on 19 April 2009
There are many candidates for the last truly great DOCTOR WHO story in its original run. Some might say the show never had any greatness at all, others might believe that they every single episode is a masterpiece, but for me, IMAGE OF THE FENDAHL might be one of the last of the true greats, the last hiccup of gothic horror carried over from the previous year that had ended with TALONS OF WENG CHIANG, and if it isn't the last great story, then surely, at least, it's first episode, is up there amongst the greatest openers.
Mad scientists working in a spooky old priory, unseen aliens from ancient history tampering with human evolution, strange ritualistic covens and an enemy that is described as "death itself" all feature in a story that is more about its characters than any sci-fi trappings. There's an acknowledged hint of Nigel Kneale in there, it has to be said, but that really is never a bad thing.
The main cast - a small, tight little unit of great character actors - are all on tremendous form and never play the script without conviction, even when faced with a "monster" that, whilst not being truly awful, does leave something to be desired, and Martha Tyler (no relation!) is a star.
The audio commentary is fun - not least because of the pairing of Tom Baker and Louise Jameson alongside Edward Arthur and Wanda Ventham, and the production subtitles are as informative and well researched as ever. There's a fun little easter egg, some (low res) deleted scenes, a trailer from those faraway BBC days, and a pretty good "making of" documentary, amongst others.
As ever, releases from this DVD range are put together with a lot of care, and IMAGE OF THE FENDAHL retains those very high standards.
on 8 July 2009
There's something about Image of the Fendahl that still un-nerves me after all these years. There's a real feeling of foreboding and suppressed terror to it and it is often extremely atmospheric. I also feel it's one of the most 'adult' of all Who stories, it never talks down to the audience, it deals with some pretty heavy themes (a character committing suicide/devil worship) and must have given kids some nightmares on first transmission. It's also quite funny in places, but the humour doesn't detract from the drama or horror. Tom Baker is at his strangest, and the fact that the Doctor himself appears terrified of the Fendahl makes the story more gripping. There is some excellently atmospheric location filming, unusually most of it at night which adds to the spookiness, the monsters are unpleasantly grotesque (think big slugs with tentacles for mouths) and some convincing performances from a great little cast. The script may borrow a little from the ideas of Nigle Kneale, but then most Dr Who borrows from other sources anyway. For my money, Image of the Fendahl is one of the scariest and most genuinely 'gothic' stories in the series history, and gets better upon repeated viewings. Brilliant title too. Some great extras on this DVD, plus having Tom Baker on the commentary usually makes a DVD worth buying for that reason alone.
on 2 May 2009
Yet another Gothic style Baker story - this perhaps does not reach the same heights as Horror Of Fang Rock, Talons Of Weng Chiang and certainly not Pyramids Of Mars but is still easily the best of the current releases.
There's good atmosphere, effective sets and in terms of available resources some reasonable FX. Tom Baker is walking on water here with great use of balanced humour, good adlibbing and real chemistry with Louise Jameson who looks VERY fetching in this story! All the actors are well cast here actually, and the show is refreshingly free of some of the hammy acting that often afflicts supporting Who cast members.
Yes, there is a strong Quatermass & The Pit influence, as well as Peter Cushing horror pictures such as The Creeping Flesh and Horror Express in terms of ancient evil with a scientific origin.
Lots's of dark corridors, white lab coats & 70's style scientific equipment to boot, also recalling The Island Of Terror again with Cushing.
The Fendalheen creatures weren't too bad actually - the giant ones were nowhere near as poor as say the myrrkha in Warriors Of The Deep, and the smaller ones were at least as good as those creepy maggots in The Green Death.
There was one great scene early on that reminded me of the black & white Curse Of The Demon with Dana Andrews, where a character is pursued by an evil presence in fog cloaked woodlands - very atmospheric. The actual exterior location is the same as in Pyramids Of Mars, I think.
The only factors that deny 5 stars are that firstly the Fendahl have a slightly muddled back story, and I personally felt the ending was a little underwhelming. What I did like was the twists involved such as bad guys that turn out to not really be the bad guys etc. Also the DVD is a bit on the light side extras wise. The documentary is a bit short and lacking in technical detail as well as any sort of contribution from Tom B himself - still Louise Jameson does her best to compensate.+
So really 4 stars for the story itself, with one knocked off for slightly dissapointing DVD extras compared to other releases.
Oh, and look out for Coronation Street's Don Brennan!
