of seaweed attacking ships. The area of the Atlantic known as the Sargasso Sea was reputed to be full of stranded ships, caught by floating masses of seaweed. 1968 would see the release of a movie about it - Hammer's The Lost Continent.
Pemberton was not entirely happy with the finished production, as script editor Derrick Sherwin made significant changes to his scripts. To liven things up in Episode Five, we have the Doctor flying a helicopter back from the gas rigs. This replaced more talky scenes between the refinery personnel and Megan Jones, who has come to sort out the problems they are facing. A good call by the script editor.
The gas rigs were filmed at the Red Sands Fort, built as part of Britain's war time defences. They had been home to one of the pirate radio stations which flourished prior to the introduction of BBC Radio One. Broadcasting was so regulated by the government, via the BBC, that lots of new independent radio stations sprang up in areas which Westminster and the BBC had no jurisdiction over. Most famous of these included Radio Luxembourg and Radio Caroline. The latter was based on a ship, anchored in international waters. You may have had the misfortune to see The Boat That Rocked... It continues to broadcast to this day, but now thrives on the internet. The Red Sands Fort (a group of 7 interlinked structures) lies at the mouth of the Thames Estuary. Radio Invicta were based there. The pirate stations were brought to heel by the government in 1967 after one station owner was murdered in a dispute over its control.
Fury From The Deep also has the job of writing out the character of Victoria Waterfield. It's a job it does particularly well. Just think about the last few female companion departures prior to Victoria's. Vicki suddenly falls in love with Troilus and doesn't even say goodbye to the Doctor and Steven, sending Katarina to do this in her stead. Katarina then gets killed after just four episodes. If you like to think of Sara Kingdom as a fully fledged companion, then she meets her death only a few episodes later in the same story. Dodo gets unceremoniously dumped mid-story, and Polly goes AWOL half way through her last story, though she at least gets to have a brief pre-filmed farewell scene. Victoria's discontent at the hazards of adventuring in space and time are flagged up from the outset. You could argue that her unhappiness at the lifestyle has been there since her very first appearance in Episode Two of Evil of the Daleks. She only joined the TARDIS crew because she was stranded on Skaro, and had just been told that her father had been killed. She has fretted and screamed for the last year. Although rather unorthodox for a young Victorian lady, she never struck us as the adventuring type. Episode Six sees her decide to stay behind, and the Doctor arranges for her to be looked after by Mr and Mrs Harris. The episode allows us the luxury of seeing what happens once the seaweed has been driven back into the depths of the sea, as Victoria is allowed an evening to think about her decision, and we see the main characters sit down to a meal. This is very unusual for the Doctor who runs away as soon as the chaos, much of it of his own creation, is over.
Debbie Watling had always made it clear from the start that she would only do one year on the show.
Before we go, one last thing to mention is the introduction of that perennial plot-solving device, the Sonic Screwdriver. It shows up in the first episode as the Doctor has to unscrew a hatch cover on a pipeline, to investigate the strange heartbeat sounds emanating from it. Future director Michael E Briant has laid claim to coming up with it. He was the Production Assistant on this story, and whilst on location it was realised that the Doctor needed some way to open the hatch - so he gave Troughton a pen-light prop to use. Pemberton disagreed and claimed its invention, and he was unhappy that he did not get merchandising rights for it. Derrick Sherwin has also claimed part credit for it.
Next time: the Cybermen are back, and this time the base they are besieging is a space station, in what can only be described as their most bonkers plan ever. The new companion doesn't get a credit for Episode One, but the one who's just left does...