Image of the Fendahl
Doctor Who and the Image of the Fendahl
|ISBN||0 426 20077 2|
|First Edition Cover||John Geary|
|Back cover blurb: 'The Fendahl is death,' said the Doctor. 'How do you kill death itself?' The ultra-modern technology of the Time Scanner combines with the ancient evil of Fetch Wood, and brings to life a terror that has lain hidden for twelve million years. The Doctor and Leela fight to destroy the Fendahl, a recreated menace that threatens to devour all life in the galaxy.|
"So that's how the Doctor got out..." by Tim Roll-Pickering 18/4/04
Well not quite. In the televised version of Image of the Fendahl the Doctor escapes from a locked room when someone unlocks it - but we are never told who this was and no obvious suspects are without alibis. Here for the novelisation Terrance Dicks has provided a different sequence whereby the Doctor gets out by kicking the lock in. So one piece of confusion is removed completely.
The televised story was particularly confused as it wasn't always entirely clear that even the writer of the final script and the director were entirely sure about what was intended. However the novelisations flows much more smoothly, with Dicks offering clear explanations that are hard to miss about the exact nature of the Fendahl and its relationship with the Fendahleen as well as how Grandma Tyler has gained telepathic powers. Chris Boucher's story is no doubt a very clever one but onscreen outrageous accents and confusion led to an utterly unmemorable story. Here in the printed form however Terrance Dicks has successfully rescued it, overcome a lot of the problems in the scripts, ignored some of the less effective elements of the production and offered us a tale that works well. Throughout the book there is a real sense of pervading terror as the Fendahl slowly seeks to restore itself to full power, whilst each of the characters is brought to life. Dicks remembers throughout that Leela comes from a society where many things are still explained through magic whereas many other writers would probably have forgotten this and treated her as a generic companion of the Doctor.
On the whole this book is a highly enjoyable read but exceptionally short, having only 103 pages of narrative. To return to even 122 would not have damaged the integrity of the story but does strongly hint at Target devoting minimal resources to produce the books in the period. The cover is also weak, being far too brightly lit and showing the Fendahleen drooling behind a bland shot of the Doctor with no real attempt to covince the reader that this is meant to be one scene or not. However this does not detract from what is otherwise a very good entry into the Target library. 8/10
The Last Hurrah for Gothic Horror by Andrew Feryok 30/1/08
"Max, you just don't understand. I know now what will happen! ... Max, you must listen to me. My name... the Doctor asked if my name was real. Fendleman, don't you see? Man of the Fendahl. Only for this moment have the generations of my fathers lived... I have been used. You are being used. Mankind has been used!"A lot of people like this story, but I confess it has never been in my top ten or even top twenty. It has some really good elements, but is mired by too many really awful ones as well and unfortunately these come out in the book just as they did in the original television episode. Terrance Dicks writes another script-to-book adaptation of the story neither deviating or adding much of interesting. And as with some of his other books from this period, most notably Doctor Who and the Deadly Assassin, his paragraph structure flows more like a script than a novel, with lots of short two-sentence paragraphs detailing things such as a person wandering down a corridor like the cuts in a television show. Since the book is so directly an adaptation of the original episode, it therefore has to rely heavily on the strength or weakness of the story itself and it is here that it both succeeds and fails.
- Dr. Fendleman to Stael, page 81, Chapter 9
Let me explain some of the positives first: I love the monsters in this story. The Fendahl make for a really creepy and terrifying monster and easily the most memorable monsters of the season along with the Rutan in Horror of Fang Rock. I particularly like the impressionistic painting of the Fendahl on the cover which is both gruesome and wonderful, capturing the creepy atmosphere that they exude. While many laugh at the design of Fendahleen on screen, I think they look very neat; they are ably helped by its other forms as well, including the scary glowing skull and golden "High Priestess", as Dicks describes her, who flits around like a ghastly ghoul haunting the dark wooden halls of the priory. Another one of my all-time favorite cliffhangers is in this story as well as the Doctor touches the skull for the first time and gets blasted by its energy. Both on screen and in the book it makes for a truly memorable moment to cut on. Dicks lavishes a large amount of descriptive details to the Fendahl and really brings them to life as a threat.
