Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Serial 94: Image of the Fendahl

Doctor: Tom Baker (4th Doctor)
Companion: Leela

Written by: Chris Boucher
Directed by: George Spenton-Foster

Background & Significance: After the Gothic period, the BBC removed Phillip Hinchcliffe as producer of Doctor Who and replaced him with Graham Williams, whom they told to "lighten the tone" of the overall series and to make it less violent.

Graham Williams' era ran for three years, including this season, the Key to Time season, and then the "Douglas Adams year", which we'll get to eventually. The time saw the rise in popularity and input from Tom Baker and a decline in viewership after the rampantly popular Hinchcliffe era. So... I'll cut him some slack.

"Image of the Fendahl" comes right at the start of this change, after the departure of Hinchcliffe but just before the departure of Robert Holmes as script editor. As such, this story is noticeably lighter than the very dark, grizzly content of "The Deadly Assassin", but it does have a noticeably horror-like tone to it, especially in the last episode.

As a story, I was a bit worried about this one, as I'm not sure I'll like the widely-accepted-as-lesser-quality post-Gothic Tom Baker, but it actually delivered in the end. Also of concern was the introduction of Companion Leela, whom I didn't know what to make of going into this, and coming out of it...

Well... I'm still not sure.

That said? A story that's both a haunted house horror story with roots based on a Time Lord Ghost Story? And with an unprecedented amount of sexual tension? Awesome.

So let's get to it!


Part 1:

We start with two scientists in a room contemplating a human skull. The man, Adam, calls it Eustace and says he still can't believe that this thing actually exists. The woman, Thea, debates him, but Adam says the proof is conclusive: Eustace is twelve million years old, which is impossible given that humans have only existed for four million years.

Before I go on, lemme just say that I love Dr. Adam Colby. His voice and mannerisms are really quite fun. It seems like he's so... smug and haughty. But no. That's just the way he talks. And I find him positively riveting.

Anyways. So another scientist comes in and asks for Dr. Adam's daily report and brings it to Doctor Fendleman (look at the name look at the name!). And uhhhhh Fendahlman is a slob. Honest and true. He's the guy who'll slop food down his lab coat and not pick it up. Socially awkward. I wish he went out hittin on the women in this serial. So awesome.

And did I mention he has like... Eastern European accent? Cuz he does.

Whatever the other scientist shows him, Fendleman is most pleased, and he goes to turn on the machine and do... something or another.

And here's a sequence that is in no way way too long. We basically get a bunch of things where Fendleman and his assistant turn up the power on this machine that does goodness knows what. Here are some of the highlights.

Eustace Glows

Thea and Eustace have an meeting of the minds (Ha! Pun!)

A Random No-One-Cares hiker gets paralyzed and attacked.

(Not pictured: Computer lights flicker, house lights dim, Fendleman's machine goes to full power, Thea faints.)

And that whole thing took three and a half minutes.

Finally, we go to the TARDIS, where Leela and the Doctor attempt to fix K-9 after their latest rugged adventure. The Doctor refuses to call K-9 anything buy an "It" (Good on you, Doctor! Robots have neither feelings nor souls!).

There's a small discussion of genderizing inanimate objects, like The TARDIS being a she. It's fun.

The TARDIS starts to careen out of control, but The Doctor manages to straighten them out. Unfortunately, it's heading towards Earth, completely of its own accord, and The Doctor has nothing to do with it.

The next day, it's breakfast at the scientist's complex, and Thea apologizes for her womanly fainting (I don't know if we should blame her for that, though. Womanity happens). She then blames Dr. Fendleman's assistant, Max, for not making breakfast.

And this is the way men behave when women ask them to make breakfast.

"Excuse me?"

Fendleman says the work they got done last night was astonishing and they've only just finished. And now he needs his coffee. He devotes as much attention getting his coffee as he does his work.

Look at that, ladies. That is the face of an eternally Single Man. One who knows it.

And then Colby is out with random-dog-we-never-see-again and finds the dead body from last night. He races back to the home of the scientists and loses his sh*t, telling them what he's found. Fendleman says they're to cover it up, and orders Max to both perform a postmortem on the body and bring in a security team to protect the house.

