Timestamp #94: Image of the Fendahl

Doctor Who: Image of the Fendahl
(4 episodes, s15e09-e12, 1977)

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In science fiction, nothing good ever happens in a fog bank.

Two intimate scientists, Thea Ransome and Adam Colby, examine a skull they have christened Eustace. Elsewhere in the lab, Maximillian Stael and Doctor Fendelman conduct an experiment which, unbeknownst to them, spark a strange possessive effect from Eustace over Thea. It’s no coincidence that a hiker walking through the woods gets killed in the fog by something spooky.

On the TARDIS, the Doctor has torn K9 apart to fix some sort of damage. How the pooch was damaged is a mystery probably left to the expanded universe novels. Regardless, the TARDIS takes a dive as it encounters a Relative Continuum Displacement Zone – a hole in time for those of us who don’t speak Time Lord – and the Doctor tracks it to a time scanner on Earth.

I’m a big fan of the changes to Leela: Her wardrobe and hairstyle brighten her up overall, including bringing out her vibrant blue eyes. Louise Jameson has a lot wider range now as well. Was changing her eye color that significant of a game changer?

Adam finds the hiker’s corpse the next morning, and Fendelman suggests they cover it up to avoid the media and the police interrupting their work. He also orders an armed lockdown of the site. Just in time, the TARDIS arrives at the site of time scanner and start their search. They encounter a man, Ted Moss, who tells them about the strange happenings at the local Priory.

Stael conducts an autopsy of the hiker, but cannot determine the cause of death. The peculiar things is that the corpse is already decomposing, as though it has been sped up through time. Through an altercation between local cook and witch Martha Tyler (to my knowledge, no relation to a certain future companion or any superheroes) and a guard named Mitchell, Thea and Adam learn of the lockdown. Adam confronts Fendelman and learns of the professor’s experiments, which Adam later dismisses as absurd. Thea is not convinced, and she investigates on her own. When Thea activates the experiment, the skull effect starts again. Leela is drawn to the experiment through her sixth sense, and is attacked by Moss. The Doctor encounters the mysterious creature and a momentary paralysis before running away.

The confrontation between Leela and Moss is broken up by Jack Tyler, grandson of Martha. After Moss leaves, Jack talks to Leela about his grandmother, the old religion, and the “nasty” events in the area. Martha returns home, terrified that something “hungry for her soul” was pursuing her. Adam stops Thea’s use of the time scanner, but not before the creature kills the guard Mitchell. Thea collapses into a ball of glowing light and tentacles/serpents called an Embryo Fendahleen as the Doctor arrives. Doctor Fendelman bullies his colleagues into silence and has the Doctor locked away on suspicion of murder, but the Time Lord is quickly freed by a mysterious benefactor.

Fendelman theorizes that the skull is extraterrestrial in origin, and has located the moment of death in the timeline. That moment is at the focal point of a huge energy burst. An x-ray of the skull reveals a pentagram in the bone structure, which may be part of a neural capacitor that could signal the presence of intelligent life on the planet. Thea returns to the time scanner and sees the x-ray. Stael arrives and reveals that he is the leader of a local coven, and that Thea is the key to his power. She is his chosen one.

Then he chloroforms her.

Pro tip: Not an effective way to win friends and influence people.

The Doctor finds the lab and the skull, and the latter starts to glow. A moth to the flame, he is drawn to it, and of course it burns him. He cannot release his grip on Eustace, but Leela arrives and (much to her delight) saves him. The Doctor identifies the skull as the indestructible remnants of a Fendahl. Leela takes him to Martha, whom the Doctor rouses from her shocked stupor. Meanwhile, Stael ambushes Adam and Fendelman at gunpoint in the lab, stopping their progress with the scanner. The pair are confined to the basement near Thea, who is bound on the floor inside a pentagram.

The Doctor and Leela use the TARDIS to follow the time fissure to the Fendahl’s home planet. The Doctor discovers that the planet (supposedly a missing fifth in our solar system) has been destroyed (resulting in the asteroid belt) and placed in a time loop to prevent knowledge of the Fendahl from escaping. Apparently, that kind of madness can only be achieved by a Time Lord. You know, the non-interfering Time Lords who punish their own kind for interfering in things. They were too late: The Fendahl had already reached Earth by that point and affected human evolution.