The atmosphere is also well done from the hiker in the woods at dark being attacked by a Fendahl to the old priory with its secret laboratories, dark wooden halls, and old cellar turned into an altar for the cult. Dicks captures all of these locations very well with the simplest of touches. Dicks also captures the humor of Dr. Colby and Jack who add some lightness to the otherwise grim proceedings.
The transformation of Thea into the "Priestess" is possibly the most compelling aspect of the story and it still remains one of the scariest moments of Doctor Who for me in any era. What makes it so scary is that the Doctor can do utterly nothing to help her. There is also the fact that no one really cares about her plight. Not that anyone could have helped her, but they could have at least comforted her and made the transformation easier to bear. Instead, Thea faces the evil head-on, completely on her own and her growing terror of what is growing inside her is felt all throughout. Only two people in the entire story even take notice of her plight. One is Stael who actually wants to accelerate the transformation, and the other is the Doctor, who, upon realizing the inevitability of the transformation, abandons her in order to tackle larger problems. She is the most tragic victim in the entire story and it adds a whole new level of horror and terror to the Fendahl that they take possibly the most innocent and helpless of the guest cast and turn her into the terrifying figure of inhuman death that she becomes.
Now for the bad things. First and foremost are the regulars. I've never seen The Invisible Enemy, but I think it is really at this point that Tom Baker's Prima Dona attitude and hatred towards Leela really began to come to the fore. His bickering with Leela at the start makes the Sixth Doctor and Peri look like the Second Doctor and Jamie! The two of them argue so much over such trivial things that you really wonder why they are friends at all. And then for Leela and the Doctor to show such trust in each other later on doesn't feel right, based on their initial bickering. Leela is portrayed as an utter child and not as an experienced warrior and traveler who has been with the Doctor on several adventures by now. I just didn't feel that the chemistry was there in this story, although things do improve at the end when the Doctor and Leela work as an ample team to defeat the Fendahl.
There are also a lot of convenient character backgrounds and events that are introduced seemingly out of the blue and explained rather lazily as being part of the Fendahl's evolutionary manipulations. For instance, Stael's association of with the cult comes completely out of left field and he goes from being an unlikable background character to the mad leader of a devil-worshipping coven that has extensive knowledge of the Fendahl and how to resurrect it. Granted, Dicks does try to smooth this out more by explaining a bit more about Stael's interest in the occult earlier in the story and also introducing the fact that he has been consulting Mrs. Tyler's predictions for some time. But even Dicks cannot help falling for Boucher's own trick, by failing to explain exactly how Stael was able to become the head of a local cult so quickly. He just appears out of the blue and everyone seems to accept him. The same goes for Dr. Fendahlman. His background as a billionaire and electronics expert is elaborated on a bit, but his sudden access and use of killer security guards is rather far-fetched, and the way in which he came to the conclusion about the skull and the presence of aliens is still ill-explained and rather too convenient.
There is also a problem of pacing in the story. It takes a ridiculously long time for the Doctor and Leela to get involved in the story. The Doctor doesn't even investigate the first murder or even reach the priory until well into the second episode and then immediately gets locked up and then wanders about aimlessly for a while. He really doesn't get significantly involved until that great cliffhanger in which he touches the skull for the first time. After that, the Doctor takes the lead in opposing the Fendahl, but even then takes a moment to dash off in the TARDIS to investigate the fifth planet. The ending is also lightning quick and the last two chapters are largely a collection of choppy two-sentence paragraphs as they describe lots of quick action happening all over the place. The ending is sudden and rather convenient and lacks a sort of finality that a story like Pyramids of Mars or even Terror of the Zygons has in which the Doctor directly confronts the villain or monster. Instead, it is left up to a very large explosion, or implosion, to resolve the story.
On the whole, not too bad of a story. Dicks writes a lightweight adaptation of a reasonably good, gothic-horror story. Season 15 was not Tom Baker's strongest season and, despite its flaws, Image of the Fendahl still comes out as one of the stronger stories of the season. But I still prefer many of the other gothic horror stories to this one. If you like this story you will definitely adore it. If you don't, it's still a quick enough read to make it painless. 6/10