The Doctor and Leela depart the TARDIS and land in a field full of cows. Realizing the cows will probably be of no help to them, they head off towards the source of the disturbance.

Several hours later, Max informs Fendleman that the man showed no signs of physical trauma, and then points out that he must have been killed recently as "his watch was still working, the tea in his thermos was still hot, yesterday's newspaper, and fresh mud on his book"... which are... really weak signs. I love that there's a thermos that will keep coffee hot for like... eight or more hours and that Max thought to check it. That's some awesome forensics for an archaeologist...

Moving on! Max says all this is important because the body is already decomposing and rapidly (shoulda put it in one of those thermoses. Couldn'ta hurt). Fendleman tells him to dispose of the body and to tell no one, because....

"No one must know of this."

And if you take that line and the picture completely out of context? Totally different meeting. There's some weird sexual tension stuff going on in this story. That's one of those great moments. Look at Fendleman's face. There's a twinge of heartbreak there, and Max's face positively screams with lust.

For some reason, The Doctor falls asleep while walking towards their destination and awakens to hear Leela calling his name, holding some bloke at knifepoint.

The man tells The Doctor to lock up the crazies and to not encourage them, so The Doctor explains to Leela that the man was not hunting them. The man gives exposition on Fendleman (saying it's impossible for him to get rich off designing technology cuz he's not Japanese (Ha!)) and says that Fendleman digs up bodies.

And here's The Doctor's reaction to that.

The Doctor and Leela head off to find Fendleman's research and leave the man behind.

We go back to the scientists' house, where an old woman is batting on the recently-amped-up security, indignant at the fascist security teams who have been put in place. She puts on some tall trash talk (no really. I'm not joking) and then walks out, in violation of the security arrangements.

Awesome. She's like a 70 year old version of Buffy. (But not really)

And then Dr. Adam follows her example and gets pissed that he's trapped in the house and can't leave without authorization from Fendleman. He goes to track him down, but gets a "This work could be the most important thing in archaeology ever" speech from Fendleman.

While this is going on The Doctor and Leela arrive at the edge of the estate. Leela offers to go kill a guard, but The Doctor tells her that's probably not a good idea and they opt to go around the back entrance (if they even have a back entrance!)

Adam explains to Thea what Fendleman told him, saying that Fendleman's machine allows him to see into the past (I'd wonder at the quality. Is it HD? 3-D? VHS? DVD? I MUST KNOW). Adam scoffs it away as though it's poppycock, but Thea isn't quite so sure, although she almost agrees with Adam that Fendleman is a nutter.

Several hours later (because it's night now), The Doctor and Leela trounce through the forest some more, trying to find the back entrance (that's because there probably isn't one!)

Thea breaks into Fendleman's office and, compelled and entranced, she turns on the machine, setting it at maximum setting. The skull starts to glow, and then The Doctor is randomly separated from Leela, which is weird, because they were just together.

But it turns out that Leela has broken away, snuck onto the estate, and clubbed out some guards. She makes for an entrance and gets inside.

The skull superimposes over Thea's face, and then The Doctor RANDOMLY looks like this.

With the camera making towards him all creepy like... And then Leela breaks into the house and a shotgun blast goes off as she opens the door and then the camera closes in on the stock-still Doctor.

And that's how the episode ends. It's kinda weird, kinda abstract. It just kinda... happens? I don't know. It's very fast, so I don't think it works so well. The Doctor standing there is... not so ominous.

Part 2:

We come back to the something creeping through the forest towards our intrepid Doctor. Able to move his top half, he wills his feet to move, which they do and he runs away.

So.... yeah. Go him.

Oh, and Leela ducked out of the way of the shotgun blast before it blasted her. Convenient. The man with the shotgun (the one Leela held hostage earlier) goes out to see if it's her, but she gets the drop on him, wrestles the gun out of his hand, and the tables are turned.

And then another guy shows up and the tables are turned again and guy whose house it is grabs the gun from her and points it at the two of them.

Dr. Adam finds Thea and her activating of the skull (which stops transposing itself on her face when he enters). He's shocked to see her entranced and not paying attention to him. He hears a noise off somewhere else and gets the sense to turn off the machine. Then he slaps Thea (because she is a woman) and snaps her out of it.

