Saturday, 31 August 2013

Image of the Fendahl

The series rolls on with this episode, set mostly in a priory where some very stern scientists have found a skull which is far older than the human race and one of them is planning to unleash its powers so he can be a mighty ruler or something. It combines Medusa-like images with paganism, in a sort of mix and MASH of Pyramids of Mars with a slice of Masque of Mandragora and sadly comes nowhere near being as good as either.
The skull and Wanda Ventham.
It’s been quite a while since I used this word – convoluted. But it is the main problem with ‘Image of the Fandahl’ and is why I and I’m sure many other viewers of the tale are left scratching their heads. Chris Boucher is a talented sci-fi writer. This story was done as the hand-over to a new script editor was being done,  so perhaps it’s unfair to criticise it too much, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense, the characters of the Doctor and Leela don’t seem quite right, the other characters are simply not well used or well-written, and the pacing is very poor with three rather slow episodes followed by episode four where the Doctor explains a whole lot of stuff to try and make sense of what is going on and then blows up the priory as his solution.
Perhaps the script is under-developed. There’s definitely some great ideas there, but the narrative needed more work to it, to work on the pacing issues at the very least, flesh the ideas out so they made more sense. In episode three, probably the weakest of the serial, the Doctor and Leela go off looking for the Fendahl planet and find it locked in a time loop by the Time Lords but in no way does it advance the story, or make it more exciting. Episode three for the most part is treading water to get from part two to part four as far as I can see.
Denis Lil (left)
Denis Lil is the main guest actor, playing Doctor Fendahlman, who’s line of ancestry was destined to find the skull in which the Fendahl kept all its power. Why a human skull? Not really explained, although the Doctor hints that it may have effected human evolution, if not start it. Denis Lil is a fine actor, who did some great stuff in ‘Survivors’, but why he felt the need as the crazy scientist to add a crazy European accent I am unsure. Wanda Ventham, last seen in ‘The Faceless Ones’, comes back to Doctor Who as Thea who ends up being the main Fandahl of sorts when at the end of episode three she is painted gold and becomes a
Mother Tyler with Leela and Jack,
sort of Medusa – don’t look into her eyes. Why? No idea, it’s not explained. She does a good job but has little to do and no lines in episode four.
Daphne Heard is Mother Tyler, an older lady who is wise in the Olive Hawthorne guise a little (but older). It’s a nice, well-portrayed character as is her son Jack Tyler, played by Geoffrey Hinsiff. They both play important roles in the plot but the development of friendship with the Doctor and Leela, who only really meet one character, Ted Moss, in the first episode, is rushed and a little hard to believe.
George Spenton-Foster directed this one. His first Doctor Who, it suffers from the same issues of ‘The Invisible Enemy’ – it’s just not snappy
enough. The fourth episode, like the previous episode, is perhaps the worst in this case. There’s a scene in the cellar where the Doctor and Leela have to rescue Colby and everything is still, despite people dying and Fendahline being born. The scene lacks any sense of urgency at all. I think the music is not perfect for part four too, I love Dudley Simpson’s work but the use of slow organ music here helps to only slow the story down. Much of the dialogue has strange gaps between lines which don’t seem right.
A Fendahl
I would question also whether the Doctor should ever give someone a gun to shoot themselves – in episode four the Doctor assists in Stael’s suicide. I was taken aback by that. Also for some reason shots of fire at the old priory after the explosions are run backwards. The significance is not explained.
Finally, the Fendahl themselves don’t work very well, although the smaller ones are rather good. Too much time on screen is partly to blame, we never see them connected to the shots of their slimy tales too which kinda destroys the illusion, the design is ok but the whole thing needed to be slimy.
Wanda Ventham decked in gold atop a pentagram. 
It feels like a rushed job this one, with lots of issues that there wasn’t time to iron or work out. Robert Holmes is credited as script editor but in fact he was in the process of handing over to Anthony Read, which could explain some of the scripting issues. Nevertheless it’s a really hard story to get into.


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