Doctor Who: Image of the Fendahl
(4 episodes, s15e09-e12, 1977)
In science fiction, nothing good ever happens in a fog bank.
Two intimate scientists, Thea Ransome and Adam Colby, examine a skull they have christened Eustace. Elsewhere in the lab, Maximillian Stael and Doctor Fendelman conduct an experiment which, unbeknownst to them, spark a strange possessive effect from Eustace over Thea. It’s no coincidence that a hiker walking through the woods gets killed in the fog by something spooky.
On the TARDIS, the Doctor has torn K9 apart to fix some sort of damage. How the pooch was damaged is a mystery probably left to the expanded universe novels. Regardless, the TARDIS takes a dive as it encounters a Relative Continuum Displacement Zone – a hole in time for those of us who don’t speak Time Lord – and the Doctor tracks it to a time scanner on Earth.
I’m a big fan of the changes to Leela: Her wardrobe and hairstyle brighten her up overall, including bringing out her vibrant blue eyes. Louise Jameson has a lot wider range now as well. Was changing her eye color that significant of a game changer?
Adam finds the hiker’s corpse the next morning, and Fendelman suggests they cover it up to avoid the media and the police interrupting their work. He also orders an armed lockdown of the site. Just in time, the TARDIS arrives at the site of time scanner and start their search. They encounter a man, Ted Moss, who tells them about the strange happenings at the local Priory.
Stael conducts an autopsy of the hiker, but cannot determine the cause of death. The peculiar things is that the corpse is already decomposing, as though it has been sped up through time. Through an altercation between local cook and witch Martha Tyler (to my knowledge, no relation to a certain future companion or any superheroes) and a guard named Mitchell, Thea and Adam learn of the lockdown. Adam confronts Fendelman and learns of the professor’s experiments, which Adam later dismisses as absurd. Thea is not convinced, and she investigates on her own. When Thea activates the experiment, the skull effect starts again. Leela is drawn to the experiment through her sixth sense, and is attacked by Moss. The Doctor encounters the mysterious creature and a momentary paralysis before running away.
The confrontation between Leela and Moss is broken up by Jack Tyler, grandson of Martha. After Moss leaves, Jack talks to Leela about his grandmother, the old religion, and the “nasty” events in the area. Martha returns home, terrified that something “hungry for her soul” was pursuing her. Adam stops Thea’s use of the time scanner, but not before the creature kills the guard Mitchell. Thea collapses into a ball of glowing light and tentacles/serpents called an Embryo Fendahleen as the Doctor arrives. Doctor Fendelman bullies his colleagues into silence and has the Doctor locked away on suspicion of murder, but the Time Lord is quickly freed by a mysterious benefactor.
Fendelman theorizes that the skull is extraterrestrial in origin, and has located the moment of death in the timeline. That moment is at the focal point of a huge energy burst. An x-ray of the skull reveals a pentagram in the bone structure, which may be part of a neural capacitor that could signal the presence of intelligent life on the planet. Thea returns to the time scanner and sees the x-ray. Stael arrives and reveals that he is the leader of a local coven, and that Thea is the key to his power. She is his chosen one.
Then he chloroforms her.
Pro tip: Not an effective way to win friends and influence people.
The Doctor finds the lab and the skull, and the latter starts to glow. A moth to the flame, he is drawn to it, and of course it burns him. He cannot release his grip on Eustace, but Leela arrives and (much to her delight) saves him. The Doctor identifies the skull as the indestructible remnants of a Fendahl. Leela takes him to Martha, whom the Doctor rouses from her shocked stupor. Meanwhile, Stael ambushes Adam and Fendelman at gunpoint in the lab, stopping their progress with the scanner. The pair are confined to the basement near Thea, who is bound on the floor inside a pentagram.