Time Lords, man. Time Lords.

Back on Earth, Stael assembles his cult and Fendelman connects the dots: The Fendahl has used humanity in the past to regain life, and this ceremony will do the same. He begs the cultists to stop, but only earns a bullet to the head for his trouble. The Doctor  and Leela return to the Priory, meeting up with the Tylers. As they attempt to leave, they are paralyzed, and a Fendahleen is bearing down on them. The Fendahleen meets its end at the muzzle of Jack’s gun, some rock salt, and the hand of the Doctor.

I guess it was the only way, but it’s further evidence that the Doctor isn’t as adverse to guns as I hear in fandom.

The cult continues their ceremony, and the Fendahl is manifested into Thea’s body. The Fendahl transforms the cult members into Fendahleen and paralyzes Stael. The Doctor and Leela free Adam, but they cannot free Stael because of the Fendahl’s influence. Stael asks for his gun, which uses to commit suicide. The group determines that salt kills the Fendahleen, and (conveniently) the Fendahl needs thirteen Fendahleen to reach full power. The Doctor rigs the scanner to destroy the Priory, and then he and Leela retrieve the skull to remove the Fendahl’s power base. The Priory explodes, and the powerless Fendahl is destroyed.

Back aboard the TARDIS, Leela has (sadly) returned to her previous costume, but (thankfully) it appears to be better constructed and more vibrant. After a comedic bonding interlude between K9 and the Doctor, they set course for a supernova to destroy the skull.

Okay, let’s cover the positive first. Louise Jameson was better in this story than she had been in the past.

Now, the negatives.

This story is a mess. There are a lot of great elements, but it felt spotty, chaotic, and not fully fleshed out. It’s also one of the darker stories in a while, and the first I can recall with this level of gun violence (headshots and suicides). I think that the entire venture suffered from the rapid-fire attempt to coalesce the various threads into a cohesive tapestry, and I spent a great portion of this serial bouncing between boredom, confusion, and trying to make the notes for this write-up make sense so future me didn’t have to rewatch the serial to connect the dots.

Overall, I’m not a fan of this tale.

 

Rating: 2/5 – “Mm? What’s that, my boy?”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Sun Makers

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

 

 

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Timestamp #93: The Invisible Enemy

Doctor Who: The Invisible Enemy
(4 episodes, s15e05-e08, 1977)

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If only that bored shuttle pilot had checked his Facebook feed instead.

While flying through an asteroid field, the duty pilot excises his boredom by shifting control to manual. Per the status quo on Doctor Who, things go awry as the ship is drawn into an anomaly and struck by an energy field.  The crew regains control and heads to Titan, where they take up arms and slaughter the shuttle’s relief team. The murderous crew has been infected by something, and they set their sights on the Lowe, the station commander. The commander discovers what has happened and sends a distress call before abandoning the station for the surface of Titan.

On the TARDIS, it’s moving day as the Doctor and Leela reoccupy the (improved) main console room. The Doctor complains about the color – He’s never happy with the décor, is he? – before the TARDIS stops in deep space near Titan. The Doctor intercepts the distress call and sets a course to help. They pass through the same anomaly and the Doctor is struck by the energy field just as Leela’s sixth sense kicks into overdrive. The Doctor collapses, the TARDIS arrives on the station, and the energy field attempts to infect Leela, but fails. The Doctor wakes up, but is severely disoriented, and Leela prevents him from leaving the TARDIS.

The station commander returns and kills one of the infected crew before running for cover. The surviving invaders lock him in the room and cut off the air supply. The Doctor and Leela leave the TARDIS and explore the station, and as the Doctor encounters the invaders, they mention that he is the nucleus of their new hive, and that pushes him into a possessed state. He and one of the invaders start searching for Leela.

