13 December 2021: not really a review of Flux added.
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IMAGE OF THE FENDAHL
"Never trust a man who wears a hat."
Buy this Dr Who DVD: US
So there's this skull, see? And it came here from this planet that... wait a minute, we can't remember. Oh yeah, that's because the Time Lords hid it. Or broke the planet up. No, they broke it up and hid it. Anyway, the skull came here by, um, astral projection. Probably. And a time scanner sort of woke it up, and it formed a beacon that - no, that's not right. It charged it. Like a battery, only it was a pentagram. And it started changing things around it to suit itself, you see, from years and years ago, and it got big and sluggy, only that's not the Fendahl, that's the Fendahleen, which is still sort of the Fendahl only not quite, and you can't look at it and survive, except sometimes. And it shaped the evolution of humankind and made people worship it and even changed their names and made them invent time scanners. Only maybe it was all a coincidence.
And that's the joy of Image Of The Fendahl. In Chris Boucher's third and sadly final story for Who, nobody really knows what's going on, not even the Doctor. Pretty cool, eh? You can form a theory, you can hazard a guess, but you can't know for sure. It makes a refreshing, X-Filey change from the usual run of things where it's all tied up neatly with a big pink bow. And the ideas in this are huge and totally audacious. Our evolution was manipulated by an evil planet-eater, right down to names and superstitions? Wicked. Go, Chris.
And as well as these fun elements, the characterisation's in the main terrific. After the execrable Invisible Enemy, Leela's thankfully got her brain back, and she and the Doctor make a great partnership. We particularly like the way she reassures him she'll protect him, and all the way through she's smart, capable and dangerous. Our kinda companion.
It's an excellent performance from the Doctor also, showing off the range of his character from passionate anger to humour but without tipping over into sickening whimsy. (Although the alas poor skull bit's a touch squirmy.)
There are some nice secondary characters, too. Jack and his grandmother are particularly good, with Mrs Tyler practically walking away with the show. Wanda Ventham seriously kicked ass in UFO, and she does a great turn here as the hapless Fendahl-in-training. Fendalman, although boringly and inevitably Germanic, is an interesting character, with his passion for science and his courage in standing up to Max contrasted with his murky background in missile design and his eagerness to avoid helping the police with their inquiries. Even Ted Moss, come to cut the verges, is enjoyably real.
Others, though, aren't so successful. Poor old Max has to struggle with some terrible lines like "It is fitting that you should be the key to my power. The chosen one!" and the virtually undeliverable "I look forward to your terror... Colby". And when he says "I shall be a God!", he looks positively goofy. We like his horrible oiliness, though.
As for Adam, we're clearly supposed to warm to him as the sharp-witted iconoclast, but we just find him an irritating little smartarse. Does he have to question every single thing everybody says? (Except, of course, the existence of the Time Lords, which he takes in his stride without turning a hair and without asking a single question.)
As for the monster, it's not bad at all. The Fendahl is remarkably effective, particularly from a distance where you can't see the painted-on eyes, and the Fendahleen could have been a lot worse, even if the little ones do bear an unfortunate resemblance to Sweep.
Image Of The Fendahl's tone's uncompromisingly and enjoyably adult: despite the action elements, there's a lot of deep thinky-type stuff here, and at the other end of the scale, Max's suicide is absolutely horrific. While the pace is remarkably stately at the beginning, it's never boring, and the leisureliness with which events unwind adds to the powerfully brooding atmosphere. And the script's a lot of fun, with particularly nice stuff for the Doctor ("I love fruitcake", "I read a lot").
There are some missteps, of course. In the general confusion, some things are left unexplained that really should have been, like just who it was that unlocked the door of the Doctor's cupboard. There are some red herrings, like the hundred hours thing, that aren't followed through on. And the implosion at the end, while spectacular, is disappointingly unconnected with the rest of the story. Overall, though, it's great stuff.
MORAL: Don't touch that dial.
AND THE M.O.T.'S EXPIRED
When the Doctor and Leela first step out of the TARDIS, the light's missing from its top.
MAKING A CLEAN BREAST OF THINGS
"I like your new dress." We just bet you do, Doctor.
MAYBE IT'S INSIDE THIS HAT
The time scanner has to be found before it destroys the entire planet. So why is the Doctor having a nap under a tree?
RED HOT HERRING
What's the story with the blister on the base of the hiker and Mitchell's skulls?
I'LL COME QUIETLY
Why do Fendalman and Stael assume the deaths are something to do with them?
EVEN THE SONIC SCREWDRIVER WON'T GET ME OUT OF THIS ONE
Considering he dug a honking great tunnel with the sonic screwdriver in The Dominators, we wouldn't have thought a weeny little wooden door would have posed the Doctor any problems. Why didn't he just cut out the lock?
TU ES LOURD
That's a risque little scene (for Who, anyway) where the Doctor falls on top of Leela, isn't it? Or is that just our filthy imaginations?
UNLESS YOU'RE BEING SACRIFICED, IN WHICH CASE MAY WE SHOW YOU THE FLOATY WHITE DRESS?
Why is it always compulsory to wear robes for these rituals?
WHEN YOU'RE HAVING FUN
When the Doctor and Leela are back in the TARDIS, Leela and the Doctor agree they're going to be late, as if normal time has been running while they're in there. Surely some mistake?
OR WE COULD TRY SOME BEER
A slug-like monster that's killed by salt? They were definitely having a laugh.
HOW MANY TIMES HAVE I TOLD YOU? VIOLENCE NEVER GETS YOU ANYWHERE
What's that the Doctor's holding as he dispatches the first Fendahleen? Could it be... a gun?
ROLL WITH IT, BABY
Isn't that a pretty effect as the changes move up Thea turning her into the Fendahl?
When the Fendahl rises from the floor, both Adam and Max have a good old stare at her. But while this is fatal for Max, somehow it doesn't affect Adam. And later when Jack and Leela are trying to shoot the Fendahl, Jack is obviously looking straight at it but recovers with no problems later. Leela, on the other hand, has her eyes closed but still manages to end up unconscious.
As the Doctor pounds onto the platform, there's a loud thud and a distinct camera wobble.
DON'T LET THE DOOR HIT YOUR SCARF ON THE WAY OUT
After he gives the gun to Max, the Doctor makes yet another superb scarf-flourishing exit.
AND A GENTLEMAN TO BOOT
That's a nice moment when after reviving her the Doctor unceremoniously drops Leela on the floor and she makes an annoyed face.
YOU KNOW, THE THING
The Doctor shoos off Mrs Tyler and Jack and tells Jack "You know what to do." What would that be, then?
CAN'T? CAN'T? THERE'S NO SUCH WORD AS CAN'T
The Doctor is adamant that the skull can't be destroyed ("How can you kill death?"). But amazingly, at the end this is no problem at all, as he plans to simply toss it into a handy supernova.
Buy this Dr Who DVD: US