Recap / Doctor Who S15 E3 "Image of the Fendahl"

http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/fendahl_7543.jpg
"What are you exactly — some sort of wandering Armageddon peddler?"
Adam Colby, to the Doctor; not too far off the mark, really...

A Professor Fendelman is studying a human skull which archaeologists estimate to be 12 million years old — far older than it can conceivably be — when the Doctor and Leela arrive. Fendelman is using a "Time Scanner" to study the skull, and it is this which has not only drawn the TARDIS to the lab, but also causing the skull to glow with power every time it is activated. His snarky colleagues (including Benedict Cumberbatch's mum) are stumped as to how the skull can even exist.

The Doctor believes that the skull is in fact a relic of the Fendahl: a prehistoric creature that feeds off life force and is a legendary evil from early Time Lord legend. He's proved right when the scientists are transformed into the Fendahl Core and the Fendahleen, while Professor Fendelman's partner, Maximillian Stael, is revealed to have been working with precisely this aim. One scientist, Adam Colby, has escaped the influence of the Fendahl and he, the TARDIS crew and some locals try to use rock salt to defeat the Fendahl. The Doctor leaves Stael a gun when he's frozen in place by the Fendahl, so he can kill himself rather than be taken over.

The Doctor explains that this fatal weakness of the Fendahl inspired a folk memory of throwing salt over one's shoulder for good luck. And that much of humanity's race memory might have to do with the Fendahl, and that the skull might be related to Time Lord crimes on the briefly visited Fifth Planet, and that Professor Fendelman may be the descendant of an age-old evolutionary scheme to produce the perfect minion, but it could all be a coincidence, really. Also, Thea is painted gold and starts floating about the manor in a ghost-like way while backed by pentagrams.

The Fendahl are defeated, and the Doctor throws the skull into a nearby supernova before getting down to the business of repairing K9.