The Doctor and Leela use the TARDIS to follow the time fissure to the Fendahl’s home planet. The Doctor discovers that the planet (supposedly a missing fifth in our solar system) has been destroyed (resulting in the asteroid belt) and placed in a time loop to prevent knowledge of the Fendahl from escaping. Apparently, that kind of madness can only be achieved by a Time Lord. You know, the non-interfering Time Lords who punish their own kind for interfering in things. They were too late: The Fendahl had already reached Earth by that point and affected human evolution.
Time Lords, man. Time Lords.
Back on Earth, Stael assembles his cult and Fendelman connects the dots: The Fendahl has used humanity in the past to regain life, and this ceremony will do the same. He begs the cultists to stop, but only earns a bullet to the head for his trouble. The Doctor and Leela return to the Priory, meeting up with the Tylers. As they attempt to leave, they are paralyzed, and a Fendahleen is bearing down on them. The Fendahleen meets its end at the muzzle of Jack’s gun, some rock salt, and the hand of the Doctor.
I guess it was the only way, but it’s further evidence that the Doctor isn’t as adverse to guns as I hear in fandom.
The cult continues their ceremony, and the Fendahl is manifested into Thea’s body. The Fendahl transforms the cult members into Fendahleen and paralyzes Stael. The Doctor and Leela free Adam, but they cannot free Stael because of the Fendahl’s influence. Stael asks for his gun, which uses to commit suicide. The group determines that salt kills the Fendahleen, and (conveniently) the Fendahl needs thirteen Fendahleen to reach full power. The Doctor rigs the scanner to destroy the Priory, and then he and Leela retrieve the skull to remove the Fendahl’s power base. The Priory explodes, and the powerless Fendahl is destroyed.
Back aboard the TARDIS, Leela has (sadly) returned to her previous costume, but (thankfully) it appears to be better constructed and more vibrant. After a comedic bonding interlude between K9 and the Doctor, they set course for a supernova to destroy the skull.
Okay, let’s cover the positive first. Louise Jameson was better in this story than she had been in the past.
Now, the negatives.
This story is a mess. There are a lot of great elements, but it felt spotty, chaotic, and not fully fleshed out. It’s also one of the darker stories in a while, and the first I can recall with this level of gun violence (headshots and suicides). I think that the entire venture suffered from the rapid-fire attempt to coalesce the various threads into a cohesive tapestry, and I spent a great portion of this serial bouncing between boredom, confusion, and trying to make the notes for this write-up make sense so future me didn’t have to rewatch the serial to connect the dots.
Overall, I’m not a fan of this tale.
Rating: 2/5 – “Mm? What’s that, my boy?”
UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Sun Makers
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4 thoughts on “Timestamp #94: Image of the Fendahl”
I just got this DVD, ironically, a few days ago. I was excited to see it because it had been decades since I saw it. Alas, I found the tale REALLY dark. I don’t mind scary or even when the good Doctor faces a lot of moral ambiguity, but the ending was surprisingly hopeless. Like you, not a fan.
This is the last gasp of the Philip Hinchcliffe era. It was written by Chris Boucher who’d written Leela’s debut story, The Face of Evil as well as Robots of Death. That’s why I think that you find that Leela is better written in this one. The reason why she had to change costumes is that the next one, The Sunmakers, was actually made *before* Image of the Fendahl even though it was intended to go after. Since they didn’t have the new costume ready for that story she has to change back to the old costume at the end of this one. That being said, after The Sunmakers she goes back to the 2nd costume, which I always call “the good Leela costume.”
The reason that K-9 was “damaged” is because he was never supposed to be a companion. He was just a supporting character in The Invisible Enemy. But Graham Williams liked K-9 so much that they had the ending of the story changed so that K-9 left with the Doctor at the end. Well Boucher had written his script without K-9, so they had to come up with a quick reason why K-9 couldn’t go out on this one. You’ll see him play an active role for the rest of the season.
Like you, I’m not really keen on this one. It isn’t the dark elements so much that bother me but the confused muddle of the plot. Oh well, Williams lightens things up after this and when Holmes leaves as script editor after The Sunmakers the gothic style of writing goes with him.
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