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Foam, Screams, and Seaweed: Fury from the Deep

“Fury from the Deep” is one of the entirely lost stories from the Patrick Troughton era. A few clips survive (thank you, Australian censors!), but all the rest is missing. It’s a shame because the story is a very good one, full of colorful moments that I would love to see. The Doctor flies a helicopter, he plays in foam (actually, there’s foam everywhere), goes swimming again…oh, and it features the debut of a gadget called a sonic screwdriver. It functions as an actual screwdriver, too, not as the magic wand/all-purpose device it has become. Imagine that! Even more importantly, “Fury from the Deep” is the final story for Deborah Watling’s Victoria. After surviving the attack of the seaweed creatures, Victoria decides to leave the TARDIS and start a new life.

Everyone hopes that Victoria's screams will stop the creatures' advance.

Everyone hopes that Victoria’s screams will stop the creatures’ advance.

The TARDIS lands out on the water, near a gas refinery. The Doctor, Jamie, and Victoria arrive on the shore and hear a strange rhythmic noise coming from one of the pipes. Before they figure out what it is, the refinery staff, suspicious of their motives, shoots them with tranquilizers and brings them in for questioning.

They awaken with the head of the refinery staff, Robson, ready to question them. Drops in the pressure in the pipes and loss of contact with one of the rigs is troubling Harris, one of the men who works under Robson. Robson, however, has found a solution that he thinks explains the problem: the Doctor has been tampering with the pipes. Harris thinks the problem is bigger and wants Robson to shut down the pipes, so that they can correct the problem, which he suspects involves something in the pipes. Robson refuses, saying that he has never had a shut down under his supervision and he’s not about to have one now.

In the meantime, areas of the base are becoming overrun with foam, and some people have seen a mysterious creature lurking in the ventilation system. One by one the refinery is losing contact with the rigs. Harris’ wife, Maggie, is also suffering from some mysterious malady after being stung by a piece of seaweed.  And what has happened to Mr. Quill and Mr. Oak? They are growing seaweed on their hands and are able to exhale a toxic gas. The Doctor needs to put all of these pieces together to figure out how to stop the fury from the deep before it takes over the entire world.

This is yet another strong episode in a season that is full of them. While  it seems like the idea of some type of sentient seaweed would be a ridiculous one, this story pulls it off. Like the best horror stories, it taps into a fear of the time, in this case, fear about what the consequences might be of the increased drilling into our ocean’s floor. In this story, it is the search for natural gas deep in the ocean that has brought this danger to the surface, a life that feeds off of the toxic gases produced under the ocean floor.

From the stills and few surviving clips, I feel that this story was a very visual story; therefore, we are at a loss having to rely mainly on the audio recordings. However, the story is still engaging, and it offers a slight variation on the base under siege plot. In this case, there is a certain element of suspense because the viewer is not sure who is under the influence of the seaweed, or whom it will take over next. The idea that there are traitors hiding in plain sight is a nice change of pace from the monsters who have been killing people off in the previous serials.

The genuinely creepy Mr. Quill in mid attack.

The genuinely creepy Mr. Quill in mid attack.

And, speaking of the visuals, the remaining clips offer a hint of how creepy this episode was. I can see why the Australian censors felt the clip of Mr. Oak and Mr. Quill breathing the toxic gas at Maggie was too scary for children. Even as an adult, it is one of the most disturbing images I remember seeing on Doctor Who. It is one of the indelible images of the show.  Although the rest of their performance is confined to still photos, Mr. Oak (John Gill) and Mr. Quill (Bill Burridge) still convey a certain amount of menace whenever we see them.  Even the seaweed creature itself, which, thanks to a few brief clips, we finally see clearly in the final episode, is effective.  Somehow they managed to design a creature that seems like a seaweed creature, and even moves like a seaweed creature, instead of simply seeming like a man in a suit.

I also loved the Doctor’s solution to the problem. The idea of the power of sound waves was foreshadowed by introducing the sonic screwdriver in the beginning of the story. (I wonder if Victor Pemberton, the writer, realized how iconic his little screwdriver was about to become?) And , of course, what more appropriate sound could there be than Victoria’s screams? After doing a great deal of screaming in her adventures with the Doctor, Victoria’s screams finally have a purpose. Every time Victoria encounters the creatures, she screams, which enables the Doctor to notice that it actually protects her from them. That the big finale of Victoria’s last story involves broadcasting her amplified screams to save the base…perfect.

