Friday 26 February 2021

Inspirations - The Curse of Fenric

The Curse of Fenric wears its inspirations on its sleeve. There are three main ones that can be clearly seen, plus the story also has to develop - though not quite end - the story arc of Ace.
The first inspiration is vampire stories in general, and the Dracula story in particular.
The monsters of the piece are known as Haemovores - as in eaters of blood. Haima is Greek for blood, and the prefix haemo- derives from this.
We don't see any fangs, though the creatures do make a beeline for Ace's throat when she is threatened by them on the roof of the church. Other victims are found drained of blood. The Haemovores are reanimated corpses. They can be destroyed by being staked through the heart, their bodies disintegrating. Whilst some of their victims appear to die, others are transformed into Haemovores themselves. In vampire cinema, victims either die or are 'turned', depending on what the plot wants to do with the character.
The legend of the Ancient One tells how it followed a vase from the Middle East to Britain (the one in which Fenric's essence was trapped). Mention is made of how this route took it through the forests of Eastern Europe - suggesting that this is where the traditional vampire stories of Transylvania and its neighbours originated, and from where Bram Stoker took his inspiration.
The location where the vase ends up is stated to be the North East coast of England. It was at the Yorkshire fishing town of Whitby that Dracula first came ashore in England in Bram Stoker's 1897 gothic horror tale.
Instead of a supernatural, occult background for these vampires, they are the result of pollution on a future, possibly alternate, Earth.
Objects like crucifixes in themselves don't harm the Haemovores - only the faith of the bearer. The Rev Wainwright can hold them back until they destroy his faith in humanity with talk of British bombs falling on German cities. Captain Sorin holds them back with his faith in the Russian Revolution, whilst the Doctor recites the names of his companions in whom he has always had total faith. The Doctor has to destroy Ace's faith in him so that she won't prevent the Ancient One from attacking Fenric.
The 1968 Hammer film Dracula Has Risen From The Grave features a scene wherein the young hero stakes Dracula through the heart, even though there's 20 minutes of the movie still to run. The young man is an atheist and his lack of faith allows the Count to pull the stake out and escape. (Apparently Christopher Lee hated this scene, as he simply felt that a stake through the heart kills vampires, full stop).
The Ancient One is called upon by Fenric to destroy the other Haemovores once their usefulness is at an end. In the movies at least, Dracula often discards and destroys his servants once he no longer needs them.

The second inspiration for this story is the work of the World War Two code-breakers, in particular Alan Turing and the Bletchley Park group. Even Turing's homosexuality is hinted at, as there seems to be an implication that Commander Millington and Professor Judson may have been more than just classmates at school.
Mathematician Turing was born in London in 1902. Following spells at Cambridge and Princeton, in 1938 he joined the Government Code and Cypher School. He moved to Bletchley Park in 1939, working in Hut 8. His main work was in trying to crack the Nazi Enigma Machine, for which he developed an early computer known as the bombe. The main purpose for this work was to crack the codes used by the German U-Boats, which were sinking huge numbers of allied ships.
Immediately after the war, Turing was awarded the OBE and he went on to further develop computing machines and research artificial intelligence.
In early 1952 a burglary at his home revealed to the authorities that he was gay (the burglar being an acquaintance of his boyfriend). Offered a choice of prison or probation with a compulsory course of hormone treatments, he chose the latter. Two years later, in June 1954 he was found dead - having killed himself with cyanide which he had injected into an apple.
He did not get a posthumous pardon until 2014. This led to a wider pardon for men convicted of historical homosexual acts in 2016.
In The Curse of Fenric we see Professor Judson working on his Ultima Machine, to crack German U-Boat codes. As at Bletchley Park, we also have a team of women (WRENS in this case) carrying out some of the work.

The third inspiration for this story is Norse Mythology. There is a sunken Viking ship in the bay off Maiden's Point, and the Haemovores and all of the key characters in this story are the descendants of Viking settlers in the area - even Ace. It was Viking traders who found Fenric's vase in the Middle East and brought it to Yorkshire, with the Ancient One following. It is now known through archaeological finds that the Vikings travelled widely - from the Middle East to the Americas.
Millington is a great fan of Norse mythology, and mentions the great battle at the end of the world. Ragnarok itself is not named, as producer JNT thought it might confuse fans after the Gods of Ragnarok had featured in the previous season. Writer Ian Briggs had been inspired by a visit to Sweden to include these Viking references. Fenric derives from Fenrir, the great wolf monster, and Millington also mentions the great world tree (Yggdrasil), and the toxin which he plans to use as a biological weapon is said to derive from the poison of a great serpent (presumably Jormungandr).
Historically, the Vikings raided the north east coast of England where this story is set, before finally settling the area.

As mentioned, even Ace is one of the "wolves" of Fenric. One of the WRENS is a young woman named Kathleen Dudman, who has her small baby with her. Ace finds herself smitten with the child, though she dislikes her name - Audrey. What we knew of Ace up until now was that she had been transported to Iceworld by a time storm which suddenly materialised in her bedroom. There has never been any mention of her father, and she hates her mother, whose name is Audrey. Her own name, which she also dislikes, is Dorothy. Seemingly unrelated, the Doctor was intrigued by a game of chess which was in progress at the home of Lady Peinforte in Silver Nemesis.
When the Haemovores attack the base, Ace sends Kathleen to safety at her grandmother's house in South London, having earlier heard that her husband was missing, presumed dead, at sea. Later Fenric, now inhabiting Sorin's body, reveals that Ace has inadvertently set up her own existence. The baby whom she adores will become the mother she hates. Ace is as much a pawn of Fenric as Sorin, Judson, Millington and Wainwright. As Briggs had helped to create the character, so he was permitted to help resolve her story. It also transpires that the chess game which so intrigued the Doctor was the one he had played against Fenric, and the Doctor has seen Fenric's hand behind Ace right from the start. Ace's story isn't quite finished yet, as we'll see next time...

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