Doctor Who #467: Image of the Fendahl Part 4

"Vanishing priories take a lot of explaining."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Nov.19 1977.

IN THIS ONE... Throwing salt around, the Doctor destroys the Fendahl before it eats all life on Earth.

REVIEW: Wanda Ventham joins Shirley Eaton in the elite golden girl club when she becomes the Fendahl, a vaguely Atlantean (see The Time Monster) goddess/golden statue with large eyes drawn over her eyelids and the habit of posing like a Weeping Angel. In fact, if you look straight into her eyes, bad things happen. You're either frozen in fear or you go mad entirely. And she can drink up your soul. Alas, it's not much of a role for the actress who has to stand still with her eyes closed at most times, with nary a line to say. Moss is turned into a fendahleen very early on, as the Fendahl tries to build up its gestalt, but though I understand the explanation, it still looks very confused on screen. Fendahleen appear out of nowhere, the Fendahl haunts the house, and the Doctor's solution is a little abstract (not using rock salt to shoot the monsters - that's classic Who around-the-house monster weakness stuff - but the time scanner bit etc.). At barely 19 minutes of new material, it all could have used a bit more rigor.

Perhaps the most difficult thing to take about Part 4 is Max's death. He has looked into the Fendahl's eyes, his mind has snapped, and he realizes what fate awaits him, so he aims to commit suicide. That's harsh for Doctor Who in and of itself, but since that suicide would delay the creation of the gestalt of which he was supposed to be part, it could be seen as a kind of self sacrifice common on the program. However! It's the Doctor who hands him a gun! I'm not saying the Doctor's never enabled someone to sacrifice themselves, but this is a particularly graphic image of assisted suicide, and no point is made about it being a sacrifice until much later. At least we don't see the shot, though we do see the body, which mirrors Part 3's murder of Fendelman who could be clearly seen with a bullet wound to the head. Image of the Fendahl is perhaps the apogee of Holmes' violence in Doctor Who. This is almost too adult for its family audience.

This story is so dark - in fact, it tells us our dark side may well come from the Fendahl's influence in our evolution, shades of 2001's monolith - we appreciate its moments of comedy all the more. Mrs. Tyler is a tough old bird, who thinks she'll one day be "too old for this". There's some Tomfoolery with the Doctor showing four fingers when he indicates three minutes. And then there's the coda with Leela finally getting back into her classic costume and the Doctor reprising the "I like your new dress" gag. As if to tell us we are indeed returning to our regularly-scheduled all-ages program, there's even a bit with K9. It feels a bit tacked on, the issue of whether the Doctor thinks of the tin dog as an "it" or a "he" so far back, it hardly seems important at all, but I think the audience won't notice through its relief.

VERSIONS: The Target novelization isn't markedly different from the televised story.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Creepy, moody and disturbing, it goes a bit too far in the latter direction. I enjoy it the way I enjoy Torchwood, but the Doctor's presence makes me uneasy.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Clearly very influential to the makers of New Who, it nevertheless feels like a story from another show, like say a post-watershed Quatermass series. Ultimately ill-suited to the series (including the off-model Leela), though I  of course appreciate its qualities - mood, Lovecraftian horror, Boucheresque zingers, and big existential ideas.


Peder said...

I'm a little bothered by the ancient evil relic/possessed person/chased around the old house formula. There has been a lot of that in the past few seasons.

Siskoid said...

I agree, it does feel like a distillation of the Holmes Gothic era. Though present day, the setting (the house) is Victorian/Edwardian, just like Fang Rock, Weng-Chiang, Pyramids of Mars, etc.

Of course, possession is one of the major tropes in Doctor Who, so it's hard to get away from it for long.


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