Leela finds Lowe and helps him recover from his hypothermia in the station mess. The Doctor locates them, and one of the invaders rushes in to kill Leela. The commander tries to stop him and fails, but Leela kills him with her knife. As she rushes out, the dying invader infects Lowe. Meanwhile, Leela is nearly ambushed by the Doctor, but the Doctor forces the infection to recede before inducing a healing coma (just like he did three times before).

Leela find Lowe, who dons a set of goggles to disguise his infection and trick Leela into trusting him, and asks for help. The Doctor provides the coordinates for a medical center, and Leela (somehow) pilots the TARDIS there with the Doctor and the commander. The medical team there checks the Doctor in, gets vital information from Leela, and sends the commander to the optometrist.

I did enjoy the funny bit about Gallifrey being in Ireland.

The specialist diagnosing the Doctor, Professor Marius, only gets interested in the case when his robotic assistant reveals that the Doctor is an alien.

Welcome to the party, K9!

The diagnostic team discover the virus and the Doctor wakes up to discuss the case. They determine that the virus feeds on intellectual activity, and that Leela is immune because she operates on instinct and intuition. Meanwhile, in the optical department, Lowe infects his doctor and the pair start spreading the virus around the medical station. Leela tracks down the Doctor, but she is warned off by K9. Marius arrives and tells K9 (whom Marius constructed to replace the dog he left behind on Earth) that Leela is a friend. They examine Leela for an immunity factor, but none is present. Marius begins to operate on the Doctor’s brain, which prompts the virus to crash a shuttle into the medical center. The crash awakens the Doctor and the infected crew assault the operating theater. Marius sends K9 into battle as the Doctor asks him to clone both of the travelers. The clones are effectively photocopies, with all of the experiences and knowledge of the host, that will degrade and expire in short order. The Doctor-clone uses technology from the TARDIS to miniaturize the clones and send them into the Doctor’s body.

“Pleasant journey, Doctor,” says Marius. More like fantastic voyage, right?

The Doctor’s innerspace is a blue-screen wonderland. As they cloned travelers explore, Leela and K9 barricade the operating theater. They face off against the invaders, but K9 is infected. K9 tries to kill Leela, but she dodges and is only stunned, and the cyber-dog reboots himself to eradicate the virus. The invaders storm the operating theater, killing a medic and infecting Marius. A nurse escapes as Marius explains the situation to Lowe and finds K9 and Leela. Meanwhile, Lowe gets cloned and injected into the Doctor.

The Doctor-clone locates the virus nucleus, which tells its story as the Leela-clone eliminates the Lowe-clone. The nucleus stalls for time and, as the clones degrade, it escapes through a tear duct and is enlarged by Marius. It now has control over the macro-world, but allows the Doctor to heal.

Leela disguises herself as a nurse and rescues the Doctor as the infected escort the nucleus to Titan. They take refuge in the TARDIS, which is unable to travel since the dimensional stabilizer is still in the operating theater. K9 goes out and stuns Marius, and the whole group heads off for diagnosis. Leela left some kind of antibody in the Doctor, and he isolates it to create a cure for Marius. The medical team starts mass-producing the cure.

With the cure in hand, the Doctor, Leela, and K9 head for Titan. The infected are developing a resistance to the blaster weapons, and K9’s energy levels are low. The team sneaks in, with K9 drawing the infected away as the Doctor confronts Lowe at the hatching chamber. K9 uses the last of his energy to shoot Lowe, and the infected man falls into the swarm. Having lost the antidote in the battle, the Doctor rigs the fuel tanks to explode as Leela carts K9 back to the TARDIS. The Doctor runs back to the TARDIS, nearly forgetting Leela and K9 before collecting them and escaping just before the base explodes.

It’s really odd to see the Doctor celebrating so much about the destruction.

As the travelers wrap up their loose ends at the medical station, Marius tells them that he is headed back to Earth and that they should take K9. The dog joins the team, and the TARDIS whisks them away.

I was entertained for the most part by this one. It moved pretty quickly, and played with some wacky scientific ideas and the ever-popular epidemic tropes. Plus, K9.

