Image of the Fendahl

Written by:
Chris Boucher
Directed by: George Spenton-Foster
Starring: Tom Baker
Year: 1977
Video Availability (NTSC Version): Try Amazon

A welcome return to gothic horror for the series, with night filming and a glowing skull. Edward Arthur, a cheesy 70s guest actor, struggles with Boucher's wordy script, but generally it's good stuff. Tom's trying a little harder (still flippant though) and Leela's wearing not very many clothes. The brilliance of some lines ("What sort of corpse?" "A dead one, what other sort is there?"/"You must have been sent by providence." "No, I was sent by the council to cut the birches.") conflicts with the contrived awfulness of others. ("I'm a technician not a human palaeontologist.")

Other rubbish acting comes from the wooden charms of Charlie Slater as a security guard. Though this is more than made up for by Daphne Heard, brilliant as the county stereotype. Like most Boucher scripts it can be a little self-conscious and artificial, but generally it's a cracking episode. When you get dual cliffhangers, with Leela seemingly shot and a mysterious force zooming up to Tom in the darkness then you can practically cut the tension with a knife, missus...
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The resolution to the two cliffhangers reminded me of those old 30s/40s adventure serials like Zorro and Flash Gordon. Or better still, Rocketman. One week his rockets have failed and he's a foot from death. The next his rockets are fixed and he never fell more than fifty feet above the ground.

So it is that Leela never entered the cottage after all, and Tom got his legs miraculously working, leading them both into another cracking episode. I didn't take many notes for this one as I was glued to it. Scott Fredericks is the cheesy actor this episode though. Oh, and Tom offers the skull a jelly baby when really it's a liquorice allsort. Just thought you'd like to know.
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There's a lot to be said about Leela this episode. She mentions Xoanon; when she opens a door in the opening minutes a wall wobbles; and Tom (accidentally?) brushes her right breast. One clever thing about this story is that because Fendahlman has a foreign accent you assume - as in all Who - he must be the villain. When he turns out to be just misguided it's a genuine surprise. Instead it's left to Fredericks's wide-eyed hammery to take over the baddie duties.

There's some padding here, though ingenious padding to be sure. It's another goodie, and the Geoffrey Hinsliff/Daphne Heard partnership is class.
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The Tom Baker in this story isn't first-rate Tom, but he still tries harder than in virtually all the other season 15/16 stories. What is weird is how out of character Chris Boucher writes the Doctor at times. In The Face of Evil he threatens to break a nose - here he makes use of a shotgun and gives Max a revolver to commit suicide with. It works, though.

Wanda Ventham gets daft painted-on eyes but there's no stopping the gothic (if vaguely artificial-looking) mastery of this one. Lasting just over twenty minutes it seems as if Boucher was running short on ideas, and it's the third story in a row to end with an explosion. But no matter - this is brilliant stuff. And Tom's break of the fourth wall is as bizarre as the short episode length.
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Not quite a classic, but a great story.
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