Definitely one for people who like 'Gothic Who' as well as Quatermass and 70s TV classics like Children Of The Stones...
After three hugely popular years as the doctor in stories that were full of gothic horror, tom baker's era changed. budget cuts and pressure to reduce the onscreen horror and violence left a new producer having to change things somewhat.
But Tom Baker's fourth season in the role did contain this story, a script originally commissioned during those earlier years, and as a result it's pretty much the last attempt at gothic horror they mounted.
On present day earth [as of the year of transmission] the tardis arrives in the british countryside near a country priory where scientists are conducting expermients on an ancient skull.
With dark forces lurking and horrible things happening to a hitch hiker, the fate of the world is at stake...
But whilst this is in the style of those three successful years it's not quite as strong as the best stories from them. The doctor takes a while to get involved in things and the plot doesn't really click till the end of part three. and then it stands or falls on the realisation of some monsters that you will have to suspend your disbelief for.
But the cast all play it totally seriously, it never slips into camp humour, and the production values whilst cheap are perfectly decent. This is a long way from being the best that the show has to offer but it's a little above average and not a bad watch at all.
There's not much on the dvd extras wise:
a commentary from tom baker and louise jameson, who played his companion leela, plus wanda ventham and edward arthur who play characters in the story.
after image: a twenty five minute long documentary about the making of the story. There's not quite as much detail of the shoot as I would have liked - apart from an interesting piece about a letter they had to send to mick jagger as a result of it - but it's a very good documentary and there are some good anecdotes and interviews in it.
deleted and extended scenes contains eleven minutes worth of these. although they come from an old and poor quality tape and a result the picture quality isn't great. most arte just long versions of scenes involving characters getting from one point to another and thus the deleted bits are people walking around or in and out of buildings so you can see why they were cut. There is one good moment for supporting character ted moss, though.
trailer: is the original bbc trailer for the story from 1977, which was broadcast right after the end of the preceding story. It's short but interesting.
viewable as PDF files, which you can look at if you view the disc on a computer, are the radio times listings for the story.
there's a photo gallery of shots from the story and it's production
production information subtitles which can be displayed while watching the story and give information about it.
a trailer for the next dvd release in the range: the deadly assassin. this story is as good as the trailer makes it look, but be aware that if you've not seen it and don't know anything about the plot it will give one key fact away.
for an easter egg, watch this on a computer and move the pointer over the left side of the screen till a doctor who logo lights up. click on this to see a short segment presumably cut from the documentary, with louise jameson talking about one of the worst bits of doctor who merchandise ever. it's well worth watching.
the disc has audio navigation and english is the only language tracka dn subtitles.
so just like the story, this release as a whole isn't the best in the range, but it's not bad and it's worth getting
`Image of the Fendahl' was the last story in the legendary Gothic era of `Doctor Who'. It has all the elements of a classic of this period but I'm not at all sure that it is. 4* with reservations.
In ancient and creepy Fetch Priory, deep in the modern-day English countryside, four scientists are delving into the mysteries of the origins of humanity. They have discovered a skull which is 12 million years old, many times older than the first of our species - so who (or what) is it?
Two of the scientists are English and very posh, the other two are German and at least one of them is very mad, although this isn't obvious at first (the mad part). Dr. Fendelman (Denis Lill) has made a vast fortune from electronics and is spending it on his pet research project. He built and used a `sonic time scanner' to locate the skull in Africa and brought it back to his base where he is studying it with apparently loyal assistant Max (Scott Fredericks). But Max secretly dreams that "I shall be a god!" In fact, the real villain is elsewhere, manipulating those around it ...
The `sonic time scanner' sets off major time ripples that hit the TARDIS, bringing the Doctor and Leela (new short hair, very short new costume) down to Earth in a field of cows to investigate. If the scanner isn't stopped before (a suspiciously round) 100 hours of operation it will cause "a direct continuum implosion" and suck the Earth into nothingness. Top-quality performances from Tom Baker and Louise Jameson once again, Leela is right at home in the dangerous, haunted atmosphere of Fetch Priory, knife in hand and ready for anything. Unfortunately they are kept slightly out of the story for long periods, including a tension-sapping side trip to the asteroid belt halfway through. And the tension is also sucked out of the time-scanner implosion sub-plot when the Doctor (quite reasonably) just flicks the off-switch with lots of spare time left!