 

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Image of the Fendahl

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

 

 

 

Timestamp #92: Horror of Fang Rock

Doctor Who: Horror of Fang Rock
(4 episodes, s15e01-e04, 1977)

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A delightfully spooky and claustrophobic beginning to the 15th season.

A bright light streaks across the night sky near a lighthouse at Fang Rock, splashing down in the ocean below. The lighthouse crew – which seems really well-constructed and defined for Doctor Who cannon fodder (spoiler!) – dismisses it. The object, however, does not dismiss them. As an unnatural fog rolls in, the TARDIS materializes near the lighthouse and the lighthouse’s light goes out.

Leela is perturbed that they won’t be touring Brighton because the TARDIS decided on scenic Fang Rock instead. The Doctor, unconcerned about the vacation plans, is interested in how the working lighthouse is dark, and decides to investigate and ask for directions. Leela’s sixth sense kicks in again, and one of the keepers, Ben, is attacked by a creature in the generator room.

The travelers arrive at the lighthouse and introduce themselves before helping to fix the generator. The Doctor looks for Ben while Leela stays with Vince, the youngest of the crew. The light is restored without any assistance from the Doctor, and he discovers Ben’s corpse. The Doctor tells Vince that it was electrocution, but further investigation yields strange clues. The eldest keeper, Reuben, confronts the travelers, presuming that they may be spies for a foreign power.

Reuben tends to Ben’s corpse, Leela goes to hunt the creature, and the Doctor learns about the light in the sky from Vince. Ben’s body somehow moves to the rocks outside, but the crew can’t worry about that as a fast moving sailboat emerges from the thickening fog and runs aground. The Doctor, Reuben, and Vince search for survivors as Leela reluctantly keeps watch over the lighthouse. Leela spots a jellyfish-like creature on the rocks as the crew returns with the survivors: Colonel James Skinsale, a member of Parliament; the yacht’s owner, Lord Palmerdale; and his highly strung secretary Adelaide Lessage. The ship’s coxswain, Harker, arrives later, bearing Ben’s corpse.

Reuben assumes that the Beast of Fang Rock, a local superstition, has returned, adding further atmosphere to this already spooky and ethereal story.

As the Doctor and Leela investigate the rocky shoreline, we find out that Skinsale provided secret information to Palmerdale, which the latter hoped to sell on the London Stock Exchange for a large profit. That’s why they were traveling so fast under such weather conditions. The clues lead the Doctor to conclude that the creature is an alien invader – that the way this show works – and that it is creating the fog as a shield while it prepares to attack. Everyone else on the rocky island, as expected, scoffs in disbelief.

Reuben goes to stoke the boiler as Leela’s sixth sense flares up again. Reuben is attacked and screams, prompting the Doctor and Leela to investigate. Harker follows shorty thereafter and encounters a zombie-like Reuben – which he dismisses as a cranky, tired old man – just before the Doctor and Leela return. Harker and Leela secure the boiler room access door as the Doctor talks with Vince. Vince is being targeted by Palmerdale as an easy mark who will transmit his information to London, and the man and his money duck out onto the observation deck as the Doctor arrives. As Vince and the Doctor converse, the creature scales the exterior of the lighthouse and kills Lord Palmerdale. Meanwhile, Skinsale, who overheard Palmerdale’s offer to Vince, destroys the telegraph to prevent outgoing transmissions.

In his quarters, Reuben is role-playing as a flashlight. Yeah, he’s definitely possessed.

The Doctor hears of Palmerdale’s death and retrieves the body with Skinsale and Harker. The character of Adelaide is reduced from redshirt to apoplectic redshirt. I assume that she’s not a damsel in distress only because the antagonists aren’t taking prisoners. Harker remains in the boiler room to secure the door, but his day is ended as Reuben arrives and kills him with glee. With no one to tend the boiler, the pressure goes too low, and the Doctor and Leela respond only to discover Harker’s body. In a twist, they also find Reuben’s body, and he’s been dead for hours. The aliens are learning about their prey by assuming their form, similar to lycanthropy. The Doctor realizes that in securing the lighthouse, he has locked the danger inside with them all.

