Sunday, June 16, 2013

Image of the Fendahl - "Your ancestors have a talent for self-destruction that borders on genius."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - Image of the Fendahl - Details

Season 15, Story 3 (Overall Series Story #94) | Previous - Next | Index

I'll go on the record to say that, much as I love the Gothic horror themed episodes, their effective end (at least, hiatus) with the winding down of the Holmes/Hinchcliffe era's "The Image of the Fendahl" is probably a good thing. Not because I don't like them, I do, very much so. If pressed, I would call the run from "Robot" to "Fendahl" the pinnacle of the classic series. And yet, change is inevitable and necessary. For all the lamenting that this was the end of an era, I'm rather of the opinion we'd had enough of that particular good thing. Unfortunately, the change we needed and the change we got were a bit of an Obama-esque let down in part, I'd argue, because we can sense the presence of John Nathan-Turner who, at this stage at least, wanted to be involved in the show but will be actively sabotaging it as the show-runner in a few years time.

Side note: the actress who plays Thea -- the unfortunate scientist who is possessed by the Fendahl -- is Benedict Cumberbatch's mother. As Sherlock Holmes for the BBC and Khan in the much-maligned, but nonetheless entertaining popcorn movie Star Trek: Into Darkness, Cumberbatch is about as big a star in nerd circles as you can find these days, so finding he's got a genetic link to Doctor Who is nerdily satisfying.

The main thing I like about this story though is that for all the covens, glowing skulls, pentagrams, mystical charms crafted by a tarot card reading woman who knows "the old ways", this story is rooted in science and the theory of evolution. All that mystical mumbo-jumbo is ultimately tied back to alien interference with humanity. (Oh, and there's an offhand reference to a dog named "Leakey". Nice touch.) Having just watched "The Dæmons" it's impossible not to notice certain similarities between the stories, not the least of which is a strong supporting performance by an actress, Martha Tyler this time around,  playing an English village's local witch, with charm and humor. "The Dæmons" may be the more beloved in fandom, but I slightly prefer this story. To break it down to some constituent elements: I found Tom Baker's performance more charming here than Pertwee's; Louise Jameson's Leela more appealing than Katy Manning's Jo Grant; the villains roughly of a par in execution, but their defeat slightly less daft here; although Pertwee's story had a more full realization of the town in which it was set and hade one of the more fun turns by Roger Delgado as the Master going for it, so it's by no means an uneven match when we look at them side-by-side.

The eyes of the Fendahl get a bit of tribute later in "Fires of Pompeii" where the Sisterhood painted eyes on the back of their hands instead of over their closed eyes, but I think there's an acknowledgment there that "Fendahl" created distinctive and effective look.

Wanda Ventham (Benedict Cumberbatch's mum) pioneers the painted over eyes look later seen in ... 
... in "Fires of Pompeii"
One last observation, it seems virtually every story I've watched recently gets compared to, or is seen as having drawn influence from Quartermass and the Pit. Anyone out there familiar with that and able to weigh in on whether it's truly worth searching out and trying watch?

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