They have landed in present-day rural England (circa 1980) so (to put it mildly) it's a surprise to find all the villagers are quite so `oo-arrr'. If the story was set a century earlier, then all the Mummerset-voiced locals and talk of "the old ways", covens, rock salt and "Mother" Tyler the kindly Wise Woman might have seemed slightly less patronising. Really, rural England wasn't at all like that in the 1980s (or even the 1880s I suppose!) Being positive, let's assume the `time fissure' running through eerie Fetch Wood has not only given Mrs. Tyler her second sight but somehow `held back' the locals from the modern world. I want to be positive because Mrs. Tyler is brilliantly played by Daphne Heard and her cheery grandson Jack (Geoffrey Hinsliff) and their bonding with Leela (who's also from a world of `old religion') are the best part of the story. They are well written and superbly acted although as characters incongruously out of their time, but with nice tea and fruitcake for their guests. They also carry magic charms and a shotgun, but then so might anyone living in a cottage in Fetch Wood!
Back at the Priory, pleasant English scientists Adam (Edward Arthur) and Thea (Wanda Ventham) are rather out of the loop and out of their depth. Adam seems to be in the story mostly to give the Doctor an extra companion to talk to when Leela is off in action with the Tylers. Adam appears to have an understandable attraction to eye-catching Thea, but any romance is doomed from the start. Thea as a person barely exists in the story, she is sinking deep into alien possession from the very beginning and there is worse to come ...
Enter the Fendahl, slowly at first, stalking hikers through the darkness of the wood at night before bursting onto the scene in the final episode. It's a complex idea of a gestalt or group monster, made up of 12 `Fendahleen' and the golden Core. Thea's transformation into the Core is a superb and quite chilling variant on an ancient myth, a golden Medusa, beautiful but evil and fatal to look upon. The `Fendahleen' are unfortunately less successful. Costs meant that only one full-size monster was built and although Mrs. Tyler memorably describes her vision of it as "hungry for my soul!" it looks more hungry for her cabbages. The DVD features and commentary describe 15 minutes of laughter when the cast first encountered it. It's not that bad, but would have been more effective if made less visible...
The model `baby' Fendahleen work far better, like particularly sinister little cobras. There is a bizarre moment when Thea collapses in a golden glow and two baby Fendahleen monsters appear sitting on her body. Bizarre, because it's effectively done and a dramatic moment, which everyone then seems to forget about within five minutes, including Thea's assumed boyfriend Adam, whose next scenes with Thea are mostly spent worrying about a disconnected telephone!
If the Fendahleen aren't scary to look at, the wonderfully dark Priory sets and the extensive night filming in misty Fetch Wood create an ambience of lurking, ghostly shadows matched by few other `Doctor Who' stories. Excellent lighting, and direction by George Spenton-Foster lay on the Gothic gloom to full effect. The effects in the last episode (apart from the Fendahleen) are excellent, the ghostly golden Core showing the way this story should have gone with its monsters - less substantial and as a result more frightening.
So parts of the story are patchy and parts of the monster are disappointing, but the acting, sets and filming are excellent and `Image of the Fendahl' still generates Gothic atmosphere in plenty. I saw the original broadcast, read the novelisation, bought the VHS and now the DVD - so I keep coming back to Fetch Priory, which is very curious because I'm always vaguely underwhelmed by this tale and enjoy it less than I think I should. Perhaps I too am being manipulated by the Fendahl? Let's hope not... 4*
The DVD Special Features are few in number but very good and add to the release.
An enjoyable commentary, some nice anecdotes from Tom Baker, Louise Jameson, Edward Arthur and Wanda Ventham.
`After Image' is an excellent `making of' feature with a great set of contributors - Louise Jameson and Colin Mapson (Visual Effects) are especially interesting.
`Deleted and Extended Scenes' - from a low-quality copy of the location filming, but interesting to fans.
A fun little Easter Egg.
on 17 June 2013
Phillip Hinchcliffe was out, Graham Williams was in, and Robert Holmes retained, for a while, and with stories like this - edited by Holmes and penned by his padawan learner, Chris Boucher, you'd hardly notice the difference.
There are four scientists in this house, and by the end of the story, only one will be left alive, just one - and it's the immensely likable Adam Colby, beautifully played by Edward Arthur - I wonder what happened to him.
