Sitting at almost the halfway point in Tom Baker’s duration as The Doctor, Image Of The Fendahl was also the end to the run of ‘Gothic Horror’ (though I feel that term rather over-gorifies the era) episodes set up by Phillip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes some years previous.
It’s a fitting end as the 1977 four-parter contains all the classic elements of the era: a haunted mansion (with thanks to Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger for supplying), creepy night shots, people cut off from the world (ah, those were the days – before ‘My battery has ran out’ became the overused plot device), and an alien invasion (of sorts).
The plot is beautifully simple (though you need to watch out for some subtle shifts) – an anachronistic twelve-million-year-old human skull is being used by Professor Fendelman in his “time scanner” experiments. This activity attracts The Doctor and Leela (though K9 has to stay behind, thankfully) who soon discover some grisly deaths and an alien force at work….
This simplicity allows the production team to create atmosphere and gives the characters much time to breathe, with some terrific performances from the trouser-tighteningly gorgeous Wanda Ventham and Dennis Lill – though you’ll begin to wonder where he’s actually from as his ‘accent’ does tend to waver between Wales and Hungary. Of course, Tom Baker is irrepressible as everyone’s favourite Time Lord and Louise Jameson wears leather like only a Sevateem warrior can, but I wanted to give a special mention to Daphne Heard who contributes to the long line of ‘old woman’ characters in Doctor Who, in the form of Martha Tyler. (Whoever next Rose Jones?) Scene stealing doesn’t quite cover it and you’ll be a bit sad that she doesn’t join the The Doc in the TARDIS for some fun.
Fendahl is incredibly reminiscent of other Who stories such as The Daemons and Pyramids Of Mars but that’s no bad thing – if you do something right, you may as well get as much mileage from it as you can! Tellingly, it’s not as good as those stories; the denouement is rather sharp (and slightly disappointing) whilst the whole tale may have worked better as a three-parter but these are small niggles as overall it hits all the right Who buttons.
The entire production and performances contained therein will leave you with a tremendous sense of mood and tension – serving as an incredibly satisfying romp. It’s not a ‘classic’ like some of the previous ‘base under siege’ tales like Horror Of Fang Rock or The Seeds Of Doom, but it certainly sits proud in the Fourth Doctor’s adventures and is one to come back to again and again.
Extras For the first time in many years, I felt a tad disappointed with the special features on a Doctor Who DVD. Don’t get me wrong, what’s here is top notch (as always) but there aren’t as many extras as usual – must be that flippin’ credit crunch. Getting the ‘small’ stuff out the way first, there are the Radio Times Billings Listings for this story presented in a PDF file, Photo Gallery, original BBC1 trailer from 1977, ‘Coming Soon’ Trailer for The Deadly Assassin (huzzah!), and the always informative and increasingly amusing, Production Information Subtitles.
Also presented are a whole raft of Deleted and Extended Scenes in their original archival form. Immensely interesting, but not something I’ll go back to, unlike the superb documentary, After Image. DVD producers 2|entertain know their audience and tailor these docs appropriately. Sadly, there’s no Tom Baker but his absence is made up for in the presence of the beauty that is Louise Jameson.
Thankfully, Baker does appear on the commentary. Here, he is joined by Jameson [Leela], Wanda Ventham [Thea Ransome] and Edward Arthur [Adam Colby]. It starts off a little over-crowded and Tom seems to spend much of the first episode figuring out his guests, sizing them up and only really exclaiming, “Who’s that?!?” to much amusement when someone appears on screen. This hesitance disappears soon enough, though ,and he’s on sparkling form, remembering very little (as usual) about the actual production, choosing to lust over the women instead. In this frame of mind, the actor lists all the beautiful assistants he had who have remained glamourous – listing Jameson, Lis Sladen and Mary Tamm. Forgetting someone, Tom? *coughs* Like your ex-wife, Lalla? Well, his omission (whether deliberate or not ) certainly made me giggle.
And look our for the Leela related Easter Egg – great stuff!
Feature:Discs: Image Of The Fendahl is released on Monday April 6th in the UK.