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Customer reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
Doctor Who - Image of the Fendahl [DVD] [1977]
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 2 August 2014
`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.
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on 9 March 2009
Story Review only until I get my copy and see the extras. A very good story close to, but not quite a classic. Chris Boucher offers a strong script (sadly his last for the show) mixing the occult and Sci fi in a Nigle Kneale-tastic kind of way. While the menace is clearly alien it has aspects which are pure horror film- it can be harmed by salt in an early stage and a look into the eyes of another stage brings doom!
Good performances from Uncle Tom who always seems to enjoy himself with a bit of horror and Louise J, whose Leela is always at home with a bona fide monster.
A good guest cast all give horror film style perfomances e.g a worried Denis Lill and Edward Arthur, a treacherous Scott Fredericks and a wise old granny type in Daphne Heard.
There are good sets, direction and some nice occult imagery. All that really lets it down is the ultimate form of the Fendahl. More than a bit snail like and less than terrifying.
Still, it's The Police Box Show, where we can forgive a bad monster when there's lots to enjoy and especially with a double bill of the marvellous Who rep girl Wanda Ventham as an human character and then a priestesslike Fendahleen Core. True as the core she just flounces mystically but as Tom put it in "The Tom Baker Years" video;

"The more gold paint they put on Wanda Ventham, the more desirable she became. I was disturbed for hours after!"

With good reason.

Tom also gives a recipe for fruit cake that would shock even Heston Blumenthal!

Great stuff, especially if you like both Tom Baker and old horror films that are not so scary.

The Tommentary is a fun, chummy affair. Wanda Ventham does a good running joke of how her second role as the golden Fendahleen core made up for losing an iconic role to Shirley Eaton in Goldfinger. Not quite as funny as the best Tommentaries but great to hear Louise jameson and Tom interacting and to hear Tom's remarks about how "delicious" she looked as Leela.!

After image is an enjoyable making of, hampered slightly by the absences but still able to give a good sense of the making of this story. Anthony Read places it into context as the story where Robert Holmes handed over the reigns of script editing to him, while the cast offer memories. Topics focussed on include the controversial handing of a gun to a doomed character, the appearance of the monsters and the Doctor landing on top of Leela. Good stuff but a great shame not to include author Chris Boucher.

The easter egg, easy to find, has Louise recalling her involvement with the Barbie-esque Leela doll which is very funny.
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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'.

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on 8 April 2014
Image of the Fendahl is a story that despite hearing of it having a classic reputation I have never really known much about up until now.

Not only does this live up to its reputation of being one of the Tom Baker era's best but it actually provided me with an experience I thought having grown up I would never feel again - A Doctor Who story that didn't just thrill but actually unnerved me as an adult.

Image manages to turn out four episodes that while showing their age a bit, do not experience the regular problems that catch other stories out - The weakly acted minor part, chasing down corridors to fill time, the special effects "giant rat factor", etc. Everything on Fendahl seems to work like clockwork.

The cast - both regular and guest - are on fine form, especially Edward Arthur as Adam Colby and Wanda Ventham as Thea Ransome.

What separates this from a story that is just well executed to something that does give you the a bit of the creeps as well is down to Chris Boucher's taut and spooky script and George Spenton-Foster's excellent and tight direction. Large parts of the story are set late at night outside and Spenton-Foster directs these with such atmosphere and use of light that you have to hold back from speaking directly to the screen to urge the characters to get back inside. It is a master class on suspense through lighting, camera shots fog and sound effects. No actual horror is shown but the hairs stand up on your neck anyway.

In terms of downsides it really is hard to pick anything specific out as being wrong. Maybe the end of episode one, where it is not clear that the house Leela has wandered into is the Cottage and not Fetch Priory is a bit confusing... but I really am having to scrape around for any negative points.

The nearest comparable story I can think of is fan favourite "Pyramids of Mars" and I would say that Fendahl is better. Despite being produced under the "more jokey - less scary" Graham Williams, Fendahl is straight out of the Philip Hinchcliffe mould of "scary and gothic" Doctor Who.

I have watched the show for years and I can say that Image of the Fendahl is now definitely one of my favourites.
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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
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on 24 April 2013
No comments as it was for a present, but have heard no adverse comments. If I get any feedback I will alter my review.
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on 7 April 2009
Every long-standing Who fan knows the 'gory' details of how Graham Williams' tenure was all but strangled by budget-cruching inflation, by the rising ego and tantrums of the star, and by 'humour not horror' edicts laid down by BBC top brass. There was more to it than that of course, but it's still surprising how quickly the old Phillip Hinchcliffe ethos was swept aside; only the third story in, and Image Of The Fendahl represents the gothic-horror subgenre of Doctor Who clinging on for dear life before the inevitable end. (This was the last story to be script-edited by Robert Holmes, which is explanatory in itself; compare Fendahl here to the Holmes-written The Sunmakers, the very next story shown.)

It's also farewell to writer Chris Boucher before he takes up more permanent residence as script editor of Blake's 7. Sadly, of his three Who scripts this is unquestionably the weakest of the trio. Almost a point-for-point steal from Quatermass & The Pit; Boucher was reportedly unsatisfied with how the monsters were realised, but the problems run deeper than either of these issues. This is a script that positively relishes the concept of predestination but it repeatedly rams the point home in a rather undramatic and dull way; partly through lengthy exposition scenes that a lot of viewers will fidget through, but mainly because the Doctor never seems to try to stop the encroaching danger from coming to a head. Of particular note is the blind-alley subplot of the fifth planet, which does absolutely nothing except keep the Doctor out of the way until it's far too late to prevent the manifestation from happening (even Leela comments on it). The guest cast go several miles beyond mere overacting too, particularly the annoying Edward Arthur who does everything short of and and wink straight at the camera during Adam Colby's many 'are you trying to tell me' scenes.

Image Of The Fendahl isn't by any means a bad story (much worse was to come in the very same season), but really the most positive comment I can make is that it scared the pants off me when I was eight, which I suppose was all it was intended to actually do back in 1977.
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on 21 April 2009
This is an adventure starring Tom Baker and Louise Jameson as the Doctor and Leela on current Earth and falls into the arc of stories that take Doctor Who into the horror story genre.

The story itself is generally quite generous with the horror effects - don't forget that the story was broadcast well before the nine o'clock watershed and I found the fendahl creatures acceptably strange, though possibly not quite as scary as I remember (but I was about 13 when I last saw it :-)). Leela was a great companion and this story continues to let her have a role apart from the running and screaming type of companion that had characterised a large number of others.

The real scene stealer was Daphne Heard as Martha Tyler, an old crone with 'the sight' and knowledge of the old ways that would prove pivotal. Ms Heard managed a real old-time country accent with aplomb.

The only real extra worth noting was commentary from Louise Jameson, Wanda Venthan, Edward Arthur and Anthony Head and Colin Mapson. There are a few odds and sods such as a trailer and pdf files of the Radio Times listing. Apparently the picture and sound has been digitally remastered.
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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...
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on 10 May 2004
if you are a big Tom Baker fan then this 4 part-er is definitely worth the price.
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