THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
TV STORIES "THE
INVISIBLE ENEMY" AND
'IMAGE OF THE FENDAHL'
RELEASED IN APRIL
A SONIC TIME SCAN
DRAWS THE TARDIS TO
THE FETCH PRIORY ON
EARTH. THERE, THE
DOCTOR AND LEELA
IMPOSSIBLY OLD HUMAN
SKULL THAT IS THE KEY
TO A NIGHTMARE FROM
THE TIME LORDS' PAST.
A MURDEROUS MONSTER
STALKS THE PRIORY
GROUNDS; AND WITHIN,
SOMEONE IS INTENT ON
THAT FEEDS ON DEATH
29TH OCTOBER 1977 - 19th november 1977
“Image of the Fendahl” is a well-told X-Files / Quatermass-style tale of an ancient, mythological being interfering with the evolution of man. It does what Doctor Who does best in that it gently plays with gothic, fanciful elements such as ghost stories and superstition, telling a story that is firmly set within that genre whilst still managing to be grounded in science.
“Man did not evolve on earth. Of this I am sure.”
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this serial though is its dazzling cast. Tom Baker and Louise Jameson are both at their peak, and fans of Only Fools and Horses will instantly recognise the familiar pairing of Denis Lill (Doctor Fendleman) and Wanda Ventham (Thea) as they played Cassandra’s parents in that show from the late eighties onwards. Both give terrific performances here, particularly Lill who manages to imbue his character with a much-need sense of magnitude despite being lumbered with a ludicrous foreign accent and a name that screams out to the audience that he is as guilty as sin (though, forty-two years on,
I do not think that I am spoiling it for anyone by pointing out that Fendleman is the ultimate red herring!)
Similarly, eagle-eyed soap fans will not only be acquainted with Coronation Street’s Don Brennan (or Geoff Hinsliff, to those that actually have a grasp of reality), who plays Jack Tyler here, but also a very young Charlie off Eastenders (Roy Pearce), who plays a disgruntled ‘Security Team Leader’. Edward Arthur’s Corby is also quite a memorable character, and Daphne Heard damn near steals the show as Jack’s kooky Grandmother, Ma Tyler. The superstitious old biddy may be the butt of a few jokes in the first couple of episodes, but as the story progresses you realise that the Doctor and Leela both have a huge amount of reverence for her – something that should never been taken lightly. There is one especially striking scene that sticks in my mind where Ma Tyler is in psychic shock and the Doctor tries to shake her out of it with a pot of tea and some fruitcake. It is not gratuitous silliness; it is important to the plot and it works.
“Your ancestors had a talent for self-destruction which bordered on genius.”
The Fendahl itself is a fascinating creation; a gestalt entity from Time Lord mythology that literally eats life. The story goes that long ago, the Time Lords destroyed the Fifth Planet on which the gestalt had evolved, assuming that it had perished along with the planet. Suffice it to say that It had not... Those keen to learn more about the Fendahl should check out Simon Bucher-Jones and Mark Clapham’s eighth Doctor novel for BBC Books, “The Taking of Planet 5”.
Further, the Fendahleen are undeniably remarkable beings, even by today’s lofty standards. Of course they do not look fantastic given the standards of the day, but there is still something about a giant green worm-like creature with red tendrils coming out of its mouth that makes it pretty hard to forget.
Even better though is Thea. Once she has become the Fendahl Core, she takes on a Gorgon Medusa-like form; her cold, dull eyes are extraordinarily chilling (despite the actress’ contention that she looks “nice, not scary” in the costume!) Director George Spenton-Foster also uses her in one particularly memorable shot, which sees the twelve million year-old
skull superimposed onto her head. Stunning cinematography for 1977, it has to be said.
Regrettably though the serial is marred somewhat by some intolerably clunky bookends fervently trying to shoe-horn K-9 into the plot, but even so, on the whole Chris Boucher’s last script for the television series is in my view his best.
Sadly though Boucher himself is not featured in the DVD’s bonus material, with contributions limited to the surviving members of the principal cast, visual effects designer Colin Mapson, and the series’ then-incoming script editor, Anthony Root. This is really quite reflective of the
bonus material on offer here - it is compact, but competent; a little disappointing, perhaps, given that this is a ‘full price’ release with a recommended retail price of nearly twenty quid.
The disc’s only substantive stand-alone special feature is a twenty-six minute documentary entitled “After Image”. Produced with the Restoration Team’s habitual fond diligence, this feature covers everything from Jameson’s atypical hairdo to Ventham’s peculiar eagerness to be painted gold (it seems that she had just narrowly missed out on being cast in Goldfinger, and wanted to make good). There is also some fascinating stuff from Mapson about the skull that was used for filming - believe it or not, the production team actually carved that pentangle into it before sending it off to a hospital to have proper x-rays taken! Even the original, phallic design for the Fendahl is looked at here; the only notably absent ingredient seems to be Baker, which is curious given that he is on board for the commentary.
“I could’ve been a great Doctor Who y’know, if they’d only’ve let me.”
- Tom Baker
And as usual, Baker’s distinctive brand of wit and absurdity really gives the commentary a much-needed bit of gusto. Whilst the other participants’ observations and memories about the making of the story are perhaps a little more lucid and edifying than the former Doctor’s, it is Baker’s charisma that really holds one’s attention throughout.
The disc also includes a nice little selection of deleted and extended scenes. The quality is admittedly variable throughout – some scenes are black and white and timecoded, whilst others are approaching transmission quality – but these scenes are an interesting inclusion in any event, particularly those cut from the final episode.
Above: A contemporaneous trailer
The rest of the DVD is filled with a hatful of hollow – we have a short but nonetheless sweet original broadcast trailer (“The time is the present…”), which is contrasted sublimely with
the modern, majestic trailer for next month’s “Deadly Assassin” release; the usual Radio Times billings and ephemera; and of course an exhaustive photo gallery.
Overall, “Image of the Fendahl” stands out as being one of the better stories of Doctor
Who’s incredibly inconsistent fifteenth season, and whilst its DVD release is not one of the most profuse that the Restoration Team have ever produced, it still does this gothic delight justice and is certainly a remarkable improvement on the tapered release that Boucher’s generally more renowned “Robots of Death” saw almost a decade ago (which of course launched the main classic series DVD range).
However, as I have intimated above, given the comparatively limited extent of the bonus material, I cannot help but feel that this one would have been better suited to the ‘budget’ limb of the range, which appears to have died a quiet death of late. As such my credit crunch-inspired advice to all but the very keenest of potential purchasers would be to sit
tight for a few months before shelling out for this one; you will probably pick it up somewhere online for half the price.
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