Image of the Fendahl

Posted in Episode by - January 03, 2017
Image of the Fendahl

Aired 29 October – 19 November 1977

With producer Philip Hinchcliffe having departed and Robert Holmes’s time as Doctor Who script editor coming to a close, so, too, is the propensity for the gothic horror genre that has served the beginning of Tom Baker’s era so well. Although ‘Image of the Fendahl’ is by no means the last story to indulge in that atmosphere and tone, it does offer one last glimpse at what Doctor Who has been in recent years as it sets out to redefine its identity once more.

In fact, ‘Image of the Fendahl’ is in somewhat of a unique position, producer Graham Williams superbly channeling his predecessor while also complying with the public and corporate decrees to tone down the violence. So although the atmosphere is as dark and pervasive as ever, there is also an increased focus on humour which Tom Baker has already proven quite adept at handling. Fortunately, though, the script does not succumb to the temptation of creating an overall lighter tone, and the general wit of the Fourth Doctor only serves to accentuate the more serious moments and the danger that the Fendahl poses wonderfully. Indeed, the death count is quite high as the Fendahl imposes its influence, Fael’s suicide after shooting Fendelman in the head even more memorable than the decomposing corpses the Fendahl leaves in its wake.

The suggestion that human DNA has been altered from the very earliest stages of evolution to eventually culminate with individuals who can bring about the restoration of the Fendahl is audacious but strangely plausible within this universe. No matter how clever the conceit, though, it’s the character development that takes centre stage here, increasingly important as the Doctor and Leela are cast into somewhat more supporting roles than is typical. Wanda Ventham gives a standout performance as she becomes increasingly affected by the Fendahl. The professional rivalry of sorts between Stael and Fendelman is also brought to life quite well by Scott Fredericks and Dennis Lill, respectively, though it’s interesting to note that all of these characters are too self-involved to actually take note of the bigger picture around them until it’s far too late. Rarely do so many supporting characters come to life so realistically in one story, but ‘Image of the Fendahl’ is all the stronger for it, bolstering the incredible atmosphere and well-chosen moments of silence and eerie incidental music.

Although the actual realization of the magisterial Fendahl Core leaves a bit to be desired, the transformation of Thea certainly does not, and the theme music accompanying the Core is superb. In fact, the story as a whole features some very nice effects and superimposition techniques that lend credence to the power of the skull from the outset. This is a tale that revels in its slower pace as it builds its atmosphere and sense of impending dread, but the payoff as events come to head at the climax is well worth the wait and creates an immensely satisfying experience overall. Even if the production perhaps goes out of its way to scream out its gothic intents with its oft-used settings and props, the ambience and chills that ‘The Image of the Fendahl’ create make it an extremely rewarding experience from beginning to end.

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