The Legacy of “The Curse of Fatal Death”

“These corridors all look the same!”


“There are plenty of incompetent assassins.”

Doctor Who writer Robert Holmes on The Deadly Assassin


In 1999, Doctor Who hadn’t broadcast any new episodes since an untitled feature-length standalone in 1996 starring Paul McGann (The Night of the Doctor, 2013) as the Eighth Doctor. To fill the void, Comic Relief commissioned a new, two-part serial that both spoofed and served as a reasonably-believable new episode of Doctor Who. Richard Curtis (Vincent and the Doctor, 2010) collaborated with producer Sue Vertue, who knew how much of a fan Steven Moffat (The Return of Doctor Mysterio, 2016) was, and asked him to bring it to life. Knowing that this might be the only chance he’d have at writing a Doctor Who episode, he accepted – in spite of the lack of payment. Rowan Atkinson was a popular name in the press for who should be a potential Ninth Doctor, and his casting was another suggestion of Vertue. Having established himself as a comedy actor in the Blackadder franchise, he was interested in the role on the condition that it not be written as a vehicle, but a legitimate character. With everything in place, Steven Moffat wrote a 20-minute send-up of an episode that referenced numerous Doctor Who traditions over the years that crucially found the balance between a self-deprecating tribute rather than making a mockery of a beloved title (and not just the in-joke of its own). Richard Curtis felt that he shouldn’t interfere in the writing process, and was only involved in casting. Roy Skelton (Remembrance of the Daleks, 1988) returned to voice the Daleks for the last time, having done so since 1967. Jonathan Pryce was cast as the Master. And the greatest gag of them all is a sequence in-which the Doctor cycles through their remaining regenerations almost immediately – Rowan Atkinson becomes Richard E. Grant (The Name of the Doctor, 2013) then Jim Broadbent, then Hugh Grant, and then finally Joanna Lumley. Doctor Who was officially relaunched in 2003 with an animated serial titled Scream of the Shalka. Richard E. Grant starred as another version of the Ninth Doctor. However, the television relaunch proper in 2005 starring Christopher Eccleston (The Parting of the Ways, 2005) as the Ninth Doctor, overwriting both conflicting continuities and relegating The Curse of Fatal Death to apocrypha (though it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume that The Curse of Fatal Death was never entertained as a genuine continuation for Doctor Who after Paul McGann). Doctor Who continues to be associated with Comic Relief. Steven Moffat became a staff writer for the relaunched series, eventually taking-over from Russell T. Davies (The End of Time: Part Two, 2010) as Showrunner, who’d been so impressed by Hugh Grant’s performance to offer him the role of the Ninth Doctor proper, though he didn’t think the new version of the series would be a success. Steven Moffat repaid Richard Curtis the favour by allowing him to write the episode Vincent and the Doctor, which is consistently ranked high in fan polls. Richard .E Grant portrayed The Great Intelligence in three of Steven Moffat’s episodes. He reused some of his gags in the episodes he’s written for the series proper. As The Curse of Fatal Death shows the Doctor regenerating into a woman, he inverted this in his storylines by regenerating the Master into a woman instead. The idea of casting known names as the Doctor climaxed when he introduced a previously unseen incarnation of the Doctor portrayed by John Hurt (Casualties of War, 2017). Next year’s season will be the first to be overseen by Steven Moffat’s replacement, Chris Chibnall (P.S., 2012).

The Curse of Fatal Death can be viewed in its entirety on the Doctor Who YouTube channel:

Author: alexsigsworth

Basically... run.

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