Doctor Who #465: Image of the Fendahl Part 2

"You must think my head zips up the back."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Nov.5 1977.

IN THIS ONE... Thea is riddled with Lovecraftian parasites, and the glowing skull may come from the 5th planet in out solar system... as might we!

REVIEW: Boucher's story really does owe a lot to Lovecraft. It is of a brand of science fiction some call "cosmic horror", in which aliens are SO outside our experience they might as well be gods and monsters, and whose simple existence can make men go mad. The Fendahleen even look like the unspeakable horrors Lovecraft describes. Like lampreys with an unfathomable anatomy, they seem to feed on Thea's psyche from a side-dimension. And if anything makes her mad, it's that she's somehow aware of this, and considers herself responsible for the 12-million-year plan currently coming to fruition, a plan that, if we believe granny Tyler's visions, will lead to the apocalypse. (Just as it led to the 5th planet's destruction?) As if to give US the existential heebie-jeebies, it's further revealed that we might not have evolved from Earth after all, but rather have been seeded here millions of years ago. There is no missing link, at least not on this planet. Are we then settlers from Planet 5? Are the people of our twin planet Mondas another such colony? It makes the mind reel, as does the idea that these starcestors might have had some weird "pentacle technology" allowing them to store psychic power in their own skulls, a neural relay ship then used among its descendents to access recessive dark powers throughout history.

Horror and the supernatural have a scientific basis in the Whoniverse, but it doesn't mean they can't be creepy anyway. The direction and production design go with it, throwing our way shots of Tarot cards, dark woods, fog and empty-eyed witches, while something burbles from the shadows. Turns out Max and Moss are both members of a coven, and one might wonder if Fendalman even knows this stuff is going on in the basement or if he's been manipulated too (beyond his family's history, I mean, if his name is anything to go by). Not that he's guiltless, providing the program with some of its best veiled threats to date.

The Doctor and Leela are, not unusually, separated through all of this. I like the respect and kindness she shows the old woman, Elders holding a special place in her society. She finds a place in this world of superstitions and ancient religion, and perhaps kinship with Jack Tyler whose sworn to protect his old gran. The Doctor gets a more active role, asserting authority, getting thrown in the clink, explaining the serial's heady concepts, and having a droll chit chat with the skull before it all goes wrong. Though Leela says he has a gentleness about him, the immediate cut, amusingly, is to him kicking boxes in his makeshift cell. She may be right, but there's considerable impatience there as well, and foul temper. I can't help but wonder if Boucher is doing this on purpose to highlight both the good and the evil in each character, also contrasting, for example, Leela's caregiving skills to her ruthlessness with Moss.

THEORIES: There a strange connection between Earth and Gallifrey in this episode. The Doctor says the Fendahleen are from Planet 5 (today, the asteroid belt), but he also says they're from his mythology. Why would the Time Lords tell myths of creatures living in OUR solar system, on the planet of our possible origin no less? It seems to draw yet another connection between the two worlds and the two species (we look "Time Lord") that may mean humans are the Time Lords' cousins, descendants or ancestors (timey-wimeyness being what it is). The powers of precognition humans keep exhibiting are akin to those of the Sisters of Karn, other potential cousins to the Time Lords, and those of the Visionaries who ARE Time Lords (The End of Time). Was the skull's owner a proto-Time Lord using a technology that stores vast power in a smaller-on-the-outside circuit? Did some of the Planet Fivers go off to colonize Gallifrey even as others settled on Earth? Is that why they keep taking an interest? Or are their most ancient myths ours as well because Earth isn't Gallifrey YET?

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Existential horror that makes you think and wonder what we don't know about our own world.


Jeff R. said...

Again, I'm really fond of the theory that the original, pre-Master (and post-Master) fate of the humans in Utopia was to send themselves back to the beginning of time and become Time Lords/Gallifreyans.

Siskoid said...

That's what I wanted the punchline to The Sound of Drums to be.

Unknown said...

Excellent blog, love the Doctor Who entries.
When I first saw these episodes I was terrified (I was 7 or 8 years old).
This story remains one of my favorites, despite its flaws, in particular the ending of Part Two here.


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