Because it can, the Reuben-alien kills Vince, and the Doctor and Leela strategize on how to defeat it. They find a distress beacon relay attached to the generator, and Leela moves everyone to the lamp room as the Doctor searches for the signal modulator. Before the survivors can leave the telegraph room, the Reuben-alien corners them. It kills Adelaide and evades Leela’s attacks. The Doctor sends Leela and Skinsale to the lamp room as he confronts the alien, which he finally recognizes as a Rutan, the foe of the Sontarans.

The Rutan and the Doctor discuss the situation: The Rutan are looking for a fall-back position as they strategically withdraw from the Sontaran fronts, and Earth is prime real estate. Never mind that the Sontarans will bombard Earth to remove the Rutans because the Rutan mothership is nearly here.

The Doctor lures the Rutan to the lamp room where Leela and Skinsale spring a flare-based trap. The fire and heat harm the alien. The Rutan retreats, and the remaining survivors devise a plan to transform the lighthouse into a laser to destroy the mothership.

A Death Star lighthouse? I can dig it.

The Doctor and Skinsale make their way downstairs to retrieve some convenient diamonds from Palmerdale’s corpse while Leela defends the lamp room. Skinsale snags the diamonds and the Doctor selects one, discarding the rest. Skinsale goes after them, and his greed kills him as the Rutan attacks. The Doctor ascends the staircase and Leela fires her weapon, killing the Rutan. The Doctor rigs the laser as the mothership approaches. They arm it and evacuate the lighthouse, running for cover. Leela glances at the blast, which temporarily blinds her, but it disperses, changing her eye color in the process. Which, behind the scenes, is a good thing for actress Louise Jameson and for fans of the hunter-companion.

They depart, leaving behind the corpses of everyone they met on this adventure, as the Doctor recites Flannan Isle by Wilfrid Gibson, another tale of missing lighthouse keepers.

As I mentioned earlier, this was a great exercise in being spooky. Between the foggy and small, isolated island to the claustrophobic lighthouse itself, this story reveled in its unnerving vibe. I loved how well the keepers were developed as secondary characters, but I found the shipwreck survivors to be nothing more than two-dimensional props.

 

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Invisible Enemy

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

 

 

Timestamp: Fourteenth Series Summary

Doctor Who: Fourteenth Series Summary

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The Fourteenth Series had a hello, a goodbye, and an experiment. It also was par for the course for the Timestamps Project.

The first two episodes were a farewell to a loved companion. Sarah Jane Smith was smart and strong, and was very capable. She also had fantastic chemistry with the Fourth Doctor. Her departure was simultaneously sad and humorous – “He blew it!” – but it was a long time coming for the franchise. Elisabeth Sladen’s run was the longest to this point in the franchise, and as amazing as she was, it was time for a change.

The final three episodes were a welcome for Leela, a character who is still settling for me. In some ways, she’s very much like Sarah Jane in her strength and inqusitive nature. She’s also impulsive and quick on the draw, often with fatal results. I’m looking forward to how she evolves over the next season.

The low point, relatively speaking, is the story in the middle: The Deadly Assassin. It was the first (and only) story in the classic series to feature the Doctor on a solo mission, and while it was a story rich in franchise mythology, I didn’t find it to be particularly strong. Additionally, it made clear that the Doctor is too strong a presence to not be balanced by a companion. Or, in years past, companions. The Doctor is a god in a machine, a literal deus ex machina, and his companions humanize him enough to be a relatable and loveable hero.

The reasons that I called this series par for the course of the Timestamps Project is because its score is the average of all of the series to date. That tells me that the franchise is in its stride, but that it also has plenty of room to grow. I hope that it continues to do so.

By the numbers, this series’s performance is exactly the same as the Thirteenth: On par with the Seventh and Tenth, and tied for fifth overall behind the Twelfth, Fifth, Eleventh, and Ninth, in ascending order.

 

The Masque of Mandragora – 4
The Hand of Fear – 4
The Deadly Assassin – 3
The Face of Evil – 4
The Robots of Death – 4
The Talons of Weng-Chiang – 4

 

Series Fourteen Average Rating: 3.8/5

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Horror of Fang Rock

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.