They race to the kitchen and find a security guy unconscious on the floor, and Dr. Adam is the first to notice the expression of terror on the guy's face, the same look of terror as the dude in the woods. This one. Remember?

Thea gets a headache and faints. Dr. Adam runs to take care of her, but as he does so, The Doctor walks in like a total badass, and warns him not to touch her. He starts demanding answers, and when Dr. Adam protests, he points to Thea, who's gone all glowy. And there are things on her.

The Doctor says the creatures look like Embryo Fendahleen, creatures from his own Time Lord mythology, remnants from when "The 5th Planet" broke up (but which one's the Fifth Planet? Are we talking about the asteroid belt?).

He also says they've been growing probably for the past 12 million years (which is exactly the age of... oh what was it...?) and because of that if he doesn't stop the infestation soon, everyone on the planet (except one) will die.

Fendleman enters, and The Doctor starts throwing his weight around, demanding things get done, but soon gets a gun in his face and locked in a broom closet. He attempts to sonic open the door, but it fails.

And then there's some really boring bits where Leela talks to the guy who cornered her (the grandson of the batty old Buffy woman) and The Doctor is freed by random guy (and it's NEVER explained) and Dr. Adam and Thea discover the phone lines are cut.

Oh, and Thea thinks there's a grand master plan that is going on. And that she planned it.

There's another scene with Fendleman and Thea and Dr. Adam where they yell at Fendleman. That's probably a bad idea. Here's why.

Never argue with a Single Man with a gun. That's a bad idea. No really. Look at him.

It is with this gun in hand that he tells them that he thinks the skull in extra-terrestrial in origin and that this skull gave them a different path down evolution or something. Dr. Adam thinks he's barking, but Fendleman assures him he is sane because he sees into the past, to the moment of death for this alien traveler.

And it took in a lot of energy when it died, meaning it'll have to have stored that energy somewhere, which Fendleman wants to harness and release. Whatever. We know he's serious, because he puts on his serious face.

And then he confesses to Dr. Adam, and I quote "Stael and I have been doing experiments in secret for sometime."

And then Dr. Adam does the most ridiculous face I've ever seen. I'd show you, but it's like... ten seconds long. Seriously. It's AMAZING. He's so indignant at them "doing experiments" without him. Hahaha. Remove the talk about science from this scene and it gets hilarious.

The Doctor, having escaped randomly, overhears Dr. Max talking with the shotgun-happy old man about the number for the eventual ritual needing to be thirteen, not twelve as Max wants.

And then Fendleman shows Dr. Adam what he found.

Fendleman says on top of the skull is a pentagram, saying that this proves why mysticism has pentagram imagery out the wazoo at all times (sure okay).

And then Leela knocks a security guard unconscious as she breaks into the mansion.

And then Thea tries to free The Doctor, looking for help, but doesn't find him, but instead finds the pentagram and then gets her trancey migraine and holds her head again. Sigh. Boring.

Then Max shows up and starts laughing maniacally (okay, so he doesn't, but he comes close) at the meddling fools whom it's too late for. Thea gets really impatient and tries to get past him.

But I see this, and all I can think of her saying is "I'm keeping it."

See? This. This right here is all the proof in the world that scientists don't work in a soap opera context.

He says she's the key to his power (the baby! His baby (Just kidding, there's no baby. But it'd be cooler if that was the thing)) And then, because we're in a world of scientists with chemicals, he chloroforms her.

And then we get to the episode's ending.

It's a Tom Baker clip, just him, and for guy who's not crazy into Tom Baker [yet], I loved this. It's this sort of scene that I think Tom Baker does really well, or at least, these are the bits that resonate with me.

So yeah. This. Episode end. Good stuff.

Part 3:

We come back to The Doctor still screaming after touching the glowing skull (yes. That happened in the youtube in case you missed it. It was awesome). Leela bursts in and knocks him away.

The Doctor re-composes himself, saying that the skull is the skull of a Fendahl, a creature of living death that feeds on life to survive. This skull itself is indestructible and will suck out a soul and resurrect a proper Fendahl and obliterate the Earth given a hundred hours of scanner's bombardment.

And then The Doctor and Leela head off to see Mrs. Tyler, the old Buffy woman. They arrive and The Doctor sets the grandson to work, telling him to make tea and find them a fruitcake (because The Doctor loves fruitcake) while they re-awaken the old woman.

