Doctor Who writers seem to have their imaginations fired by many things, be it human biology,
dishrags or the ubiquitous horror film. Some authors turn to more classical sources, especially
Greek myths which were responsible for influencing a couple of the least popular stories of the
seventies (to say the least). However, one fact about the myths involving Jason and his Argonauts and the
Minotaur is that they are generally well known, so the resulting Doctor Who stories are very
obviously science-fiction versions of them ("Oh look it's a talking Minotaur who lives in a maze and
demands sacrifices from a place which is meant to be Athens..."). In contrast, if one travels north
from ancient Greece one reaches another rich source of mythology - the beliefs of the Vikings -
which although consisting of powerful stories are not particularly known. This must have occurred
to one Ian Briggs and "The Curse of Fenric" manages to subtly use Viking legend as a starting point
for the most acclaimed story of the show's final years.
Back in 1989 when "The Curse of Fenric" was transmitted, some fans were classing it as a traditional
Doctor Who story in the Hinchcliffe mould as it apparently shamelessly rips off a horror film,
in this The Fog. Having never seen said film, I am unable to comment on this, but if one digs a
little into Norse myth it is possible to find a very definite source for Briggs's script, although as
we shall see he was not the first writer to pilfer from this source.
Many of the Viking legends are recorded in a number of poems which can be tedious in a way that makes
you think that it can't be a coincidence that Norse is an anagram of Snore. However, the poem that
concerns us here deals with the cruelest and most horrid demon of Norse mythology - Fenrir (also known
as Fenris). Mmm. It's also probably not a coincidence that in Doctor Who Fenric's servants are
called the Wolves of...erm...Fenric, as Fenrir was the wolf god; in Norse myths the wolf was the
most viscous of animals and Fenrir was the worst of them all.
Unlike many writers, Briggs borrowed more than just a name for "The Curse of Fenric", but the whole
concept of the story. In legend, Odin and the other important gods foresaw what damage Fenrir
would wreak so resolved to put him out of the way by chaining him. Fenrir broke the first two
chains used on him, but the third was worked by dwarves and was a special magic chain that the wolf
god was unable to break. For some inexplicable reason, the wolf allowed himself to be chained if
one of the other gods placed his hand between Fenrir's jaws as a pledge. Tyr, one of the lesser
known deities whose job it was to feed Fenrir, volunteered to do this. Fenrir was bound, but
Tyr lost his hand in the process. The influence on the Doctor Who story is clear. The Doctor
was Tyr (something implied by Briggs's own novelisation), trapping Fenric in the flask instead of
chaining him and with no limb-severing taking place. The result was still the same with great
evil rendered harmless.
In both versions, Fenric/Fenrir escapes, although there is little similarity here (after all,
there weren't that many code-breaking computers in Norse mythology). The most interesting connection
here is that legend says that Fenrir will break his bonds and bring about the end of the World -
when Fenric is free he attempts to destroy mankind, which after all would have been the end of the
world for us. The Vikings called the time leading up to the destruction of the world "The Doom of the
Gods", the Norse for which is Ragnarok, which influenced Stephen Wyatt when naming the Gods in "The
Greatest Show in the Galaxy" and subsequently irritated Briggs when he had to write a story about
Norse legend without mentioning Ragnarok. This could have produced connections between the two
stories and I remember after part three of "The Curse of Fenric" there were some suggestions that
Fenric was a God of Rrrrrragnarrrok.
Although Fenrir/Fenric is the main link between Doctor Who and legend there is also another
possible link. In Norse mythology we also meet Fenrir's brother, Jotmungand, who as well as
sounding uncannily like a Terry Nation character was a sea dwelling monster. The very Ancient
Although not in the "Underworld" or "Horns of Nimon" class (in any way!), "The Curse of Fenric" seems to
have been heavily inspired by myth. However, it appears that Ian Briggs was not the first writer
to be inspired by Scandinavian legend; some five years earlier Steve Gallagher wrote "Terminus" with
more than passing reference to Norse stories. On the surface there is little connection between the
Davison story and the tales of Fenrir and his contempories and certainly the background to "Terminus"
was borrowed from elsewhere; it is certain names from the story which are familiar from the Viking poems.
I first spotted this on discovering that an alternative name for Fenrir is Garm. Hmm. So this is
why Gallagher's Garm has a somewhat canine appearance, although the creature's benign nature
resulted in the wolf-like characteristics being softened into those of a domestic pet. Also,
in Norse mythology there were two tribes of gods, one of whom were named the Vanir, which just
happens to be the name of the staff of Terminus, and an influence which seems to have been picked
up on by the story's designer with the Vanir's costumes being decidedly mythological, not
technological as may have been expected. One of Gallagher's Vanir is called Bor (and never was
a character more aptly named) - who shares his name with the son of Odin in the legends - and
another is Valgard, which seems to be a derivation of Valgrind, the entrance to Valhalla (Viking
Heaven). A third Vanir is Sigurd and there are literally HUNDREDS of characters in Norse
mythology who have this name.
So we have seen that the legends of the Vikings have had more than a passing influence in
Doctor Who, joining the list of weird and wonderful things to have formed the basis for a
story. Some people would chastise writers for using such things as inspiration, citing a lack of
imagination. Personally, I find it fascinating discovering where the roots of Doctor Who stories
lie, and provided such things are done subtly I feel that it all adds to the legend that Doctor Who
Originally published in Think Tank issue 26 (Autumn 1991).