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Tansy Rayner Roberts

Scream, Victoria, Scream! [WHO-50—1968]

December 18th, 2012 at 8:55

I started out skeptical about the new range of BBC audiobooks based on Target novelisations, especially when they extended to cover later books from stories that still exist. Can’t we just listen to the audio-only version of the missing episodes, or indeed watch the DVD? Which completely ignored my own childhood love of the Target novelisations, and indeed read and re-read many of them instead of pulling down the VHS copy from the shelf.

Recently I listened to The Dalek Master Plan dual adaption read by Peter Purves and Jean Marsh (having previously experienced the story as an audio soundtrack only) and found it revelatory – not only is it sometimes easier to follow the story of a missing story when there’s proper fictional narrative involved, but if you get a great reader and good production (and indeed the BBC AudioGo talking books are fabulously produced, including music and sound effects) then it can be a wonderful “reading” experience.

For my 1968 post then, while I was dying to (and probably still will) try out my favourite extant Troughton story, The Mind Robber, on my daughters, I decided instead to expand my own Doctor Who experience by listening to the audiobook of Fury of the Deep by Victor Pemberton, read by David Troughton (son of Pat). This story has always been of interest to me because I loved Victoria so much as a kid (based on a couple of other novelisations and how pretty she looked in her photos – we didn’t even have The Tomb of the Cybermen back then, so I’d never seen an episode featuring her). I didn’t manage to get hold of this book in my Target reading days, and hadnot got around to listening to the audio soundtrack of it as I tended to only grab those when I already KNEW I loved the story from reading it in novelisation first.

Fury of the Deep is not only a brilliant, complex and quite scary story which draws a line under the ‘base under siege’ trope by doing it so very well, but as it turns out the audiobook was a great way to experience it. David Troughton is an excellent, voice-interesting actor (which is essential in a speaking book!), but also does a subtle and deeply effective impersonation of his father which means that this lost story is full of Troughtony goodness. It’s so hard to feel like you have a handle on the Troughton years with so many stories fragmented or lost, but I retract what I thought before – the audio adaptions of Target novelisations are a great addition to our wealth of Doctor Who merch!

I was mostly listening to this one for Victoria, a character who is often dismissed or criticised by modern fans with little justification. There were no stories extant featuring her for a really long time, and after the flurry of excitement about the discovery of The Tomb of the Cyberman in its entirety in the 90’s, it has quietly slipped away from being a story that many Doctor Who fans are proud to embrace. (though, come on, let’s hear it for the cybermats at least!)

Victoria is often cited as the epitome of the ‘screamer’ companion, a group which also includes Polly and Mel, but extends at various times (depending on how ungenerous the ear of the critic) to include all of the women from the 1960’s version of the show, plus every female companion except Leela, Romana and Ace. Being ‘a screamer’ has become such a popular meme about the show that nearly every companion from Liz Shaw onwards was described in the media relation to that idea. As was pointed out by I think Toby Hadoke, we lost Elizabeth Sladen, Caroline John and Mary Tamm all in the space of under two years, and all three of them had a statement in their obituary about how their companion had been a ‘new’ take on the companion, more feminist, more of an equal to the Doctor, and so on.

You actually can’t divide Doctor Who companions into screamers and non-screamers. Kudos to Louise Jamieson for refusing to let directors or writers keep ‘Leela screams’ in the script, and to Sophie Aldred for blatantly interpreting every ‘Ace screams’ line to be ‘Ace yells in anger and frustration because screw you,’ but when it comes down to it, most of the companions, even the smart and feminist-skewed ones, needed to scream sometimes. A scream is useful. It serves the narrative. It tells the viewers, especially the kids, that this is the point where it’s really scary, and considering how dodgy some of the monster design was at times, you can’t blame the writers for wanting to hang a lampshade on such moments.

The Doctor has never been portrayed as the point of view character, but as the clever adventurer who (mostly) knows more than everyone else. It’s to Doctor Who’s credit that there has almost always been a female companion to represent the point of view of the audience, though in the 1960’s black and white days there was usually a bloke as well. And you know, the Second Doctor and Jamie did their share of screaming (or at least, fearful yelling at slightly less sharp pitches), we just never hear about it.

