Monday, 6 January 2014

Review: Doctor Who Classic: Image of the Fendahl

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The Fendahl and her Fendahleen. From Wikia
Doctor Who - Season 15, Story Three - Image of the Fendahl
Written 6/7/13

Fendahl is a story whose outward appearance is big and foreboding and whose reputation in a time where common perception sees Who's dominance beginning to slowly slip gives it great deal of kudos. Doctor Who, even by this point, is no stranger to great foreboding forces working over millions of years, and they would continue to appear after Fendahl as well. After a story like The Invisible Enemy which was seeming to gain some jollity, Fendahl seems to throw that in the pan and get awfully serious again, for Leela creator Chris Boucher's final Doctor Who outing.
     The titular monsters are said to be the occupants of the planet that once existed between Mars and Jupiter and who escaped to Earth when it exploded and became The Asteroid Belt over 12 million years ago, hiding itself in rock and subliminally affecting humanity so as to further its purposes in the modern day, where scientist Professor Fendelman (Brian Murphy) is used by the Fendahl to return to their physical form. The Doctor and Leela happen to be popping by and, following local suspicions about The Old Religion, prevent the Fendahl's plan from succeeding.
     The episode's plot is all over the place, never knowing what it's trying to do. At the beginning there's some almost sitcom-esque dialogue which actually quite enjoyable, but the mysteries that the serial slowly builds up one by one never really mesh together in a satisfying way even at the end. There's a glowy skull and a guy who's secretly speaking for the Fendahl and then there are spirit Fendahleen which are eating people alive and there's very little to say how they're related or whether we should really care. It's an apathy that comes from what I find to be a fundamentally uninspired villain. Big overarching evils are ten a penny, and while that doesn't exactly make them difficult to execute well it does mean that this story, which fails to characterise them in any meaningful way, doesn't get any points from their execution. The episode evokes pagan rituals and sacrifice with pentagrams and stuff but it doesn't feel like it's a grand overarching plan and is more indicative in my eyes of a failed attempt to grab imagery from somewhere that at the time would have been considered scary and cool. If you're going to go to full ritual sacrifice and pentagrams, why not make a Devil allegory or something like that? I'm not going to be scared of the big invisible thing just because The Doctor assures me that it's very bad indeed.
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Benedict Cumberbatch's mum... From Wikia.
     However, the story does have a number of good points. As well as the use of the symbolism of the Old Religion and all the jazz that goes along with it, the use of its characters is outstanding. The villain Maximillian Stael, determined in a sorta Cyberman-collaborator way to harness the almighty power of the Fendahl, gets quite a dark ending when, bewitched by its charms, he has the Doctor pass him a gun so that he may commit suicide rather than become a Fendahleen. Doctor Fendelman, the mad scientist throughout, turns out to be talking 100% of sense. All this comes in the fourth episode, which manages to tie things together enough for me to even make that synopsis up there, and by itself it's a decent piece of science fiction. It's a shame that the serial is so bottom-heavy in that regard.
     Before the final episode, Image of the Fendahl is a slow and sluggish whose ideas and themes threaten to collapse the thin plot holding them up. The fourth episode makes some small concessions, and overall I did enjoy the serial, but as a whole the story jumps here, there and everywhere and isn't very easy to follow. Chris Boucher's final story for the program is messy and doesn't really reflect the same level of quality as his previous two, but regardless of my disdain for the vast majority of Image of the Fendahl, it is a story that most of the fandom loves regardless.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: If you get too cold I'll tax the heat, If you take a walk, I'll tax your feet. It's the story of the Taxmen in The Sun Makers.

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