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“My name’s Ace, I come from a dysfunctional family and I cope by blowing things up.  What’s your excuse?”

One character I’ve always held somewhat mixed feelings about is Hex.

The erstwhile Thomas Hector Schofeld, child of vampirised Forge victim/recruit Cassie (of the especially grim and gruesome Colin Baker/Evelyn Smythe endurance tests Project Twilight and Project Lazarus) and rather yin male nurse to Ace’s quite yang femme roughneck has throughout his lengthy run in the Tardis consistently drawn some rather conflicting emotions and sentiments from this particular listener.  How shall we put such torn emotions onto paper?

On the plus side, his somewhat doomed flirtation with Ace was quite endearing and often amusing.  His come-ons were awkward, obvious and rather silly, and her fairly blunt putdowns and histrionic frustration with his efforts were regular comic gold.

He provided a touch of sensitivity to the various NPCs and single episode guests which Ace could be a mite too rough to note or proffer.

And most importantly, he was a vital part of what became a real team in some of the best McCoy Big Finish offerings, some of which were further among the greatest Big Finish Doctor Whos yet recorded.

Just look at a few of them: Dreamtime.  Live 34.  Night Thoughts.  The Veiled Leopard.  Nocturne.  Enemy of the Daleks.  Lurkers at Sunlight’s Edge.  Even his debut in The Harvest wasn’t half bad.  Yeah, I kinda like the guy.

On the other hand…

Look, there’s no nice way to say this.  He could be a bit of a sissy.

Yeah, I get that he was sensitive and secure enough in his own masculinity to pursue a career traditionally staffed by the fairer sex.  And I get that this was a heartfelt decision, that Thomas Hector Schofeld was deeply moved to help others, whomever they may be and whatever they may have done, because life is sacred and it’s his duty to help preserve it.  Worthy, noble ideals to be fully recognized and admired as such.

But that meant he had to come off somewhat less than manly.

Particularly with Ace fulfilling the traditional warrior cum action heroine role, poor unassuming Hex was left to play the Xander to her Buffy, or even more directly, whatever weakling wound up trying to follow Xena around in any given episode.  In short, he came up short, by dint of the very character and role he played in the established dynamic.

Further, he was a bit of a whiner.

As the de facto conscience of the trio alongside the scheming, often cynically manipulative “Dark Doctor” and the emotional, knee jerk aggro of Perivale’s finest with her baseball bats and seemingly endless supply nitro-9, Hex had the unenviable role of playing moral center.

And let’s be honest here – nobody likes a Dudley Doright.  “You know, you really shouldn’t do that.”  Yeah, sure, mate.  Talk to you after we take out a batallion of baddies to the vicarious cheers of the listening audience.

Moreover, he had a tendency to drag out his family issues…yeah, yeah, I know, I’m a huge Ace fan and if there’s any companion working through a storehouse of emotional baggage, that’s the one.

But falling under the astrological signs I do (depending on whether you view the Western or Chinese horoscopes as bearing primacy – the signs are quite complementary either way), I’d much rather work these sort of things out at the expense of a perpetrator of malfeasance than spending the same time moaning and complaining about a personal past like a 70’s singer songwriter on valium.  Or in simpler terms, if you really can’t rise above it, take it out on those who deserve it, dammit!

With his constant complaining about the violence aspect to their intergalactic do-gooding and easy subsceptibility to any manipulation whatsoever relating to his late mother, Hex came off more like a self-cutter than anything else.

Finally, he was also in some of the least episodes of the entire McCoy run…or at a minimum, ones that were middling enough to make little or no impression.  A Death in the Family?  The Settling?  No Man’s Land?  Angel of Scutari?  Even as a history minor and buff, these played into some of my least favorite settings – really, the Great War?  The Crimean?  What grim and dull bit of historical happenstance didn’t he take part in?  What’s next, the history of Tsarist or later Soviet Russia?  Talk about no depths unplumbed…

And need I even mention Project Destiny?  Here’s a hint – if it’s a Big Finish Doctor Who audio with Project in the title…unless you really dig psychological manipulation, threats, gruesome visceral bloodletting and implied torture by nasty vampire types, just give it a pass and go for the next month’s offering.  They’re all quite uncomfortable and collectively rank among my absolute least favorite of the Big Finish Doctor Who related audios.  In simpler terms…shudder and blech.

All this to come around to and support the original point, which is that I find some very mixed feelings about the character – some quite positive offset by others equally negative.  But did he really deserve this?

“So who’s this Fenric?”
“Scumbag from the dawn of time, according to the Professor.”
“The Doctor called someone a scumbag?”

Now I must confess to being at a slight disadvantage when it comes to Gods and Monsters.

While I’ve seen its televised progenitor Curse of Fenric several times over the years, it’s been to increasing appreciation in some respects (mainly atmospheric – the ruined church, the vampiric haemovores, the gruesome futuristic Ancient One, the fogbound seaside setting and sundry other gothic elements therein), but with little easing of my strong original impression that this was a confused if not adulterated script-to-telecast situation.