But Victoria screamed, and most fans don’t remember or discuss anything else about her. She was an awesome screamer, actually, and the cabaret performance that has gone on around Troughton era actors at conventions since the 1980’s has constantly reminded us that Deborah Watling was nicknamed ‘Leatherlungs’ on set.

Her screaming prowess was legendary, not topped until Bonnie Langford came along in 1986 and JNT thought to ask her if she could scream in the right key to match the closing credits music sting.

In Fury of the Deep, Victoria’s final story, her scream was the secret to defeating the monster. Which always sounded like a bad joke and in the context of the story is treated quite humorously. However, given that this and the banter between the terrified companions is basically the only humour in six tension-packed episodes, I’m prepared to let it slide. When it comes to the moment itself, it’s not funny at all, as Victoria’s sheer terror takes over.

Companions need to be brave and bold and funny and self-reliant (but not too self-reliant) to function in the context of the show. But they also need to be scared and vulnerable because if they’re not, if they really are too cool for school, then it’s all too easy to lose the audience’s willing suspension of disbelief. This is a story about scary sea foam. SCARY SEA FOAM. And it’s to Deborah Watling’s (and Victoria’s) credit that the premise was pulled off so effectively.

Heh so that’s my rant about how people should stop ragging on the ‘screamer’ companions and let them get on with their job. Let’s talk about the actual plot:

The Doctor, Jamie and Victoria land on a grey English beach, have a mock snow fight in the unusually thick sea foam, get shot as trespassers and taken on to a large oil refinery, where they discover an atmosphere of tension thanks to to the loss of contact with various oil rigs out to sea. There’s something nasty in the water, and it gets nastier and nastier, controlling the minds of humans who get in its way and turning them into mindless zombies. The refinery crew include Robson, the too-proud-for-his-own-good boss, his sweet and ineffectual deputy Harris, and Van Lutyens, a pragmatic advisor from the Dutch government. The other main cast member is Maggie, Harris’ wife who lives in the married quarters on the base (domesticity!), and is taken quite early by the Something Nasty. Oh and some lovely creepy “villains”/seaweed zombies, Mr Oak and Mr Quill, who felt like they belonged in either a Pratchett novel or a Tarantino film.

Gas, foam and seaweed. Yes, all these things can be scary if done right.

One of the main reasons I was interested in this story is that I’d always felt vaguely unsatisfied about the explanations as to Victoria’s leaving story in the Doctor Who Programme Guide: stays with the Harris family. Really? What’s so special about the Harris family? Sure, her Dad got killed by the Daleks back in her own 19th century, but isn’t it weird that a 16 year old girl not only chooses to give up space travelling, but deliberately selects a different century to the one she was born in? Susan and Vicki did it, but love was given as the motivation there, and then there’s Steven but I’ve never quite understood why he left either, having never listened to, read or watched The Savages.

I shipped Jamie and Victoria from the time I was about seven years old. In the stories and particularly the novelisations of this era, it’s very clear that Jamie is soppy for Victoria and they are terribly special to each other. Looking at them now, I think the writers & actors were in fact coding them as ‘romantic’ in the same way that Barbara & Ian and Ben & Polly were – that is, never openly acknowledged, but blatantly obvious.

Both the Barbara-Ian and Polly-Ben relationships are treated as akin to canon now by fandom (and have both been acknowledged in official spin off productions), but Jamie and Victoria are not, because of course they didn’t leave together. (Funnily enough I never got that sense about Jamie and Zoe at all – maybe because I read fewer of their adventures through the novelisations? Or maybe it just wasn’t there? Ditto for Steven & Vicki who feel entirely siblingy)

In Fury of the Deep, it is especially obvious that Victoria leaving the Doctor is sad, but the bit that is making her so agonised about it is saying goodbye to Jamie. That’s such a rare thing in this show! We talk very often about the many unsatisfying or rushed farewell episodes in Classic Who, but it is very rare that a companion has a closer relationship with their fellow companion than with the Doctor himself – and still leaves separately. I think the Tegan/Nyssa friendship is probably the only example, with maybe a little Harry/Sarah (though of course they both returned to the same era individually and could easily have met up for cups of tea and reminiscences at any time).