While Jamie plays a role in this story, the focus is really on Victoria, as it should be in her final appearance.  She returns to her original form a bit in this story, after being simply the damsel in distress the past few stories.  She is clever again, picking the lock with her hairpin, while the Doctor and Jamie are trying a complicated plan of escape.  She also gets to show some scientific competency again (Remember her father, the scientist, who taught her things? Very few of the writers this season did.) by helping the Doctor perform some tests on the seaweed in the TARDIS.

Victoria waves goodbye to the Doctor and Jamie, while Harris and Maggie stand by.

Victoria waves goodbye to the Doctor and Jamie, while Harris and Maggie stand by.

The episode sets up Victoria’s choice to leave the TARDIS at the end by giving her a few times where she mentions how tired she is of living in constant fear. And when you look back at her time, you can’t really blame her. In a relatively short time, she lost her father and became an orphan, battled Cybermen, was hypnotized/controlled by the Great Intelligence, and held captive by the ice warriors, Salamander, the Great Intelligence/yeti, and the seaweed creatures. That’s enough to make anyone want to leave! Victoria’s constant role as the damsel in distress also makes it clear why Deborah Watling would choose to leave.  While Victoria began as an interesting character, I don’t think she was very consistently written and it must have been frustrating to play her.

It is nice to see Victoria choose to leave the TARDIS, and not to get married.  She feels that there is no point in returning to Victorian times, since she has seen too much to return there comfortably and has no one left, so she might as well stay in the England of the late 1960’s. I’ve read that some people see Victoria as finding a new family to replace the one that she lost, and this is the ultimate resolution of her character arc. While I think this is true to a certain extent, she’s not returning to a child-like state of dependence. She doesn’t even have a particularly strong bond with Harris and his wife. She choses to stop traveling with the Doctor, not to stay with them specifically.  It’s the Doctor who enlists their aid. They are going to help Victoria land on her feet, as parents would a grown child, but I got the impression that Victoria would not be relying on them to care for her completely. She will need some help getting settled, but the Victoria who leaves the Doctor is a woman capable of making her own choices, which the Doctor respects, not a helpless girl just looking for a family.

The most touching part of this story is Victoria’s relationship with Jamie.  This story shows that he is the one that she confides in, not the Doctor. When she is being held captive, the first person she calls out to is Jamie. And it is Jamie who takes her departure harder than the Doctor. He is sadder to say goodbye to Victoria than he was to Polly and Ben in “The Faceless Ones.” I was happy to see that Victoria and Jamie shared a quiet moment together before their parting the next day. Deborah Watling and Fraser Hines had excellent chemistry together (and still do, if you’ve been lucky enough to see them at a con recently), which resulted in Jamie and Victoria being an excellent match. It’s easy to imagine that the two characters had a relationship that involved more than friendship, making Victoria’s decision to leave all the more difficult.

Victoria and Jamie sharing one of several private moments. Jamie can't understand Victoria's unhappiness.

Victoria and Jamie sharing one of several private moments. Jamie can’t understand Victoria’s unhappiness.

Overall, this story is a fitting farewell to Victoria and pays tribute to all the aspects of her personality. She decides for herself when it is time to leave, showing that she has matured during her travels with the Doctor. As far as companion departures go, it’s a pretty good one. She also gets to point out that, “every time we go anywhere, something awful happens” which is a pretty good summary of the show itself if you think about it.  The Doctor lands somewhere, something awful is happening, and he needs to help stop it.  Maybe the next story will be different. Something awful won’t happen at that space station the Doctor and Jamie arrive at, right? Maybe these are friendly Cybermen…oh, all right, something awful is about to happen.


2 responses to “Foam, Screams, and Seaweed: Fury from the Deep

  1. Great analysis of the story. Like yourself, I would be thrilled if Fury From The Deep was re-discovered. Based on the superb novelization by Victor Pemberton and the few surviving clips, this seems like it was a good, suspenseful, exciting serial.

    By the way, Pemberton is now retired and living in Spain. About four years ago I started corresponding with him by e-mail. He is definitely an interesting man who has had a very colorful, diverse career. I was especially thrilled that I was able to mail out my copy of the Fury From The Deep book to him, which he autographed for me.

    If you have an opportunity, I highly recommend reading some of his novels about life in Britan during World War II. He added a lot of biographical details from his own life to the characters & narratives.

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