Tropes

  • Abnormal Ammo: Tyler loads his shotgun with rock salt at the Doctor and his grandmother's urging, which successfully takes down the Fendahleen.
  • Admiring the Abomination: The Doctor amuses himself when he sees the skull for the first time.
    • Subverted later on when the Doctor is examining the dead Fendahleen. He comments that it is beautiful, but when Leela questions this he reveals he was actually talking about the way he killed it.
  • A God Am I: Stael thinks he can use the Fendahl to become all-powerful. It doesn't quite work.
  • All There in the Manual: In the novelisation Stael's background and motivation is explained in detail.
  • Ancient Astronauts: Fendelman thinks this is what the skull is. It's a litte more complicated.
  • Apocalypse Maiden: Thea Ransome, although most of the associated emotional turmoil is absent simply because Adam Colby never really figures out what is going on.
  • Batman Grabs a Gun: The Doctor shoots a Fendahleen with a shotgun. Loaded with rock salt, granted but he didn't have any way of knowing the load had been changed, and it was still a lethal shot.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Mrs Tyler's protective charms are filled with rock salt.
  • Cult: Led by Stael to summon the Fendahl. Stael thinks it'll make him a god. His followers seem to know much more.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Fendahl. Everyone who saw it died of fright, and that was only a crippled ghost of its true self 12 million years dead, which had been manipulating human lineages for millennia to ensure its release. In the Doctor Who Expanded Universe, the Time Lords deliberately created a predator capable of feeding off the Fendahl - the Memeovore, or Devourer of Concept, a malign void which could reach across time and space to feed on the stuff of thought and hungered to devour all eternity, from the Big Bang to the end of time. Those who looked at it saw an endless procession of grotesque images, as their mind struggled to comprehend the incomprehensible. And then the Time Lords released it to use for warfare.
    • Not everyone who saw the Fendahl was lucky enough to die of fright. The Core transformed some of them into Fendahleen (the other components that, together with the Core, make up the Fendahl). The leader of the cultists who completed the process of creating the Core had worse luck than that. He was still alive, still human, and seeming still sane... but what he saw when he looked into the eyes of the Fendahl caused him to request the means to kill himself. How bad it was is evidenced by the Doctor giving him those means.
  • Filler: Put to chilling effect.
  • Goal-Oriented Evolution: The skull from the Core of the Fendahl had, over millions of years, subtly altered a life form on the planet it landed on until that life form was suitable for creating a new Fendhal and had a subgroup manipulated into actually creating it. The human who learned he and his species existed only to spawn the rebirthed Fendahl was not happy.
  • Gothic Horror: This was the last time the series did this before being Lighter and Softer under Graham Williams.
  • Green Rooming: Introduced in the previous story, Robot Buddy K9 promptly breaks down for the duration of the episode, as the script for this one was written before K9 was added to the cast.
  • Hurl It into the Sun: How the Doctor eventually disposes of the Fendahl Skull.
  • Hypnotic Eyes: Sorta. Looking into the Fendahl's eyes makes escape impossible.
  • Joggers Find Death: Played with. A hiker gets murdered by the Fendahleen, then his body gets found by a man walking a dog.
  • Leave Behind a Pistol: The Doctor leaves Stael when he's frozen in place by the Fendahl, so he can kill himself rather than be taken over.
  • Life Energy: The Fendahl consumes "the full spectrum of Life Energy", causing rapid decay of the corpses it leaves.
  • Made of Indestructium: The skull, although the Doctor seems confident that tossing it into a supernova will finally kill it.
  • Meaningful Name: Dr. Fendelman, who has no idea that it is his hidden genetic destiny to aid an ancient and malevolent life force known as the Fendahl; the name is an in-story indication that the Fendahl has been meddling with humanity for a long time.
    Dr. Fendelman: Fendel-man — man of the Fendahl! I have been used! You have been used! MANKIND HAS BEEN USED!!
  • Omnicidal Maniac: The Fendahl.
  • Paper Key-Retrieval Trick: Used to escape the store cupboard.
  • Pivotal Wake-up: Thea after turning into the Fendahl Core.
  • Power Glows: The Fendahl skull glows when scanned.
  • Pretty Little Headshots: Dr. Fendelman has the world's tiniest bullet hole in his head after getting shot.
  • Pstandard Psychic Pstance: Thea assumes this stance everytime she connects to the Fendahl.
  • Psychic Powers: Mrs Tyler has some psychic powers, due to living on a time fissure for all of her life.
  • Salt Solution: Salt is deadly to the Fendahl, and that effectiveness is in-universe the origin of the superstition that throwing salt over your shoulder wards off evil.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: The Fendahl.
  • Shirtless Scene: Limited — Adam Colby somehow manages to completely unbutton his shirt while tied to a pillar.
  • Sound-Only Death: The Doctor hands Stael a pistol, and heads to the stairs. When he reaches the top, we hear a single gunshot. The Doctor looks back, the scene changes, and the next time Stael is mentioned it's a reference to his suicide.
  • Spot of Tea: Specifically, tea and fruitcake bring Mrs. Tyler back from the brink.
  • Starfish Aliens: The Fendahl: a hive-like, partially noncorporeal alien which included a possessed skull, a floating golden woman and invisible life-sucking slug things amongst its aspects.
  • Stick 'em Up: Jack Tyler threatens Leela with a walking stick.
  • Tarot Troubles: While waiting for the Doctor to return from a fact-gathering excursion, Mrs Tyler does a tarot reading, and is disturbed when The Tower (which depicts a tower being violently destroyed by lightning, and is considered a bad omen) turns up in the spread.
  • The Chosen One: Thea, in a very twisted way.
  • 13 Is Unlucky: The ritual requires thirteen people participating: the Fendahl Core and twelve Fendahleen.
  • Time Abyss: The Fendahl might not qualify, considering that it has technically been dead for 12 million years.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: Thea Ransome, briefly, before she is chloroformed by Max Stael.
    Thea: (hysterical) You haven't asked who planned it, Adam. I planned it — I did!
  • Ultraterrestrials: The Fendahl. It's skull crashed on Earth long before humans existed and psychically guided human evolution for thousands of years so that it could have a suitable host.
  • The Voiceless: The Fendahl does not speak. Chris Boucher had been similarly resistant to writing lines for Xoanon on the grounds that one could not write dialogue for God.
  • Was Once a Man: Thea gets turned into the Fendahl core, and the acolytes end up becoming Fendahleen, though Maximillian throws a wrench in the works by committing suicide before he can transform.
  • Weaksauce Weakness: Rock salt is deadly to Fendahleen.
  • Wham Line: The Doctor assess the situation:
    There are four thousand million people here on this planet and, if I'm right, within a year there'll be one. Just one.
  • Written-In Absence: The script was written before it was known that K9 would be a main character. Rather than re-write the story to accommodate him, Chris Boucher added a scene where he breaks down.
  • X Meets Y: Quatermass and the Pit (unnaturally ancient artifact reveals dark secrets about alien manipulation of humanity) meets The Stone Tape (scientific experiments in a creepy old house awaken an Eldritch Abomination). Note that both works were written by Nigel Kneale.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Recap/DoctorWhoS15E3ImageOfTheFendahl