❉ A triumphant reboot of a completely missing story, writes Rob Fairclough.
“Chris Chapman’s documentaries get better and better, and The Cruel Sea is one of the best. In Margate’s Botany Bay and the Red Sands sea forts, the story was gifted with impressively cinematic locations, which Chapman made the most of when he reunited some of the cast and crew over fifty years later.”
I said in my We Are Cult review of the BFI event to launch The Power of the Daleks that scenes from the Patrick Troughton Doctor Who stories are pretty much the first memories I have of anything. Daleks spewing their fried innards, the distorting Ice Warrior gun effect, Yeti firing choking web guns… they’re all there.
Fury from the Deep struck a particular chord. Maybe it’s because by early 1968 I was aware I lived by the sea, but of all the Troughton stories I remember, more of it was seared into my memory than any of the others, principally that wonderful shot of the TARDIS spinning down to land on the sea, and the truly unnerving scenes of foam and invading weed creatures pumping through the ESGO HQ’s ventilation system and pipe network: this thing could attack you anywhere, it seemed. An – eagerly devoured – novel arrived in 1986 and a restored soundtrack in 2004 which, between them, kept alive those vivid monochrome memories.
In the accompanying ‘making of’ documentary on the animated version of Fury from the Deep, producer Gary Russell quite rightly says that his worldwide production team – ranging across the UK, India and Australia – have made the story “more of an animation than [a recreation] of 1968 BBC television.” Which is completely fair enough: these releases are commercial products and should take full advantage of contemporary animation techniques. As The Power of the Daleks, The Macra Terror, The Faceless Ones and now Fury for the Deep have increasingly shown, these animations are very much 21st century versions of (lost) 1960s stories (with ‘Wanted’ posters for Roger Delgado’s Master now appearing to be a running joke from release to release).
Fury from the Deep 2020 excels in this 2D rebooting. The cramped BBC sets of the original story are replaced by extensive control centres, industrial-scale pump rooms and cavernous pipes which dwarf the characters, while, thanks to deft lighting, a leaden sky and shadowy, brooding atmosphere hovers over everything. The most obvious advantage of the animation is the variety of forms afforded the seaweed creatures, most notably in a completely new scene in which the Doctor’s helicopter is attacked by gigantic fronds erupting from the sea. Better than that, though, is the fusion of Robson with the weed, to the extent that he looks like a half-plant, half-human mutant, something that might have been a bit too much for the viewers of 1968.
As this is Victoria’s last story, it’s heartening to see that her animated avatar – in, ironically, it’s first outing – is an accurate and affectionate recreation of the much-missed Deborah Watling’s performance. Now, you can once again see her pick locks with a hairpin and help the Doctor with his research (oddly enough, both things she’d never done before). The Doctor and Jamie are equally well characterised, and you get the feeling from the visuals and dialogue that these three travellers really enjoy each other’s company. After the woefully casual departures of Dodo, Ben and Polly, it’s pleasing to see that Victoria’s departure is seeded in the narrative early on, culminating in a touching scene where so much is left unsaid between her and Jamie. It’s all the more affecting for its low-key nature, as well as its beautiful realisation.
This animation of Fury from the Deep is a triumphant reboot of a completely missing story, which should win it new fans and delight those who’ve never seen it. For me, though, I don’t recognise the story that I’ve held a torch for all these years, which I guess is the double-edged nature of these animations. That’s in no way a problem, because there’s plenty of content spread over the three discs to please committed fans of the original serial.
Chris Chapman’s documentaries get better and better, and The Cruel Sea – Surviving Fury from the Deep is one of the best. In Margate’s Botany Bay and the Red Sands sea forts, the story was gifted with impressively cinematic locations, which Chapman made the most of when he reunited some of the cast and crew over fifty years later. Then production assistant Michael E. Briant and helicopter pilot ‘Mad’ Mike Smith (who still seems endearingly mad after all these years) are tempted to reacquaint themselves with the sea forts, and it’s quietly thrilling to see them alight on the same tower roof where Smith landed a helicopter in 1968. Elsewhere, June Murphy (Maggie Harris) reminisces about her seemingly never-ending walk into the North Sea, during which director Hugh David wondered if she’d “walked halfway across to France”. June and her future husband Brian Cullingford (Perkins) also recall meeting during the making of the story, and for ‘60s enthusiasts, there are some lovely period shots of the newlyweds.
Perhaps the best moment in The Cruel Sea – Surviving Fury from the Deep is when Frazer Hines (Jamie), Briant, Smith and production assistant Margaret Hayhoe meet for a drink in the bar of the local hotel The Botany Bay. They have such obvious, genuine affection for the work they did that it’ll make your heart dance. I’d love to have been there when Mad Mike decided to got full Errol Flynn and swung on the chandelier, unfortunately bringing down the ceiling. He wondered afterwards whether he’d work again in the film industry, but I’d have thought that kind of behaviour would guarantee that he did.
As if all that wasn’t enough, there’s a breathtakingly comprehensive stills gallery, black and white versions of the animated episodes, interviews with writer Victor Pemberton and special effects designers Michaeljohn Harris and Peter Day (who had the dubious honour of playing the seaweed monster), behind-the-scenes colour film of episode six – which is fascinating, if only to see Troughton playfully dunk foam on actor Graham Leaman’s head – together with film trims of scenes in the same episode.
For purists, there are also telesnap recreations of every episode, slaved to the respective soundtrack, which incorporate all other surviving visual material, still or moving. And that’s the point: if you’re not completely sold on the animated version of Fury from the Deep, you can immerse yourself in your childhood memories again by experiencing the near-as-you’re-going-to-get-to-the-original telesnap version.
Ultimately, that’s what I love about these Doctor Who releases: all tastes are catered for.
DVD/Blu-ray Special Features:
❉ Audio commentaries
❉ The Cruel Sea – Surviving Fury From The Deep
❉ Original surviving footage
❉ Behind The Scenes 8mm footage
❉ Animating Fury From The Deep
❉ Archive interviews with Peter Day and Victor Pemberton
❉ Teaser Trailer
❉ Photo Gallery
❉ The Slide Audio Drama
❉ PDF scripts
❉ ‘Doctor Who: Fury From The Deep’ is available on DVD, Blu-ray and Steelbook from 14th September 2020. RRP: DVD – £20.42/Blu-Ray – £25.52/ Blu-Ray Steelbook – £40.84. Order now from Amazon, HMV and Zoom.
❉ Robert Fairclough is a film and TV journalist and blogger and a regular contributor to We Are Cult, ‘Doctor Who Magazine’ and ‘Infinity’. He is the author of books on the iconic TV series ‘The Prisoner’, and co-author (with Mike Kenwood) of definitive guides to the classic TV dramas ‘The Sweeney’ and ‘Callan’.