Sunday, 9 August 2009

Doctor Who: Image of the Fendahl

Part One

“You must have been sent by Providence.”

“No, I were sent by the council to cut the verges.”

After the car crash that was The Invisible Enemy it’s a huge relief to see Chris Boucher’s name popping up, and once again he doesn’t disappoint. We start with a mysterious skull, but in spite of the obvious parallels with Quatermass and the Pit there’s a lot more going ion here than just a rehash. And fittingly for a Chris Boucher story Scott Fredericks appears, again reminding me of the excellent Kaldor City audios. K9 only gets fleeting appearances at the start and end of the story, but he’s have jarred with the story’s tone in any case.

It’s immediately noticeable how much better written the Doctor and Leela are compared to the previous story, which should come as no surprise from Leela’s creator. And the story, atmosphere and guest characters are all brilliant from the start. It’s a clever touch that Thea and Adam, the sympathetic characters amongst Fendelman’s group, are implicated by being persuaded not to tell the police about the corpse found by Adam. And I just love the Doctor’s “Good morning, ladies!” to a herd of cows. We also get a self-referential moment that’s much wittier than usual: “You’ve both escaped from somewhere, haven’t you?” “Frequently.”

Part Two

“Alas, poor skull.”

We get to see a glimpse of the Fendahleen here, and we’re given the beginnings of a backstory- it seems the fifth planet of the solar system broke up about twelve million years ago, the same age as the skull. And Thea is mysteriously claiming to have planned the whole thing. This is all excellent stuff, with a mystery developing nicely and a threat which may be a little nebulous but somehow feels defined in the way it didn’t in Horror of Fang Rock.

It’s noticeable the Doctor isn’t around much in this episode, mind.

Part Three

“Dr Fendelman, I think you have an industrial relations problem.”

Leela saves the Doctor’s life, and we get a moment that could be sexual tension between them if not for the fact that there hasn’t been any other sign of any such thing. We get another excellent episode, with even the use of sci-fi concepts to explain second sight being just about passable. Stael’s agenda becomes clear, and Scott Fredericks really is excellent here. Arguably the Quatermass and the Pit connection starts to get a bit much here, what with Mrs Tyler’s “race memory” and all, but it’s all so good I don’t really mind.

We get drip fed some more backstory; apparently the fifth planet was erased from existence, War Lord-like, by the Time Lords. And the situation is nicely summed up by Fendelman just before Stael shoots him: “I have been used! You are being used! MANKIND HAS BEEN USED!”

Part Four

“…Or, on the other hand, it could all be just a coincidence.”

A simply staggering conclusion to a simply magnificent story, with elements from folklore turning out to be essential to the plot- the use of salt here is clever, and in many ways shows how this story in some ways parallels The Dæmons, only done much better.

Oh, and the Doctor fires a gun. Again. He’s always doing that!

I love the Doctor’s explanation to Adam, which at the same time explains what’s going on but remains just ambiguous enough for the Fendahl to retain its mystery. Apparently it destroyed Mars on the way, but it’s not as though Doctor Who has ever featured any Martians!

Utterly superb. An easy 5/5, and a new entry to my top five. After a wobbly start the Graham Williams era suddenly pulls an all time great story out of the bag.

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