Thursday 6 February 2014

Story 94 - Image of the Fendahl

In which the TARDIS gets drawn to Earth after encountering the effects of a Sonic Time Scanner. A group of scientists have taken over Fetch Priory in the heart of the English countryside. Here, they are investigating an ancient skull, which appears to predate Humankind by millions of years. The skull was discovered in Central Africa by palaeontologist Adam Colby. He is employed by Dr Fendleman, a millionaire who made his fortune in armaments. Their colleagues are Max Stael and Dr Thea Ransome. The latter finds herself strangely drawn to the skull. Fendleman is using the Time Scanner in his experiments. Each time it is used, the skull's influence over Thea grows. The Doctor and Leela are investigating the grounds of the Priory when they become separated. The Doctor finds himself hunted by some malevolent alien force, whilst Leela follows a mysterious black-robed figure to a lonely farmhouse. The man - a villager named Ted Moss - takes a shot at her but she manages to jump clear.

The Doctor also manages to evade the creature in the woods - but a hiker is not so fortunate. Leela meets the inhabitants of the farmhouse - Jack Tyler and his grandmother Martha. Moss had come here to get a charm from the old woman, who is well known for having magical gifts. The Doctor has detected a Time Fissure in this area, and assumes her gifts are the result of growing up beside it. The hiker's body is found by Adam next morning, drained of its life force. Later, a security guard dies in the same fashion - the only mark a tiny blister on the neck. Thea faints, and the Doctor and Adam observe a number of small serpentine slug creatures covering her body momentarily. The Doctor suspects some ancient evil is at work here - one going back millions of years. He and Leela return to the TARDIS to travel to the Fifth Planet.

Whilst the Doctor and Leela are away, Stael is unmasked as leader of a local coven, which meets in the cellars of the Priory. Thea is kidnapped, and Fendleman and Adam captured. The Fifth Planet proves to be obliterated and the remains held in a time loop - the work of the Time Lords. They had tried to destroy the Fendahl - but failed. This creature is a gestalt - an entity comprising a humanoid core with 12 Fendahleen - the slug-like creatures, which act as its feeding parts. The Fendahl devours life. When the Time Lords failed to destroy it, it must have reached Earth and been overwhelmed by a volcanic eruption. Its skull is still active. Indeed, it has influenced Humankind's development over the millennia in order that it might be resurrected.
It has influenced the village coven and now they enact a ceremony to bring it back to life. As his name implies, Fendleman's family has also been manipulated to bring about these events.

Thea is transformed into the Core - a golden being with glowing eyes which can paralyse and kill. The Doctor frees Adam, but Stael kills himself rather than be turned into a Fendahleen like his fellow coven members, including Ted Moss. Jack Tyler shoots and kills one of the creatures, and the Doctor learns that Martha had filled his shotgun cartridges with rock salt - an ancient remedy against evil. More salt is used against the creatures. The Doctor rigs the Time Scanner to create an implosion, then he seizes the skull and places in it a lead-lined container. Everyone flees the Priory before it - and the Fendahl - is destroyed. The Doctor will later dump the skull into a supernova to destroy it utterly.

This four part adventure was written by Chris Boucher and broadcast between 29th October and 19th November, 1977. The supernatural trappings seem to be a bit of a throwback to the Philip Hinchcliffe era - or Barry Letts' The Daemons. Another village coven, another ancient alien influence which has been at work in Humankind's development. Another influence might be Quatermass And The Pit, with its alien interference. There is a definite Hammer Horror feel throughout.
This was the final story commissioned by Robert Holmes. When Chris Boucher was unable to complete rewrites (due to commitments on Blake's 7) the Story Editor-designate Anthony Read took over.
K9 is notable for his absence, being left in the TARDIS under repair. Boucher hadn't known until too late that it was going to be joining the TARDIS team.
The full grown Fendahleen make for quite an effective monster - courtesy of visual effects designer Colin Mapson. There is some nice spooky night-time filming in the woods around Fetch Priory - actually Mick Jagger's "Stargroves", which had featured in Pyramids of Mars.

There is a strong Only Fools And Horses connection in the guest cast. Dennis Lill (Fendleman) and Wanda Ventham (Thea) played Cassandra's parents -  Rodney Trotter's in-laws. Wanda is best known these days as Sherlock Holmes' mother - both on and off screen. She had previously appeared in The Faceless Ones and will return in Time And The Rani. Max is played by Scott Fredericks - previously Boaz in Day of the Daleks. Adam Colby is played by Edward Arthur, whom Tom Baker knew very well from working in theatre together. Jack Tyler is played by Geoffrey Hinsliff, who became a regular on Coronation Street in the 1980's, and who returns to Doctor Who in Nightmare of Eden.
The stand-out performance of this story belongs to Daphne Heard as old Martha Tyler. She's feisty and funny throughout.
Episode endings are:

  1. The Doctor suddenly finds he is unable to move, as some unseen creature approaches him through the woods...
  2. The Doctor finds the skull in the lab. He feels compelled to place his hand on it and it begins to glow. He feels his life-force being drained from his body...
  3. The Doctor, Leela and the Tylers are exploring the Priory when they are confronted by a Fendahleen. They find they cannot move...
  4. The Doctor resumes repairs on K9, resuming an earlier conversation with Leela about referring to machines as he / she / it...

Overall, not a bad story. Nice Gothic trappings - foggy woods, old mansions and dark deeds in the cellars.Some of the dialogue is a bit ropey. Worth watching for Daphne Heard's performance.
Things you might like to know:

  • The initial Fendahleen costume did not have the cowl round the mouth section. This was added late in the day as the original design looked a bit phallic.
  • During the night filming at "Stargroves", one of the crew's electrical generators caught fire.
  • The DWAS fanzine "TARDIS" reported that this story had the working title The Island of Fandor - the editor having misheard the real title.
  • Fetch Priory and the village of Fetchborough - in folklore, a "Fetch" is a ghost that appears to those about to die. It often has the appearance of the doomed person.
  • The Fendahleen are affected by salt. It's an old tradition that if you spill salt, you should throw a pinch of it over your left shoulder. (The Devil is supposed to look over your left shoulder). Salt also kills garden slugs - which the creatures are based on.
  • The Priory dog is called "Leakey". This is a reference to the scientist (and now politician) Richard Leakey. His team discovered ancient hominid fossils in Africa in the 1960's. 
  • Either that, or the poor mutt had an incontinence problem...

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