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Doctor Who: Image of the Fendahl

BBC Worldwide // Unrated // September 1, 2009
List Price: $24.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted October 2, 2009 | E-mail the Author
The Show:
Doctor:  Sodium Chloride obviously affects the conductivity, ruins the overall electrical balance and prevents localized disruption to the osmotic pressures. 
Leehla: The salt kills it.
Doctor: I just said that.
Just in time for Halloween viewing BBC Video has released one of the more atmospheric Tom Baker episodes of Doctor Who, Image of the Fendahl.  This four part adventure is a solid outing for the Doctor and his companion Leela who are both at the top of their game.  While the story does drag in parts and the monster isn't nearly as horrific looking as it should be, this is still a nice Who tale that comes recommended.

While traveling in the TARDIS, the Doctor and Leela encounter a ripple in time that could have catastrophic results for the planet where it originated.  Tracing the anomaly back to its origin, the Time Lord and his companion find themselves on Earth once again.  There they find a privately funded research lab owned and operated by Dr. Fendelman and his associates Thea Ransome, Adam Colby, and Maximilian Stael.  Fendelman has discovered a seemingly human skull in a 12-million year old lava flow, which is 8 million years before the oldest recorded humans walked the Earth. 
To solve this mystery and win a Nobel Prize (in what field??  There's not a Nobel for paleontology) the team hooks the skull up to a temporal scanner.  When it's turned on the skull begins to glow and Thea goes into a strange trance.  Not only that, but a hiker who has wandered to close to the secluded facility ends up being killed mysteriously, drained of all life.

The Doctor quickly concludes that the dead was caused by an old Time Lord legend, the Fendahl.  They were a mythical race that evolved to absorb life-energy itself.  But how could a fairy tale used to scare children really be responsible for the death, and what connection does it have to the skull?  Looking into the matter the Doctor discovers both an ancient secret of the Time Lords that has been hidden for millions of years and a terrible danger to Earth.

One of the things I like about Doctor Who is that the format allows the series to play with different types of stories.  This one is a gothic horror, similar to the films that Hammer released in the 60's.  It has an eerie feeling through out that really builds the suspense.  The creepy mansion (owned by Mick Jagger) and the small cast create a claustrophobic mood that adds a lot to the adventure.
Tom Baker is at the top of his game by this time, and he does a great job adding just the right dose of humor to the proceedings.  At one point he tells a technician to turn off a machine in three minutes and not a moment later.  He then exits the room only to reappear a few seconds later holding up four fingers and saying "Remember:  three minutes."  These little jokes ensure that the program doesn't get overly dramatic and consequently ludicrous by taking itself too seriously.
While this is a good story, there are some things that keep it from the top tier of Doctor Who serials.  It does take a bit for the story to get rolling.  There are several overly long scenes at the beginning that keep the show from really picking up the pace.  At one point in the commentary track, Tom Baker jokes that there's something missing from a scene.  "I know what it is" he says at last "me!"  He's right too.  The Doctor isn't in the first episode nearly as much as he should be. 

The rather convoluted story is a bit hard to follow at times, and the horrific monster, something that implies an H. P. Lovecraftian monstrosity, is a bit silly looking when it finally appears.  Of course Who fans are used to overlooking the less than glamorous special effects, and that skill will come in handy for this adventure.
One other positive note is that K-9 doesn't appear in this story except for a moment at the beginning when the Doctor says that he's disassembled and needs to be fixed.  I was never a huge fan of the character and so I was pleased he sat this one out.
The DVD:

This show comes with the original mono soundtrack that fits the show just fine.  The dynamic range is nothing to write home about, but the dialog is generally crisp and clear and there is no background noise, tape hiss, distortion or dropouts.  There are optional subtitles in English.

The full frame image looks good, though not outstanding.  The Restoration Team has done their magic and this show looks as good as can be expected given the age and videotape origins of the program.  The color is good though not quite as intense as I would have liked.  The fine detail is good but the show is a little on the soft side and the exterior scenes are a bit grainy.   Aside from that this looks just fine.
This disc has some great extras included, as is the standard for Doctor Who releases.  There is a commentary track with Tom Baker, Louise Jameson (Leela), Wanda Ventham (Thea), and Edward Arthur (Adam Colby).  It's a bit sparse with some long gaps and not a lot of information.  Most of the commentators don't have a lot to say, though they do talk about the other actors and what they've been up to since the show aired.
There is a Making of featurette with the writer, special effects designer and several of the actors.  Sadly Tom Baker doesn't appear in this nice overview of the production.
In addition there is a pop-up informational text option which is very informative as always.   It does give some dry statistics, like how many people viewed each episode, but there are also some interesting notes such as script changes that were made and background information on the supporting characters.  The extras are rounded off with a series of very minor deleted scenes (11 minutes), a trailer for the story, a photo gallery, and the listing from the Radio Times in .pdf format.

Final Thoughts:
This is a nice sold middle-of-the-road Doctor Who adventure.  It does drag in parts but the atmosphere and Baker's performance make up for any deficiencies in the script.   Recommended.
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