Blu-ray Review: Doctor Who: Fury from the Deep
For many youngsters in the 1960s and 1970s, the default place to watch Doctor Who was from behind the sofa. And for many, one particularly sofa-centric story was Fury from the Deep, broadcast in the UK in six episodes from 16 March to 20 April 1968. While none of the episodes survive in the archive, some of the scenes which do survive exist because a network’s censor (ABC in Australia) deemed them too scary for the timeslot the show was broadcast in. If you’ve seen the two possessed refinery workers Oak and Quill (John Gill and Bill Burridge), modelled on Laurel and Hardy, launch their gas attack on Maggie Harris (June Murphy) in episode two, it’s hard to forget it.
We’re in the show’s present day, or maybe unspecified near future. The TARDIS lands in the sea off the Kent coast. Reaching shore, the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria find a huge amount of sea foam on the beach and also a gas pipeline from which, it seems, a heartbeat can be heard. The gas refinery is in the charge of Robson (Victor Maddern), who captures the three. Meanwhile, there is an unexpected loss of output, which the Doctor thinks is due to some kind of creature in the pipelines, but this is dismissed by Robson...
Fury from the Deep was written by Victor Pemberton (1931-2017), who had submitted the idea to Doctor Who three years earlier. When it was rejected then, he wrote a seven-part radio serial called The Slide, which was broadcast in 1966 and appears as an extra on this release. Fury from the Deep reworked some of the ideas of The Slide, with the main change being that the sentient mud now became sentient seaweed. Pemberton has an unusual place in Doctor Whohistory, being one of just two people to have been credited in Classic Doctor Who both as a writer and an actor (in the latter capacity as a scientist in The Moonbase). The other is Glyn Jones (writer of The Space Museum, actor in The Sontaran Experiment). If you add New Doctor Who, then Mark Gatiss makes it three. Pemberton, however, is unique in that he also was credited as script editor, taking on that role for one story, The Tomb of the Cybermen.
Tomb of the Cybermen is the only surviving-complete serial featuring Deborah Watling as Victoria Waterfield, and Fury from the Deep is the place where she leaves the TARDIS. In the next story, The Wheel in Space, her replacement was found: Zoe Heriot, played by Wendy Padbury. Although it’s not entirely fair to judge a companion when most of her role is missing (though we have off-air soundtracks, telesnaps and so on) it has to be said that for the most part Victoria fitted in the scream-and-be-rescued template that so many female companions did in the 1960s and early 1970s. However, The Wheel in Space does give Victoria a character arc which means that her departure makes sense, unlike the arbitrary and abrupt reasons for other companions leaving. Watling, from an acting family (though younger brother Giles later went into politics, and has been the MP for Clacton since 2017), continued to act, though as in so many cases she will be forever remembered mainly for her one year in Doctor Who. She died in 2017 at the age of sixty-eight.
You can sense an unspoken love between Victoria and Jamie, though it’s more brother-and-sisterly than a (presumably) platonic affection. Part of that is due to the chemistry between Watling and Frazer Hines, who briefly dated offscreen. Jamie became the longest-standing of all Doctor Who companions, appearing in all but one of Patrick Troughton’s stories. Even though we can’t fully judge because of missing episodes, there’s a difference with the Jamie/Victoria relationship than he had earlier with Ben and Polly (who were pretty much a couple themselves) nor later with Zoe. It’s hard to avoid a lump in the throat when Jamie and Victoria say goodbye to each other.
Fury from a Deep marked another first. Near the start of the first episode, the Doctor uses a handy device known as a sonic screwdriver. To undo screws. With sound waves. This gadget later became effectively a get-out-of-jail-free plot device, but it made its debut here.
Broadcast just once on the BBC, between 16 March and 20 April 1968, with audiences ranging from 8.2 million viewers for the first episode to 5.9 million for the fifth on an apparently warm Easter Saturday, Fury from the Deep is remembered by those who saw it (not me, as I was just three years old and didn’t start watching Doctor Who until 1971) as a particularly tense and frightening story. While an animated reconstruction is inevitably second best, watching the originals is impossible as the broadcast tapes were wiped and the 16mm film copies sold abroad were junked, unless one is lurking out there somewhere. But it’s the best we have. While there’s always a chance of more Doctor Who episodes being rediscovered, most of the ninety-seven currently lost episodes are almost certainly gone forever. I would love to be proved wrong, of course. In the meantime, until time travel is invented or broadcast-quality memory retrieval can be used on increasingly elderly relatives, check your attic.
The BBC’s release of Fury from the Deep comprises three Blu-ray discs, encoded for all regions. The black and white version of the episodes is on Disc One, colour on Disc Two, with further extras on the third disc. Fury from the Deep has a PG certificate though the third disc and the package as a whole carries a 12. The reason for that is not on the BBFC database as I write this. All three discs have audio-descriptive menu options.
As with other recent releases of wholly or partly missing Doctor Who serials, all the episodes have been animated, matched to the existing soundtracks which were recorded off-air at the time of broadcast. Needless to say, the animated version is not a slavish imitation of the original, which we can get some sense of from the telesnaps on Disc Three. The original was 625-line black and white video in the old 4:3 ratio, with film footage (16mm for location work, mostly Palm Bay in Kent in a freezing February, and some 35mm work in Ealing Studios, partly due to wet foam being an electrical hazard in BBC studios) telecined in at the time of recording. The animated versions widen the ratio to 1.78:1 and include both black and white and colour versions, no doubt for more commercial reasons, so the choice is yours. As one of the producers of the animation said, this has the effect of making the sets bigger than they would have been originally, as if the story had had a feature-film budget rather than the usual small BBC one. The animators have included some in-jokes, such as the wanted poster for the Master (Roger Delgado version) on one of the refinery walls.
