Doctor Who #464: Image of the Fendahl Part 1

"Your ancestors have a talent for self-destruction that borders on genius."
TECHNICAL SPECS: This story is available on DVD. First aired Oct.29 1977.

IN THIS ONE... A glowing skull, a terrified corpse, and the TARDIS lands in a cow patch.

REVIEW: Doctor Who usually mixes up its horror tropes with strong SF concepts, but Image of the Fendahl feels like a purer sort of horror. Dark woods, men falling dead in fear, dogs finding dead bodies which soon start to decay at an accelerated rate, and a creepy glowing skull superimposing itself on sexy Wanda Ventham's face. The pace is slow and deliberate, but cuts back and forth between events that might otherwise not seem connected, the tension living in that editing. And of course, it has to take place in an old priory/country house, even it if's inhabited by scientists, because that's where horror stories take place. As it turns out, the story also has elements of the thriller, as Fendelman plans to hide the body and calls in security troops to protect the house and his secret agenda. How can a human skull be dated to a period a good 8 million years before humanity's birth? And can Fendalman really see into the past with his electronics? There's a mystery afoot and we need a pair of detectives to feret it out.

Two detectives, but no bloodhound. K9 is ALREADY out of the game, just a tangle of wires (is the Doctor trying to rewire him with Time Lord tech?), and unable to come out and play. Clearly, since he was a late addition to the TARDIS crew, the script had no call for him, nor would he fit its darker tone. But this really feels like a sign of things to come, the first in a long list of nerfing scenes to keep the popular tin dog from becoming a deus ex machina or make certain uneven-ground locations a nightmare for the production. I don't like Leela's new look. The bun makes her look like Louise Jameson skipped her turn in the make-up chair, and the skimpy dress looks far less functional than the skins, has less visual texture and is basically built to show cleavage. I find it unflattering, frankly. But with Chris Boucher, her creator, writing this one, she's at least well written, protective of the Doctor, sure of her physical skills, the hero of her own story. And best of all with Boucher is the large number of gems to found in the dialog - great turns of phrase, clever jokes, and biting truisms. My favorite is the Doctor's answer to Mr. Moss about whether he and Leela have escaped from somewhere ("Frequently"), but it's one example among many. I really like how the Doctor fishes for information with Moss too. It's like he's going through a checklist of things he usually finds in these rural towns. Ghosts? No? Strangers? Ah!

Those strangers aren't quite that thanks to the scenes we share with them. Fendelman is a typical irresponsible scientist playing with forces he doesn't really understand. Max is his assistant almost too sincere to understand humor. Colby the laddish paleontologist and Thea the dating expert (I guess that's a pun) are apparently a couple, and being used by Fendelman. Mitchell is the brutish, rude security chief. Oh and there's the old cook, spitting venom and talking warning signs (a classic character for this kind of tale). It remains to be seen if they're cannon fodder for the threat out there, or if they'll remain in play as part of its manipulations, but they're engaging enough for us to follow them in whichever path.

- It's all about mystery at this point, so not very much to get your teeth into, but Chris Boucher promises a crackling script.



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