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

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Image of the Fendahl
Written by Chris Boucher
Directed by George Spenton-Foster
Production code: 4X
Air dates: 29 October - 19 November 1977
Number of episodes: 4

"What are you exactly — some sort of wandering Armageddon peddler?"
Adam Colby to the Doctor; not too far off the mark, really...

The One With… salt.

A Doctor 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 a local cult are transformed into Fendahleen, while Doctor 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 salt 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 Doctor 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 as she becomes the Fendahl Core 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.


  • Abnormal Ammo: Truth in Television variant — Tyler loads his shotgun with rock salt (in real life used as a painful but non-lethal alternative) 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.
  • 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.
  • Big Bad: The Fendahl.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: After Adam Colby leaves to help Mrs. Tyler with the salt as ordered by the Doctor, the Doctor turns to stare directly into the camera and as if addressing the audience says "Time's running out".
  • Brits Love Tea: Specifically, tea and fruitcake bring Mrs. Tyler back from the brink.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Mrs Tyler's protective charms are filled with rock salt.
  • The Chosen One: Thea, in a very twisted way.
  • Cult: Led by Stael to summon the Fendahl. Stael thinks it'll make him a god. His followers seem to know much more.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Adam deploys considerable more wit and sarcasm than his colleagues.
    Adam: (turning around to see Stael with a gun) Dr. Fendelman, I think you have an industrial relations problem.
    Adam: Yes it's been mentioned. (when accused of nearly getting people killed)
  • Description Cut: Leela assures Jack that the Doctor can help resolve the brewing situation.
    Leela: Oh, he's very difficult sometimes, but he has great knowledge and... gentleness.
    Doctor: (imprisoned in a storage room and kicking a box in frustration)
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: The Doctor blowing up the Fendahleen and throwing the Fendahl into a supernova.
  • 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.
  • Evil Is Not a Toy: Stael thinks he can use the Fendahl to become all-powerful. It doesn't quite work.
  • Family-Unfriendly Violence: The script concerns the Doctor fighting a manifestation of the death wish itself, with the characters inside the siege struggling with despair and suicidal ideation as a result of its effects, and the Doctor defeats it by blasting it in the face with a shotgun. There's a definite attempt to avoid showing the audience anything too grisly but it somehow makes it even worse.
  • 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 story, 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.
  • I'm a Doctor, Not a Placeholder: During a discussion, Fendelman presses Thea for her thoughts on the skull's implications.
    Thea: I'm a technician, not a human paleontologist.
  • 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.
    • The original script called for an on-camera suicide.
  • 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. Expanded Universe proves him wrong.
  • 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.
  • Secret Circle of Secrets: A local black magic cult learn of the coming of the Fendahl and the leader believes that he can control it and use it to dominate others. This ends badly.
  • Shirtless Scene: Limited — Adam Colby somehow manages to completely unbutton his shirt while tied to a pillar.
  • Shout-Out: Chris Boucher took inspiration from the work of archaeologist Louis Leakey, who had been excavating human remains for many years until his death in 1972. Boucher named Colby's dog Leakey as a tribute to him, although he later realised that people would miss the reference and assume the name came because "he pissed all over everything!" (Terrance Dicks' subsequent novelisation of the serial in fact gives both reasons for the name.)
  • Silent Antagonist: The god-like entity of the Fendahl does not speak because Chris Boucher decided that one could not write dialogue for God.
  • Smart Ball: There's a funny bit where Leela translates a string of the Doctor's Technobabble into plain English for the sake of the guest character he's failing to communicate with. This involves her displaying technical knowledge about chemistry jargon that she doesn't show again.
  • 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, then rushes out, and the shot cuts to Stael lying dead. The next time Stael is mentioned it's a reference to his suicide.
  • Speaks Fluent Animal: The Doctor bids a herd of cows good morning and asks them if they know where the Macguffin is. If his claims in later stories that he can understand any animal are true, they don't have anything useful to tell him.
  • 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.
  • 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. Its 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.
  • Whole-Plot Reference: The story's plot is a combination of two famous works by Nigel KnealeQuatermass and the Pit (unnaturally ancient artifact reveals dark secrets about alien manipulation of humanity) and The Stone Tape (scientific experiments in a creepy old house awaken an Eldritch Abomination).