I was deeply surprised to discover that the Harrises were not in fact an older couple with whom Victoria found an adoptive family to replace her father. The novelisation makes it very clear that they are quite young, both in their 20’s. More to the point, neither of them develop much of a relationship with Victoria throughout the story – neither of them have anything like a proper conversation with her until the last episode and even that is pretty random.

In fact, Victoria doesn’t choose to stay “with the Harrises” at all – that is a last minute suggestion by the Doctor to make himself feel less irresponsible about abandoning his latest 16-year-old orphan in the 1960’s. Instead, Victoria’s choice to leave the TARDIS. And while the Harris solution (they are asked to keep an eye on her and help her get settled, not to adopt her) seems to be last-minute, Victoria’s leaving story is actually a major theme of the whole story.

Like Tegan fifteen years later, Victoria leaves because it’s not fun any more. I don’t know how much of the seeding of her discontent through the whole story is a novelisation thing (who has listened to the original audio track and can shed light on this?), but it certainly feels that her choice in the last episode is inevitable. She is struggling with being scared all the time and on the run, and at the same time regularly checking in with Jamie who thrives on the adventure.

I was concerned at first that they were actually trying to sell Victoria as a failed companion, one who couldn’t cut it (which would explain so much fan antipathy towards her) but by the end of the story I wasn’t getting that sense at all. Victoria has loved some her time in the TARDIS, but ultimately the negatives are outweighing the positives, and this particular “adventure” is just so scary and so tiring that she is done.

It’s also worth pointing out that Victoria never chose to come with them in the first place, but was whisked away by the Doctor and Jamie who didn’t want to leave her ‘alone’ after the death of her father.

I thought that the comparison between Jamie (very much of the ‘I will be with you forever, Doctor’ vein) and Victoria was done rather sensitively – she can see how much her friend delights in the Doctor’s madcap lifestyle and never questions it, and can also see that she does not have anything like that level of appreciation for it. At the same time, Jamie is wounded and hurt by Victoria’s loss of faith, taking it personally, which really resonated with me. You know how you can be so completely immersed in a hobby or a community or a project and someone you share it with moves on or falls out of love with it before you do? It’s exactly that!

I’ve read reviews that suggest the Doctor takes the choice away from Victoria (as he did with Susan) by vocalising her desire to leave and setting it up for her, but I don’t think that’s what happens at all. Victoria has been expressing her choice through the whole story, but is choked up and guilty about saying it out loud, and he makes it easy on her. I also appreciated the fact that the Doctor and Jamie gave her an extra night to think about it instead of whisking her away immediately – Tegan could have done with that level of thoughtfulness, twice over!

All in all this was a very pleasing experiment. But I am now even more sold on the idea that there is a sneaky unseen season 6B in which older versions of the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria run around the universe doing jobs for the Time Lords. Imagine what an older, smarter Victoria who has been exposed to all of British society’s changes in the late 60’s could do with a TARDIS, a mission, and her boys.



ELSEWHERE ON 1968:

The Web of Fear [Wife in Space]

Fury from the Deep [Wife in Space]

Fury From the Deep [Fourth Dimension]

Wheel in Space Episode 6 [Chronic Hysteresis]

Zoe [Marlow Inc]

The Dominators
[Kasterborous]

The Mind Robber Episode 1 [Chronic Hysteresis]

The Brigadier [Marlow Inc]

The Invasion [Wife in Space]

NEXT:

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5 Responses to “Scream, Victoria, Scream! [WHO-50—1968]”

  1. Paul Weimer (@PrinceJvstin) Says:

    I do like the idea of Victoria in season 6B helping the Doctor and Jamie–after learning Graphology (h/t to The Two Doctors), of course.

    She thought pretty well on her feet in Tomb of the Cybermen, as I recall.

  2. tansyrr Says:

    She did great considering that she was on her first trip, in her first mini-skirt, and recently bereaved.

    One of my favourite moments in Doctor Who of all time is Victoria putting the cybermat in her handbag.

  3. Paul Weimer (@PrinceJvstin) Says:

    Exactly. She did very well given all of that.

  4. tansyrr Says:

    Plus, it has to be said, cute as a BUTTON.

  5. Grant Watson Says:

    “Fury from the Deep” contains what I think is the scariest scene in the history of Doctor Who, with the two creepy men breathing gas until a woman falls unconscious. It’s freakish.

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