The soundtrack on both black and white and colour versions is available in the original mono, with remixes into LPCM 2.0 (surround) and DTS-HD MA 5.1. Personally, the mono is the one to go for as that was how the show was made, and if it had been missing I would have protested. Also on both versions, English subtitles are available for the hard-of-hearing on the episodes and most, but not all, of the extras. These discs also feature information subtitles, provided by Martin Wiggins. As usual, these provide a lot of information on the story and its making. Wiggins had clearly seen the animated version when he wrote the subtitles, as in several places he points out differences between the animated version and the original.
Also on both versions are commentary tracks, ably moderated by Toby Hadoke. On episodes one and five he is joined by three people who worked on the show back in 1968: Frazer Hines, production assistant (and later director, on Doctor Who and elsewhere) Michael Bryant and assistant floor manager Margot Hayhoe. Episode two features executive producer and animation director Gary Russell, who talks about the process and aims in animating this lost Doctor Who serial. Designer Peter Kindred features in episode three. Episode four comprises shorter interviews, first with film cameraman Ken Westbury, aged ninety-three, and who had never been interviewed about Who before. Also on this episode is a new interview with make-up designer Sylvia James and archival interviews with director Hugh David and actor John Abineri. Finally, episode six brings back Gary Russell and towards its end Frazer Hines, who talks about Deborah Watling’s departure from the show.
The remaining extras on Disc One begin with a compilation of the surviving footage (4:25). Many of these are the scenes trimmed by the Australian censor, due to their being considered unsuitable for the timeslot Doctor Who was broadcast in. Also included is the opening shot of Episode One, of the TARDIS landing in the sea, due to the clip being reused in The War Games a year later. Finally, the climax of Episode Six is reconstructed from trims from the Ealing Studios shoot and 8mm footage shot during production with some telesnaps. Those film trims, discovered in 2003 among waste material being reused as film leaders, are assembled in full (3:55) and there is also colour 8mm home movie material (4:42) shot by design assistant Tony Cornell during the Ealing shoot.
On Disc Two is the featurette “Animating Fury from the Deep” (21:05). Gary Russell appears here too, along with his fellow producer/director Luke Marcatili, line producer Chloe Grech and others. They discuss the approach to animating this story, and also the logistics of coordinating a production where principals and animators were on four continents with the small additional factor of a global pandemic. Also on Disc Two is a teaser trailer (0:50) for this animated release of Fury from the Deep.
Disc Three begins with a telesnap reproduction of the serial, available for single episodes and with a Play All optiuon (141:57). Telesnaps were a service provided by John Cura. For a fee, he would take a series of still photographs of a production from his television screen as it was broadcast, and he provided this service from 1947 until shortly before his death in 1969. Many, but not all, Doctor Who stories from the beginning to the third episode of The Mind Robber in 1968 were telesnapped. This reproduction uses the telesnaps with the surviving footage inserted where appropriate. On-screen captions fill a few gaps and as well as the soundtrack we have optional narration from Frazer Hines.
“The Cruel Sea” (38:56) is a making-of documentary, though much of it consists of a visit to the story’s Palm Bay location by Frazer Hines, Margot Hayhoe and Michael Briant, along with actors June Murphy and Brian Cullingford (who met on the production and married afterwards) and helicopter pilot Mike Smith. There are quite a few anecdotes from the shoot, with Murphy’s account of having to walk into the sea being the most literally chilling. Given that all concerned are much older now than they were, not all of them are up for the climb of the World War II sea forts at Red Sands, which stood in for the gas control rig in the story. Also included is archive footage of Victor Pemberton and Deborah Watling on a convention panel in 1988, and an audio interview with Hugh David from two years earlier.
Next up are archive interviews with Pemberton, from 2008 (5:48), and from visual effects designer Peter Day, with his colleague Michaeljohn Harris making an appearance, from 2002 (9:02). Also on the disc is a self-navigating stills gallery (9:30).
Finally on the disc, is all seven half-hour episodes of Pemberton’s radio serial The Slide, first broadcast between 13 February and 27 March 1966 on the BBC Light Programme. While Fury from the Deep does differ from it in many respects, there are quite a few similarities. Pemberton later used material from both stories for his 1976 Who audio adventure Doctor Who and the Pescatons, which was released as a vinyl record and which he later turned into a novel. The Slide has a few other Doctor Who connections, most obviously the fact that the story’s surrogate for The Doctor is played by a future Master, namely Roger Delgado, with Maurice Denham the other lead role. Further down the cast is an early appearance from Miriam Margolyes. The episodes are available singly, with a Play All option, with an explanatory caption and the Radio Times cuttings for the particular episode.
Also on Disc Three are the camera scripts and Radio Times listings for all six episodes, in PDF format accessible by a DVD-ROM or BD-ROM drive. Inside the box is a booklet, with an introduction by Gary Russell and an essay by Andrew Pixley which is as detailed as you would expect from him.