Really – there were too many concepts and ideas thrown into the mix for what remains a four part adventure.

Like Silver Nemesis before it, where many question the presence or necessity of Anton Diffring and his contingent of Nazis, did we really need the Russian troops, the WWII code cracking business, the whole Ace saving her mother bit?  It was heady without being properly deep and meaningful, busy without sufficient purpose.  Probably would have made a cracking full length novel or Shogun length miniseries.  But for a four part Doctor Who?  An interesting mess, really, and little more than that.

So when I saw that the minds at Big Finish, clever scripters and schemers that they are, were tapping into this particular story, regular Third Eye readers just know I had to dive in.

After all, these were the folks who managed to fill out, revitalize, pull in backstory and characterization and “rehabilitate” such casualties of the Michael Grade/John Nathan Turner/Eric Saward tug of war as the sadly maligned Sixth Doctor (cut down in his prime, when we barely had a chance to get to know the man), the popularly misattributed “man who killed Doctor Who” of the Seventh and the “American misadventure” of the single appearance Eighth, to say nothing of companions such as the lovely but somewhat annoyingly (faux) American accented Peri and the oft-derided “panto screamer” Mel.  Was there any corner of Who history they left unswept, any dark corridor left unexplored and made exceedingly palatable?

Well, it seems there are one or two telestories best left be, and to judge by Gods and Monsters, Curse of Fenric appears to be one of them.  Perhaps it truly is cursed…

The story opens with Sylvester McCoy pulling out his Unregenerate mad act, nervously overthinking his every move in yet another chess game with his old foe Fenric.

Hold on.  How the hell did we get here again?

It appears that in missing the story or so prior, I’ve been left out of some business about magic shields, pocket universes and games of gods.  Turns out the Doctor was not the equal and opposite number to Fenric as supposed from the televised tale, but yet another pawn in a game between someone named Weyland and Fenric.  Apparently, this shield – forged by and named after Weyland, mind – is supposed to grant omnipotent power to whoever among the gods wins it.

Hold up – isn’t the very definition of “god” “omnipotent”?  Seriously – isn’t that implied in the very designation?

OK, so to judge by some of the scary noises Weyland makes when he reveals himself to Hex late in Gods and Monsters, it seems we may be talking more along the lines of demons than gods, but either way.  Seems rather silly, n’est pas?

In any case, we’re dropped more or less smack dab in the middle of all this, and unlike the current vogue of American television to “keep the punters interested” by letting viewers figure their way out as they go along in place of proper exposition, there never does seem to be a point of clarity here.  Yes, a few things come out as we go (seems that Hex is something of a “wolf of Weyland” as Ace is a “wolf of Fenric”), but it still doesn’t make a damn bit of sense in the end.

Along the way, there’s plenty of sound and fury, signifying nothing in particular.

The old “do we need gods, or do gods need us?” philosophical conundrum is trotted out for the umpteenth time (fellow deep thinkers who find themselves nauseated at the incessant regurgitation of sub-Joseph Campbellisms in the postmodern era will doubtless join in a disgusted head shake and weary sigh).

The Doctor seems more baffled and vulnerable than usual…particularly this Doctor, who in his latter televised run (and the better part of his adventures with Big Finish) tends to lean towards the all knowing master planner of a “Dark Doctor” persona.  To hear him more or less at a loss and remaining so throughout is disconcerting, to say the least.

The setting is interesting enough – as in the earlier Dreamtime, they inhabit a limited, flat earth of sorts whose river runs to a literal edge of nothingness and face the stars about them.  You also get Arabian knights, dead Saxons, haemovores and the Ancient One…you’d think this would make for a cracking adventure.

On the plus side and following on the aforementioned interesting if quite jumbled and confused 1989 telestory Curse of Fenric, we do get one tidbit of exposition that provides an extra retroactive puzzle piece.

As it happens, it appears that Ace, a Perivale local who was first encountered rather far from home on Iceworld (back in Dragonfire) and whose presence there was explained as the result of a freak “timestorm” shares this conveniently mysterious displacement into the path of the Doctor and his fellows in common with several other participants in the current tale.

Hmm…now why would these “timestorms” sweep up and gather so many pawns taking part in Fenric’s cosmic chess match?  Oh, so that explains and underlines the whole “wolves of Fenric” bit. OK, chalk up one successful if minor retcon patch to the original.

But seriously…I’ve listened to this one several times and still can’t make heads nor tales of it.  Some surface plot points, certainly.  But is there a deeper meaning or purpose?  Not really.

And this is the big sendoff for Hex?

Yes, Hex saves the day, as it were.  But with a story this lightweight and dodgy (mind, it’s dark and all that…just without any real substance to it, making the story much like the televised Who revival in that respect.  Hell, there’s even some overblown music cues building during his death scene ala Tennant and Smith…), it’s something of an ignominious end to a character who, despite some reservations noted earlier, deserved much better.

And then we come to Afterlife