Unfortunately, she's dead. No, just kidding. She awakens when he gives her a bad fruitcake recipe. The Old Buffy Woman batters on about what she's seen and such, with all of her premonitions, The Doctor realizes, being a direct result of growing up on the time fissure around them.

And then they leave for the TARDIS.

Scientist Soap Opera.

While all of this is going on, Fendleman shows Dr. Adam the computer, saying it's run for almost ninety nine hours so far. There's a whole lot more sexual tension. And then they turn on the scanner some more.

Down in the basement, Max drugs Thea and talks about how she is the chosen vessel through which he will wield inordinate amounts of power, and he will be a God.

The jealous rival come to seek revenge.

Max heads upstairs and finds Dr. Adam and Fendleman upstairs. He whips out a gun and points it at them, demanding they turn off the scanner because he's not ready yet. Max then leads them out at gunpoint, making them head into the basement.

"Don't do this, Max!"

But he does. And it's so awesome I'm youtubing it. Remember all that stuff I'm talking about with the sexual tension? Don't believe me? Just watch this. It'll change your mind.

What was THAT. Seriously. How can you... That's amazing. I wish I could write that level of sexual tension.

Okay... So now that that's over, I guess I should talk about this bit.

The Doctor and Leela leave Old Woman Buffy's house and go to the TARDIS, in order to search for the Fifth Planet. And it's a blatant waste of time. Seriously. They get there, only to find that there's nothing there to find. Hilarious. And the whole thing takes all of today and most of tomorrow. You're in a time machine, Doctor! Just leave and then come back in the same instant!

While this is going on, there's preparations, like Old Woman Buffy loading up salt shells in her shotgun and the skull getting placed on a sacrificial table in the basement.

This leads to the ritual starting and the Skull getting the last bits of juice it needs from the scanner. Fendleman figures it out and starts losing his sh*t in his attempt to make them stop, realizing that he, man of the Fendahl, is just a pawn in the larger plan of this Fendahl.

And because of this outburst, Max executes Fendleman.

Max flips a few switches and declares the way to power open, and as he does this, the unconscious Thea starts to stir and the pentagram starts to glow.

The Doctor and Leela break back into the mansion, only to find the Old Woman Buffy and her grandson already inside. The Doctor tells them to get moving, but they find themselves unable to move their legs.

Because a fully grown Fendahleen is coming right towards them. And its psychokinetic energy has paralyzed them.

Two things about this ending. 1) It's an awesome ending. 2) The Fendahleen looks completely ridiculous and awesome at the same time. I love it.

Part 4:

With everyone paralyzed, The Doctor leaps into action, grabbing the rifle and aiming it at the Fendahleen. Like a true man, he takes the beast down, strings it up, drains it, and has Leela cook it for his supper.

No. But he does shoot it.

The Fendhaleen goes down and The Doctor makes them all run from it, realizing as they go that the rock salt is what slowed the Fendahleen down.

Meanwhiles, the ritual has started, and Thea is tied to the pentagram, when, all of a sudden, she starts to change, turning into...

The Fendahl

And uhhhh... You might think she looks goofy, but ummm... Not so much. I thought she was silly, and then she started doing her thing and she just got... shiveringly good.

The Fendahl points at one of the twelve dudes sitting around the Pentagram. He screams, and collapses, transformed into a Fendahleen.

And he's not the only one. All around the circle, the Fendahl starts turning the men into Fendahleen. Max starts to lose it, realizing that what he's done is not what he thought he had to do.

And then the Fendahl goes from blank face to TERRIFYING SMILE.

And it's chilling. I really believe that. The Fendahl has this quality that just makes me shiver violently. It's just so... horror. Gothic horror, specifically. Chills you to the bone.

Don't believe me?

After escaping from the Fendahleen, The Doctor and Leela leave Old Woman Buffy and her grandson behind and head down to the basement to try and stop the Fendahleen. And here's our final youtube, where we see what happens when they go downstairs. Check out the Fendahl. She's creepy!