The acting really carries this; the neat little ensemble cast really do shoulder the tale and run with it. It's hard to see what could have gone wrong - Dennis Lill, Scott Fredericks, Wanda Ventham as the other three scientists, and Geof Hinsliff as a little man with a hat and a shotgun. The scene where he makes friends with Leela is a delight to watch - in the midst of all this sinister madness about a prehistoric skull and a hole in time, two humans born worlds and centuries apart, just click. It's lovely.
And as if it couldn't get any better, Daphne Heard (just check her out as the senile nanny in Upstairs Downstairs - I know... but do it anyway) rises head and shoulders over the rest. As Louise Jameson says in The Making Of, 'An actress who really knew how to serve a text'. No mean praise from someone of Miss Jameson's standing.
It's as if (and I hope Mr Boucher will pardon the suggestion) the writer had watched Dr Who do Dennis Wheatley in The Daemons, and decided now to do HP Lovecraft, and instead of Damaris Hayman's brilliant and birdlike Miss Hawthorne, we get Daphne Heard as the dumpy, grumpy Granny Tyler.
Give the script its due; it's hard not to look at an old woman after someone's just threatened to set a dog on her, but by gum Granny hits back with 'Ain't a dog born that'd go for me, boy. They've got more sense than most people'. It's worth buying the DVD just to see this pitch-perfect performance. 'One day John, I'm going to be getting too old for all this'.
The plot is hokum, but so well constructed and delivered that it's quite palatable, with disbelief quite happily suspended - these are normal people, they argue about dinner, ride bicycles, own (vanishing) dogs named 'Leakey', so of course the skull must be real.
The VFX aren't great; the implosion fits where it touches, and the two baby Fendahleen are quite dodgy, though the full size version looks very good, and it doesn't seem to matter that there really is only one of them, because the fourth episode runs at such a clip that it's easy to believe that there's getting on for a dozen, and in any case it's the transformed Thea that's the really scary thing by then.
The Fifth Planet thing in Episode 3 is fairly flagrant padding, but that's forgivable as the rest of the story works so well, and the omission of K-9 (because they didn't know if they were keeping him or not) is a bit obvious, but the story is a triumph.
'The corpse; it's decomposing almost as you look at it'.
Coming at the tail end of Who's horror/gothic period this story ends the period in style. Previous stories had the odd scary monster or alien but this story goes furthest into horror as its pretty much a ghost story. A ghostly skull, mad scientist, cultist local and a spooky mansion add to an atmospheric and very quotable story. Staring Tom Baker as The Doctor and Louise Jameson as the savage Leela make a wonderful central pairing as they playfully bounce off each other.
The extra's are all strong, a look back at the making of the story. A commentary which is a tad rambly featuring Tom, Louise, Wanda Ventham and Edward Arther (who puts in one of my favourite performances). Increased sound & picture quality and deleted scenes round this DVD off nicely. A must purchase for Who and Horror fans.
For me this is in the 2nd tier of Dr Who episodes. Its good, in fact very good in places, but its not up there with The Daemons, Talons of WC, or Genesis of the Daleks, hence I haven't given it 5 stars.
That said its captures Tom Baker in fine form in what was probably the last of the gothic Dr Who stories from his time. The lovely Leela is his assistant and K9 makes a brief cameo appearance as well.
The story is interesting, the special effects inevitably look a little silly/dated now but it has a magic that is missing from quite a few of the modern Dr Who stories.
Like a lot of the Tom Baker DVDs its available at a very good price now, and I'm glad I bought it. I feel a 2nd viewing coming up....
on 8 May 2009
From still the best Dr Who era. This story as I remembered it from 1977 was atmospheric with a gripping story line. And the Fendaleen eyes freaked me out back then. Even now it's still has an effect.
If only the modern series was this good again.
on 20 April 2009
So, 2Entertain are having a strong spring 2009; The peerless 'Deadly Assassin' and now this superb story from the Graham Williams produced late 1970s era both released on DVD.
Image of the Fendahl is one of the stories spoken of as 'the Gothic era Doctor Who', and with its supernatural overtones, creepy mansion and mad scientist, it certainly ticks many of the boxes for Gothic horror. Sadly, most of the superb cast were unavailable for the DVD extras but there is a great interview with Edward Arthur who played irreverent scientist Adam Colby. Although the story's central threat - a green slimy monster in true Who style - is not that well realised, the creepy atmosphere and strong performances - Baker is awesome - make this a great slice of classic Doctor Who.