Fury From The Deep has always tantalized Doctor Who fans. Comically little of it still exists on film – the rest has fallen victim to the policies of the BBC in the 1960s of wiping old tape for re-use.
Those handful of clips though make up in quality what they lack in quantity. There’s footage of the Tardis arriving in a wonderfully haphazard manner in the sea at the very start of the adventure. There’s a frankly creepy scene of anaemic but likeable Maggie Harris, possessed by the weed creature, walking into the sea, seemingly – at least for all we know – committing a slow and deliberate suicide. And then there’s the moment that everybody remembers about Fury From The Deep – there’s the creepily plausible home invasion of Mr Oak (the chubbily avuncular John Gill) and Mr Quill (the correspondingly gaunt and bloodshot Bill Burridge), and their gassing of Maggie in a scene which even today probably goes A Bit Too Far in terms of ‘scaring the kids.’
Fury From The Deep has, in the absence of all the clips in between, that make up the rest of its six episodes, worked well as an audio recording. It’s worked well as an expanded novelization, and a subsequent audiobook. But this – this should be something special. The chance to see Fury From The Deep un full again, albeit in an animated form.
It turns out that ‘albeit’ is one of the most important words in the English language.
The animation on the new release of Fury From The Deep is sadly little more than a mish-mash. Bits of it work really quite well – the movement of the weed itself seems better than we’d imagine it on a 1960s Doctor Who budget. The foam too benefits from a non-literal translation into animated form, losing some of the washing-up liquid obviousness of any occasion the Second Doctor faced foams of evil (Seeds Of Death, we’re looking at you). Here it looks more like rising clumps of hummus, and if that sounds weird, go with it – it gives the foam a visceral sense of muscle compared to the standard bubblefest. And in particular, the weed when it emerges from shirtsleeves is highly effective, giving a sense of creepy, possessive puppetry which again, may have worked on a 1960s Doctor Who budget, but probably didn’t.
That, unfortunately, is more or less where the positives end, at least as far as the animation’s concerned.
Turns out it’s a really bad idea to include the clips of the filmed version of Fury From The Deep alongside the animated version. The impressively random Tardis journey through the sky on the filmed version becomes a disappointing, ramrod-straight descent. The Maggie Harris walk into the sea, rendered in animation rather than the misty black and white film version, feels clinical, rather than creepy. And while it always seems as though Mr Oak and Mr Quill were a dark take on the likes of Abbott and Costello, and Mr Oak was always baby-faced and cheery, the animation has de-creepified Mr Quill. Even in his ‘poisonous halitosis’ scene of maximum scariness, he looks way too much like a skinny Herman Munster, rather than the emaciated Nosferatu with the endless mouth of poison that the original delivers.
The disappointment when you realise that what should have been the ultimate version of Fury From The Deep is at the very least less successful than it should have been is oddly high. When you compare the animation on Fury with the likes of The Power Of The Daleks or The Macra Terror, you can’t help but feel like something big went wrong somewhere. Sure, the original Power had issues, mostly in the way people got from A-B, but it later emerged that the team worked their butts off with a ridiculously short turnaround time to get it out, and it more than proved the concept of animation from scratch classics. With Fury, we’re not sure how long the team had to work on it, but both the successes and the failures feel like decisions deliberately made.
In terms of the story as a whole, one thing that comes through in the animated version that doesn’t translate so much in any audio format is quite how transitional the story is. On the one hand, it’s in the grand tradition of bases under siege, run by people who are under extreme personal stress and so for the longest time make life more difficult than it needs to be. From the likes of General Cutler in The Tenth Planet to Commander Hobson in The Moonbase, there was a tradition of these awkward leaders, and John Robson, in charge of the Euro Gas refinery, is a classic stubborn Sixties Who leader. If anything, he’s the spikiest of the lot. And on the other hand, there’s a sense in which Fury From The Deep is the most Pertwee pre-Pertwee story not to feature the proto-UNIT gang.
Six episodes which probably could have been four. Additional characters popping in two-thirds of the way through as though they’ve been there all along, bases out at sea under threat from malignant forces. Car chases. Helicopter rides. It’s Troughton (and presumably Pemberton) going full Nostradamus on the future of the show, and there’s something inherently fun and exciting about that.
Another thing that comes through though is less exciting. Whether its previously benefitted from having actor narration linking moments it’s difficult to say, but in the animated version, you realise quite how much dead air there is in Fury From The Deep, people standing around when others have said a line, before they wake up and say their own line. Maybe that was a style thing to avoid re-shoots for which there wasn’t studio time, but fifty years later, you’re almost shouting at the screen to speed through the dead air while people stand around.
Now, there are some well-crafted extras on the Fury From The Deep release. Surviving Fury From The Deep is a particular stand-out, but as we say, including the surviving footage is a great idea in itself. It’s less of a great idea if you’re going to change the scenes in that surviving footage, and not knock it completely out of the park.
And bottom line, all the extras in the world aren’t going to save an animated Doctor Who story if the animation itself doesn’t live up to expectations. Yes, it’s possible that fan expectations for Fury From The Deep were way too high and too hyped by its absence from our visual world for decades. But ultimately, it’ll be a cold day in between-season hell when you’ll decide ‘Damn, I need to watch the animated Fury From The Deep again…’ That’s not just disappointing, it’s an absolute geek-heartbreaker. Tony Fyler