The Doctor examines the shot Fendahleen and then turns off the Time Scanner, proclaiming he's saved the planet.
Because he shot one Fendahleen down (like a badass) and Stael shot himself, The Doctor realizes that the Fendahl will be unable absorb all the Fendahleen it's creating in its attempts to become ULTRA GIANT MECHA-FENDAHL (we all knew that's where that's where this was going. Let's not pretend). He plots to head down into the cellar with Leela in order to steal the skull.

He sends the grandson and Leela out to keep watch while Old Woman Buffy grabs as much salt as she can find and then turns to a conversation with Dr. Adam about what The Fendahl is, as a creature.

It's a rather interesting conversation, with really great lines and talk of the Time Lords hiding the knowledge of the Fendahl because it was just too terrifying. It's the sort of thing that makes me wish they brought back the Fendahl just to explore the explosive power of it as a nemesis for The Doctor.

Then again, The Doctor says that a Fendahl landing on Earth is perhaps responsible for mankind's darker side, which... I'm not so much okay with. It's one of those weird "We have to explain the way humans are because we can" things that I'm not so much a fan of. People are the way they are. You don't have to justify humanity's darkness.

Sorry. That's my opinion. It just seems ham-handed, is all.

In the hallway, the Fendahl and the Fendahleen appear in front of Leela and the grandson. He makes the mistake of looking at them and gets paralyzed. Leela karate chops him unconscious, takes his gun, closes her eyes, and fires blindly.

The Doctor sends Dr. Adam away to help Old Woman Buffy with the salt and runs to find Leela, who managed to kill another of the Fendahleen.

They regroup in the scanner room, and The Doctor lays out his plans: He and Leela will go down to the cellar to steal the skull while Dr. Adam turns on the scanner to confuse the Fendahl. Then, after two minutes, he'll turn off the scanner and they'll all make a run for it, because three minutes later.... Kablooey.

Remember. Three minutes.

They reach the cellar and see a Fendahleen. They throw salt at it (look, no, really. Look at the salt beaker) and then move down amidst the confusion towards the skull.

Using a conveniently placed glove, The Doctor grabs the skull, drops it in the lead lined box he brought with him, and makes for the exit with Leela just as Dr. Adam turns off the scanner and runs the hell out of there.

They come across the Fendahl, who's all fadey and not quite there. They move past her without looking just as the whole building starts to collapse.

The Fendahl, unable to escape and severely weakened, looks around at her fallen attempt at life, and gets all sad.

The Doctor and Leela bolt, making for the forest, counting down the last three minutes until inevitable explosion. And then....

Kaboom. And then the film runs backwards for some reason, but... I guess that's just to milk all the big explosion time.

The Doctor leaves The Old Woman Buffy, the grandson, and Dr. Adam at the old woman's place and heads back to the TARDIS with Leela, where they'll travel to the nearest supernova and drop the skull in to destroy it.

He then calls K-9 a him and Leela laughs at him, pointing out that K-9 isn't an it. The Doctor scoffs at her, saying he does what he wants (and no woman will tell him otherwise).

And K-9 nods in agreement.

Doctor Thoughts: I think, more than anything, this really helped hammer home some of the issues I've had with Tom Baker, and went a long way to fixing them.

You can really see him start to expand the role into that comedy he always wanted to do, and moments all throughout this standout as just supremely awesome.

Overall, the story's good. Padded a lot, but good, considering half the story is a Scientist Soap Opera. So much sexual tension, though. Awesome sexual tension. I was amazed. And with guns. And then it got all horrory.

Seriously, the Fendahl leaves me so unsettled and disturbed you don't even know. That's good. Not much can do that.

And Leela... Yeah. I need to see more of her. I like her, but I don't think she's really for me. I'm a bigger fan of the Zoes and the Sarah Janes and the Aces, and while I think that Leela is a very interesting companion, she's not exactly what I'm looking for, but that doesn't make her bad. Far from it. She's good, but not... not for me, I think. Not for me.

And a scientist soap opera. What more could you want?

Next time!: 3rd Doctor! The Fancy Brigadier! Evil Oil Companies! And Hippies. Lots of Hippies. No. Really. Many many Hippies. Hippies in the first two minutes. And then they don't go away (They never go away! They're hippies!) Oh. And Green Worms! Those too! "The Green Death"! Coming Next Tuesday.

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